Tag: The Substation


Experiencing the the experiment

By Lois Maskiell

Attending Tetsuya Umeda’s performance at The Substation, Newport was akin to being held captive in a particularly entertaining science experiment. This one-hour piece featured the artist manipulating a range of objects, sound and light. These objects included portable gas stoves, loudspeakers, beakers, lamps and even bags of rice that he began to cook. Umeda’s artistry lies in turning these ordinary items into an extraordinary spectacle for the senses.

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The first feat of intrigue included Umeda swivelling a metal rod into a lump of dry ice. This rod, which had been heated in the flame of a gas stove made a bizarre screeching noise. Soon, on the opposite side of the room, a loudspeaker was lowered from the staggeringly high ceiling over the balcony. With this loudspeaker dangling from a long string mid-air, the site-specific nature of Umeda’s work was revealed. The relationship between object and space lurched before your eyes.

Umeda meandered carefully around his constructed environment, tweaking items and causing reactions, of many kinds. As objects flew into the air, audience members gasped instantaneously. These knee-jerk reactions brought the audience together in a shared, visceral experience.

The most memorable assemblage was an enormous glass bowl with a flickering light bulb placed inside it. Umeda filled the bowl with water and left his audience to marvel at both the danger and beauty of electricity in water. Umeda continued by crumbling dry ice into the water, creating a hypnotising layer of white smoke that emerged like a snake from the bowl.

For audiences unaccustomed to performance art, this piece could either be an exciting and novel experience or an introduction to a genre of art that often demands significant commitment on the audience’s behalf to stay engaged. Chasing the next cluster of objects to implode/explode was part of the game. Umeda’s performance emitted an overarching sentiment of intrigue and alertness, though the final question remains: did he eat the rice?

Presented by The Substation and Liquid Architecture in association with Performance Space and Room40, Tetsuya Umeda’s work was at The Substation, Newport October 30 – November 04, 2017.


For the love of Lynch

By Tania Herbert

A gig touting “The Music of Twin Peaks” is always going to bring out the cool creatures, and this was a solid display of Melbourne’s pre-hipster arthouse crowd. The show opens with a projection screen looking up a staircase, with a revolving fan and fading light. A deep booming repetitive base note sounds out for several minutes.

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Then enter Xiu Xiu, an insanely good-looking trio of artists (Jamie Stewart, Angela Seo and Shayna Dunkelman), who take us through a reinterpretation of the music, sounds and poetry in a musical episode of David Lynch’s cult masterpiece Twin Peaks.

The gig was an extremely theatrical and slick program of music, with pieces floating between romantic classical to smooth jazz, to grunge rock to experimental soundscape – with a bit of spoken word in case there wasn’t already enough range.

Rich, complex, even funny in moments, the quirky mystery and depth of Twin Peaks was caught in full. The multimedia was simple, but cool and ambient and complemented the wonderful performance and wacky onstage antics the performers added to each number.

It wasn’t a great start in terms of sound – the balance was way off, with ear-piercing percussion meaning the piano couldn’t be heard, feedback issues and indecipherable vocals. However, credit to the sound crew – it was rapidly sorted through the first couple of numbers, after which the balance was spot on to bring out the most interesting parts of what was often a cacophony of sound.  The vocal clarity was never quite resolved, though this was only a slight detraction from a masterful musical performance.

The gig was supported by a work by Alessandro Cortini from Italy, with a 45-minute sonic-dreamscape composition set to Italian Super-8 home videos from the family archives of the artist. The piece was all about the contrast – videos of children playing the snow or families at the beach against the extreme intense music – creating a set-up where you found yourself feeling intense anticipation for what was to happen next, even though these were simple home movies. Musically, it’s a style I personally find becomes repetitive and I didn’t feel it built much – it felt more like an interactive museum piece, but was certainly a good ‘stage setter’ for the show to come.

Looking around midway through Xiu Xiu’s performance, I see a crowd of arty people in a high- domed, red-velvet-draped reclaimed electrical substation, all standing stock-still and staring upwards, mesmerised by black and white footage of a ceiling fan and a series of random noises… it was deliciously David Lynch-y.

Xiu Xiu was a reminder that the music of Twin Peaks is definitely concert-worthy – particularly when captured in such a great piece of musical performance art.

Xiu Xiu is playing tonight (Friday 23 June as a double bill with Sarah Davachi (Canada)

Date:       Thu 22 – Fri 23 June, 8pm
Tickets:   $45 plus booking fee
Bookings: www.thesubstation.org.au

The Substation Presents THE TRIBE

A personal and beautiful story-telling experience

By Christine Young

The Tribe is perhaps what the world needs right now. At the very least, in a time of heightened Islamophobia, racism and bigoted politics, it’s what’s missing from public life: the voices and stories of Arab immigrant families.

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This reviewer jumped at the chance to attend the opening night of The Tribe which is based on Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s novel of the same name, and presented by The Substation theatre company and Urban Theatre Projects. The play is a series of monologues/memories told by an adult Bani but through the eyes of his child self at ages five, seven and eleven. It was adapted for the stage by author Ahmad and Janice Muller who also directed solo actor Hazem Shammas.

Bani belongs to the first generation of his big Lebanese family born in Australia with whom he lives on Caitlin Street in Lakemba. Lakemba is a suburb 15km south-west of Sydney’s CBD and well-known as a hub for Lebanese Muslim Australians. As Bani tells us, the Caitlin Street residents are overwhelmingly Muslim and living there carries a certain credibility. When the most rebellious kid in his class, Omar, finds out they live opposite each other, he decides they are best mates on the spot. Neither child knows anything about Omar being a Sunni Muslim and Bani being an Ahmadi Muslim which would have ruled out a friendship in Lebanon.

Bani’s stories from 1980s Lakemba centre on the family’s matriarch Taytar (grandmother). These stories also reach beyond Lakemba and back to a Lebanon that Bani has never known. Shammas renders beautiful the poignant and moving anecdotes from Bani’s childhood. Every time Bani utters ‘Taytar’, his voice changes and it’s said in a gentle tone of affection and respect.

Hazem Shammas is joined on stage by composer Oonagh Sherrard on cello which is aptly matched to the emotion and life of the storytelling. My seat was remarkably close to Sherrard which gave me a unique chance to watch the beauty and dexterity of cello-playing up close.

For the Melbourne season, The Substation in Newport has arranged for the play to be performed at homes in the area. The audience meets at The Substation and is taken, by foot, to the previously undisclosed location, and experiencing The Tribe is all the more special because it’s performed in the privacy and intimacy of a volunteer family’s backyard.

The Tribe was performed on March 30, 31 and April 1 2017 in Newport, Melbourne.

The Substation Presents LONG STRING INSTRUMENT

Experimental soundscape a work in fascination

By Narelle Wood

It was with much curiosity I went to see the Long String Instrument, curious mostly about how long the strings actually were and what sort of music they would produce.

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‘Long string’ perhaps doesn’t evoke images of just how lengthy these strings actually are, spanning almost the full 27 metres of The Substation main room. Creator Ellen Fullman walks carefully as if on a tightrope between the collection of strings, running her rosin-coated fingers across the tense metal. Fullman’s soft and delicate movement belies the strength in her fingers to produce the continuous tonal hum from the instrument.

Fullman, along with Theresa Wong on the cello, perform the duet “Harbors”, a collaboration between the two musicians exploring the ‘soundscapes, stories and atmospheres’ around bodies of water. For me, though, the sound was far more industrial, which was perfectly suited to the Substation surrounds. The Long String instrument seemed to me to produce sounds similar to an electrical buzzing, albeit of different tones. I found the cello at times to be quite jarring, at a discord with the sounds produced by the Long String. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy it or find the musical experience interesting; I was simply expecting something far more tranquil from the composition.

This was a fascinating musical experience, and I would have very much liked to have had some explanation of how The Long String worked, how it’s transported, tuned and indeed if it works on a scale or if Fullman changes the tones depending on the composition. The most interesting part of the performance was when Fullman used what looked to be loops of string to create a plucked, staccato sound, rather than long continuous notes.

Unfortunately this was only a one-night performance. While I didn’t find the music relaxing, it certainly piqued my interest, both in composition and the production of sound and have since discovered how the Long String works, and its relationship to Star Wars. I highly recommend checking out both Fullman’s work and the fascinating sound of the Long String.

Long String Instrument was performed on January 27, 2017 at The Substation, 1 Market St, Newport. For upcoming events at the venue, visit http://www.thesubstation.org.au/.

Image by Keelan O’Hehir