15 April 2021
Decibel New Music: 2 Minutes from Home
'An internet opera in 20 parts'
Daniel Portelli takes a close look at Decibel New Music's 2 Minutes from Home series of video works, published online over the second half of 2020. Artists featured in the series are Louise Devenish, Daniel Thorpe, Lionel Marchetti, Gail Priest, Erik Griswold, Lindsay Vickery, Dominic Flynn, Jon Rose, Marina Rosenfeld, Cat Hope, Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir, Stuart James, Thembi Soddell, Aaron Wyatt, Pedro Alvarez, J.G. Thirwell, Amanda Stewart, Tristen Parr, Cathy Milliken, and Haruka Hirayama - with bonus video by Karl Ockelford. All videos are available on the website, accompanied with rich supporting documentation.
Decibel's 2 Minutes from Home project offers us a distinctive view into the milieu of 20 artists, along with the complex intrapersonal processes of the performers. The result is a diverse multisensory take on a collective recollection; intricately designed, crafted, and formally presented. In a time of such chaos and uncertainty, the project manages to capture a time of renewal, experimentation, playfulness, and taps into our basic need for creative exploration and social connection. The intensity of colours, radical openness, and community solidarity reflects the intensities felt in 2020. A time when we were saturated by the media and the internet was amplifying an already traumatising period.
The works provoke us to think: what is the meaning of a line? The meaning of colour? The language of an extravagant floral necklace? The sound of an entire sentence at once? Or all of human occupation on earth? The project enables something to be expressed which may not have been possible otherwise. Artists experiment with a flexible digital scoring platform and an elaborate graphic design as a mode for compositional thinking. The visuality of composition is foregrounded and acts as a mirror/window into the imagination of the composer and the creative associations they have with sound. We see micro-social rituals, cross-modal abstractions, and hyper-realisations of composer ideas. Decibel performers become like simulated actors at the helm of videographer/graphic designer Karl Ockelford and his inventive virtual post-place heterotopic platforms - full of changing colour schemes, and individualised graphic animation.
The project is also a useful insight into the 20 creative artists living through a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is fascinating to think about how the sounds were conceived, and the birthing process that led to the final production of sound. From the composer's idea to its materiality, its spatial construction, score design, performers interpretation of visual objects, and decisions about audio mixing and mastering.
The documentation is comprehensive, to say the least. The video methodologies are a novel way of documenting experience, and there are significant innovations in the area of online music performance, people-centred approaches to digital technology, music commissioning formats, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Some works are confrontational, subtle, political, clever, and awe-inspiringly beautiful. Some directly addressed the pandemic, whereas others were more abstract, indirect, and conceptually otherworldly.
It goes without saying that there is a complex relationship between notation and sound. At times, the virtual moving line appears decoupled from sonic experience. In 2MfH, the signs and sounds are often unknowingly entangled which allows for differential meanings, and a cognitive dissonance to rewire and challenge our sensorial relations. What signs represent to one person is different to another. Even in language with a strict set of rules and grammar, what may seem universal, is often not, and miscommunication is commonplace. The instability of signs questions our habitual relationships to sign and sound, and how other people see the world; their 'ideasthesia', or inner network of associations to shapes, colours, lines, words, and objects.
The role of text in/and as a moving score element is another angle the project takes. Some composers did this in opposition to the scoring system, which showcases the flexibility of the people involved in reworking the score. Text was at times instructional, non-instructional, poetic or completely disembodied from linguistical meaning. These 'words as signs' triggers the activation of musical activity, creating disjunctions between aurality, cognition, and the written expression. It was obvious that the creative social environment allowed dissent. And one could see over time how this led to a diversification and branching out into new systems of thought. It could be seen as democratic and a nurturing community of practice and inclusivity.
The performers' co-presence within the visual frame often blended into the graphic design aesthetic. Within the 20 scores, some pieces placed less importance on what the performer does - in regard to the nuances and dramaturgy of their sonic-gestural co-articulation. But with others, this was a focal point. Some were more about the complex relationship between music and the non-human visual stimuli. And others gave you the best of both approaches.
The project clearly demonstrates that everything we perceive is capable of being a signifier for something else, that the world around us, even the minute details, has meaning and vibrancy. If the 20 scores are read as a whole, then each work explores territory that another does not, and the scope of ideas makes it a very fruitful and engaging experience. With the whole in mind, 2MfH could be considered as an internet opera in 20 parts.
© Australian Music Centre (2021) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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