AU ABROAD

Dark Mofo 2015 Spotlight: Red Bull Music Academy Presents Eye: Circom

Those familiar with maverick artist Yamantaka Eye must have expected him to eventually show up in the early years of Hobart's increasingly popular winter festival Dark Mofo. So it wasn't surprising to see his latest, incredibly vast idea, Eye: Circom on the line-up, in association with those constant diggers of the experimental Red Bull Music Academy.

Taking place in the city's Odeon Theatre towards the end of the ten-day festival, Eye: Circom was the perfect fit for a winter event filled with challenging and thought-prodding works. It almost seemed like success was measured by how divisive a project was over the 10 days, and that is especially true in the case of Circom.

Placed in the middle of a line-up that included Kusum Normoyle, Jake Blood, and My Disco, eYe's Circom experiment was both a hyperactive test of bass and a challenge to the gap between music and creator.

The circle of laptops was up the entire time, through Normoyle and Blood's sets, a strange sight until those eight participants walked out and took their place. Four of these participants were musicians - such as Australian singer-songwriter Bertie Blackman - and four were not. It seemed strange to include those who weren't familiar with the various programs necessary but from all accounts, eYe's training and rehearsal process is fairly comprehensive.

I caught up with eYe's Australian booking agent, Noise in my Head, before the gig to find out what it's like to be up on that stage, controlled by the artist's physical intructions. "It's a pretty steep learning curve", he says, "I've never used...some of the other applications".

Nerves weren't showing from the participants though, each fixated on their respective screens, ready for directions from Eye who simply walked out, bowed, and took his seat. He began by indicating to only a few of the participants, raising his hands so they would lay the first bricks in the wall of bass.

A still projection of the moon was the only visual in the background, standing alone without any of lights whatsoever, just eYe delicately moving as if his whole body was made of bass and it would bellow along with his more aggressive movements.

This was performance art heavily focused on sound and music, and it was quite clear that many people initially had trouble getting their head around it. Many stood up the back chattering away, whereas if it this was conducted in a gallery it would have been met with a respectful silence. While the ruder ones amongst us were probably wondering where the 'drop' was, those up front couldn't help but stand their, wide-eyed as Yamantaka controlled the set.

"I know there's an end and how we get there is dependent on what he thinks on the go.", Noise in my Head told me before the gig. Although it was hard to have an end in sight, eYe's deviations from any sort of structure led to an unpredictability that was effectively tense. The louder moments felt like we were edging towards a climax, but then the bass would simmer down to a low hum and continue there for awhile to allow us to collect ourselves (and push our earplugs back in).

Noise in my Head described the listening experience as a "sonic massage", and he wouldn't be far off; the bass shook you to varying degrees as you participated just by standing there. Feeling it run through your body was almost like inhaling a very deep breathe, and then having the reverb wash away was cathartic, like you had just breathed out all that bass and shot it straight back into eYe, who would then make the only non-bass sound in the performance via rhythmic moans of what sounded like agony.

Particularly impressive was eYe acting as some kind of bass meter as he shot his hand straight up into the sky, bringing with it the full power from all laptops and then carefully moving from side to side. The bass would move from right to left with him, sliding in intensity around the room until it was brought back into the middle.

Clocking in at around an hour and a half (30 minutes longer than he was scheduled to be on), eYe simply stood up after a breathtaking final rush and bowed to each participant individually, and then the crowd. Some were left scratching their heads, looking puzzled, others couldn't stop clapping.

It was a bizarre performance, but one which was greatly appreciated by most in attendance. It was Dark Mofo after all, and we were there to have our ideas stretched. This performance just happened to stretch the idea of the human body as an instrument, drawing on the razor-sharp precision of all involved to give us an one long adrenaline rush.

A full transcript of my quick interview with Noise in my Head can be found below, providing a bit more insight into Circom, it's origins, and eYe's ambitious and boundless creativity:

Let's start with the origin of this performance. How did you get on board this idea?

I've worked with eYe before as his agent through bringing him out for DJ tours, which have always been pretty amazing. If you ever have a chance to see him, he'll spend months building these sets on Traktor, he won't even engage with the audience at all he'd just be glued to his computer. The scene would be totally insane, people would be dancing to music that they had never danced to before; never even thought of dancing to, they'd be like trance music and then hardcore, and then something else; like some hectic mash-up. So I guess I've always respected him in that sense.

Last year I went to visit him in the mountains of Japan and he was telling me about this project he did for Red Bull Music Academy. And in the same conversation at dinner his girlfriend was telling me how she recently went to Hobart and fell in love with MONA and it was amazing. eYe was talking about how much he wanted to go it so it was like staring me in the face, so I was like "hey, there's this festival named Dark Mofo, it's totally down your alley and a really good excuse to go to MONA why don't we do the Circom performance there". From there it was pretty easy to stitch up.

With eYe's experimental works like when you watch him DJing to a crowd, do you kind of see a difference in the fact that the crowd are being challenged as opposed to a regular nightclub setting?

Yeah the DJ thing is interesting because seeing it a club...like I don't think people walk in and are conscious as to what's going on, it's like they fall into this spell. So yeah they are being challenged but it's definitely like the last thing on their mind. [They are] just going free with this freaky shit that's going on.

What have you seen from him to be the most challenging?

Each performance, whether it's been like Boredom at Melbourne, a music festival where they must have had like 10 drummers.. I feel like everything he has done has just been as challenging as other projects. He was telling me about a rap album he made in the 90s, with like two Japanese producers. He's obviously not a rapper at all, he said the feedback from journalists was so bad that he had to quit the group and give the hip hop project to the other two guys. I haven't heard it but that sounds pretty challenging.

I guess this is a perfect fit for him, with Dark Mofo, since people are expecting to be challenged and that's the kind of aesthetic of it all.

Yeah I mean someone who's career has always had something to do with one foot in everything, it seems pretty tailor made for him.

How do you find the dynamic being that half the participants are non-musicians. What does that add to the ultimate experience?

It's a pretty steep learning curve. I've never used Ableton before, and some of the other applications. That's been quite interesting, I'm still quite involved in music but if I find it difficult then I'm sure a visual artist or journalist would find it 10 times more confusing. Once you understand what's going on it becomes pretty user friendly.

And in that sense, I don't know if you'd get a different result with 8 non-musicians or 8 musicians.

Do you think 8 is the perfect number?

I don't know eYe is very particular with numbers for reasons I don't understand. He's do a Boredoms gig in London next week and they have like 88 cymbal players. He did a gig that had 77 drummers. I don't know what this recurring number thing is though

With the hand signals... how does he come up with them?

There's a chart that we have to learn. That said, it's changed a lot. We have to learn variations. Heaps of stop...starting, move to this application, heaps of degrees...some are relating to everyone, or just you, or just a few.

What's the structure of Circom like?

It doesn't really have any structure or form. I know there's an end and how we get there is dependent on what he thinks on the go.

What role will the audience watching play?

They'll be getting a sonic massage and probably trying to decipher what the hell is going on.

Where do you see eYe's penchant for experimentation going in the future?

Yesterday he was talking about he wanted to do a Circom around the world. Like draw a line around the globe and put these participants in different countries and somehow remotely do a Circom performance. That could be the next thing but it sounds pretty impractical though!

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Chris traveled to Dark Mofo with Red Bull Music Academy. For more information on RBMA head to www.redbullmusicacademy.com