Lionel Marchetti and Yoko Higashi Presented as part of Liquid Architecture sound festival 3RRR Performance Space, Melbourne 2 July 2010
The energetic headlining performance of this year’s Liquid Architecture sound festival featured Lionel Marchetti, an Italian born practitioner of musique concrète, and his partner Yoko Higashi, a contemporary Japanese Butoh dancer. With his ad hoc collection of various devices — including a radio, Discman, tape-machine, mixer, leads, microphones, speakers and water-filled glasses — Marchetti generated a sonic landscape of disjunction and fragmentation. From industrial textures to gusts of wind, an eclectic array of samples were layered upon shifting backgrounds of feedback.
There was more to the performance than pensive abrasiveness. When Marchetti tuned the radio to a commentary of the AFL game being played only a few kilometres away, the serious atmosphere of the performance was disrupted to hilarious effect. At the same time, the gesture suggested a ghostly unravelling of the spatio-temporal borders of the performance. At its epicentre, Marchetti’s clinical and intense stage presence — comparable to a surgeon before an operating table — forged a spectacle which was as much about sound as it was about its modes of interrelation with vision, movement and space.
In this sense, the performance departed from the formulation of musique concrète offered by its inventor Pierre Schaeffer, who linked it to ‘acousmatics’.1 First used by the ancient Greek thinker Pythagoras to describe the technique by which he delivered lectures concealed behind a curtain, ‘acousmatics’ concerns the enhancement of the perception of sound through its isolation from the distracting presence of other sensory stimuli. In contemporary sound art, this auditory ideal is upheld most assiduously by the internationally renowned Spanish artist Francisco López, who not only insists on performing in total darkness, but also provides blindfolds for his audience. Marchetti’s attitude was far less totalising. There was no attempt to separate sound from the process of its production, or indeed, to guarantee the autonomy of the sonorous object. This became clear after Yoko Higashi, initially concealed behind an alcove towards the back of the space, crept into view. Interestingly, the first part of Higashi’s dance simulated a kind of Pavlovian relation between movement and sound, her kinaesthetic stutter appearing as a pre-conscious response to Marchetti’s impersonal and angular sounds. However, the ostensibly direct circuit forged between the dancer’s body and the sound devices was gradually inverted as the performance progressed.
After balancing precariously on Marchetti for a period, Higashi grew bored and slid upside down onto the floor, wailing into a microphone. The climax of the performance arrived when she rose off the floor and began to spin, loosening her grip on the microphone until she held only its lead. Tracing uneven concentric circles around her body, the sound of air rushing through the microphone fibres overshadowed Marchetti’s pulses of piercing feedback. When Higashi changed direction, which she did frequently, the thud of the microphone against her torso introduced a sharp counter-rhythmical element.
The struggle between sound and movement came to function almost as a narrative motor for the performance. Located in between these poles, perhaps Marchetti and Higashi’s most striking achievement was, on the one hand, to create an oneiric duration that pointed beyond the materiality of the immediate experience, whilst at the same time heightening the spectator’s sense of their body in space and time.
David Homewood is an art history student who lives in Melbourne.