New brain

Hand Head Beast by David Nerlich

It was in the very early 1980’s, perhaps 1981, that I first met the then burgeoning artist, David Nerlich. David changed my life. He gave me something few people have – a new brain!

I recall we had left a venue late one evening, it may have been the first or second time we had met, and he offered to drop my girlfriend and I back to the flat I lived in Summer Hill – we’re talking Sydney, folks. David drove a purple Honda Civic with a black interior. It looked cool! And he had a cassette player installed. Even cooler! As we wound our way down Parramatta Road, David asked if he could play some sounds he’d been working on at art school. He’d been attending Sydney College of the Arts at that time. Sure, I said. What happened next changed everything.

Strange sounds, like wind, howling within the bowels of a lower earthly hollow emerged from within the car. Something like the cutting of glass, all long and drawn out sounds with no distinct melody, but harmonic qualities entirely new to me were both startling and exciting. One piece sliced into the next and I was bewitched. I’d heard nothing like it before. Certainly not as music, or as a constructed sound work. As a child I would listen to the frequencies between radio stations on an old valve radio, this being my only respite from the music I grew up with. It was the only sonic reference that I could draw to David’s work.

The world of sound opened up for me there. Even though I had been listening to a great amount of progressive rock, jazz fusion and be-bop, nothing came close to what I had heard that evening in David’s purple Civic hatch. But it would not end there either. It would not be long before I got to see some of David’s early Super 8 films and that’s when things really started to change for me… and so it was that a young mind was formed.

I can’t recall when it was exactly, nor the circumstances of the screening, but it wasn’t much longer after hearing David’s sound works that I was introduced to his Super 8 films. A mix of stop-frame animation, some re-representations and references to other films popular at that time – Apocalypse Now for instance. These shorts were dark and funny, luminous in concept and to me, highly original. I would go back to some of these shorts time and time again. How I looked at the world and how I too interpreted what I saw was changed significantly by those early films.

We went on to create music in various forms together and on occasion worked on a couple of films. One of the last films we worked on together – actually, all I did was hold stuff – was The Orb, which you can watch below. The Orb was made in the mid-late 1980s and I used it throughout a series of performance pieces as part lighting, part back-drop, part stage. This video, and David’s soundtrack, was used in Black Harlequin, a one – man, multi-character show, or spoken-word opera, that was performed in the early 1990s, on occasion with David playing treated guitar.

In celebration of those early, wonder filled days, I’m co-producing a micro-film festival with the St Andrew’s Film Society. Can Video Art Save The World showcases the moving images that have moved me over 30 years of art, film-making, music and activism. Friday 25 May 2012 at the Magnificent St Andrew’s Hall, St Andrews, Victoria. Check here for details.

It didn’t just end with sound and the moving image. Our friendship and how we influenced each other wove its way into the realms of literature. David had a crack at a novel, so I had a crack at a novella. His edit of In August was reduced to what he described as a “pamphlet version”. Thanks Dave! But it was his words that inspired me to work harder at mine. One of his poems, later used as lyric in a piece we performed in The Astrobeatniks and again in Lingo Babel, is the apocalyptic With A Will. I have performed, read and screamed this piece over the past 20 years in many, many incarnations and it’s still fresh every time.

Here’s a version of With A Will performed with the South African impro trio, Benguela, from a gig we did together in Cape Town, July 2009.

Want to know more about David? Here’s a couple of links. He’s a busy man.

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2 thoughts on “New brain”

  1. Hey Tiger,
    nice piece about old times! I hope the festival goes well. wish I could come along.

  2. Thanks Mark – David disputes it, but I remember being introduced to him by John. Yep, your very own brother. That night I’d mentioned, when he played his sound works on the way home, and I know my memory can be a little cranky at times, was I believe the night those bikers went nuts at that Red Crayon’s gig.

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