30/31 - Lobotomy premiere and a bit of a Ruckus

Last night was a big moment for me. It was the first time a work of devised performance art I created/facilitated for musicians was performed. The Australian Art Quartet did an impeccable performance. In every work I make that I hear performed I'm always thinking in my head how details could have been better performed, or how I could have made improvements to the overall composition, but last night's performance was one where the importance of the performance details and the compositional construction paled in comparison to the point of "getting through the work" and ensuring integrity in the concepts the work was conveying.

My piece opened the night. The set was the quartet's instruments with jars and candles on the ground. Michael (the partner of the cellist) stood guard whilst audience came in.... it was a full house. Lyle Chan took a couple of photos which I've reproduced here...

The piece starts in near darkness, with Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage" playing on the PA system. I borrowed a lighting tree from my partner Dean for the event. The lighting tree came with what I thought was a dimmer but was actually more like a strobe where I could accelerate or slow the rate of change between 4 channels (from super fast that you can't tell it's actually flashing 1 after another, to so slow it's just fixed on one channel)... well, we work with what we've got.

The musicians entered one by one, in a walking structured improvisation I'd scored for them (they had to execute a few movements, changes of direction, speed changes, and one movement suspension) using their mobiles to light the way. As each entered, one after another, they crouched in front of the instruments, turned off the light of their phone, lit a candle, and took a candle and their instrument to a corner of the stage, placed the candle down, and started droning (between B and C, just below the treble staff). When they'd all entered, "Brain Damage" died down, and they began the second part of the work.

The second part involved them crossing the stage, walking slowly, then, after they hit the centre, rushing to another corner. Whilst doing that movement they had to go from pianissimo B-C slow oscillation to fortissimo tremolo molto sul ponticello on B or C. One by one, with each passing, they put on a white dust mask and changed their note from B-C to A-B (with a bit of a sforzando at the beginning of that new drone/oscillation... which was an aural cue for the next movement set each time).

I won't go into a detailed blow-by-blow account, but the piece then went into a "flocking" section when they all had to follow each other's movements and sounds, swapping the leader depending on who was at the front of the group (again, in a structured improvisation... planned, with some notation, but with a lot of liberty given to the quartet).

After the flocking, they were sort of slow-motion gyrating on their backs, on the floor, "moaning" with their instruments. Suddenly, the PA starts making that sound when a mobile phone is going off next to a sound system! The quartet stops, takes off their masks, gives their instrument to someone in the audience (which the audience LOVED for some reason... go figure, I mean, it really did break the 4th wall in a way a quartet wouldn't normally ever do) they get their candles from the corners, bring them into the middle, blow them out, put their iphone flashlights on, start playing a music track on their iphones, put the phones in the glass jars that the blown-out candles are in, and walk away.

I'd prepared 4 tracks that interlace solo instrument and solo voice - so it was imperative they all pressed play on their phones at the same time, as the words make sentences when the tracks are synchronised.

The piece ended with that recording being played out (which used a development of a melody presented earlier in the piece as its basis, along with lyrics from Pink Floyd's Brain Damage which was heard at the beginning of the piece.. by this time the pitch language had shifted to F#, making the whole work sound grounded, yet somehow unsettled, as the tonal centre to begin with was always ambiguous).


I'd never seen a string quartet do that before.


The Mendelssohn and Purcell they performed after my work flew by me as I was processing what just occurred. During interval I was getting interesting glances from the punters, some were full of adulation, others were shy to say hi.... the concert finished with Steve Reich's Different Trains with a film that'd been commissioned for the work (which was receiving its Australian premiere at this event too). The Reich was cool, but I was still reeling over my work... I'd never seen anything like it; not on video, not live... it was serious performance art with a contemporary classical music base... I know of some people around the world (Jennifer Walshe in Ireland, Jessica Aszodi in the USA) who are exploring similar concepts - I don't know what their methods are, nor how their performances really look, but I think this is going to be quite a happening movement - and yes I use "Happening" on purpose... these concepts have been explored in the past, and with composers like Kagel... and this world I'm exploring is full of a rich history that scholarly musicians are far more aware of than I. What can I say, I just like to make stuff and make stuff happen!


This morning, Dean had a gig with Ruckus at a conference about the disability sector. I went to help him out as an assistant - it was insane (particularly as I was so tired from the night before). Here's a group of professional performance artists giving a 10 minute work at a conference. It was great to be with Dean as he sweated over the music choices and hear about how he developed concept for the work etc... they had literally 2 hours to come up with something last Monday. The performance was actually pretty amazing... and it occurred to me that they're able to get something together quickly like that because they meet to explore material and develop technique every week. If I had a group that met like that, we wouldn't just rehearse music, we'd stretch, dance, read poetry, sing, cry... express in performance technique beyond our training, invite guests to take us through methods... all I need is 4 good movers... 

I had a dream about that actually.... I was reading an ArtsNSW application online - it was 2017 but the page I was reading was from 2015... and it was like it was written for me, it was saying that all I need is 4 good movers as a basis of a company. We'll see what happens....


This is a photo of (from the left) Dean (grey jumper, glasses), Chris, James, Gerry, Digby (in the background next to the easle) and Alison going through the motions of the performance piece before getting into costume. 

This is a photo of (from the left) Dean (grey jumper, glasses), Chris, James, Gerry, Digby (in the background next to the easle) and Alison going through the motions of the performance piece before getting into costume. 

Andrew Batt-Rawden

Performance artist and composer. I have a background in music composition, festival direction, media publishing, some uni teaching here and there as well as performance art. I make websites for various projects that I'm involved with.