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listening for change

jared davis: reflections on liquid architecture 10

Jared Davis is a Melbourne based writer, curator, musician and is sub-editor of un Magazine volume 3.

AS PART OF THE LIQUID ARCHITECTURE FESTIVAL’S 10TH ANNIVERSARY, I WAS COMMISSIONED TO TRAVEL ALONGSIDE THE ARTISTS TO EACH OF THE PARTICIPATING CITIES AND WITNESS THE PERFORMANCES, ATTEND FORUMS AND TAKE PART IN INFORMAL DISCUSSIONS, WHILST SHARING MY THOUGHTS ON THE LIQUID ARCHITECTURE BLOG AS A MEANS OF INCREASING THE DIALOGUES BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE EVENT.

This initiative came to be in response to the dissatisfaction of Liquid Architecture organisers and artists with the level of critical feedback generated following past festivals. In touring, I learnt that such critical exchanges exist, but sadly are not often formalised or committed to print.

I saw the entirety of Liquid Architecture and in a new light, as a multifaceted event. I witnessed several very different festivals across Australia, reflecting the collaborative nature that founding director Nat Bates often mentions when discussing Liquid Architecture. It was also clear to me that after 10 years the festival has entered a phase of reflection and self-critique.

The multifaceted nature of the festival raises many questions; on the road with LA10 the vibrancy of sound arts and exploratory music practices in Australia was evident. Tura New Music in Perth, ROOM40 in Brisbane, Alias Frequencies and Plum Industries in Sydney, On Edge and The House of Falcon in Cairns as well as Cajid Media in Central Victoria were co-producers with Liquid Architecture based in Melbourne. They brought their own organisational practices to the hosting of the international artists toured by Liquid Architecture. It should be noted, however, that LA10 was one tier of what these organisations do yearly (often collaboratively, across states). So, beyond providing international artists, what additional role does Liquid Architecture play?

Over the 10 years that Liquid Architecture has grown as a brand, a certain stability and perhaps expectation of an aesthetic and presentation standard has developed. It is safe to say that the festival’s scope is not (and would not claim to be) an accurate account of all exploratory sound practices currently engaged in globally. International performers travelling to the festival tend to be European (and to open an argument that I must start and end here for the sake of brevity) male, and often of certain European avant-garde music traditions that perhaps reflect the tastes of the Melbourne organisers.

It could be argued that the true variety in the festival’s programming is the assortment of local artists. The usual international component of Liquid Architecture is likely to be, as one friend noted in passing, “men with machines.”

So for many it’s disappointing that Liquid Architecture’s palette of performers reflects not so much a survey of international contemporary practice (as perhaps the Melbourne International Biennale of Exploratory Music in 2008 did more successfully) as appearing to be a specialist music organisation supporting a particular tradition.

However, the festival has created greater access to experimental music than other events. This is not true of all the states that Liquid Architecture travels to, but the attendance at this year’s North Melbourne Town Hall concerts proved that 10 years has helped develop an audience that wouldn’t be accommodated at the numerous smaller events occurring constantly in Australian underground music scenes.

At a forum organised by Within Earshot, a collective of RMIT University Fine Art (Sound) students, there was a lively debate surrounding dissatisfactions with the first Town Hall concert. The point was made that for new audiences, the concert did not present a varied program of what is truly taking place in contemporary exploratory music cultures both in Australia and abroad. For first timers, it would have shown merely one (rather Euro-centric) take on the sonic arts. Does this require the festival to be the provider of a perhaps impossible survey? Is it about the festival miscommunicating its motivation? Festival co-founder and director Nat Bates often states in conversation that if the festival causes disagreement amongst patrons leading to them starting their own event, that would be a success. But for LA’s new (and growing) audience, does such a view carry weight? Yes, there are plenty of new events being organised constantly by those who wish to get people thinking about sound. But, LA 10’s satellite events at Horse Bazaar and the Within Earshot for RMIT students did not feel like a considered part of the festival.

The very fact that Liquid Architecture has grown into a major, national event reveals that the exploratory sound cultures of its focus are not as niche as once thought. It was my sense in traveling with the festival that the transition from Liquid Architecture’s point of conception as a vessel for presentational opportunity to its current incarnation, happened too quickly for the festival organisers to keep pace. Certainly, I gathered a sense of dividedness as to what LA10 was trying to deliver. The organisers themselves might be in two (or more minds) about it. The festival’s funding too, does naturally provide expectations about what Liquid Architecture should deliver.

LA’s directors are working hard to consider not simply avenues of improvement but how to solidify Liquid Architecture into a stable, pertinent incubator for a critical exchange on sound arts. There are other opinions about what Liquid Architecture could be, but so long as these thoughts remain word of mouth perhaps we will not witness much change.


Liquid Architecture 10, June 24-July 12, www.liquidarchitecture.org.au

Jared Davis is a Melbourne based writer, curator, musician and is sub-editor of un Magazine volume 3.

RealTime issue #93 Oct-Nov 2009 pg. 52

© Jared Davis; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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