Paul Heslin / Reuben Ingall – Eden Again

This week I was caught completely off-guard by the release of Paul Heslin and Reuben Ingall‘s split Eden Again. Paul (Melbourne) and Reuben (Canberra) are both wildly prolific musicians and both emerged from the Canberra experimental scene of the 2000s, so the idea of the  split wasn’t especially surprising. The format (VHS cassette and digital download) is unusual, but well in keeping with both their love for supposedly obsolete formats: Paul has previously released an EP on 3.5 inch floppy disk, and Reuben is an active advocate for the CD single. Even the concept, on paper, seems quite straightforward – Paul and Reuben processing and treating a selection of christian videos and music from the 1990s. What I wasn’t expecting was the result. Over six tracks, Eden Again captures some of the cartoonish images associated with evangelical christianity (smiling white longhaired jesus, westboro baptist church protests, tv ministers), it warps and destabilises them (chops, screws, sets to blistering breakcore beats) and in doing so it reinvests them with something real.

The tools with which Paul and Reuben approach their material are not unfamiliar. It’s been a few years since Ghost Box and Oneohtrix Point Never and Konx-Om-Pax et al set up shop, and before them all Boards of Canada, and I have always appreciated the ways in which these artists have recontextualised and destabilised old footage to creepy and unsettling effect. I’m not trying to suggest that Eden Again is a technical achievement above and beyond anything that Hauntological music has achieved to date, but that I’ve never seen it used with such purpose.

What I mean is that whereas a lot of Hauntology draws on familiar nostalgic footage from our various childhoods (depending on your generation) and draws out the weird, the broken and the frightening elements contained within them, Eden Again starts with nostalgic childhood footage that has genuine significance and evocative power to begin with. Whether you’re a christian or not (and going to a fairly lightweight anglican school, I was only fleetingly exposed to this stuff), you can’t look at this footage without thinking how it has been given to children to help them understand God. It’s not a BBC tele-drama or an episode of Baywatch, these clips and snippets were how some children (maybe you, maybe not) came to grips with their spirituality and the concept of a higher power. From the beginning, then, Eden Again is treading in emotive territory.

The second observation I have to make is that this is far more than the irreverent pisstake it could have been. This is a bizarre and unusual depiction of evangelical culture, but it’s not a haphazard sledging. Each one of these six tracks unflinchingly questions and challenges its source material, but not in a dismissive way. In fact, more often than not, the work feels like a more intimate and personal confession of spirituality than most CCM artists you hear on christian radio. Reuben explains that the record’s title refers to the search for ‘a simpler life, of re-attaining something perfect or unsoiled in my mind’. Whereas so much christian music is based around evangelism first and foremost, Eden Again has an honesty and openness that revitalises the material it employs.

Reuben’s Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! gears up as if it’s about to sling a whole bunch of testosterone-fuelled powerchords at you, and then drops the tempo right down and gives you a swathe of young christian popstars and an array of ethical dramas as delivered by puppets. The messages are contradictory, confusing and THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOUNG CHRISTIAN KIDS ARE ATTEMPTING TO ASSIMILATE IN SUNDAY SCHOOL EVERY WEEK.

Paul’s Le Meme Monde is a haunting breakcore ode set to a selection of visions of Jesus, followed by bursts of images from the Westboro Baptist Church. The line between conviction and prejudice is no thicker than the drop of a heavy backbeat – question everything, question everything, don’t put your faith in prophets unconditionally, or else you could be grinning the same unearthly grin the Phelps’ clan wear while they hoist GOD HATES FAGS banners.

Reuben’s Who Do We Think We Are lines up an array of televised ministers delivering straight to camera addresses swirling over a chopped and screwed morass of gentle CCM. Slow it down, open up some space, and the music carries so much more weight and impact.

Paul’s Lambs and Sheep, with its smears and trails of glitch forming one glacial onslaught, is even more laden with heartache. Shots of Marjoe Gortner are slowed down to an almost unberarable crawl, and the boy preacher seems to surge towards the camera as he vows to punch the devil’s lights out. The final shots, of the couple pronouncing their wedding vows while Marjoe stares wide-eyed towards the distance (where his mother was waiting and watching), are more affecting than I’m used to with this sort of abstract soundscape.

Paul’s Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder captures the awkward presentations of young men and women in a selection of abstinence campaigns targeted at teenagers. The chopped-up rhythmic vocals and the lurching presenters carry the message ‘It’s Worth Waiting For!’ in a way that is more punchy and vibrant than the original could possibly have been.

Reuben’s Almost Eden Again captures the full cartoonish glory of christian TV’s representations of Eden, with brightly-lit Adams and Eves stumbling around garish studio settings. If this was made with the express intention of mockery, it would be too easy – the filmic versions of Genesis are unsophisticated and dated – but re-edited together, redolent with colour, slurred by VHS glitch and soundtracked by Reuben’s soft vocals re-working and expanding the country ditty ‘It’s going to be Eden again’, the scenes take on a desperate sincerity. This might be the only way that a media-saturated audience in 2011 can properly appreciate and comprehend the weight of the story being told – through the slow, yearning drift of glitch. If Abstinence is the record’s single, Almost Eden Again is the centrepiece.

If you are a christian, I believe this is way more than a jab at some of the lightweight representations of your culture in popular media from the last 20 years – these videos have resonance and weight. They are not just gag reels because they are in no way simply funny. Nor are they obvious critiques. For sure, putting Marjoe Gortner in a clip is obviously not showcasing christian evangelism in its finest hour, but that’s what evangelism did back in the 1950s. That was real and it meant something – and if you can’t connect to and relate with that, then you’re ignoring a pretty significant part of christian culture.

I’m not trying to argue that this record is a work of christian evangelism – what I’m saying is that it’s a piece of religious, spiritual art. It’s possibly the most coherent and well-formed statement I’ve ever seen from  the world of video remixing. It’s christian in content and themes and it’s not a misguided jab from outside the culture, nor is it trying to cherry-pick evangelist culture for compromising images to satirise it. It’s using evangelist pop culture as the raw material and framework for a much deeper and more sincere view into religion.

It might jar with you. It might not wash in any way. But I contend that this is every bit as powerful a window into genuine religious feeling as Sufjan Steven’ Michigan. Christian music promoters and critics are often conservative and cautious of following trends in art and music. The result is the typical stereotype that CCM is five years behind the ball. At the same time, young christians are a part of contemporary culture – they go to the same schools, see the same TV shows and hear the same radios as their secular peers. They are trying to connect with Jesus here and now, not back in 2006.

They’re not going to hear it in Jars of Clay. They’re not going to hear it in Skillet. They’re not going to hear it in TobyMac. They’re not going to hear it in the Barlow Girls. They might hear it in the scorched beats and skewed videoscapes of Eden Again.

Negotiating Project Partnerships: A Case Study

Dear Pierre,

As per our phone conversation of Monday 19 September, I am writing to formally request permission to develop a live theatrical adaptation of Cryo Studio’s 1991 game Dune. This full-length performance will use the format and narrative structure of the game, but will avoid copyright complications with Frank Herbert’s estate by shifting the setting from the planet Arrakis to a high school playground overrun by pornography. The protagonist will acquire an increasing wealth of pornography by employing cadres of Year 8 students to mine it, gradually developing psychic powers through prolonged exposure to smut. The working title for the production is Too Much Pornography High.

Too Much Pornography High has been provisionally accepted into the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2013 mainstage season and the 2014 Brisbane Festival on the condition of your support. I am excited to be working on this and I look forward to finalising the details with you.

Yours sincerely,
David Finnigan

Dear David,

Following our phone conversation, I contacted Sydney Theatre Company’s programming officer. She advised me that neither she, nor anyone else in the organisation, had either heard of or greenlighted Too Much Pornography High. I have forwarded all our correspondence to them – they have indicated that they may pursue this further.

Needless to say, Cryo Studios in no way supports your venture and we advise you to cease work on this project immediately.

Pierre Rousseau
Cryo Studios

Dear David,

I am writing on behalf of the Sydney Theatre Company. I have been informed by a representative of French game developer Cryo that you attempted to misrepresent the STC’s programming department to them for your own personal gain. On this occasion I have decided not to refer this to our lawyers, but I would suggest in future you refrain from attempting to obtain leverage this way.

Yours sincerely,
Kathleen Timmons
Sydney Theatre Company

Dear David,

It has been brought to my attention that you have posted on your blog a letter purporting to be from an employee of the Sydney Theatre Company. At no point has anyone named Kathleen Timmons worked for STC in any capacity. If you have received this from someone claiming to be an employee of STC, you have been misled. If, however, you have deliberately constructed an email impersonating the Sydney Theatre Company, I ask you to take down the blog post immediately or you will be hearing from our lawyers.

Yours sincerely,
Jonathan Crisp
Sydney Theatre Company

Dear David,

Did you just fake a cease and desist letter from the Sydney Theatre Company to tell you off for faking a cease and desist letter from the Sydney Theatre Company? That is some hall of mirrors shit and you need to get out of the house and get some fresh air. I’m worried about you.

Mad love,

PS. The beard is a mistake you do not look badass in any way

What I have been doing recently

A quick update on my general whereabouts and current activities, just in case anyone’s curious. Since early June I’ve been in the UK, working in London on a few different projects.

The outer edifice of the Battersea Arts Centre, in Battersea.

I’ve been completing a secondment as an independent producer at Battersea Arts Centre. Based in an old town hall in the heart of Battersea, BAC’s mission is ‘to invent the future of theatre’ and the organisation is renowned for making some of the most cutting-edge new theatre in the UK. In July, I traveled to the Latitude Festival as part of BAC’s producing team to present several BAC-affiliated shows, including subject to _change‘s Cupid and Coney‘s The Loveliness Principle. In August, I worked with BAC’s Take Out team again at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, helping manage a showcase of nine BAC productions as part of the British Council Showcase in former-veterinary-school-and-brand-new-arts-venue Summerhall.

Formerly the dissection room, now the Dissection Room bar, at Summerhall in Edinburgh.

I’ve also been doing some work with Coney, London-based agency of adventure and play. Coney creates a wide variety of not-easily-categorised activity, but the projects I’ve been involved with have included The Loveliness Principle, A Small Town Anywhere, and a new commissioned event for the Free Word Centre (more on this soon).

More recently, I’ve been digging into my work at the University College London Environment Institute. I’m undertaking a creative research residency to explore the process of creating and implementing scientific models – everything from predictive climate simulations to participatory decision-making scenario-builders. With input from a range of scientists (including the Institute’s director Dr Yvonne Rydin), I’m also examining the Institute’s interdisciplinary research into Healthy Cities and the urban environment over the next 90 years. Supported through the N.E.D. Foundation, this research is the first phase of a new performance work, which will be developed and produced over 2012-13.

In other news, I’m heading to Turkey next month to take part in the European Festivals Association’s Atelier for Young Festival Managers, taking place in Izmir. In November, I’ll be heading to the Philippines, along with fellow playwrights Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley and Jordan Prosser, to workshop and develop the script for Battalia Royale, Sipat Lawin‘s upcoming theatrical adaptation of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale.

I think that’s all. Is that okay?

Boho Interactive at TEDx Canberra 2011

Jack Lloyd in Food for the Great Hungers. Image by ‘pling.

On Saturday 24 September, Boho is presenting a talk as part of TEDx Canberra at the National Library. Speaking in the session entitled ‘What Could Be’, Boho will be discussing their work integrating concepts from Complex Systems science with narrative performance. Jack and Mick will be showcasing an array of interactive performance forms to communicate 18 ideas, from Game Theory to Complex Systems science, in 18 minutes.

Since forming in late 2006, Boho Interactive has produced a series of interactive science-theatre performances for festivals, conferences, museums and cultural centres throughout Australia. 2011 is Boho’s first year without a major production, and while it’s nice to have a breath and regroup, it’s also nice to get the opportunity to present a talk as part of TEDx. We are looking forward to sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned over the last four years producing science-based interactive theatre, and to taking part in a stellar lineup of Canberra wisdom.

TEDx Canberra 2011 is unfortunately sold out – but keep your eyes peeled for an online version. And if you are interested in bringing Boho to your conference, workshop or seminar event, please visit Boho’s website or drop a line to

18 play ideas from 2002

Tiny quick but awesome one – the blessed devils at Verity La have published my 18 play ideas from 2002 as a piece of Experimental Prose. Verity La is an online journal for new writing curated by the sagacious Nigel Featherstone, and they have also recently included in their features Finnigan and Brother’s Potential Band Names, the latest installment of Chris and my ongoing effort to catalogue all the worthwhile things you could name your band.

Anyway, 18 play ideas from 2002 is exactly what it describes itself as, and you can go and read it, and possibly write one of them. I include two here as teasers, and because they’re two of my favourites, those ideas you think to yourself why has no-one written this play already? Well, now you can. Go to!

2. it is a play about a magical cigarette that gives whoever holds it unbelievable skills at dentistry. it is therefore a quandary, because to have the cigarette in one hand is bad for business, and sooner or later the board of medeceins will want to know why you insist on holding an unlit cigarette between two fingers while you’re performing dental surgery

9. on stage trundles a canoe on wheels, paddled by two likely sorts. it is a play set in the final tailspin of a dying whirlpool

22 Short Plays is on in Canberra at the Street Theatre

Ellen Grimshaw in MKA’s production of 22 Short Plays, dir. Tobias Manderson-Galvin. Image by Sarah Walker.

I began writing a really ambitious and whimsical blog post about MKA’s production of 22 Short Plays in Canberra this September, but I parachuted out of it halfway through. I think it’s probably more sensible to be straight about this. Here goes:

MKA Richmond is touring their production of 22 Short Plays to the Street Theatre in Canberra from 15-18 September. I’d really, really love it if you could check it out.

MKA presented 22 Short Plays as part of their series of playreadings at the end of 2010, and then selected it as one of four full productions in MKA’s first season. 22 Short Plays ran in Melbourne over three weeks in June, and it did really well. It got really good reviews from lots of different people, including some professional reviewers who review theatre as their job. I’m honoured by the work that the cast and crew and MKA themselves have put into the show. And I’m proud of the script* itself. Really am.

Shall I say why? Alright it’s something like this: these plays are the extracted moments of bliss and perfection from eight years of fumbling. Entire full-length plays have been narrowed down to less than 50 seconds of dialogue, drawing the pure uncut theatrical essence from the reams of dross that I churn out. And then, having drawn a few millilitres of vivid blood from the veins of a whole army of cankered scripts, 22 Short Plays mixes them together in an actual mix. Not a sketch show format where one show follows the next, but in a complete arc, courtesy of Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s brilliant editing and oversight. And the whole thing runs for a little over an hour, because (a) MKA Richmond cares about your comfort and (b) there’s no dead air.

The show is on for the following nights:

8pm Thursday 15 September
8pm Friday 16 September
8pm Saturday 17 September
6pm Sunday 18 September

$25 Standard / $20 Concession / $20 Group 4+

Tickets can be purchased via the Street Theatre website or by calling 02 62471223

*all 22 of the horrible fuckers.