new sounds from paul heslin

Right in the depths of my heart, this is: British-by-trade musictian Paul Heslin sets about himself with a handcrafted Max MSP patch, a sample of my gibberish, and then in one take and not more, with no post-production or suchlike, creates such an animal as this: Paul Heslin feat blind – Swampy 2-step dinosaur love.mp3 (2.75mb) – listen to it. dare you.

within the space of hours, Heslin had also assembled a new (and to my poor mind definitive) version of the Diplodocus standard You are KGB, aren’t you? If you are one of the tens of thousands who downloaded Diplodocus’ First handshake in space EP (20.8mb free download) now is your chance to hear a classic from the band’s back catalogue! If you didn’t download First handshake in space, the same statement applies to you! download Diplodocus – You are KGB, aren’t you? (4.4mb)
Actually, I don’t mind if you play it or not. The point is that it’s really good, and Paul’s stuff is excellent, and you should get to his blog and peer through it for more of his creatings, and that’s really that.

Feb 2009: the Multicultural Fringe Festival

The 6th National Multicultural Fringe Festival. I have been performing at the Fringe since its inception in 2004. In its early years, the Fringe possessed a relaxed convivial atmosphere – partly due to its setting under the trees outside the Street Theatre, partly due to the small but enthusiastic crowd of artists and creators. In recent years, Fringe director Jorian Gardner has split with the Street Theatre and taken the Fringe into a tent in Civic Square, which has (a) killed the peaceful vibe and (b) massively increased audience attendance.

I have fond memories of the Fringe, and of the shows which I’ve presented for it: 2004’s A Paid Presentation (with Hadley), 2005’s Vidooshaka: the Indian Clown (with Rahul Craemer), 2006’s The Adventures of Boy President and Boho‘s A Prisoner’s Dilemma in 2007. It’s a valuable testing ground for new work, as well as providing countless opportunities for spontaneous performances and collaborations. This year, myself and Chris Finnigan performed a guitar / spoken-word set entitled Hurting No-one, and I was the Festival’s ‘Writer-in-a-Box’ on the final Saturday; from 7-11.30pm I sat in the crowd on a pillar with a laptop, typing a constant commentary which was projected simultaneously on a screen.

Both fun performances, but what I wanted to write about was not my own work but two performances at the Fringe which blew my mind – highlights of the year so far.

Mr FibbyLittle girl lost in the devil’s black beard
Musicians Sam King, Emma Kelly and Grahame Thompson joined writer/performer Hadley some number of time ago to form Mr Fibby. From the Fibby website: ‘Forged from wooden cogs and lizard grease, MR FIBBY are eighteenth century Ukraine’s musical answer to Voltron. After confusing and alienating audiences across Australia, from Woodford Folk Festival to Robertson Festival’s ‘Irish Music Afternoon’, the unstoppable faux-gypsy warhorse of MR FIBBY continue to disapoint and delight audiences everywhere.

emma, hadley and sam are just as blurry in real life. image from

I’ve always loved Mr Fibby, and was once even considered as a possible satellite member. But you know, I loved them as you love your friends’ projects – you appreciate the fine points, you disregard the flaws. After little girl lost in the devil’s black beard, I no longer love them – I think I’m in awe of them. The show took place in the Courtyard Studio Theatre (packed full every night, of course) amidst a junkyard theatre set. Emma (violin) Sam (guitar) and Grahame (cello) played a desperate and haunted gypsy score while Hadley narrated the story in a deranged pretence at an Eastern European accent.

After her biscuit-tin violin is stolen by the devil and her sickly aunt dies (wailing for leeches), the ugliest little girl in the world sets out on a journey to the devil’s lair at the top of a huge black tree to retrieve it. Arrayed against her is a menagerie of eerie monsters, including the Mandrake children (with no faces except the faces they steal) the Yellow Bird (and the Yellow Bird’s army of Twigmen) and a giant squid, all enacted by Hadley in a virtuoso frenzy. The fable unfolds gradually; Hadley’s Borges-by-way-of-Mikelangelo-prose and the band’s melancholy sountrack lends weight and power to every new scene and character. I consider myself relatively well-versed in Hadley’s work, but the script of little girl took me utterly by surprise.

And then there was the staging. The tension between Hadley and the musicians was lovely and not overstated, the use of theatrical props (eg a chalkboard and a door) was inventive and effective, and then, and then, and then we come to the instruments. Sam King is a genius multi-instrumentalist and instrument-builder, and little girl featured some of the coolest sound-making tools I’ve ever seen. Empty bathtub used for percussion: check. Array of shovels tuned to be played like some fucked up xylophone: check. Enormous handmade and tuned music-box built into a bicycle wheel: oh my fucking god are you kidding me? Watching Sam pedal his melodious way from stage-left to stage-right is easily one of the coolest moments I’ve ever seen, ever.

hadley, grahame, sam and emma – from the BMA Magazine website

Someone please give these guys money and gear so we can get them to the Crack Theatre Festival this October. Now, next in the awesome-camp:

Shadowhouse PITSDying Love: theatre in a car
Writer/director Joe Woodward tried out the concept at the 2007 Fringe; a car is parked in the middle of the Fringe Festival, by the fountain in Civic Square. 1-2 audience members climb in the back of the car – Joe in the driver’s seat delivered a short monologue performance to his passengers. I remember liking the format, but not being blown away by the content.

Things are different now. In 2009, Dying Love featured two actors (Hanna Cormick and Lloyd Allison-Young) in the front and passenger seat of the car. From the outside, the car was swathed in black cloth. On the inside, video projections hit the windscreen and created the illusion of travel, as well as a montage of noises, voices and music. The setting is 1969 – the young man is about to depart for Vietnam, and so he has taken his girlfriend out for one last drive. That’s the plot – at least as much as I followed it.

Plot’s for the birds. Dying Love was a tightly-knotted, highly-charged cobweb of images, thoughts and emotions, sparking in all directions like a welding-torch aimed at its theme: the dangerous consequences of believing in something. I picked up on Sam Harris as a possible influence – Joe informed me that he has corresponded with Harris for some years. (For a more detailed elucidation of the play’s central idea, read Joe’s article ‘Belief and Killing are close companions‘.) The richly coloured and textured video was densely-edited into a furious montage of light, sound and colour, flickering between footage from the period (treated and processed) and original material filmed for the production.

The evocative rush of video images was matched step for step by the precisely calibrated performances of Cormick and Allison-Young, delivered with white-hot fists-clenched gritted-teeth intensity. The physical and emotional extremes to which they pushed themselves in the short (12 minute) span of the show is especially impressive considering that they were performing it back-to-back for 3-4 hours every night, one carload of audience members after another.

I hope this show gets more attention. I hope it tours to other venues and festivals. I don’t think it will resonate with every audience, but the impact it could have when it does… I don’t usually describe theatre as important – I don’t really know what important means in a theatre context – but Dying Love is very, very good.

The rest of the Fringe was ups and downs, but unquestionably more interesting than the city on an average week. That counts, I think.

thucy at penguin cafe / bar, manila

Last night Sipat Lawin Ensemble’s production of To heat you up and cool you down (aka Thucy) and Martin Sherman’s Bent, a double-bill at the Penguin cafe/bar on Remedios Circle, Malate. I snuck over to the ‘pines to see it (because I am an idiot) and it was fucking rad and blew me away.

I won’t comment on Bent, because although it was engaging and I was totally lost in it for an hour, it was also in Tagalog and I will only make an idiot (more of an idiot) out of myself if I try and formulate an opinion. Except to say that the lesson I learned last time I was in Manila still holds true: good drama is universal, and things like strong character intentions, interesting blocking, well formulated story arcs and tangible exchanges hold water no matter what language they’re delivered in.

To heat you up and cool you down, mind you, I followed word for word. There’s something totally engrossing about watching lines you’ve written spoken in a language that you don’t speak, but that bizarre and lovely experience aside, I can authoratively say that Sipat Lawin put on a better production than I wrote the script for.

Three reasons: first of all, the edit. Thucy is designed to be chopped up and reassembled according to the whim of the producing company, and the translators (JK Anouiche, Kristine Balmes, Christine P. Gonzales and Alison Segarra, apologies if I’ve missed anyone) did a beautiful job of turning a smear of disconnected moments into a growing, evolving story arc. The fragmentary thoughts of Christine and Onie flickered in and out of Christine and Onie’s dialogue, sometimes commenting on, sometimes distracting from and sometimes driving their thoughts and actions. There were beautiful moments of echo, of shared lines, and patterns that built up over the course of the piece. Then there were some revisions which really worked (and which I’ll probably be stealing for future edits): instead of the Coin character finishing around halfway through the piece, Balmes and Gonzales kept her as a gradually diminishing ghost the whole way through.

Secondly, the staging. Penguin is a small cafe / bar space, packed fairly full for this performance, and the directors kept the action flowing fluidly from point to point, with moments of focus appearing at all points throughout the room. And they moved it fast: one feeling I have for my scripts is that they can’t really be done at a medium – slow pace. The lines aren’t individually strong enough to hang an audience’s attention from. But when they come rapidly, flashing in little knots of argument debate discussion and decision from all corners of the room, the rhythm starts to build and the moments of slowness (and there were some lovely moments of stillness) start to have much more weight… Plus the costuming was really simple and clear.

Thirdly, the performances. Full cast of seven females (you can do Thucy with a cast of seven, five, or two) and so perfectly cast that I knew who was playing who almost as soon as I saw them (is that a good thing? I don’t know, I think it is). And the whole ensemble sparking together – how do you get seven people flowing and picking up on each other’s energies, all moving in unison at points, and then suddenly exploding into sparks like when you throw a log on a campfire – much respect of many kinds to Alison Segarra, Janessa Roque, Meila Romero, Lovely Balili, Sheerly Van Gener, Isabelle Martinez and Nina Rumbines.

Someday I intend to be a playwright worthy of this sort of production. Until then: I got lucky.

activities circa Feb 8, 2009

three slices of radness this week. first of all, Boho‘s Food for the Great Hungers is pounding away at Manning Clark House – closes tonight, after an incredible limited run (6 shows, 85 audience members) – thanks heaps to everyone who got in early and has come along, and my apologies to everyone who missed out. hopefully we will find a place to remount the work later this year, in a venue that fits more than fifteen people at a time.

secondly, the superior senor Paul Heslin has created another fiery piece of sound / video art from a bit of my text – check out the uber-short 40 days, with chopped-up Youtube video footage accompaniment.

lastly, the Sipat Lawin Ensemble‘s production of To heat you up and cool you down is running this month in Manila (and I shall be sneaking over there next week to check it out), back to back with Martin Sherman’s Bent. The following is the poster – dig:

PS. I’m performing several times at the Multicultural Fringe Festival this week in Civic Square – Wednesday 11th, doing some music/spoken-word with Chris Finnigan, and Saturday 14th doing a live-writing-projection-experiment. it will be rough and dirty and jagged round the edges, like the best Fringe shite ought to be.

food for the great hungers

Boho‘s residency at Manning Clark House comes to an end this week with the first public showing of our new performance work Food for the Great Hungers. The following are a selection of images by the masterful ‘pling – thanks be to his brilliant camera-work, to the redoubtable Pete Butz (film-maker) and an awestruck nod of thanks to consultants Dr Doug Cocks and Chris Ryan, who have invested a stupendous amount of time and energy into this project. dig –