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ABC Radio Segment on Absinthe

Australia’s Radio National show “Blueprint for Living” has done a suitably sympathetic piece on the absinthe revival in Australia.

Presenter Michael Williams  gets an education from Ben Luz at Bar Ampere in Melbourne over the history, markers of quality and proper ways of drinking absinthe – all over a nice glass of La Clandestine.

It’s worth checking out their Absinthe aperitif list – it is quite an impressive offering worth investigating should you find yourself in the area.

You can down the episode through this link.

 

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Posted by Jonathan on Jan 6th 2016 | Filed in Bars,Cocktails,Culture,Interviews,News | Comments (0)

Adelaide Festival 2015 – Unsound: Robin Fox Interview

 

Absinthe.com.au talks to Australian visual artist & composer, Robin Fox, about his collaboration with ATOM ™ on the Unsound commissioned work: Double Vision – being performed on Friday 13th March 2015 as part of the Unsound Adelaide line up, part of the 2015 Adelaide Festival.

 

This commissioned collaboration with Uwe Schmidt (ATOM TM) for Unsound – how did it come to fruition? I understand your 2012 Unsound performance was a major catalyst?

 

That’s right, I met Uwe for the first time at the Adelaide Festival in 2012 – I actually missed his performance, but I arrived the day after and everyone was raving about it, and saying how brilliant it was. And of course I had followed Uwe’s work for quite a while as Señor Coconut, but also his later electronic work. He saw my green laser show that I now call the Monochromatic laser show – which is a show where you see and hear the same electrical signal at the same time. It is quite an immersive show and quite hard-core really. What Uwe saw in that was this scientific explanation, if you like, of sound and image and was quite captivated by it.

 

And so he started to develop this idea that we could somehow be able to find a meeting point between his deconstructed pop music and my more scientific approach to sound and image, and merge those things together. So he was the catalyst. He spoke to Mat Schulz of Unsound, and the rest was about trying to navigate the distance with Uwe living in Santiago in Chile and me living in Melbourne. Obviously one of the biggest problems is how you make that work.

 

So we had to work remotely, which is kind of difficult and not my favourite form of collaboration, via the internet. We talked through the formal ideas of the work and exchanged sound and image files. I would send Uwe short sketches of what I was working on with the lasers, and he would send me rendered video sections that he was interested in doing, and we started to get a picture of what it would be like.

 

We really only had a week in Krakow before the Premiere to be in a room together and work out the tricky bits of how video is going to sit with laser projection and different forms of light. You don’t want one to overwhelm the other, and we had to work with those technical things, as well as aesthetically, putting together a show that we were happy with.

 

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Having seen the Monochromatic laser show in the 2012 Unsound Festival in Adelaide, what extra dimensions & challenges open up by using the RGB (Red Green Blue) arrangement in the current production – is it technically very much more difficult to compose & coordinate?

 

It’s not so much difficult but rather very different. With the Monochromatic laser show I basically compose sound and then send that directly to the laser projector, and that sound would be visualised. With the RGB system, because they are more high powered lasers I need to think much more about the audience scanning and health & safety implications. And I had to get some software to manage the power of the beam, but that software didn’t allow me to send sound directly to the laser anymore. So I had to work out a different way of working, basically. So I decided that I would draw images, and the electrical signal that I use to draw those images would then be sent straight to a mixing desk and you would hear those images directly. So I’m almost working in a reverse way to the Monochromatic show. But I’m still trying to maintain a direct correspondence between the electrical signal that you see and the electrical signal that you hear. So basically I built a very crude analogue synthesiser, which is basically playing you the sound of the image that you are seeing. What the three colour show allows me to do, because it has three separate laser projectors, it does allow for more polyphony. The Monochromatic show is almost a monophonic show in a sense in that it just has one sound – one image, and now I can have three layers of material running independently of one another. For me it’s a huge expansion, but it’s also a very big departure from the way I was working before.


Your creative works do span a number of mediums from working within architectural space to compositional soundtrack with dance groups – is diversity and collaboration an important thing in the broader scope of what you do? Do you want to avoid just being known as “The Laser Guy”

Absolutely. Diversification, it’s really necessary in a professional sense as an artist – it’s very difficult if you only do one thing, particularly in Australia. Diversification is a necessity, it is something I have to do. Also, I have a terribly short attention span, and every year I make a point of doing something I am completely unqualified for and that throws me into new territory. I think that is part of the way you stay alive creatively.

 

Recently in a video interview that Uwe and I did in Krakow, Uwe had a beautiful turn of phrase. He said “What collaboration does is that it allows you to live a creative moment that you couldn’t have lived in any other way.” When you collaborate with someone you come together in a state and time, and you make something together, and that creative moment is impossible in any other way. Collaborating with Uwe, he comes from a completely different world to where I have been performing – I have been performing in experimental music and in noise, in a media arts festival context. Uwe has been performing in clubs and making electronic music and touring with Señor Coconut. It almost like these worlds are coming together, and I think that the result has been incredibly popular, and we have a lot of performances booked for this year. I think part of the appeal is that people are seeing things from two divergent parts of the art world.

 

 

Do think with events like Unsound, and MONA events, and even ABC Radio frequently having dedicated shows to experimental electronica – that it is crashing through into a subsection of the “mainstream” ?

 

I think that is inevitable really. That’s what happens when genres come along that are in, almost an argument, with the culture. Usually the experimental arts sit at the periphery of a culture having an argument with the mainstream. Eventually, through familiarity and through exposure to these new ideas, mainstream media seems to come around to the fact that people are interested in expanding their aesthetic horizons. What I find frustrating about mainstream media, and even mainstream festivals and curation, is that there is an assumption that you have to curate what people want, and I think that is a closed loop that is not that interesting. If you are always making assumptions about what people want, and then delivering on those assumptions, sure – people will keep turning up and consuming this stuff, but aesthetically and developmentally it is a closed circuit.

So what is interesting, and what I am hope is happening, is that there is a broadening of that horizon. And that is what experimental arts is all about. It is about presenting ideas that prove to people that things are possible outside what they previously believed to be possible. Or to be enjoyable. It’s like anything in life, you never know whether you enjoy something until you have tried it. If you are not out there sampling ways of perceiving things, you are going to be stuck in a very repetitive situation. And I think that is what happens with popular culture, it is the repetition that gets me down a bit, and anything I can do to break that repetition, makes me feel I’m doing something useful.

 

 

I have seen the interviews you have given with regard to your interest in synaesthesia, and I was also interested to read about the compositional works you have done for Cochlear Implant Users. It would seem you are as much as interested in the individual biological based perceptions by your audience as you are in the compositional structures of your work? Does that act as an artistic feedback loop for you?

 

Absolutely, producing anything, whether it be sound or a piece of visual work, interactive sculpture or working with the Bionic Ear Institute – I’m always conscious of the fact that I am preparing material that exists in the air as vibration as a combination of wave forms or electromagnetic material, and those materials are going to be received by an organism. A human being, with sense perception and sense organs designed to receive this information in various ways. I’m fascinated by the way the ear works, and I’m fascinated by the way the eye works, but more importantly I am fascinated with the way these sense perception organs interface with the brain. Really, when you try to transmit an idea from one person to another, you are trying to poke your brain state, your particular electromagnetic makeup at that time, and try and make it happen in someone else’s brain. The art of communication is just that, and it’s incredibly complicated – whether it is language or any communication in the arts, trying to manufacture or manifest a feeling, a sensation in another person, is much more complicated than you would think. And it is all incredibly subjective. I’m fascinated by the fact that when I put anything out into the world, the reaction to it is so broad – some people are going to hate it, some people are going to love it, some people are going to be completely indifferent to it. And that is the richness of what makes producing art so fascinating.

 

The only other conceptual similarity I could immediately think of was Robert Rich’s “Sleep Concerts” – which Steven Stapleton from Nurse With Wound indicated last year he was also doing – the stark difference being giving yourself 8 or more hours to influence the neurological patterns of an audience as opposed to an condensed hour of sound. Is neurology & art a frontier still to reach its potential?

 

I think has a lot of potential, the frontier of neurobiology and art is really where I think things are going. I guess you could call my short and sharp, hyper explosive performances more of a “Wake Concert” than a “Sleep Concert”. If anyone can sleep through one my concert then that is a neurobiological condition I would like to hear about! I do think there are movements in the arts that are really going down this path of working with, not so much idiomatical linguistic forms – working with music as a linguistic paradigm or as a language, but more as a neurobiological effect. I think that the more we understand the way that our sense organs interface with the brain, the more we will be making work that addresses those discoveries. And also prompts those discoveries. Pushing us towards working out why we feel the way we do about certain things, and why we react the way we do to certain things. And working with the Bionic Ear Institute, that was a fascinating project because what we decided to do was try to compose music for the Cochlear Implant, rather than try to improve the Cochlear Implant from an engineering point of view to improve its resolution, let’s make music that directly addresses that hardware. And what that hardware essentially does is short electrical impulses directly to the auditory nerve. The idea that I could one day be composing music, that maybe even bypasses the ear – it’s not even about sound anymore. That it’s just about addressing the neurology and the auditory nerve. I’ve often wondered what would happen if you injected Botox into your basaline membrane and you relaxed your ear muscle so that you hear frequencies below 20 Hz? What would your brain do with that information? Would it understand that as sound? If you excited the ear to the point that you could hear the frequencies the internet is transmitting at, what would the internet sound like and could your brain actually understand it was sound?

 

And because I work with sound and light, I work across the electro-magnetic spectrum from the audible to the visible. And when you start to think about that as a whole range of things, there is a lot going on in that spectrum that we cannot even see or hear, but it is effecting us in some way. So I think the more that we understand about the way the brain is dealing with that, the more interesting the artwork is going to get.

 

Posted by Jonathan on Feb 15th 2015 | Filed in Art,Culture,Interviews,Music,People | Comments (0)

Adelaide Festival 2014 – Unsound Music Festival – Interview with Nurse With Wound

One of the most exciting developments of the Adelaide Festival has been the inclusion of the Unsound Music Festival within the program, to be held over three nights – an experimental electronic music & related visual arts festival traditionally held in Poland, but  making a welcome presence in the antipodes for the second year.

One of the major name acts secured for the Australian performances is pioneering avant-garde soundscapists Nurse With Wound, primarily led by Steven Stapleton, whom have over forty collected releases under their name over more than thirty years of creativity.

Absinthe.com.au were fortunate to spend some time with Steven to learn more about his approaches to the experimental music genre.

 

There was a considerable absence of live performances up until 2005 but there hasn’t been a lack of creative output. Do you have a preference between studio versus live performance, and do you see them as very different medium for different purposes?

They are completely different. Both are fun in their own ways and both are creative and rewarding, but the experience is very different. I prefer studio work, but recently in the last 4 -5 years we really got together as a band and enjoyed each others characteristics – it’s actually working out quite well now. The little bit of telepathy that happens between us makes it interesting, and we’ve done about 50 gigs now. We’re quite a hot little combo.

Is there a major change in approaches to improvisation as used between the studio and live performance?

Yes, its completely different. Live it is always improvisation and I have very little control over the direction of it – we have guests with our gigs, one to two persons per night, and they are usually people that I meet an hour or the day before the concert. People come up and we get talking and they tell me they are a performance artist – a poet or juggler or whatever, and they usually end up on stage with us. So hopefully the night or day before the gig in Adelaide I’ll meet some interesting people and they’ll come up and do some stuff with us. Take us off into a different direction.

Because the history of the band has been significantly marked by collaboration, is it just good synchronicity or is it something you actively seek out?

No, I really enjoy working with somebody. Again, I get fun out of doing it myself, and other people always bring interesting aspects to what you are doing – sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees yourself. I love collaboration, recently I have been collaborating with a lot of people. In fact in the last few years there hasn’t actually been a purely Nurse With Wound album, they have all been collaborations. But working with Andrew Liles is a real treat. Eberhard Krannemann from Neu! and Kraftwerk, working with him has just been a wonderful high, because I have always been such a fan of those bands.

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So what music was significant in your own younger formative years?

Before I discovered the German electronic music scene I was into English psychedelic like the Pink Fairies, and bands like The Groundhogs. Stuff like that.

There used to be a club just down the road when I was a teenager, and it was a hard rock place called The Lord Nelson, just a pub but it used to have amazing bands playing there – in one week I would see Judas Priest, UFO, all these bands which are now really huge would be playing there before they had their record contracts. I really grew up on early heavy rock before I heard the first thing that changed my life and that was a German album, a Kraut Rock album called Psychedelic Underground by Amon Duul which just blew me away and still does blow me away to this day.

So what sort of music catches your attention these days?

Nothing. Really, I have tried, I have people around all over the world who send me anything new that they think I might like. I just eat CD’s, I just go through so many. But no, I can’t think of anything in the last 10 years or so that I’ve enjoyed.

I keep going backwards. Like for the last few months I’ve just been listening to Frank Zappa because I realise there was a point in his career that I lost interest in what he was doing and blanked him out. But I love his early records, they are a great influence on me in Nurse With Wound. Things like “Lumpy Gravy”, and “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” and those amazing records, and I discovered there were over 50 records of Frank Zappa that I had never heard. So that’s what I have been playing for the last year really.

I certainly relate – I used to be doing a dark ambient radio show in Sydney and my introduction point to Nurse With Wound was “Soliloquy for Lilith” , but having lost contact for a while and coming back and realising everything of Nurse With Wound that I have missed in the meantime.

I personally think the stuff I am now doing keeps getting better and better, but you know, I can’t really be objective about it!

Considering how many decades you have been going, how have you viewed and experienced the issues of copyright with regard to sound samples – how has this issue impacted you artistically over the decades?

Well, it hasn’t at all really, because it used to be called ‘stealing’ and then it became ‘sampling’, and it’s exactly the same! You know if a sample if used artistically,  I have no problem with that. I’ve never bothered to think about it to be honest.

Music that touches on surrealist and avant-garde expression, is arguably cyclic and may be even geographic – certainly here in Adelaide, having something like the Unsound Music Festival as part of Adelaide Festival wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar until probably the last few years and it certainly  has found a receptive audience. Have you found that over the years that there seems to be a right time and right place for experimental music?

I have noticed that, that certain areas in countries become hotspots for a little while, and then the activity moves elsewhere, certainly. But we as Nurse With Wound, and certainly me, as I don’t have a computer and I don’t access to the internet I have never seen the Nurse With Wound website and I have never looked at the Brainwashed website. Indeed, I have never seen the film that John Whitney made of coming over to my house – I’ve never even seen that film. So I don’t know really much about what is going on out there, but I do have a whole bunch of people sending me interesting things continually. But I kind of like to live a very private life, out here in the country side.

How much of your work do you consider to be moments fixed in time, are they works you are happy leave as they are when they were composed, versus resurrecting them in a live context or reworking/remixing them.

It’s all down to whim, you know? One day I will say one thing, and I’ll mean it, but the next day I’ll change my mind. I just look upon my back catalogue as  ‘that’s what it is’ – I’m not going to fuck around with it, I might put a release with an extra disc or something, but I’m not going to remix anything.

I did notice a couple of years ago you did a ‘Sleep Concert’.

I’m still doing them!

It’s a format I’m more familiar with the likes of artists like Robert Rich and his album Somnium, with that deliberate intent to manipulate brain states. And while your music is often driven to trigger cognitive dissonance anyway, is sleep state & brain function manipulation something you are really interested in musically?

It is, yes, and I love doing those gigs. There is no better way to just space out to music then to be in a nice warm bed with 100-150 other people all going through a similar experience. And being able to just sit there and manipulate sounds, to even point them in different directions to think or dream, it’s fascinating, I love it. It’s a bit of a gruelling thing though, after about 5 hours I am really failing, so normally end up doing them for about 6 hours.

I’ve got one coming up in Ireland – it is the first sleep concert in Ireland, that’s in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to that one. And also its great to have them in unusual environments you know, an aquarium, or a train museum recently in Berlin – just all kinds of very relaxing environments. I would have loved to have done one in Australia, that would have been so good.

Perhaps the good folk at Adelaide Festival will take note for future possibilities!
Who will be in the Nurse With Wound line up for the Australian concert? 

Me, Colin Potter and Andrew Liles – just the three of us. But as I said, hopefully if we meet anyone that shares a spark and would be interested in doing  something with us, if I meet them they might end up on stage with us.

I noticed that Duplais Absinthe released an absinthe with some of your artwork on the label  – how did that come together?
Yeah, they did – and in return I got crates of absinthe!  In fact they did a presentation box, maybe 50 or something, and they gave me a half dozen of them. I’ve spent months painting these things up and I’m going to put them on Ebay soon, so anyone who wants an elaborately customised absinthe box with Nurse With Wound CD’s and a bottle of absinthe – look out for them!

 

Nurse With Wound play the Queens Theatre, Friday 7 March 2014 with Morton Subotnick, Lee Gamble & Cut Hands

The program  for Unsound Festival, part of the Adelaide Festival can be found by the following this link.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 2nd 2014 | Filed in Culture,Interviews,Music,People | Comments (0)

The Historical Maze of Australian Absinthe Prohibition


The Absinthe.com.au Team were recently contacted by a legend from the Australian wine industry, Peter Wall AM, a former Wine & Vineyard Director of the famed Yalumba winery.  Peter was able to provide some additional history into the machinations behind the legal status of Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) in the old versions Australian New Zealand Food Code.

In the versions of the Code from the mid 1980’s onwards, Wormwood was a controlled –  rather than a prohibited – herb and controlled by thujone content.  How it came to this status is a key part of Peters tale.

You may be interested to know how the lifting of the Australian ban on the use of wormwood was initiated.

30 years ago I was deeply involved in the manufacture of Martini & Rossi (M&R) Vermouth here in Australia for the great vermouth maker in Turin. At this time there was a general ban on the use of wormwood in alcoholic beverages in the English speaking world, although its use in many European countries had gradually relaxed from the 1920’s.

I was also a member (later chair) of the wine industry’s Technical Committee.

With the help of the late, but legendary, Dr. Giorgio Rampone (the then M&R Technical director) we began a campaign here in Australia to rationalise the regulations for use in wine of GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) botanicals, among them Artemisia absinthium. I was also involved in the technical negotiations for the EU Australian Bilateral Wine Agreement and served as an Australian delegate to the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin in Paris. These positions allowed me to pursue the opening-up of these ‘strange’ bans on many fronts. Gradually the opposition relaxed and finally we came to the present more rational regulation of all the botanicals which contain alkaloids, not only in wine, but alcoholic beverages generally. I’m not claiming a unique place in the history of this rationalisation, however, I do recall I was a very lone voice when I first raised the issue in the late 1970’s. Whenever I now have a sip of absinthe in Australia, I recall my early efforts with added pleasure.

Peter has kindly provided correspondence from the period to government, arguing how Italian wine law dictated that, by definition, Vermouth must contain wormwood, and argued for a position of international harmonisation on managing the risk rather than arbitrary prohibition.

These were much the same arguments we made (or rather re-made taking into account Peter’s precedent) when FSANZ sought to later prohibit wormwood a second time in later amendments to the Code in 2000-2002.

You will notice dear Absintheur, I make reference to a potential second prohibition of absinthe in Australia – and Peter’s historical recollection confirming an existing prohibition during the 1970-1980’s (and prior) during his period of lobbying.  This is seemingly at odds with a belief we previously held, and have documented in Wikipedia, that absinthe as an alcoholic drink was never specifically prohibited in Australia, only the import of ‘absinthe essence’ based on the legislative orders of the early 20th century. We were wrong.

New documentary evidence has emerged that confirms Australia did indeed specifically prohibit Absinthe, that led to the necessity of Peter Walls’ original efforts to lift the ban on the use of wormwood and will be the subject of a follow up article.

Posted by Jonathan on Dec 26th 2010 | Filed in Culture,Food,History,Interviews,News,People,Regulations | Comments (0)

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