At Brisbane’s monthly Small Black Box series Machina aux Rock (Nat Bates and Stephen Masterson) showcased a deft marriage between rock rhythms and minimal electronic stylings. While Masterson quoted well-known beats on a small drum kit Bates subtly processed the sounds, crafting them slowly into new shapes just long enough to give the illusion of arriving at a musical stasis before a new rhythm would be introduced and the process would start anew. The result was a sharp set that didn’t shortchange the head or the feet.

The"> Liquid Architecture festival wound up its nationwide tour in Brisbane. Featuring local talent and one old master of electronic music, the event provided a rich array of sound approaches. Gail Priest’s set of flowing soundscapes modulated in some of the lowest and clearest bass sounds I have heard in some time. Bruce Mowson’s severe approach to composition, 12 minutes of complex and unchanging drones, was the surprise of the evening. The psychoacoustic effect of the music was like a mirage, with details of the sounds emerging and receding even though there were in fact no changes in it at all. A worthy successor to Jim Tenney’s “For Ann (Rising),” I look forward to hearing more. Lawrence English and Philip Samartzis built a tactile and thoughtful microsoundscape with their turntables and electronics and put the sound system through its paces with a blend of high-pitched sine waves modulated by recordings of fire and leaves. Bernard Parmegiani, the innovative French composer was the special guest of the evening. He presented three works that spanned 30 years of activity. Though changes in technology were audible between the pieces, the compositional strategies were clear and the live remix brought them vividly to life. At 76, Parmegiani certainly deserves the attention that is belatedly coming his way.

Yo La Tengo’s set at the Tivoli (as fine a hall as one can find in which to catch a performance) was an entrancing arc of control and abandon. After spending almost an hour slowly locking into place they delivered ten minutes of bliss: a crystalline version of “You Don’t Have to Be So Sad” and another song whose name washed away from me. Then they spent the next hour returning to earth, gradually pushing apart song after song and landing back on earth with a long version of Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War.”

I wasn’t able to catch either of Meredith Monk’s performances at the Brisbane Powerhouse, but I did bump into her the next day at the local koala sanctuary. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the little furry creatures were able to give her a run for the money in the extended vocal technique department.

The Australian Center for the Moving Image in Melbourne has part two of their large “Rememberance” show on view. There are many of the usual approaches to memory found here, but Alexander Sokurov’s “Confession,” a documentary with multiple points of view about life aboard a Russian submarine, stands out as a particularly engrossing take on the subject. The sailors do the best they can to make sense of an environment of monotony and control, but even the commander has trouble rationalizing their activities.

In Sydney both the Museum of Contemporary Art and the">Art Gallery of New South Wales feature large video installations by Susan Norrie. Though stately in their presentations, the pieces balance between subtle social commentary and a particularly theatrical form of dread. “Undertow,” at the AGNSW, particularly suffers from this: flickering, foreboding, black and white images of a dust storm in Melbourne are juxtaposed with hazmat-suited scientists gathering ozone data and shots of sulfur pools in Rotorua. While out-of-control nature (aided and abetted by humans or not) always holds some fascination on its own, wrapping an pungent veneer of doom around it is something of a mixed blessing.

Over at Artspace, the Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship Show has a roundup of work from some of the best young Australian talent. While Sean Cordiero & Claire Healy took home the $40,000 prize for a carefully dismantled and stacked house, I was more taken by a few other pieces: Barnaby Chamber’s fetching set of tanks, planes, and aircraft carriers made of flip-flops; Jodi Smith’s re-edit of the opening of “Apocalypse Now” to seamlessly insert herself in place of Martin Sheen; and Matthew Tumbers’ “Pablo Velasquez Shoeboard Remix” in which various skateboarders do their moves sans boards.

Buried among immense sugarcane fields in North Queensland, the town of Mena Creek is the home of the very strange Paronella Park, a decaying set of buildings that once approximated a Spanish castle made from concrete and train tracks. Built mostly by hand by one Spanish immigrant, the place is at once a small-scale Hearst castle and a testament to the hazards of human ambition and the natural world (floods and cyclones, of which there appear to be many here, have repeatedly taken their toll on the place). Walking through the grounds you can still feel the grandeur of the old castle even as you have second thoughts about the visions that drove the man who brought the Park into reality. I had even more doubts about the visions of the new owners of the Park as they too-enthusiastically welcomed us in and wished us well as we departed several hours later.

In Malanda we caught a few prerelease screenings of new Australian films. Two to watch out for are “Japanese Story,” which centers around an unexplained visit by a Japanese businessman to a set of mining operations in Western Australia, and “Alexandra’s Project,” in which a failing marriage leads to one of the creepiest interactions with a television since Videodrome.

Mareeba has a showcase for a longstanding but slowly growing form of action art at their pirouetting fields. Participants can add their handiwork to a large earthwork canvas by traversing its contours in ever-shorter times until a distinctive arcing signature is inscribed onto it. Similar fields can be found in many parts of the world, but this is one of the best ones.

But by far the most impressive artwork encountered here seemed to spring instantly from Queensland’s long beaches following every high tide. Teams of furtive sculptors roll tiny balls of sand into intricate patterns that cover miles of shoreline in what appears to be a ritualized organic tagging competition.

And where ever you are, keep an eye out for ">Mars in the coming weeks. The next time it gets anywhere near this close to Earth again, you, dear reader, will be pushing up daisies.

- Ed Osborn [Sunday, August 24th, 2003]


From the editors