The audio-visual whiz brings his RGB Laser Show to the Liquid Architecture Festival
The Ear is a Brain, a showcase of individual artists attempting to communicate form entirely through sound, is, in the best sense of the word, ambitious. The five-artist opening ceremony for Liquid Architecture collects works unified by their medium that are still completely alien from one another and orders them in a way that resembles the format of a much larger ceremony – a slow climb from work to work that culminates in a spectacular finale.
However, where the intent and effort of the evening is clear, the occasionally obtuse, suspiciously lazy and poor presentation values of several of the performances leaves the night feeling lopsided. From Helen Grogan’s Concrete Room, where she drags a microphone apathetically around the room; to the live crowd experimentation of Neil McLachlan, whose studies of imperceptible changes in tone are impossible to understand thanks to severe technical issues and a decade-old projector screen.
The middle act of the night, Christof Migone’s Mixer, is a definite highlight. He uses instruments, objects and his own mouth to create a dense and evocative performance that seems to embody what The Ear is a Brain set out to accomplish. His work generates strong mental imagery and draws moments of awed silence from a dense, noisy crowd. The strength of his performance makes the entire night feel as though it is shaped around his presence on the stage – and this is emphasised when he later performs a 20-minute, entertainingly repetitive introduction to the final performance: Robin Fox’s aptly named RGB Laser, a polychromatic smoke and laser show.
The lasers seem to be what draws most of the crowd to the event. The audience surges into the partitioned performance space to experience a droning auditory and visual barrage that used smoke effects and rapid light scanning to create neon caverns and dense fluorescent blockades above and throughout the audience. The light moves in perfect sync to the whirring, industrial sounds, occasionally dipping in and out of patterns before descending into violently random fluctuations.
The Ear is a Brain has two precise, captivating artistic instances that perfectly explores the theme of the evening. It’s just a shame that having to endure the lacklustre works that bookend these performances may push many away from embracing the festival’s message. Finn Houlihan
Interview with Robin Fox
After nearly ten years touring his green laser show around the world, audio-visual artist Robin Fox has gone bigger and better for the opening night of Liquid Architecture, a festival exploring contemporary sounds.
Fox holds a PhD in composition and, while working with noise, became interested in what sound looked like through an oscilloscope. That’s the equipment used to measure an electrical signal – like those machines in hospital dramas. Admitting that most of it looked terrible, he says that there was one second where the sound and the image were in synergy. “It was really quite a startling revelation,” he says. “I thought, okay, that’s what I want to look at.”
A few years later, while staring at a green laser making smiley faces and unicorns in a dingy Melbourne nightclub, he realised that he could turn images into 3D shows using a projector. So, he had a projector built that would work in the same way as the oscilloscope. A decade on, he’s started working with colour and the movement of three independent lights. “It’s made the show a bit ridiculous now, quite spectacular and entertaining. The colours will cross each other and it becomes quite prismatic, with almost like a rainbow effect in the room.”
But there’s a twist. Unlike his previous show where the sound created the visuals, in RGB, Fox draws the images to create the sound. Yes – the lasers are in charge of the composition; albeit with Fox at the controls. He prefers to improvise live, and so every show will be different.
RGB is designed as a manufactured synaesthetic experience, creating a relationship between sound and light that our brains are rarely exposed to. It’s intense. In fact, one Canadian audience member– a Vietnam veteran – told Fox that sitting through his performance was the closest things he’s had to being back in combat. No wonder MONA FOMA were keen to get Fox on board for their subversive Hobart arts festival.
Following the show’s Melbourne debut at Liquid Architecture, Fox is taking on a series of other projects around the world. But, for us Melburnians, he’s developing a colour organ version of his system, during which the audience can actually sit at the keyboard and play his RGB laser – expect to see that at next January’s Sugar Mountain Festival.
“For me, part of the fun is playing this instrument,” he says, “and I want to share that with people”.