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Peter Blamey at Peter Blamey at
photo Mr Snow
Just under one year after it opened the Sydney gallery Pelt closed its doors. Instigated by Caleb K, Peter Blamey and William Noble the gallery had an agenda to “engage in the broad area of sound and sound & visual practices”, and over the last 10 months it has had back to back exhibitions (21 in total) by emerging and established artists. It was also the new home for the series of sound performances. Caleb K has decided to end these as well.

In a fitting homage the final exhibition featured the photographs of Mr Snow who has dedicatedly documented since its inception 6 years ago. Often taken in low light, his portraits of local and international artists in performance take ghostly forms, faces obscured by shadows or overblown by the otherworldly glow of computer screens. For an artform often disparaged for its lack of performativity and physical gesture, Mr Snow’s images capture the internal dynamism, the absolute absorption and focus of these artists. They also reflect the sense of communal concentration present in an audience on a good night.

In addition to the final exhibition, there were 4 nights of performances. I managed to catch a smattering of artists across the last 2 nights. The highlight was the audiovisual set by Robbie Avenaim. Seated behind a percussion kit armed with various vibrating devices, Avenaim starts with a surprisingly deep, resonant drone. He is accompanied by a screen divided in 4 onto which he systematically introduces live images from video cameras focused in extreme close-up on his instruments. The images are intriguing in their abstraction—the extreme concentration on one part obscuring the understanding of the whole—and also disturbingly visceral, reminiscent of medical imaging, or the strange gelatinous creatures that live deep below the sea. The relationship between image and sound is totally symbiotic. We’re seeing the rich resonances and vibrations yet the images are more than just illustrative of the process; they’re strange and beautiful creations in themselves. I hope Avenaim continues this fascinating exploration.

The final night kicked off with Will Guthrie combining junk percussion with reeling feedback and random radio tunings. While the feedback instigated by the miked percussion is occasionally unwieldy, it draws the percussive elements together into a chunky mass of sound, a kind of apocalyptic clamour.

Ivan Lysiak followed with his distinctive lo-fi, crunchy beat approach. The opening sample of a crowd with high noise to signal ratio eventually morphs into an ominous, dirty throbbing with heavy panning making it seem as though we are in the middle of a static storm. Having only seen Lysiak play short sharp sets, it was great to hear this sustained, longer composition.

Fittingly the final set of the evening and of was by Julian Knowles with Donna Hewitt. As well as being an inspiring artist, Knowles is a key motivator behind much of Sydney’s sound culture. Working away at the intersection between pop and experimental audio tonight he begins ambiently, building to deep satisfying beats which teasingly slip away. He combines his sounds into multiple layers, rich and complex but never overcrowded. Part way through the set Donna Hewitt joins in on her e-mic—an intereactive microphone stand interface that allows her to process vocals live. Here the pop influence rises closer to the surface as Hewitt’s velvety voice pines and purrs, fractured, delayed and panned by strokes, caresses and sways of the stand. And just before the neighbours’ noise complaints can kick in, it’s all over.

So after a few frenzied years of activity (not only from but other independent curators as well), what does the future hold? With recent council crack downs on performance events in galleries, and general apathy for the experimental from licenced bars and pubs, there is a significant absence of venues. Combined with limited sustainable funding and the difficulty of maintaining audience numbers it is not surprising that event producers are feeling less energetic. While festivals like Liquid Architecture and the Now now are growing in scope and are well attended, the major concern is about the absence of regular events like that enable artists to develop a practice, rather than just turning it on once a year. In this respect Caleb K has made a significant contribution to sound culture, particularly in Sydney but also nationally. While it is disheartening to watch an era wane, we can only hope that it’s a temporary pause allowing for regeneration and re-invigoration in artists, producers and audiences.

Mr Snow, Camera Notes, 2000/06, Pelt Gallery, Aug 10-20;, Pelt Gallery, Aug 19-20, 24-25

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 56

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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