Live review: Disruptive Critters + CITY-TOPIAS

"The gods of auditory creation have landed"



Melbourne Music Week
Meat Market, North Melbourne, 17 November  

What’d you miss?

  • Sonic and kinaesthetic video installations
  • Surround-sound chamber orchestra / guitar band crossover
  • Omnipotent gods


The gods of auditory creation have landed.

This first line in the program incited alarm and curiosity as I sat down in my seat for the night’s performances – what is this all about? I don’t believe in any gods; I’m atheist.

Well, well, well; I’m excited to announce that I am a devoted disciple of the BOLT Ensemble and JOLT Arts. The two productions, Disruptive Critters and CITY-TOPIAS proved to be an ingenious puzzle-box that left me with a lot of music for thought.

Disruptive Critters kick-started the program, embracing visual and sonic programming in the conceptualisation of a technological creation myth with artists James Hullick, Jonathan Duckworth, and Astrid Bolcskey-Hullick as three omnipotent figures in a lonesome universe. Their entrances in the production were particularly iconic as each performer slowly made their way to the centre of the space amidst the chaos of flickering lights and swirling electronic soundscapes. The spectacle transported me from reality into surreality.

This worldy experience was deftly enhanced as the gods gathered around a digital world full of critters. At first, I was unsure what these critters were – all I can see are a bunch of dots and lines – until suddenly these dots and lines started moving about, activated by performers dragging and tapping the shapes on an interface. In addition, these shapes actually spoke when they moved! Well not exactly spoke, per se: pre-recorded human vocalisations of nonsensical sounds rung out in the space when particular shapes moved. For example, ‘dot’ critters shot off in a straight line in the digital world accompanied by a human vocalisation of the word ‘BEP’, while ‘line’ critters snaked their way around with 90-degree pivots alongside the sound ‘BEEEEEP’. Though random, critters started to combine with one another to create new structures – dots and lines created corners, which then create 2D and eventually 3D shapes, all accompanied by an evolution of sound.

Once complex 3D shapes had been formed, controlled movement and deep resonance of sound were apparent, indicating a sense of stability and organisation; much like the way complex structures and organisms come together to form stability. These articulate relationships of sonic, kinaesthetic, and video art were interwoven exceptionally in this production, which was profound from beginning to end and, most importantly, left me wanting more.

The next production, CITY-TOPIAS, broke to a new dimension of sonic complexity with the surround-sound chamber orchestra and guitar band crossover. With an electric double-bass, a shakuhachi, and an automated violin playing machine to top it off, I was excited to hear what eclectic soundscapes were going to be explored.

Focusing on society’s affixion of types of ‘topias’ – that is, ideals of what the world should be – BOLT Ensemble performed a collection of six works that critiqued these ideals and their effects on a utopic 21st Century civilisation, whether it be good or bad. Reading the program for this production, I just knew that I was going to be transported to another world – and I’d better buckle up for it.

The first work Dystopian Landing was no exception; it teleported the audience to a stark alien soundscape that was unrecognisable yet somewhat familiar, with the implementation of a scrolling graphical score projected to the audience and the performers to follow along.

Were/Oblivion, a work that had already been produced by composer James Hullick earlier this year, made a fitting presentation in CITY-TOPIAS, creating a hypnotic limbo accompanied with mystical video art. Hullick’s talents as a performer were a feature in this work, with the ghostly echoes of speech mixed in with the distortion of his electric guitar.

Following these two works, one might think that Utopia would be a work for the audience to catch their breath. And for that, I say NOPE! Utopia was the most chaotic work of them all, pointing out an irony in our conception of Utopia – a version of our world where everything is perfect, and the impossibility of it all. Though the performers did a wonderful job of making sense of the circular graphical score projected again to the audience, I could not understand it at all.

Heterotopian Manifesto implemented another side-scrolling graphical score which focuses on the otherness of our world; as if we are looking from reality side-on. Examining the work of the sounds and performers as a cross-section, patterns could start to be identified in the soundscape, particularly of rising glissandi across all parts. Ironically, the most structured work in this production was Never Quite Right, speaking truth of the futility of these ‘topias’ we have journeyed through thus far. The stability in the work was clear as the group oscillated between two main chords, and added a refreshing contemporary feel to the collection of works. This feeling was empowered and set free in the final work Ecotopia, which ended the production with optimism; how we should all accept society for what it is and continuously work on a better version of our world. Moving from disorder to order was an effective structural technique that Hullick implemented in this production, and took me on a sound journey.

Disruptive Critters and CITY-TOPIAS were two productions tied in with the subject material. The omnipotent gods disrupting the lives of the critters was an out-of-this-world experience that prepared the audience to travel through many exotic soundscapes in CITY-TOPIAS, dealing with our own reality and sending the message to strive to a better future of our current world.

Congratulations to James Hullick, the BOLT Ensemble and JOLT Arts on some wonderful works. I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with next. In the meantime, I’d better start my pilgrimage to the auditory gods…


Images supplied.

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