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Negative Volumes: Danger Magic

  • firstdraft 13-17 Riley Street Woolloomooloo, NSW, 2011 Australia (map)

Before the words, there is the voice (The good voice. The bad voice. Your voice)

TUE 30 & WED 31 May 2017
6PM - 9PM
13-17 Riley St, Woolloomooloo, Sydney


artists: Andrew Harper, Sarah Byrne, Emma Ramsay, Matthew P. Hopkins, Mariam Arcilla, Geoffrey Gartner (performing Dick Higgins’ Danger Music)

TUE 30 May 6pm-8pm
Andrew Harper, Sarah Byrne, Mariam Arcilla, Geoffrey Gartner (performing Dick Higgins’ Danger Music)

WED 31 May 6pm-8pm
Emma Ramsay, Matthew P. Hopkins, Mariam Arcilla, Geoffrey Gartner (performing Dick Higgins’ Danger Music)

There are still magic words.Words of invocation and words of exhortation: words that entice, words that summon, words that compel, words that wound. There are taboo words whose unspeakability must be regularly renewed to ensure it has not decomposed. There are words beyond sense that brim with meaning. There are ways of saying words that can invest them – even the most banal of utterances – with puzzling force. And, there are rituals of bodily complicity right at the level of the sign (try saying “curse” without snarling, or “hex” without hissing).

Before the words, there is the voice (The good voice. The bad voice. Your voice). My voice, issuing from me as it speaks me, doubling back to be heard by me – both me and always beyond me. When we loose the voice, and set it upon words, we make a space for listening, between the deed and the intention, a place that’s dangerous, where sound might smuggle itself in.


Negative spaces are never blank. Just as there is no space around objects, only objects in space, there is no gap between sounds, since there is no possibility of silence. Instead what we hear is the noise of the layers, the various shades and feints and foley and interstitial emissions that, stitched together, produce the reassuring throb of frequencies we are schooled to call “background”.

Similarly. A strobe light appears to come on and off, but what we see as light and dark made large, a perfect example of pure black and white, is not in fact discrete. What seems to be simply ‘on’ and ‘off’ is not a dyad. Rather, a strobe is a string, a set, a sequence of pulses giving way to each other: a swelling, an exploding, a fading and then a darkness, until the new swell lights up again. Despite appearances, despite conventional thinking, this is not binary.

In this program, there’s no figure and no ground. There is no negative space. An empty institution is never completely empty. Instead, it becomes a spatial politic for the throwing of light and shade.

In sound, how we structure sonic experience can provide models for how we structure community.

We invite a queering of the spatial politics of the invisible and visible, of the notions of audible and inaudible – a questioning of the question of the one or the other – in order to enter the space opened up by this voluminous negation.

The world is f****d. But, the gallery is empty. What will we do now?


Andrew Harper

From Hobart, Andrew’s art works with the occult and with money, which he feels are much the same thing.

LA: Do you intend to cast a spell on us?

AH: “Babel (Azathoth) is a live working of found and hoarded elements (cassette recordings and outdated technology) that is hoped to reflect the disquiet and horror of the artist/performer at the temper of the times, and send a sonic ripple back to the makers of this horror: the present government of Australia (such as it is) and the forces further afield.”

Sarah Byrne

Melbourne-based artist Sarah Byrne is interested in the cross-pollination of video, voice and performative practice. Sarah is re-examining the everyday object of the list, to hear how what are meant to be reassuring, organising devices can become threatening, overwhelming or unintelligible when subjected to the deconstructive pressure of the voice.

LA: Are you a crosser or a ticker?

SB: I’m a crosser
I like that strong slashing motion
I prefer crossing something off the list than that little upward flick
I like the cross, it’s a cut, it’s a violence, it’s definitive
I think that’s an aggressive act and that’s why I like it.

Emma Ramsay

Emma Ramsay is a Sydney practitioner whose work considers sound in various engagements with human and other communication. Emma will create a situation for listening to our expectations about different states of matter and luminous low-vis.

LA: How do you you hear smoke and fog?

ER: “In pursuit of a value judgement, perhaps a preference for artificial smoke, haze or fog – both operate differently atmospherically, and yet are interchangeable in theatrical impact. The behaviour of each as vapour is specific, yet the atomisation process is similar for both. Smoke appears during & endures beyond and marks the disaster or burn-off. Metaphors mobilise ‘smoke’, ‘haze’ and ‘fog’ in very specific ways and can wriggle from distinct placement to exchangeable depending on context. If you’re hearing anything, it’s particulate.”

Geoffrey Gartner performs Dick Higgins’ Danger Music

Geoffrey Gartner is a performer, musician and scholar of Fluxus. Geoffrey will present performances of a number of Dick Higgins’ text scores, The Danger of Lecturing at Concerts, from the Danger Music anthology (1962).

LA: What makes Danger Music dangerous and what makes it music?

GG: “It’s trying to get beyond the idea that music has to be a purely sonic event. It’s not – it’s always a multi-sensory experience. That’s why these texts are so liberating. People tend to like order, we like things that are absolute, we like things that we know that orient us, we like notes on a page. Look at where these scores appeared – in Higgins’ Foew & Ombwhnw: A Grammar of the Mind and a Phenomenology of Love and a Science of the Arts As Seen by a Stalker of the Wild Mushroom (1969), where there are plays, text scores, pattern poetry and essays laid out in vertical columns left to right. You can read them in a linear fashion, but he wants you to read across. It’s fucked up yet it’s brilliant and it’s really quite planned at the same time. It’s deliberately difficult, verging on impossible, yet it’s also poking fun at the pretensions of the concert hall, and playful, and that’s what makes it dangerous, and also music.”

Matthew P. Hopkins

Sydney-based Matthew P. Hopkins is an artist and musician.

LA: How do you throw the voice?

MPH: “A prepared collage of processed empty cassette tape recordings is improvised upon using a microphone with ring modulator effect. An improvised phrase is developed in real-time via mumbling and murmuring, via the bringing forth of internal mental babble and shaping it into words that ‘make sense’ somehow. As this phrase takes shape and forms into something that resonates as ‘right,’ two other actions begin: firstly, using the microphone the phrase is traced in the air in front of the speakers so as to cause feedback sounds; and secondly, the phrase is inscribed on a piece of paper using the microphone as writing instrument.

The voice, air tracing and inscribing repeat at intervals throughout the performance along with the constant sound of the tape collage. All these sounds are processed live in real-time. This acts as a kind of electronic writing, or electronic inscription via the three different modes of inscribing.

The work is less about automatic writing in the traditional mediumistic/esoteric sense, and is more an act of auto-ventriloquy in the sense that I am attempting to engage directly with inner voice and let it come out. This inner speech is not talking through me so much as it is talking with me.”

LIQUID ARCHITECTURE is an Australian organisation for artists working with sound. LA investigates the sounds themselves, but also the ideas communicated about - and the meaning of - sound and listening.