Vaucanson’s Duck

Sunday 6 January 2008

Back to Melbourne again for a moment: while I was there I got to see the opening night of Vaucanson’s Duck, a sound installation and music series at Bus gallery. Three of the four rooms in the gallery were filled with a diverse array of automatic instruments built by Ernie Althoff, Robbie Avenaim, and Dale Gorfinkel. The instruments were built out of deconstructed musical instruments and found objects, powered by repurposed record players, cassette recorders, and other electric motors.
The opening night of the exhibition became a three-hour performance, with the musicians switching instruments on and off, making small adjustments, transforming the exhibition into something between an enormous sound sculpture and a spatialised orchestra of automata. Over the course of the exhibition, each day ended with an evening performance in which a guest musician was invited to duet with the installation – sometimes acoustic, sometimes electronic, sometimes beyond category.

This is what I miss about Melbourne’s music scene. While it can be incestuous and isolated (it’s a financial and logistical hassle to get in a visitor from another state, let alone another country,) it consciously maintains a vitality that often seems lacking in London. At times London feels too complacent, a victim of its size and its history.
What’s notable about Vaucanson’s Duck isn’t just the intensity and commitment demanded by the program (a different gig each night for two straight weeks!), it’s the attempt to present a season of new music with no easily identifiable genre. While London new music events so often evince a need to identify with a tradition in folk, free jazz, or classical music, the musicians in the Melbourne program typically work in ways that transcend typical stylistic boundaries – as shown in the web discussion. I’m familiar with most of the musicians in the series, and yet I could not predict what kind of performance some of them would give on the night.
This is by no means the only time such a series of events has been staged in Melbourne in recent years; nor are these events typically attached to any large, public institutions. I’ve made a sort of new year’s resolution to seek out more obscure gigs in London to find out whether this city truly lacks such an eclectic new music culture, or that it has simply managed to elude me for so long.