Daniel and I have finished presenting our project to the public and the class and have had time to reflect. Creating the zine has given us opportunity to research what music distribution means in the space of Wollongong, and a wider realm, thanks to the online aspect. It really was a physical amalgamation of all our contorted thoughts on the project. It allowed us to focus in on how the theorists, artists, and research all came together.
After visiting the library, we looked into articles that discussed a form of music distribution that we implemented – busking – at our site location – Crown Street Mall. Destination Wollongong controls this in the mall, and have been regulating how people can present music. In 2013 they added a “screening system” (Thompson 2013), and in 2016 they became even stricter, defining a requirement for buskers that are ““authentic, diverse and engaging”. They would also need to be “attractive and high quality” and have “sound management practices such as timeliness, reliability and professionalism””(McIlwain 2016). These stipulations irked us a little, as busking is the most accessible and tangible form of music distribution, having it so regulated was kind of indicative of the institutions we were trying to critique – it is so hard to get your music out there, and this proved it further.
Luckily we weren’t screened for our busking examples, but how would it feel to be denied a spot? You can’t even perform for people who aren’t there to listen to you.
Also in our research of music distribution in Wollongong, we found a few people who thought the scene was lacking. An artist complains to the Illawarra Mercury “Wollongong isn’t the most live music-oriented place, so anything that would create a culture change towards appreciating live music would be great” (Thompson 2016). Daniel and I disagreed however, our knowledge of venues such as Rad Bar, Jane’s, Helter Skelter, Dicey Riley’s, Red Square, and The Three Chimneys – who regularly book upcoming artists – acoustics, solos, bands, open mic nights – being the antithesis to these points. The likes of Unibar host acts such as The Drones who have played at the Sydney Opera House – we also have a 3 day festival in Wollongong that draws such popular acts as The Smith Street Band, The Jezabels, Cloud Control, and more.
Our performances further illuminated these points.
THE ARTIST AS:
“studies people, ethnic groups and other ethnic formations, their ethnogenesis, composition, resettlement, social welfare characteristics, as well as their material and spiritual culture.” (Hester 2016)
Within this mode, the artist studies and is aware of ethnic groups and formations. To investigate our role as the artist in this mode, we performed while drawing pictures of those who made contact with the performer. We did this by performing in the Food Court of Crown Street Mall, courtesy of the GPT group. We didn’t have too many interactions in the hour and a half we performed for, however we made sure to take note of who responded, who didn’t, what visually we could determine of these people. We noticed that people who seemed polished or better off were more likely to ignore us. School students stared and were quite generous with what little money they had. Those who we could only guess were not as well off as others were also more likely to give us a smile or a coin. We were surprised by the fact that those with less to give gave more.
Foster says “there is the assumption that if the invoked artist is not perceived as socially and/or culturally other, he or she has but limited access to this transformative alterity, and, more, that if he or she is perceived as other, he or she has automatic access to it” (Foster 1995, 392), which was true for our situation. Being on a stage was an added formality, and as ethnographers, surveying and performing, we placed ourselves literally (we were up high!) and aurally (we were loud!) above the other people in the food court. It’s interesting to look at the relationship between those performing the everyday to us, quite far removed from the everyday in a sort of ephemeral moment of artistic expression.
Similarly in the online version of this mode, we could look more in depth to who had liked our song. Daniel had composed a piece that was informed by our relationship and our relationship to space. Presenting this piece caused linkages between all of those and other countless people’s and their own experiences. Friends and some friends of friends listened to the piece, getting 51 listens in a week. Most importantly, our Mums shared it, which is the best.
“the artist is unsatisfied with being a content provider within a given system (the art world, his/her local community, society in general, etc), and would prefer to critique the system itself. The artwork produced by this mode of artist attempts to change the status quo” (Hester 2016)
Via challenging the institutions of music distribution in our crashing of a curated venue and guerrilla marketing, we analysed the mode of the social critic (see previous posts). On researching this, comments by Kaprow who writes about the “un-artist”(Kaprow et al. 1993, 98-99) further complicated our conclusion. Kaprow says of the social critic “sooner or later most of them and their colleagues throughout the world have seen their work absorbed into the cultural institutions against which they initially measured their liberation” (Kaprow et al. 1993, 98-99). While artists Maria Anwander, Banksy, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles inspired this notion of the Social Critic, and our own practise, we haven’t seen any absorption back into their points of liberation. We did experience this in our short rebellion of music curated venues however, and were immediately re-introduced as proponents of the music industry by the acceptance of the venue. If the event co-ordinators had rejected us instead of welcoming us, we would have the same social comment as our inspiration.
““The artist” sees him/herself as a special category separate from mainstream society, and superior to it. The artist toils in private, or within a small community of similar outsiders” (Hester 2016)
For this mode, we posted a piece without advertisement.
Listen to it here
And to our surprise, it went off. Daniel gets perhaps 50 listens with advertising/telling people/posting it on Facebook, and it got 64 with nothing! I think partly because its a unique and enjoyable song, but the fact that we tried to a loner,
We wrote the piece collaboratively, Daniel writing music, playing all the instruments, and producing the whole piece, with me writing and singing the vocals. I wrote it about our relationship and changes in relationship, letting this be shared to form more relations and relations and relations in thought and experience. Everything is intersecting! Even when the artist strives to be a loner.
For the public version of this mode, we performed in a parking lot at the top level of Crown Street Mall (which is usually very desolate). We played for about 25 minutes or so, and saw one guy who parked his car, and awkwardly ignored us as the only other presence. It was quite zen playing to the open space, and though we weren’t really alone as we had each other, we definitely surmised what it was like to intersect with no one else – though this meant we still had a relational aesthetic, even if it was only a practical point of departure from social context, not theoretical. The notion of a “ritual escape from Culture” (Kaprow et al. 1993, 102) as a tortured artist who sees themselves away from society was kind of underwhelming. We want to distribute our music, and we want to perform – perhaps the nature of a musician as a loner is in the compositional process; we write songs as secrets with secret codes and metaphors, and it is at this point we toil in private. Music, as it is ephemeral and anachronic, cannot be seen all at once, or (with the exception of a recording) be grasped once the vibrations have ceased. It is therefore a performative art in the way that it’s distribution is dictated by a timed event.
Using busking for our distribution examples, it is a medium where listeners are there by chance, not there to explicitly listen to you. A gig or a concert at a venue is advertised, and listeners may come for your unique music or for your fame. Busking is an art reserved for those seeking the community, and are ‘outsiders’ to an extent. Then again, the appeal to the everyday is also present; you are playing to cultural codes and the mainstream who may not be clued into music – you have to play covers, or songs with vocal gymnastics, or loud songs, to inspire people to listen, and to pay you for what they could get for free.
In more reflection, another quote from Kaprow’s essays is quite profound: “Artists of the world, drop out! You have nothing to lose but your professions” (Kaprow et al. 1993, 109). This idea of the artist as a loner, or even as a social critic, follows an investigation, but also a rejection of the field. It is innovation but exclusion.
Considering these findings and our lived performances (online and public), we constructed the zine. Zines often go hand in hand with music distribution, a form of advertisement, social comment, and artistic/idea presentation. This form of documentation is very indicative of our subject matter. We used this to concrete all our findings and experiences in a creative way, letting our documentation again become art. By making this collaboratively, I think it became a physical representation of how Daniel and I interrelated – for example, most poignantly in our handwriting styles and ideas of what was visually appealing. I think we collaborated really well, did an even amount of work, and brainstormed our ideas a lot. I think the only detriment of our project was committing to so many elements: separate performances, composing, producing, recording and mixing our three songs, sharing online, a forty page zine. We thought a lot about the what and that made us skimp a little on the why. But all in all I think we managed it well, and we made a project we are both really proud of.
That leads me to think about our project in relation (is that a pun? Kind of?) to Relational Aesthetics. Relational Aesthetics is defined by Bourriad as “A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space” (Bourriaud 2002, 12), and I think this is central to our project. We can have a song that exists in our bedroom, but what meaning does this give to the song? Is everything changed once we sacrifice secrecy and independent space? Through these methods of investigation we have viewed how the public and social context define what we are making. In this way, Social Intersections are observed. We view how us as the artist intersects not only the audience but also the music industry.
In summary of the course, I can definitely say my creative practice has been informed by ideas I never even dreamed of. Working successfully in a collaborative setting, and learning about more than what is consonant or pretty, and finding a new frame of mind in the creative world – the finished work is not just the art, the journey and documentation are as important in presenting ideas the project quests for. The relationship between the person making and receiving the art is the art. Me talking to Daniel is art. Me writing this blog post is art. Art is everything and nothing. Which is super cool.
Bourriaud, N 2002, Relational aesthetics, Les Presses du réel, Dijon
Foster, H 1995, The Artist as Ethnographer, Routledge, London
Hester, B 2016, CAOS201 Lecture: Week 3, University of Wollongong, March 16 2016
Kaprow, A & Kelley, J 1993, Essays on the blurring of art and life, University of California Press, Berkeley
McIllwain, K 2016 “Buskers, Beggers and Boarders to be caught it council mall crackdown” Illawarra Mercury. 1/4, Viewed on 30/5/16, accessed at <http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/3824577/buskers-to-be-caught-in-council-crackdown/>
Thompson, A 2013 ‘Talent filter aims to find gong’s best buskers’, Illawarra Mercury, 23/5, viewed 30/5/16, accessed at < http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/1520668/talent-filter-aims-to-find-gongs-best-buskers/>