a surreal show-length work incorporating music, dance and physical installation

(in development 2012)


I am most curious about the personal, the secret, the mysterious. Drawn into inconspicuous otherworlds,

I am struck by sensations of sympathy towards situations of strangeness.

In this noisy world of public utterances, I find myself attentive to private sounds.


From a distant place emerges a whirring call. A sonic thread as clear and detached as a dream. Drawn by curiosity, the bemused assembly of people shuffle towards the alien soundworld. Calm, compelling, confusing. What is it? How does it function? What does it mean? Am I allowed to bear witness to it?

Thus begins The Secret Noise, a surreal immersive experience exploring secrecy, movement and music. In this unique show-length multimedia event a mobile audience will be free to discover a sequence of strange fantastical scenes. Presented in a secret location, the curious onlooker is privy to a procession of dreamlike rituals poetically referencing forbidden ceremonies, legally extinguished music, personalised music-making, covert music-making and private love songs. Occupying an unusual artistic space somewhere between music, dance and physical installation, The Secret Noise artistically addresses ethical boundaries between music-making as a public and private exchange and critically examines the ownership of sound and movement.


Much of the Forbidden Spectacles scene is built around an abstract allusion to the bullroarer: a sacred instrument communicating the spirit over vast distances and excluded from the experience of the majority of the community. A visual as well as aural spectacle, trained performers will whirl a variety of especially designed objects through space to create sound. From fricative objects sounding like an aeolian harp to humming cups, ethereal whistles and chortling plastic piping, various numbers and combinations of the whirling instruments are used to create an earthly drone sometimes paired down to a fragile voice at other times a swarm of sound. Throbbing cycles upon cycles. From this unbroken sustaining line emerges various melismatic utterances from instrumentalists evoking a striking yet primordial reference to the sanctuary of song.


Plis Cachetés is a surreal exploration of artistic ownership and the law. From paranoid governments to monopolising corporations, hyper-protective artist-estates and composers withdrawing their juvenilia, Plis Cachetés is a compendium of sound based on music that has been legally extinguished from the public experience.

This scene takes its name from the French Scientific Academy’s method of patenting ideas via the submission of proposals as plis cachetés (sealed envelopes). In the period following the French revolution thousands of ideas were sealed and, until recently, remained lost and unavailable to the public. This scene takes as its starting point several proposals found in the plis cachetés concerning the invention of new forms of music and dance notation. Illegal music will be poetically interpreted into these visually stunning and arcane notational languages. Then, in a bizarre experience somewhere between bureaucratic routine and the intimacy of a private show, audience-members will be presented with their own personal pli cacheté and invited to ‘submit’ their document for sonic and/or physical ‘realisation’ by a performer in a booth. Attendees may line-up for a one-on-one (or exclusive group) audience with a solo performer for an individualised and intense artistic transaction.


Music of Friends, delves into the idea of chamber music: from its pre-concert function as an elite artifact heard only by royalty to music exclusively composed and played by groups of friends in private settings. In this modern-day rewrite of the repertory, Music of Friends takes the conversational conventions and dance-forms of chamber music to ludicrous extremes. Pushed into grotesque sonic territory and augmented by a visual spectacle parodying the highfalutian protocols of its origins, this ‘music of friends’ becomes a truly hermetic language esoteric to all except the initiated group. This contemporary interpretation of chamber music provides a slightly humorous commentary on the phenomenon of music cliques and the use identification of music as a commodity to advance one’s own (and exclude others’) social standing.


From court dances to the throbbing beat of the nightclub, music and dance has, for the most part, functioned as an expression of socialisation: a medium to bring people together. At least until the age of the iPod. With the experience of music increasingly individualised and personalised, the iMusic scene explores the ubiquitous headphone as an expression of private music. iMusic is based on electronic music that the audience will never hear. Rather, each performer receives individualised instructions via headphones that conveys all types of physical and musical instructions. While each performer interacts in dialogue with their electronic tracks, the audience – like eavesdroppers to a phone conversation – sees and hears only half the conversation. The rhythmic and physical movement of the scene evokes the growing fashion of ‘silent discos’: odd spectacles of people with wireless headphones dancing to different tunes in apparent silence.


From the ‘Plato code’ of Ancient Greece to US Congressional hearings into subliminal mind-control, the capacity of music to carry hidden messages is the subject of continuous controversy and conspiracy theories. The possibility of music having a superficial form as well as a secret form that may be unmasked by the inquisitive listener forms the basis of this mashup of hidden references. This scene is a playful rethink of techniques popular in the recording industry to conceal secret music and messages. Backmasking (the satanic message that reveals itself by spinning an LP backwards); incorrect play speeds (a new meaning found by changing LP speed or skipping through a CD); secret tracks (concealed between the grooves of an LP or in the pregap coding of CDs); hidden text and images (unveiled by the visualisation of digital audio); and modular structures (where a new work is exposed by the reordering and/or superimposition of separate tracks); form a catalogue of techniques reinvented into a live context and applied to an off-the-wall plundering of double-meaning sources ranging from Shostakovich to Radiohead.

[image: Scene 1 - Forbidden Spectacles]


The nature of the public presentation of the work is intended to be closely aligned to the artistic themes of the work. All facets of the audience experience, from the venue to the promotional strategy, will seek to support a seemingly secret or private artistic encounter. The ideal premise is that the audience will be stimulated via their engaged ‘discovery’ of the event and all its intricacies, rather than through overt public proclamations of its existence and meaning. As such the audience are imagined as voyager-voyeurs encountering an unassuming but wondrous otherworld in their otherwise familiar surrounds.


The Secret Noise is malleable to a variety of possible spaces and suited to the possibility of an unconventional venue not usually accessed by the public. Structured as a sequence of scenes, the work may occur either in a venue that is a single large space where scenes are set at different stations (large unseated venue, warehouse, etc) or in a venue with multiple rooms where scenes are set in different spaces (catacomb, gallery, etc). The audience is envisioned to be mobile and drawn to each scene as though tourists stumbling upon exotic discoveries at every turn.


It is intended that information about the event will be carefully designed in a limited fashion so that potential audiences attend from a perspective of curiosity, open-mindedness and a sense of exceptionality. The premise is that a prospective audience-member who has to actively seek information through ‘secret’ channels as a inquisitive participant is more likely to attend. As such, the performances may be marketed akin to the growing success of the secret unmarked restaurant whereby the individuals’ privileged knowledge of the event becomes a commodity worthy of distribution. Using community information channels, a subsidised opening-night audience will be carefully assembled to target a diverse mix of the local community across a variety of networks and demographics. It is envisioned that word-of-mouth and viral strategies will empower the continuation of the season based on the unique experiences and recommendations of the first attendees.


Although the presentation model does suggest qualities of rarity and exclusivity it is not the intention to obfuscate or restrict knowledge from public attention and interest. On the contrary, the project is designed to provoke engagement from the community. To assist in facilitating this objective, a supplementary online installation will be designed and made available to audiences following their attendance, to enable a deep and lasting creative engagement with the work. The website will comprise information ranging from interactive blogs to downloadable audio tracks, puzzles and tools to decipher hidden music and recompose elements of the work as well as a virtual booth to upload and/or experience private community-provided content. As such, further facts and resources on the topic of private and secret music-making will form part of an ongoing community-led creative offshoot.

[top-Jason Noble, Claire Edwardes, James Crabb, bottom-Damien Ricketson, Kathy Cogill]


The Secret Noise is conceived by Damien Ricketson. As the project is still under development the exact creative team is still under discussion and anticipated to include 7 multitasking performers across multiple artistic disciplines.

In February Ensemble Offspring conducted a 3-day development of Scene 1 involving Katherine Cogill [dancer], James Crabb [accordion], Claire Edwardes [percussion], Jason Noble [clarinet] & Damien Ricketson [composer]. Subsequent discussions on further development of the work have also included choreographer/dancer Narelle Benjamin and actor Katia Molino.