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Super Critical Mass - Sub Mass 4, Burnett Lane Super Critical Mass - Sub Mass 4, Burnett Lane
photo Lawrence English
BRISBANE’S ALBERT STREET MALL CUTS BURNETT LANE INTO A LONG END AND A SHORT END. THE SHORT END OF BURNETT LANE SLOPES DOWN BETWEEN A 7-ELEVEN AND A DUTY FREE, TO FINISH AT A CARPARK. THIS IS THE PUBLIC SPACE FOR SUB MASS 4, PART OF LIQUID ARCHITECTURE II—BUT IT’S BEEN PRIVATISED FOR THE NIGHT WITH A SEMI-CIRCLE OF SMALL BATTERY-POWERED FOOTLIGHTS PLACED AROUND THE ENTRANCE AND A COUPLE OF OH&S WITCHES’ HATS EITHER SIDE IN CASE PEOPLE DON’T REALISE THE DANGER FLAUTISTS PRESENT.

There’s a goodly crowd clustering around, waiting for the start. Four flautists emerge from the left hand side of a building at the bottom and start to walk slowly up the lane toward the crowd. They’re playing a soft drone and, as they move up the alley toward us, another group of four emerge from below, then another and another, until the alley is filled. When a row reaches the top they stop, turn, and walk down to the bottom to begin again. It’s a stately processional conveyor belt of flautists, pitch rising as they get closer and closer to the audience. Over 30 minutes the drone slowly breaks down to puffed bursts, then to a swinging gate effect as the pitches move from one group to another—a swinging sync that peters out, gets a pulse, peters out again.

It’s a beautiful piece, but there’s a problem. Late night shopping and the onset of dusk sees the Brisbane Mall a lively place. Seated on a platform, not a few steps away, a terribly sad woman strums an acoustic guitar and sings a dismal song about how one is often unaware of the value of what one has until it is gone. Further up the mall a retailer shares their enjoyment of jug band music with the public at large. So you can barely hear the performance. And you can’t see much of it either because of the narrow alley and the people clustered around trying to get best pozzie for whatever it is that everyone else is struggling to get best pozzie on.

The publicity blurb goes “As a listener you are invited to walk through the space or simply sit within the evolving sound-fields...This performance event, Sub Mass 4, draws you into the depths of Burnett Lane...” But it doesn’t and that’s a shame because if we had been allowed into the alley way and the space of the performers Sub Mass 4 would have been a great experience. On the other hand that’s fine because Sub Mass 4 is part of an exploratory/experimental program by the composers and the next night they perform the same piece in a very different setting where the audience and performers intermingled (which I missed, but apparently it worked a treat). I love this investigative approach to working—it seems a great addition to the take-it-or-leave-it model of art production as ‘revelation.’

Across the mall and down to the long end of Burnett Lane, runs Insitu: Sonore, sound installations for a few weeks in June, another Liquid Architecture 11 work. The long end is filled with trucks, bins, the arse end of shops selling Vietnamese koalas and plastic rulers covered with photos of Great Barrier Reef attractions or inset with the seven timbers of Australia.

And somewhere amongst all this is the sound of Janek Schaefer’s National Portrait. (Schaefer is the person who posted a voice activated dictaphone around Britain, picking up the stray utterances of various mail handlers.) I wander up the lane. I wander down, I wander up and down again. I hear the trucks, the air-conditioning ducts. It’s a great sounding lane. But no Schaefer. I ask upstairs at a newish art/design collective (Glow32) and they point to a little box above an awning. I go down and hang around trying to invoke the cocktail party effect that lets you hear your name whispered from the other side of a crowded room. Primed for Schaefer, primed for Schaefer—nup, nothing, a faint hint of a conversation maybe, then more nothing. This installation is way too quiet. Undeterred (well, a tad deterred) I come back a couple more times for more of the same.

 Inhabit Fiesta: Urban Jungle, Eagle Lane Inhabit Fiesta: Urban Jungle, Eagle Lane
photo Lawrence English
Ah well, off to another lane for another sound installation, Urban Jungle, part of the Inhabit Fiesta Festival, where works by Chris Watson, Lawrence English and James Webb are up for the next few weeks. This is more the Brisbane I know, modern high rise, no street life at all. At one end the lane pokes between two buildings to make a smallish aperture onto the rest of the city. This bit is closed off to cars, and Lawrence English has arranged a small, slightly tacky, setup of fake grass on the ground, shrubs potted and plopped along the sides. Looks like a temporary beer garden. The wind shoots through the space, rustling the leaves—suitably ear-height through the choice of shrub. The movement of leaves as a signal of changes in the air. A pleasure of sound at multiple scales. A message from another, biological, world. Contrast with the usual background city rumble: acquired deafness, slightly elevated blood pressure.

At the other end of the lane there’s a building on the right with grilled-over holes cut into the first floor. The entire building surface is articulated with bursts of white noise. It’s like being in a forest when bell-birds sing out and you hear space activated through sound. This time it is the reflective surface of a building, flat and high up, whose distance and shape is perfectly realised through the time it takes for sound to reach the ear. I can’t remember enjoying a public sound work more, but no sign saying whose work it is. Because it isn’t anyone’s—this is just how the space sounds without any intervention at all. What a find—whilst listening for soundworks I’ve been taking a soundwalk instead.


Liquid Architecture 11, artistic director Nat Bates, Brisbane curator Lawrence English; Sub Mass 4, Julian Day, Luke Jaaniste, Janet McKay, June 25; Insitu: Sonore, Janek Schaefer, Leighton Craig, DJ Olive, Brisbane, June 11-27

Inhabit Fiesta: Urban Jungle, Lawrence English, Chris Watson, James Webb, Brisbane June 11-27

RealTime issue #98 Aug-Sept 2010 pg. 46

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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