Classic films remixed to create a virtual Aussie Western

Published 16 April 2012

Grayson Cooke
An outback Western created from a collage of classic Australian films and exploring Australia’s relationship to the land, its people and history is being performed live this week at Southern Cross University.

'Outback and Beyond: A live Australian Western’ is a multimedia collaboration between Rome-based sound artist Mike Cooper and senior University lecturer and digital artist Dr Grayson Cooke. It is being performed at 8pm on Wednesday April 18 in Studio ONE29 D Block theatre at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus.

Dr Cooke performs a live remix of archival footage of the Australian outback accompanied by Mike singing and playing a soundtrack of deconstructed Blues, lap-steel guitar and processed electronics.

“The performance is a meeting of cultural and musical traditions as much as a melange of digital and analogue media,” said Dr Cooke.

“The unique result is a live Australian Western; a meditation on Australian iconography and mythography, the dusty, hard-bitten DNA of national identity.”

Dr Cooke said the archival samples of docu-dramas, documentaries and feature films from the 1920s to the 1950 are from the National Film and Sound Archive; in particular, Franklyn Barrett's "Breaking of the Drought" (1920) and "Girl of the Bush" (1921) and John Heyer's docu-drama "The Back of Beyond" (1954).

“There are images of drought in the 1920s, outback characters doing it tough, miners, trappers, drovers, people pitted against the harshness of the land; images of conflict with Aboriginal people, and of the spread of technologies like the railroad and the telegraph. By pulling these images out of the Archive, and putting them into a new context, I am asking audiences to reflect on their own relation to these images and characters,” he said.

“The Western, in American culture, has become this really central mechanism for working through national myths. In this show I'm using the role of the American Western to reflect on how Australia represents itself to itself, given the various similarities and differences between the US and Australia in terms of history, country, and character.”

Dr Cooke and Mike have been collaborating for several years.

Dr Cooke said he came up with the idea for ‘Outback and Beyond’ after hearing an audio recording of one of Mike’s performances.

“Mike was doing deconstructed Blues and singing a deconstructed libretto. It sounded like the soundtrack to a road movie Western and I started thinking about what sort of images I could put to it. Given the Australian movie industry doesn’t have a tradition of Westerns I thought archival images would work to create a kind of virtual or abstract Western,” he said.

British-born Mike Cooper has spent the past four decades working internationally, mostly in improvisation.

Mike acknowledge he likes working with non-musicians.

“When working with film-makers or visual artists I usually try not to get too involved with what they have done but try to access the ambience or general drift of what is going on with the work and then add something totally unexpected sometimes,” he said.

‘Outback and Beyond’ is partially funded by a grant from Southern Cross University and has been strongly supported by the National Film and Sound Archive, who have provided all the footage at a reduced fee. Footage from “Back of Beyond” is used with the kind permission of the John Heyer Estate, and footage from “The Inlanders” is used with the kind permission of Frontier Services.

Also on the bill is an experimental solo music performance using a headset that reads brainwaves.

The University’s Contemporary Music course coordinator Dr Barry Hill will be demonstrating the creative and interactive capabilities of touch-based computer interfaces and the Emotiv EEG headset computer controller. While he performs an experimental soundwork for double bass and iPad an Electro-Encephalogram analysis of Dr Hill’s brain activity will be projected on screen.
Photo: Opening image from ‘Outback and Beyond’. Event: ‘Outback and Beyond: A live Australian Western’ is on Wednesday April 18 at 8pm in Studio ONE29 D Block theatre, Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus, Military Road, East Lismore. Tickets are $10 and doors open at 7.30pm.

Media contact: Sharlene King media officer, Southern Cross University Lismore, 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.