Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Spatial Relationships, Cosmopolitanism and Musico-Literary Miscegenation in the New Media Work of austraLYSIS

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Spatial Relationships, Cosmopolitanism and Musico-Literary Miscegenation in the New Media Work of austraLYSIS

Article excerpt

In Australia, contemporary interactions between the verbal and the sonic occur not only through the literary representation of sound, but also, more directly, in performance-based or screen-based new media work. Such creative practice arises out of a strong drive to explore, both formally and culturally, the synergies words and music can create when juxtaposed, combined or superimposed in technological environments.

I concentrate here on the work of austraLYSIS, of which I am a founding member. My focus is my new media collaborations with the director of austraLYSIS, Roger Dean, who is a composer, performer and new media artist, but also our collaborations with other members of the group. Two of the works I discuss, motions (2014) and Film of Sound (2013) were created together with US-based video artist Will Luers, whose contribution has been very important in recent work; a third piece, Disappearing was jointly made with Sydney-based sound artist Greg White. I elaborate the importance of spatial relationships in these works both technically and thematically. In particular, I explore the dynamic interaction between a cosmopolitan, transnational outlook and a strong sense of belonging to Australia in our work, and show how this relates to our technologised manipulations of word and sound.

To this end I also conceptualise the broader field of intermedia and multimedia work in which austraLYSIS can be located. In such works words and sound are ideally juxtaposed on a non-hierarchical basis in which neither sound nor word dominate, allowing for considerable emergence, that is for effects to arise which are not entirely predictable from the words and music alone. I propose that such non-hierarchical crossings of word and music can facilitate various forms of cultural crossing, resulting in what I call musico-literary miscegenation. The term miscegenation is one that was used historically, particularly in America, to connote interracial sexual relationships, and evokes the laws historically aimed at criminalising such relations. I, like others, for example (Dunning, 2009), am trying to reclaim miscegenation more positively, just as gay studies has successfully repositioned the word 'queer'. Miscegenation metaphorically maps sexual relationships between different ethnicities on to the word-sound relationship, to suggest the rich cultural effects that relationship can have.

austraLYSIS: Europe and Australia

austraLYSIS formed initially as LYSIS in London in the seventies, and neither Roger nor I are Australian born, though we have come to identify strongly with Australian culture. LYSIS had two wings, as an improvising and jazz group, and as a performing ensemble that played compositions by other people but also included improvisations in its performances. During this period, in London 1975-1988, I was a professional musician. I performed as violinist in the group and played many contemporary works including numerous premieres. In 1988 Roger and I moved to Australia and re-formed (and renamed) the group as austraLYSIS. Over the period since, austraLYSIS has evolved into an ensemble that largely performs and publishes its own compositions and improvisations. During this period, my role in the group has changed, and from 1996 has become that of a writer; consequently we have developed many word-sound compositions. These compositions are of two types: performance-based new media works, usually involving music and spoken text with some technological manipulation of words and voice, and screen-based new media works that involve music and screened words, as well as (sometimes) visual images and performed words. The works span a considerable range, and every work we create attempts to enter the word and sound relationship with a slightly different emphasis that is sometimes more sonic, sometimes more semantic. (Smith, personal website)

The performance-based new media works exist along a continuum from sonic poetry to what we call 'sound technodrama'. …

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