It’s an overcast lunchtime and in one corner of UniSA’s Hawke EU Centre a musician is tinkering quietly with a box that resembles an Atari console with a pile of colourful spaghetti heaped on it.
But this is no ordinary box, it’s a wired-up sound installation, and the musician behind the tinkering is no less than luminary English singer and songwriter Lloyd Cole, who, a few hours prior to performing at a packed out gig in Adelaide, is sharing the secrets behind a special exhibition that he is staging at UniSA.
The sound installation is the centrepiece of the Identity vs Noise: 1Dn exhibition which is set to run at the Nexus Arts Gallery in Adelaide from January 25 to February 3, and which will incorporate real time participation from visitors at three other galleries in capital cities around the world.
Imagine being able to co-create a live musical composition being broadcast from Australia, while you are in another country, just by flicking a switch.
That’s the concept which is set to become reality when the sound installation is turned on, as it will harness audience interactivity from the other galleries, using new technologies to create new sounds.
The starting presentation is a generative electronic composition of indefinite length, created through a unique modular synthesizer, which has been diligently assembled by Cole specifically for the installation. The resulting contemporaneous broadcast will continually evolve however, depending on how people engage with it through interactive interfaces in Helsinki, Dublin and Tokyo.
As the highly regarded lead singer of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Cole’s cerebral brand of post new wave pop charted throughout the 1980s, and these hits, along with his solo compositions, Cole is performing in Australia this month through his Retrospective tour.
By contrast the sound installation marks the latest chapter in a career in which Cole’s experimentation in electronic and generative music has already born fascinating fruit, best evidenced in 1D Electronics 2012-2014.
Cole describes the Identity vs Noise: 1Dn composition as being built around an “innate volatility”.
“This volatility is also impacted by the audience. At each of the satellite galleries, and in Adelaide there will be a single switch, pressing this switch will flip flop between “yes” and “no”,” Cole says.
“Various combinations of these choices will impact the piece in different ways, sometimes subtle, sometimes not subtle.
“The essence of the piece, its beauty is fighting its environment – the noise of everyday life. The audience are part of that equation. They are part of the noise.
“Noise doesn’t know what it’s doing other than making things noisy, so the audience don’t have any control over the impact of their actions other than they choose to act or not.
“The ability of the other, the noise, to impact and corrupt the consonance, is in the hands of the audience.
“The type of music that I do with modular synthesisers is, in my opinion, more appropriate as an installation than it is as a performance.
“I create systems which can become like identities in themselves, they exist once I create them and they make their own decisions based on fairly complex matrices that I assemble, matrices of probability, matrices that involve noise.
“When noise is in charge anything could happen, when I’m in charge I tend to weigh things musically so that the things that can be potentially atonal are going to happen far less often than the things that are harmonious.
“Anthony asked me if I could make this piece to be about identity and I said I could do identity when identity is besieged by the outside world and the outside world is effectively noise.”
Professor Anthony Elliott, Executive Director of the Hawke EU Centre, welcomed Cole’s return to UniSA, where Lloyd was a Visiting Fellow in 2014, and described the Identity vs Noise: 1Dn exhibition as resonating with key global issues of our times.
“Identity vs Noise: 1Dn is a sound installation exploring global transformations in the interplay of identity and difference – in personal and artistic life, in cultural life, and in politics more generally,” he says.
“Cole is a musician who has brought a European sensibility to his artistic work and engaged with audiences across Europe, Asia, North America and Australasia. This puts him in a unique position to reflect on today’s global cultural turbulence, and there are many ways in which the theme of “volatility” in Identity vs Noise: 1Dn might be contextualized in terms of wider global changes.
“That contemporary electronic music would eventually turn back to consider the contradictions of mutation in everyday life was predictable; but nothing could have prepared us for Cole’s astonishing confrontation with the complex relations between identity, dissonance and noise in both public and private life. His work continues to break new ground, and we are exceptionally pleased to have him return to UniSA and the Hawke EU Centre.”
The Sound Installation will be presented by the Hawke EU Centre for Mobilities, Migrations and Cultural Transformations in partnership with TAV Gallery (Japan), Trinity Long Room Hub (Ireland) and the Museum of Finnish Architecture (Finland).