Extremities festival brings together experimental artists from Australia and Japan

by Craig Exton

Special To The Japan Times

Support from government bodies and nonprofit organizations helps develop and promote artists and musicians internationally. Japan sees various events such as Nordic Music Night, Finland Fest and British Anthems thanks to financial assistance from the embassies of the countries involved. Australian support will bring together similar-minded artists from Australia and Japan for the three-day Extremities festival exploring the sonic extremes of the two nations.

The Australian artists will come here with the help of Jolt, a nonprofit and artist-run organization based in Melbourne. The organization’s main goal is to promote and develop Australian and international sound artists and explore new sonic territories.

When Jolt’s artistic director James Hullick toured in Japan with his noise duo Buggatronic in 2010, he met up with Tokyo-based Canadian musician and event organizer Cal Lyall. The pair discussed ways to bring artists from their respective local scenes to a wider audience. Lyall joined Jolt and set up a satellite office in Tokyo.

“As we traipsed our way through a number of marathon Skype sessions, we hit upon the Extremities idea,” Lyall recalls about how the festival came about. “(It’s) a concept of taking these very extremes of silence/noise, acoustic/electric, tranquility/chaos, and putting them into one festival to celebrate the dynamism of all these outsider sound and visual artists,” he says.

In November 2011, Jolt’s other hub in Switzerland assisted in putting together the International Sonic Festival there. Organizers deemed it a success and thus started to see the realistic possibility of bringing such a festival here.

Welcome support for the festival has come from the Australia-Japan Foundation, the Australian Council for the Arts and Arts Victoria, with the money going toward paying for the artists’ travel and accommodation expenses. These costs would have been impossible to cover from ticket sales alone.

Jolt is hoping to bring Tokyo artists to Melbourne for a similar kind of festival, but say they may not be able to rely on funding from Japanese government organizations.

“Australian artists are lucky enough to see a certain degree of funding, so there is also a lot of interesting research happening in the arts that you don’t really find academically in Japan,” Lyall explains.

Lyall believes this issue of funding is reflected in the differences between the sounds artists are making in the two cities, with denser sounds produced by artists in Tokyo, possibly stemming from more competition for attention. In comparison, the space and freedom allowed by funding in Australia has allowed more structured and intricate sounds to come out of Melbourne.

Amplified Elephants are one group creating such structured and intricate sounds set to appear at Extremities. Directed by James Hullick, the ensemble play recontextualized traditional instruments, custom-built sound machines and other devices, sometimes receiving instructions on paper or through headphones during their performances.

The members of Amplified Elephants all of whom have intellectual disabilities, came together in 2006 at sound-art classes Hullick runs at Footscray Community Arts Center in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The group have been performing sonic technology productions in Melbourne, the latest of which was performed at the city’s outdoor Federation Square performance space. The production was titled “Howling Sound,” which is also the name of their debut CD released this month to coincide with their Japan appearance.

For their performance at Extremities, the ensemble will collaborate with Japanese drummer and percussionist Ryusaku Ikezawa. It will be fascinating to see how Ikezawa’s creative way of improvising complements Amplified Elephant’s avant-garde sound art. Ikezawa is a renowned figure in Tokyo’s experimental music scene and plays in a lot of bands including Oncenth Trio and OKHP. He also improvises in numerous collaborations using drums and other objects such as an electric wire system.

Another artist performing at the festival is drummer Muneomi Senju. Once a member of Boredoms, Senju now makes time to play with bands such as Para and Combopiano, while collaborating with everyone from harsh noise-artist Merzbow to pop singer UA. Senju explores the potential of drums and technology by attaching electronic triggers to his drum kit, activating samples and sequences as he plays his complex tribal rhythms.

For the Extremities festival, Senju will appear in a duo with audio-visual artist Yudayajazz. As a DJ and VJ, Yudayajazz improvises on stage, mixing video and live feeds with sampled and live music. Watching them feed off each other in a multimedia frenzy will be a definite highlight.

Other multimedia highlights of the three days will be Australian audio-visual artist Robin Fox’s 3-D laser show and veteran Japanese filmmaker Jun’ichi Okuyama’s innovative film experiments. Other sound artists include Evala, Toshimaru Nakamura and Toshio Kajiwara, who will represent Japan. Meanwhile, Philip Brophy, Bolt Ensemble and Darrin Verhagen will showcase Australia’s talent. Jolt organizers Hullick and Daniel Buess’ unit Buggatronic will also appear as well as a performance by Lyall.

“Extremities: Jolt Japanese Australian Sonic Festival” takes place at Super Deluxe in Roppongi, Tokyo, from Sep 21-23 (7 p.m.).Tickets cost ¥6,500 for three days or ¥3,000 for a single day, and are available from the Super Deluxe website. For more information, visit www.super-deluxe.com . Some of the acts featured at Extremities will play K.D. Japon in Nagoya on Sep 26 (7 p.m. start; ¥2,000; [052] 251-0324); Namba Bears in Osaka on Sep 27 (7 p.m. start; ¥1,800 in advance, ¥2,000 at the door; [06] 6649-5564); and Urban Guild in Kyoto on Sep 28 (7 p.m. start; ¥2,000 in advance, ¥2,300 at the door; [075] 212-1125).