Posted by Cecile Lucas, April 19th, 2017
After touring regional WA for two weeks, the Small Voices Louder crew is back in Perth for an intensive week of audio editing to piece together some of the most insightful children’s answers recorded across the tour. On the soundboard is Melbourne-based sound artist Sharyn Brand, whose artistry in kaleidoscopic audio assemblage brings a whole new dimension to the production. In the coming days Sharyn will be weaving these small voices into an audio snapshot of regional WA kids’ brave and profound answers – we can’t wait to share the end result with you. While you’re waiting, here is a conversation I recently had with Sharyn, to hear about her artistic background and what brought her to work alongside Alex Desebrock on this production.
Cecile Lucas: What first sparked your interest in exploring sound?
Sharyn Brand: I can’t really remember the first time I was interested in sound, I feel like it has always fascinated me. I loved listening to music and I spent many years as a nightclub DJ, this is where I began experimenting with composition and making my own tracks. Now, I not only have a fascination with music and sound, but also with the technical side of how it can be created and manipulated.
CL: How would you describe your approach to working with sound – and the kind of work that you make?
SB: My current works focus on the human voice. I am very interested in words and stories and how they can move people. My work is as much an exploration of listening as it is of sound, as I am investigating how people listen and what they hear.
In my current work I explore the notion of the sound bite. How a short 30-second recording of words may speak of one thing, yet the same words can be edited, truncated and rearranged, and be heard differently.
CL: How did you start working with Alex Desebrockand Maybe ( ) Together?
SB: I shared a studio next to hers in the same artist warehouse in Melbourne, and at the time my partner was collaborating with her on a wonderful outdoor children’s work. I had been doing some stage managing and was asked to join the team. I then learnt more of her development of Small Voices Louder and knew I wanted to be a part of it! I was brought on board with four other sound artists for a 2-week development at Arts House Melbourne. My work really resonated with Alex’s vision for SVL, and she offered me to be part of it.
CL: What do you like the most about collaborating with Alex on Small Voices Louder? Is there anything in particular that you learned through this experience?
SB: Alex has a real passion for giving children agency and allowing their ideas and voices to be heard. This totally aligns with my practice, and I am so thrilled and grateful to be working on this project with her. I love listening to the voices – children are always surprisingly insightful.
CL: Atmosphere, space and setting are very important components when producing immersive performance, and can influence the way people respond to the show. In your work, the concept of confined space and confessional experience is quite recurrent. What is it that you like about it? How does that environment influence the responses you get?
SB: The setup of the recording space in my current work gives the participant total control and privacy. Just like the tent world in Small Voices Louder, there is no one sitting across from them holding a microphone eliciting a response. I like that this seems to give people the freedom to be very candid.
CL: Sound art is a very direct way of engaging people with art, with a great level of anonymity, yet can feel very exposing for participants. How do you find people respond to this contradictory concept of Anonymity Vs Exposure?
SB: For me sound as a medium is both a very personal yet at the same time a very connecting and shared experience. When people are being recorded, not amplified or broadcast in the same moment, it becomes a very freeing cathartic experience. In my work no one is listened in to that present moment. As the words and sounds are listened to at a time in the future, I feel participants quickly reconcile that they may or may not hear their words again so they don’t feel so exposed.
CL: What’s next? What do you have in the pipeline after Small Voices Louder regional tour?
SB: Whilst on tour in W.A. I will be exhibiting a composition in Phantasmagoria – a free site-responsive festival located at Bogong Village, Victoria. Reflection is a self-directed headphone sound walk, responding to the theme of Phantasmagoria and the site of Bogong Village. The sounds within the piece were recorded on a two-week supported residency in 2016. The stories I collected have been processed and morphed with the impulse responses of the natural acoustics of different spaces within the Village.
Keep an eye out for the voices of regional WA kids coming at you soon!
Posted by Cecile Lucas, March 23rd, 2017
Direct from its recent premiere at Perth International Arts Festival, Maybe ( ) Together’s participatory performance Small Voices Louder is all set to hit the road for a Regional tour across Western Australia next week. Taking part in this adventure is performer and anthropology graduate Zoe Street, whose first experience as Stage Manager has shed some light on a new career opportunity. I managed to catch up with Zoe just before she heads off to find out more about what this first experience has brought to her.
Cecile – Small Voices Louder is your first experience as Stage Manager, how did you become involved and what are some of the challenges that you are facing?
It’s all about timing… I put my skills up for grabs when Performing Lines WA was on the look out for someone who was the right fit for the project. After a fairly unconventional job interview in a room full of bright yellow tents I found myself stage managing for the first time at PIAF with a show that I fell in love with on sight, so I guess I was the one for the job.
I’d say the biggest challenge would probably be getting to know the ins and outs of our wondrous set. The set is made of eight tents with a maze of paths connecting them and inside each tent there are miniature worlds. It’s all rather magical. However behind the magic there is an intricate tent construction process that involves arranging wooden frames with their matching inner layers, outer layers and bases, and a numerous array of peculiar props that bring the tents to life. After this season at PIAF I can call myself a cubby maintenance professional and the next big challenge will be taking it on the road.
Small Voices Louder is also quite different from the other productions you previously worked on, what do you like about it? Does that inspire you to pursue work in more participatory projects?
Working on participatory performance projects was new to me so I loved observing the active exchange that occurs in the space. The work relies on responses from the participants and that’s what brings it to life and creates an impact on those participating and those who hear the voices in various public spaces. As an anthropology graduate and artist this form of performance just makes sense and since being part of this project I’m left wondering why I didn’t find my way into this type of work sooner. Bring it on!
Next week you will be going on a regional tour with Small Voices Louder’s crew across Western Australia, what are you most excited about?
I’m really excited to get this work out to regional communities and hear what the children have to say about the way they see the world. The work provides a space for kids to think big and believe in their voice and also gives us adults such a startling insight into the wisdom they hold. Hearing the responses from the PIAF participants was very powerful and I’m looking forward to observing the similarities and differences that emerge as rural kids engage in the space. As we go to new places we’ll continue to build on the collection of children’s voices, which can hopefully capture a unique snapshot of the diversity of our state.
Are there any other productions you’d love to stage manage? Or any Artistic Directors you would love to work with?
Oh man this is hard, there are so many artists and companies I admire out there! Close to home pvi collective and Big Hart are two of my favourites. But I’m just going to go for gold here and say Bryony Kimmings and her current work The Boys Project would be a dream for me to be involved in. I saw Bryony’s work Fake It Til You Make It in 2014 and I left that show inspired and energised, so I always follow her work.
The Boys Project is a three year multi-platformed art activism project that works with young men from council estates in England. The project consists of a social campaign, theatre piece, education initiative and documentary, and this process of engaging with communities to integrate performance with social change initiatives is the type of work I believe in and would love to throw my energy into.
Do you have a favourite or most memorable experience from your career so far you would like to share with us?
I did a project a few years back where I interviewed Vietnam Veterans for a self devised show I wrote and performed called Speak to Me of War. I will always remember the camaraderie I felt as they invited me into their community and the generosity those men showed in openly sharing their experiences with me. It was such a privilege to hear their stories and I will always treasure that.
What do you have coming up after Small Voices Louder’s tour?
There are a few things in the works at the moment, but nothing I can really talk about just yet. I will say that I’m really keen to move in the direction of community arts work and socially engaged arts practice and see what that world has to offer. It’s all pretty new to me so I have some exploring to do but I’m drawn to projects that integrate social change initiatives with performance and participatory art.
Posted by Cecile Lucas, January 31st, 2017
Small Voices Louder is an interactive show in two parts, where kids are invited to play and explore an installation that prompts them to express what they really think, with their frank, fearless and funny answers. The second part takes these recorded answers and delivers them to adult ears through radio and public space.
Leading up to the premiere of Small Voices Louder produced by Performing Lines WA at the 2017 Perth Festival, Cecile caught up with Maybe ( ) Together’s lead artist Alex Desebrock to find out why our smallest people can have the loudest voices.
Your works generally position children as the instigators and central figures in each performance. Has this concept always been inherent to your work or was there an impetus that sparked your interest in engaging young voices?
I’ve always wanted to create circuit breakers for people from reality. An opportunity to think big, connect and feel. I kept making this kind of works for adults – but kept getting programmed for children audiences.
I then had this moment in an early work called A Little Piece where six audience members were stuck together in a room with one child. They all LOVED having that child there to watch them open doors, react and made their experience of this immersive puppet world even more magical.
I also realised that children often tell me exactly what I need to hear. And that if you’re not around kids much, you wouldn’t hear their crazy, blunt, inspiring, honest, hopeful, guilt-inducing words.
And really – we need to think more about the next generation, right?
For the development of Small Voices Louder you worked with children in both regional and metropolitan Victoria. Did you find the responses differed between the two? How did that inform the show?
Not especially. It’s really hard to make generalisations about different children’s audiences when you only share the work with about 50 kids I think.
There is one question that asks them to describe their town/city to an Alien. This definitely provides differences and you hear what rural kids lives are like in comparison to city kids. Rural kids talk about space, the big city being the local town whereas City children talk about the attractions, the pros and cons of living in a city and things like that. I am looking forward to finding out more about this at PIAF and then on our regional tour later in 2017.
In the second part of Small Voices Louder, children’s responses are played to adults to elicit reactions and consideration. Do you find your work also triggers conversations amongst the children?
The children wonder through the first part in pairs. This means we do hear their conversations. You can hear their minds working as they try to find the right words for things, correct each other and add to their thoughts.
What was your first experience of participatory theatre? What made you want to become a contemporary maker yourself?
I always go back to The Angel Project by Deborah Warner which I saw when I was 16 at PIAF. It blew my mind. I had this amazing experience of being in a secret poem in my own city. It made me see the world differently and I realised the power of audience autonomy in a work.
I believe art can provide the space for connection, new perspectives and ultimately better decisions. Life gets so busy we find it hard to stop and think big, daringly, boldly with values, ethics and consideration. Art’s complexity allows transcendence – and this is why I keep making art.
You recently came back to your home town, Perth, after working in Melbourne. Was this move motivated by a desire to be part of Perth’s evolving artistic scene?
Perth has certainly boomed over the last 10 years I wasn’t here! I was getting a bit envious of the fun things happening and those feelings I had when I moved of being in the Arts Capital of Australia had shifted.
But it wasn’t only this. I wanted to make art in a space with differing opinions and beyond a well-trained arts audience.
I also just wanted to be back with the salty air and blue skies. And my dog wanted the dog beaches here.
What do you find the most challenging in creating performances for and with children?
The thing with children is that they are often dragged or pushed into an arts experience. Either with their school, or well-meaning parent. So – you have to work very hard to make it engaging – because (of course) they will be very clear about it if they don’t like it.
I think this is the hardest part. Making it interesting for differing ages and personalities. It’s not easy!
Small Voices Louder by Maybe ( ) Together
Produced by Performing Lines WA | Presented by Perth International Arts Festival
10 February – 5 March 2017 | State Theatre Centre of WA