Ranters Theatre attempt the antithesis of the televisual experience in this immersive song cycle
Hi Adriano, tell us about Song?
We started by asking how we could present live music that wasn't a concert or a gig.
Did the songs come first or the immersive environment?
The music. We had a couple of early developments with the songwriter, UK musician James Tyson, who was very interested in the idea of a song cycle. Then we wanted to create an environment, like an installation, where the audience could come in and sit inside the installation and experience the music.
And this is where Brazilian artist Laura Lima came in?
Yeah, she came up with the concept of a landscape, where we have a series of environmental elements.
So it's an artificial environment, but one which simulates a natural landscape?
We wanted to create this sense of an environment because a lot of the songs talk about nature and solitude within nature and particularly the sea.
When people come in they're going to be lying down on astroturf. There's going to be a big four-meter disc the colour of sunset, or of abstract colours, or colours of the sky. We'll also be releasing certain perfumes or smells into the space at various points. These will be taken from nature – forests or oceans, rain et cetera.
What's the format of the evening?
The audience comes into the North Melbourne Town Hall and lounges around on these spongy mats and experiences this big soundscape. We've also got lots of recorded sounds from nature mixed in with the songs.
But the songs will be performed live?
The songs will be sung live, but we're not making them the focus of the performance.
What was it about the traditional gig format that you wanted to get away from?
When you're watching a gig you're watching the musicians perform, and what the musicians are doing. We wanted to just hear the song, we didn't want the performance to get in the way of that experience.
In what way does the performance get in the way?
It's the same as if you lie down in your bedroom with your eyes closed and the lights off and listen to music, as opposed to going to a gig where you're responding to the live energy of the musicians, how they look, what they do, what sort of a vibe they create, what scene they're part of et cetera. All that can distract you from the music.
What connections were you looking to make with these references to the natural world?
It's fairly clear that we have a strange relationship with nature. Most people live in urban environments and we often romanticise nature, and so we wanted to emphasise that, gently. Everything in the show is manmade. We didn't want to put down real earth, we wanted plastic earth.
Easier to manage, I bet.
When I went an bought the astroturf the sales people were saying things like, 'It's better than grass! You don't need to water it.'
We're suggesting elements of nature through manmade devices. And the songs themselves also push a fairly romantic relationship with nature, so we're making that connection between the lyrics of the songs and this very manmade environment.
We're also looking at creating lightning with a Tesla Coil, and rain with a little rain box, so that you can go over and watch the rain fall in this very ordered manmade situation.
Is it an ironic recreation of nature?
It's not meant to be ironic, it sort of just saying, well, this is where we're at.
I hope that it will be quite beautiful in its own right, because we can do things that are quite interesting. I'm walking through Fitzroy Gardens now and it's pretty nice, though it's been constructed.
What's the relationship to previous Ranters Theatre productions, where there's also been an attempt if not to deconstruct then at least to deemphasise traditional performance modes?
That's very much embedded in the way that we work with actors and with dialogue, so I guess we've taken that idea and thought that we wanted to create performance that doesn't actually live up to expectations of what a performance should be.
People will come here and listen to singing, but it's not as though there's a beginning middle and end. It's a large relaxation room to listen to music. We're going to take elements of nature and push them a little bit.
It's not like our previous work at all, but there are similar sentiments, particularly in the approach to space and emptiness.
Anything in particular that spurred the departure?
I really wanted to do something different. That was it. We'd been working together – a small ensemble – for a very long time. We'd be creating these very intimate, very personal performances and so I just wanted to do something different, and bring in some outside people.
Take us through some of the collaborators.
We wanted to move away from working with theatre designers. It'll possibly change the way we work in the future.
We were very fortunate to engage James Tyson, a musician from the UK, who has actually worked with us before as a presenter.
Laura Lima – one of her shows will be on in Sydney, a big group show with Marina Abramovic and others. We were fortunate enough to engage her, and we were very fortunate because she's never done anything like this before. She's strictly worked in visual artist.
We've engaged a local installation artist, a light artist, who creates big light sculptures, Stephen Hennessy, who is creating the disc.
The perfumer is George Kara. I've known George for a long time. He's quite big in the rave scene. He's done lots of raves and chill out rooms and he's an expert in that field.
David Franzke is the sound designer.