Review: Memory Effect

From the first and only performance of Memory Effect, Small Black Box, Brisbane, 2002.

Photo by Andrew Kettle

Andrew Garton was next presenting Memory Effect, a collaborative piece by Toy Satellite, a Melbourne based non-profit multidisciplinary production house. It was a performance of considerable complexity, both logistically and semantically and of exquisite beauty.

Eight computers (donated for the evening by various sbb enthusiasts), each playing a single part were arranged on stage in a semicircle around Gartons conducting position where he controlled a ninth computer, various electronic effects and mixage. Each computers part was algorithmically generated using SSEYO software processing GPS data collected by Justina Curtis. Her near obsessive recording of her travels using a hand held GPS device meant the latitude, longitude and altitude of her every move around specific locations was translated to music. The co-ordinates of each of the locations was displayed on the various computer screens and had me guessing the identity of the cities and locales.

The software, configured as tone generators, particle synthesisers (granulators) and delay lines, processed the GPS data to produce sparse, largely tonal meanderings. Each of the parts entered the composition at five minute intervals, adding complexity and sonic density. Gartons mixage was fluent and effortless, keeping the relative levels of the various PCs (all with different soundcards and presumably output levels) in balance and adding the occasional effect and melody with an infra-red controlled theremin. The progression from simple tonal musings to closely packed sonic clusters was evocative of the cumulative effect of memory with multiple layers of empirical recall cascading over each other.

The work was originally conceived for multiple speaker diffusion system and though the stereo version was flawless, it is easy to see how multiple points of audio projection would add to the performance, allowing spatial separation between the places. The organisers of small black box need to consider their PA arrangements carefully, and ensure that the quality and requirements of the PA meet the needs of the performers and audience alike. Something to consider moving into the third season of small black box in 2003.

Two video projections accompanied. The first showed images collected contemporaneously with the GPS data and was displayed on a small screen. These images were all worthy of closer inspection, and were not just a pile of arbitrary holiday snaps. The occasional fleeting image of Garton or Curtis reminded me this was not just a collection of beautiful images but visions seen through the eyes of the artists. The second projection was a complimentary video piece Rot Emulsion originally from the installation Tat Fat Size Temple. It was projected over much wider screen area, spilling over Garton, the computers and even the smaller projection of still images. The semi recognizable, blurred, dirty, organic looking stream of images served as part visual focus, part lighting effect and perfectly united the human, technological, visual and aural components.

Symbolism abounded; separate computers for each separate location; their arrangement in a semi-circle around the composer like some sort of silicon orchestra; the two projections suggesting the memory/recall (travel images) and the continuum (Rot Emulsion); the music arranged in canon building gradually, each element a record of a journey, a place; each element contributing to a wider experience – a memory, a life.

Many artists seem to sacrifice some of their humanity when they attempt to articulate emotion with technology but not so Garton/Curtis/Toy Satellite. The performance was one of the most intensely personal I have ever enjoyed. Knowing that the composers had seen with their own eyes the images being projected and that the music was a direct translation of their physical perambulations around these places gave me a feeling of incredible connection to the work and the performance. I had seen with anothers eyes and understood their journey.

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