14 October 2010
'Sound art is a means to explore social states and activate communities'
© Bryan Spencer
A recent recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts' ArtStart grant, Nigel Brown, writes about his work, his collaborations and his approach to sound art. ArtStart grants are meant for young artists in the final year of their studies, or recent graduates.
For me, sound art is a means to explore social states and activate communities. It follows that I often work in collaboration with other artists, but my developing solo performance practice maintains connection to the social through considering the audience as inhabitants, and explorers of the space defined by sound - this situation becomes one of exchange.
12 dog cycle is a duo pairing the breathing limitations of piano accordion and human voice, extending the voice through the extended technique of Taiwanese vocalist, Alice Hui-Sheng Chang, and my accordion's acoustic properties with preparations and live electronic manipulation. In our work, accordion tones define and modulate the performance space, beginning as a physical byproduct of exertion and becoming a disembodied harmonic presence within the room. In contrast, the voice is mobile and distinctly human - it is the event - the tour guide through time that provides the audience with an entrance and an exit.
Mimic Mass is an audio-visual performance group combing three voices, live-vocal processing, minimal beat programming and video. Our most recent work, Split Radio, was performed in a gallery and consisted of the three vocalists simultaneously singing different cover versions of multiple songs, at times finding intersections of rhythm, tone and emotion through improvisation, and at times singing as though regardless of one another. These sources were fed to an electronic set-up whereby they were sampled, processed, layered and sent to a PA in an acoustically isolated, blacked-out room. In face of the intense sonic experience presented in either room, a freely moving audience was offered the opportunity to try on a number of headphones hanging throughout the gallery. Each set of headphones isolated a single vocalist's performance, offering an intimate experience of untreated, raw vocal delivery. The performance was a charting of collective memory through popular song, repositioning the art of the cover to create the über-song of our listening histories.
In addition to these ongoing projects, I try to engage in one-off meetings and improvised scenarios on a regular basis and consider the inherent creative and practical exchanges as fundamental to my being an artist in contemporary society.
After finishing my Bachelor of Media Arts and subsequent MFA at RMIT in 2006, I spent a few years living in Taiwan and Europe, experiencing and participating in a number of local arts communities. This period has convinced me that genuine, selfless community action is essential for the survival of non-mainstream art forms.
I don't believe in the rarefied sonic object in sound art - to me, sound is never perceived in isolation, it constitutes one aspect of our total experience alongside a multitude of factors including other sensory information, cultural context, preconceptions and environmental factors, to name but few. I don't wish for my sound art practice to exist in isolation either! My ArtStart grant from the Australia Council is contributing to the ongoing 'socialisation' of my practice by providing me with the space and resources needed to produce and self-publish albums for 12 dog cycle and Mimic Mass. Sales are not the primary goal of these recordings - rather, I view CDs as facilitating exchange in a community context. Meeting, exchanging, helping and working with people is central to both my practice and my philosophy of sustainability.
© Australian Music Centre (2010) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Nigel Brown works broadly within sound art, experimental improvised music and performance-installation in Melbourne. He recently received a $10,000 ArtStart grant to help build his arts career.
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