Sydney Festival Is Taking Over the AGNSW Like Never Before

Immerse your senses in an after-dark audiovisual adventure combining art, space, dance and sound.
Lucy McNabb
Published on December 21, 2018

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Sydney Festival will be kicking off 2019 with a whole slew of performance, music and a dedication to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. And as part of the upcoming program, the festival will be joining forces with the Art Gallery of NSW for three nights of immersive performance and art. Held after dark from January 10–12, Masters of Modern Sound at the gallery will welcome you to lose yourself in a large-scale immersive soundscape directly inspired by the Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage exhibition. While you're wandering among iconic, groundbreaking paintings by the likes of Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Kandinsky, you'll be surrounded by sound design, compositions and live performances of works by some of the most innovative Australian and international aural artists. The much-anticipated collaboration with Sydney Festival and dance theatre company Force Majeure will also showcase original movement and interventions from performers responding to the music and artworks around them. To get you appropriately psyched for this seriously unique experience, we rounded up five highlights you can look forward to.


So you haven't heard of Dean Hurley before? Well, it might intrigue you to learn that he's a long-time David Lynch collaborator, having worked with the iconic American director on music-based, film and commercial projects including Twin Peaks: The Return and Inland Empire. In other words, he's kind of a big deal. The Emmy-nominated music producer, audio engineer and film sound editor has designed a brand spanking new work directly inspired by paintings in the Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage exhibition and AGNSW's brutalist architecture. Alongside Hurley, you'll also encounter some awesome homegrown talent, like Melbourne-based collaborative trio Corin Ileto, Becky Sui Zhen and Casey Hartnett, whose ambient multi-instrumental compositions are being performed as a live score. These guys compose and perform contemporary electronic and classical music for artists and live events (in fact they wrote the score for the exhibition's audio guide) and are definitely a group to watch out for.


Caterina Barbieri.


One of the world's most radically experimental and innovative electronic music stars, Italian minimalist Caterina Barbieri, will be making her first live performance in Australia at Masters of Modern Sound. Mainly working with Eurorack and Buchla modular synthesisers (synth nerds, this one's for you), Barbieri's work explores themes relating to machine intelligence and object-oriented perception, and she's recently released her second critically acclaimed album. The ambience will then be taken next level thanks to LA-based avant-garde composer William Basinski—probably most widely known for his masterful four-volume ambient album The Disintegration Loops—and his long-time pal, Brisbane-based composer, artist and curator Lawrence English, who will be treating gallery-goers to an Australian-exclusive live performance of their collaborative album Selva Oscura in full. Given English's fascination with the ability of sound to occupy the body and Basinki's meditative style and love of short looped melodies, this promises to be a seriously cool way to wrap up the event.


It's not all just about the sound. Critically acclaimed dance theatre company Force Majeure is also taking over AGNSW, led by Artistic Director Danielle Micich. As you explore the gallery you'll spy Harrison Elliott from Australian Dance Theatre, Helpmann Award-winner James Vu Anh Pham and independent artist and Torres Strait Islander Ghenoa Gela weaving original movement and interventions into the space, in response to the surrounding landscape of music and artworks. Force Majeure is known for bold, stimulating work—so expect something a little more provocative than your typical pirouette. It's a pretty excellent concept: galleries can be such physically restrained environments, right? The hushed silence, the watchful security guard just waiting for you to stand one inch too close to that painting. There's something liberating about dancers breaking up the formal atmosphere and introducing some wiggle into all those straight lines. Who knows, you may even find yourself similarly inspired to throw a few shapes — just watch out for the security guard. And mind the Monets, please.


This after-dark adventure is a feast for the eyes too, not just the ears. If you're yet to visit the Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage exhibition, you're in for a massive treat (and here's our handy round-up of the renowned artists to look out for). We're talking Cezanne, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Kandinsky, Malevich — it's skin-tinglingly overwhelming having so many masterpieces in close proximity. And if you typically enjoy wandering around a gallery with headphones in, tunes carefully selected to set the perfect mood, Masters of Modern Sound is your opportunity to experience a powerhouse exhibition of paintings that comes with its very own soundtrack created by some of the world's best aural artists. Funnily enough, ol' Kandinsky himself saw an emotional kinship between painting and music, believing that painters possessed the same power as musicians to "cause vibrations in the soul". So, see if your experience of the works is enhanced by the sonic world unfurling around you — and stay alert for vibrations.


Yes, you've covered sight and sound, but don't forget about taste. After all of that gallery gallivanting and wandering from room to room, you'll most likely be in need of some serious refreshment. Lucky for you, a pop-up bar from local favourite Chiswick at the Gallery will be serving up street food from head chef Tim Brindley, plus there'll be plenty of beer, cider and gin and tonics from the crew behind Young Henrys. And don't leave the gallery without checking out another couple of local favourites: Sydney-based jazz pianist Chris Abrahams (The Necks) and Western Sydney artist Del Lumanta, whose luminous solo ambient performances are all about forcing meditation on modern restlessness. We reckon it all sounds like a pretty epic date night. Or hey, you could even grab a couple of tickets for a Christmas present. Hint hint.

Masters of Modern Sound takes place January 10–12 at 8pm at the Art Gallery of NSW. Bookings are essential. Tickets are $65 and can be purchased online via Sydney Festival.

Published on December 21, 2018 by Lucy McNabb
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