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words // Wesley Freeman-Smith

Presented by the enigmatic collective Goshawks, SHADOWISM is a multi-layered, multimedia performance – a walk-through art installation incorporating photography, live video projection & surround sound ambient/acoustic improvisation. It’s a one-time-only kind of deal, and judging by the complexity of the material involved preparation is immense.

It was in a bleary-eyed, recently disrobed of dressing gown state that I arrived at ARU in search of the trio behind the project. Into a music tech room I was led, where messieurs Abbot, Brown & Crosby were setting up for a rehearsal. A giant white screen fills one wall, and an immense vibraphone stands proud in the centre. Our interview was brief but full – a momentary window onto a firmament full of ideas, skies churning with potentials about to be realized. And, it has to be said, with no small amount of sleep deprivation. About the three artists, there’s an air of intense busyness and productivity; frayed late nights rehearsing and plotting, driven only by coffee and an ambition that matches the scale of the project they’ve birthed.

“This semester, one of our projects was to do a collaborative composition project. I had an idea in mind for ages about utilizing 360º sound in a circular room, with a performance in the centre – the spacialization of visual and audio work to create an intangibly interactive environment. It’s a piece you can experience from different angles and perspectives. Although it’s still for the University project, it’s actually moved past that now…”

The trio found each other from disparate fields, a confluence of minds that seems completely fortuitous at first but makes more sense as the sympathy of ideas accelerates. One member is from a fine arts background, one from classical and one from electronic, yet the three share an affinity of ideas that is far from arbitrary.

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“Me and Chris go way back since we were, what, 11? With Will, we’ve always appreciated each others work,” begins Jacob. “There’s a lot of crossover in the concepts we’re pursuing, just in different disciplines. It seemed really natural to work together.” Once the connection was made, the work gained a gravity of it’s own. The pull and push of separate worlds connecting creates a movement that turns into a maelstrom. The results are exciting because of their unpredictability; this is not a band nor a recording project, but a live performance. By necessity, preparation can only go so far – as the nature of a live environment invites chaos and uncertainty, there’s no way of knowing how successful the ideas will be until the moment. What else is improvisation, if not a considered creative risk?

“It’s about the unexpected as well, which you get with improvisation. I think it’s exciting for an audience, and even more exciting and daunting for a performer… The rules we’ve set in place for this are going to elevate that idea of chance. We’re certainly influenced by the John Cage and Marcel Duchamp happenings of the 50’s New York school… With live improvisation, if you walk into an environment like that with surround sound and visuals morphing around you, I think that’s a nice environment to be in anyway – but we’ve also put a lot of thought into how we as performers are going to fit in with the overall aesthetic. Everything that LOOKS prerecorded is still being performed live, which adds a bit of sparkle to what audiences are experiencing.”

As an event, attendance is just as essential to SHADOWISM as it is to you. A circle of cross-pollination between audio, visuals and audience, the piece is also three dimensional in other ways. “Being a circular room the acoustics don’t behave as you’d expect, so it really creates pockets of different soundworlds”. In a very real way, each spectator creates their own experience. As a durational, free-range environment, audiences aren’t necessarily expected to stay the whole time – they are free to wander in & out at their discretion. As such, perception of the whole piece will be partial as well as unique to each individual; it’s designed to immerse audiences in an experience, not explain it to them. To this end, some elements or processes remain opaque to participants throughout.

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Their reference to Zeno’s Arrow Paradox in event desciption is no academic bluff; much of the work will be moving at a glacial pace, where “if audiences come back at different times and take away snapshots, as it were, each time they’ll experience radically different pieces of music, different pieces of art.” Much of the inspiration for the work comes from not only from Morton Feldman’s experimental compositions, but also from Muybridge’s studies in motion and Brian Eno’s audiovisual album Thursday Afternoon.

Along with Jacob manipulating electronics at a social volume and Will bowing the vibraphone, Chris mixes videos live; it’s his work that adorns the promotional poster. Moving from still work into films opened up a new scope for audio collaboration, and this project became a perfect vehicle for that. “One of the key elements in my work this year has been speed, tempo… The film is animated from intimate portrait shots, taken in dark rooms at different speeds. It’s inspired by old-school painting, Caravaggio and things like that.” This is where the name SHADOWISM comes from; it’s painting with light and shadow. The images are gorgeous and key to the essence of the installation – mysterious and suggestive, but still rooted in the human form and figure.

“Art needs to appeal to the masses in some way. It’s all very well writing these high-end conceptual pieces – but if it’s not reaching anyone and people aren’t reacting to it, it’s kind of self-indulgent. To get to a point where the performance marries up accessibility with our own artistic needs is something we’ve thought an awful lot about. If we can get people to stay in for perhaps a longer period of time than they’d usually view a static work of art, I feel like that’s our mission accomplished.”

There will also be beanbags and free wine. SHADOWISM is happening Saturday December 13th, 5pm-8pm in LAB028, Anglia Ruskin University – more info

A video posted by chris brown (@csmkbrwn) on