Rewind: Variable Resistance

Philip Samartzis at SFMOMA, Taken on September 8, 2002. Photo by R. Yau

By Philip Samartzis

Amorphous, seductive, confronting and comforting, sound can exert a multiplicity of emotional and physical affects on listeners. Sound Art however often eludes description, is generally misunderstood and repeatedly defies categorization.

In 2001 I was invited by Stuart Koop to coordinate a series of after hours presentations at ACCA titled Variable Resistance designed to highlight trends informing contemporary sound culture. Over two years ACCA hosted various concerts and lectures by a wide range of artists and theorists including David Toop (UK), Rasmus Lunding (DK), Csaba Toth (USA), Francisco Lopez (SPN), Gunter Muller (CH) and Voice Crack (CH). The series culminated in a survey of Australian sound culture for the San Francisco MOMA (2002) and Transmediale Festival (2003) titled Variable Resistance: 10 hours of sound from Australia which included works by 80 Australian sound artists and musicians.

ACCA's advocacy was important as it generated wider awareness of Australian sound culture and its diverse range of practices. It occurred at a time when sound art was just beginning to receive broader international recognition by large institutions who acknowledged its importance through historical and contemporary survey exhibitions and performance programs.

The Variable Resistance program made an important contribution towards generating greater recognition of the diverse range of practices that have evolved through various communities of artists and musicians to articulate a strong regional character. The program was also important for providing a forum for international theorists and practitioners who explored a variety of ideas within this burgeoning field. These presentations included examples of the musical possibilities of robotics, improvisation, pervasive computing in performance, bioacoustics, soundscape composition, noise and silence, domestic appliances as sound generators, gesture and the haptic in performance, sound spatialisation, exotica and ambient music.

In 2000-1 Philip Samartzis was an independent sound curator and artist promoting spatial sound practices. He is currently working towards a publication titled An Absent Presence (Macmillan) that focuses on work produced during his Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship and producing a one hour radio work on Antarctica for France Culture and the ABC to be aired later this year.