A live edited film and live music gig colliding in a 3D space – that is how artist and filmmaker Christopher Thomas Allen describes his UK company’s audio-visual productions.
In one of their latest projects, being presented during the OzAsia Festival in Adelaide this month, The Light Surgeons collaborated with artists and musicians in Malaysia to create a “kaleidoscopic portrait” of the country’s diverse and changing culture.
Here, Allen explains how the audio-visual performance works and what Super Everything tells audiences about Malaysia’s journey.
What can audiences expect to see and hear?
A fusion of modern electronic music, traditional South-East Asian instruments, experimental sound art, and exploded, multi-threaded documentary story-telling. They will be immersed in another world and have all their senses stimulated – literally!
What was the idea behind Super Everything and what did you set out to explore while filming in Malaysia?
The idea was to make a live cinema piece that explored the landscape, people and culture of Malaysia in order to reveal a deeper question about our human condition, to make people consider a more universal question of identity and belonging that transcends one country’s boarders, and to make people question who we are and where we are going. We focused on the relationship between identity, ritual and place throughout the piece as we wanted people to look at their everyday rituals in a slightly different way and to question their meaning and their effect on their surroundings.
The result is described as a “poetic audio visual tapestry” – what does this mean?
We have been developing these types of live audio-visual performances for some time now, mixing live and electronic music with our unique approach to film-making – a sort of visual poetry or psycho-geographical approach, if you will. These projects exist at this intersection between music and film, animation and video art. They are a new hybrid of electronic media – a live edited film and live music gig colliding, basically in a 3D space.
A lot of our work explores different themes and subjects through documentary film and interviews – we approach them as audio-visual essays and construct a picture about something or someone from a multitude of perspectives. They are more of a cloud of information that is then explored through a live performance, rather than a fixed, linear film.
Because they combine these different voices and threads of narrative together to form a single, albeit kaleidoscopic, story – the word “tapestry” seems fitting. I also feel there is a strong connection between film and music production and textiles and weaving; they both are about pattern-making, and tapestries used to tell epic stories in these long dioramas. I like to think we are doing this with our work but just using different media and instruments.
How is the live music element of the performance layered with the documentary footage?
For the shows at OzAsia we will be joined by a group of different Malaysian musical collaborators who we developed the piece with back in 2011: Hands Percussion, Rhythm in Bronze and Ng Chor Guan. We’re very excited to have these guys back together for these shows. Since the project was originally performed, it has continued to develop and evolve, partly through a musical collaboration between Ng Chor Guan, Light Surgeon Tim Cowie and a group of classical strings players for the Heritage Orchestra in the UK, and partly through touring the show internationally and developing various audio-visual elements as we have gone along.
The show has nine parts, each looking at a different theme or subject, each with a fixed set of narratives but also a collection of audio-visual material that is then triggered live using software called VDMX. These audio-visual elements are kept in sync with various electronic elements – which are also mixed and manipulated live alongside the live performers.
So it’s quite layered in terms of the music – some parts are fixed and some parts are improvised and evolve with each show. Unfortunately, we won’t have any live strings with us for this show – the percussion is the live element.
What does Super Everything tell us about Malaysia’s journey and the relationship between traditional and contemporary culture?
Lots – Malaysia is an amazing country in which to explore these issues, as it is developing at such a fast pace and has such a rich history of different cultural migrations and identities. These aspects of its cultural evolution can seem to be at odds with each other at times, but I hope the show reveals that they are one and the same; cultures have always been evolving and changing.
Ultimately, it is up to the audience to take from the show their own meaning, but I feel Malaysia is a place that is managing to retain a sense of itself and its cultural identity in a world that is increasingly becoming homogenised and monocultural. We have much to learn from traditional cultures – we live in a world where people want everything now and have no time to contemplate any more – but I also think the modern world has so much to give people in terms of understanding each other and their surroundings. It has the potential to radically change the social and political landscape – not just in Malaysia but internationally – and I think this is a very important positive thing that we need to remember, particularly in countries like Malaysia, where there’s not really a free press and free speech.
Why makes it a must-see OzAsia Festival show?
This project encapsulates everything that is now – the collision of new and old, East and West; an audio-visual synthesis of culture and ritual that reveals the abstraction and atomisation of our identities and the annexing of time and place. It shows us a country in order to see the world, to see ourselves through a kaleidoscopic lens of refracting layers and themes, from the environmental and economic, to our everyday. It is the most real audio-visual experience you will see, telling us a new story for a new era.
Super Everything will be at the Space Theatre from September 25-28. The OzAsia Festival opens tonight.
More OzAsia Festival previews:
Malaysian singer Guba
Leigh Warren and Dancers’ Not According to Plan
Yegam Theatre Company’s Extreme Jump!