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Tag Archives: buskers

New Sounds on the Street

The conversation at the BBQ turned to complaining about various buskers: love them or hate them, the bagpipes at Flinders Street Station or the Chinese fiddle player at the NGV. Melbourne has a good culture of buskers from living sculptures and sidewalk performers to musicians. There is an international feel to Melbourne’s buskers, reflecting the multi-cultural nature of the city. There are amateur musicians with just their instrument and its case open for coins to professional buskers with CD for sale and so much equipment that they need a roadie or at least a handcart to move it.

India Bati and friend

India Bharti and friend

I always like to see different instruments played on the street, not the usual busker with a guitar. This is about the stranger instruments, the unique inventions that I’ve seen played on Melbourne’s streets. New musical instruments are a combination of invention, engineering, make-do and art.

The variety and quantity of buskers in Melbourne is impressive. From the bagpipe player who used to play on the on the steps of Flinders St. Station to a guy doing beat boxing . The human beat box was doing bass and drums with just a microphone and an amp. He was excellent, impressive as the vocalisations — covers of ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. The human beat box was also expressing his artistic desperation in between songs: “I don’t want to be busking for the rest of my life.”

One day I saw a guy playing a “dagpipe” player on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke. The “dagpipe” were his inventions, or maybe not, another guy playing one called it a “gagpipe” — either way it is a very Australian alternative to a bagpipe. It used a foot pump for an air mattress to inflate the plastic bag from a 4-litre cask of wine that supplies air to the single pipe.

Dagpipes

Man playing “dagpipes”

Another day I saw another very Australian improvised instruments being played by a busker — tuned beer bottles hung on a wooden rack.

In the late 1980s there was Jerome and Soul Desire who were street performers using improvised percussion instruments. And now there is Victor Lancaster aka Mr Mention who plays the improvised drum kit made of plastic buckets.

India Bharti is my favourite busker because of his unique collection of instruments. He is a Shivaism, a Shiva devotee with long wild hair, trident and other accoutrements and his lyrics reflect this interest. He performs with several unique handmade stringed instruments; the largest being a long piece of natural wood with many strings attached. All of these stringed instruments are augmented with many guitar effects peddles. The sound that it produces is somewhere between an electric guitar and a tempura (the Indian instrument that provides the continuous tonic drones that backs the soloists). He has released CDs and I even saw a video clip on Rage many years ago (he now has many videos on YouTube).

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Shopping Centre Art

What was I doing at a VIP event at Barkly Square shopping centre in Brunswick?

What has happened at Barkly Square is that the service lane that bisected the shopping centre running parallel to Sydney Road has been change from a problem into a feature. The lane has become, according to the media release, “… a new arts and entertainment precinct which will celebrate the artistic and culinary soul of Brunswick.”

Ghostpatrol Barkely Square 9

A collaboration between Ghostpatrol and Bonsai fill two sides of the wall of the lane. Kyle Hughes-Odgers, a Perth based artist, has a wall with a brickworks reference as Brunswick once had a brick making industry. On another wall there is a giant owl by Twoone.

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It is not all street art, Tobias Horrocks, a local artist work with a post-minimalist ideas and cardboard. This was his first permanent installation. The basic cardboard form is repeated blocking and filtering the light from the window above the entrance.

Barkly Square is just a small inner-city shopping centre, a bland location for a few chain shops, near the beginning of the Sydney Road shopping strip. It is not the first shopping centre in Melbourne to feature street artists on its walls; QVC and Southbank both invited street artists in years earlier.

Media maker and festival director, Marcus Westbury has, what he describes a “strange obsession” with “he fate of old suburban shopping arcades.” He explains why on his blog. “I am, as far as I can tell, pretty much alone in believing they’re a rich vein of untapped urban and suburban gold. Or, to put it in language that hipsters, planners and local politicians can reflexively and instinctively respond to they’re kind of like lane-ways.”

In this case the it not so much as trying to artificially reproduce the iconic Melbourne lane but assimilating the rest Brunswick into the shopping centre. The usual mall food court has gone from Barkly Square, now there are cafes with outside seating in The Laneway, as it has been prosaically and practically named. The transformation of the area is the usual mix of work by street arts, planters, bollards, bike racks and funky design elements. It is still a working service lane but now is a mix use urban area.

Shopping centres need to reinvent themselves, in the wake of on-line competition, they need cater for more than just shopping. The holy grail of urban design to create a ‘meeting place’.

Samuel Louwrens, the Operations Manager for Barkly Square Centre Management is feeling inspired at the art and developments on the lane. He is enthusiastic about his new lighting for the art and was waiting for more suggestions from the public about what could be done with the lane. He pointed out that there are still more large blank walls at the far ends of the lane.

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At noon on Wednesday there was a launch of the lane in a temporary VIP area outside a cafe in the lane listening to a guitarist, Grey Milton launching Barkly Square’s busking program. Grey finished his set. There were two short speeches from the corporate investment manager of the property group that owns Barkly Square and then the Mayor of Moreland. Then the Melbourne Ukulele Kollective took over by this time there weren’t just invited guests but a small crowd of people enjoying the spectacle. To have about a hundred people in the lane showed that, at least for the moment, the plan was working.DSCF0329

Ghostpatrol Barkely Square 0


Moving & Sitting in the City

Moving through the city, thinking about the kinaesthetic relationship of architecture and public sculpture to the way that people move around in the city. A person was even seen swimming on Flinders St. during the early February downpour in 2010. Most of the time people in Melbourne are walking, driving cars, travelling by train or tram or riding bicycles.

Architecture suggests, proscribes and provides for different types of movement. To make clear the differences between suggest, proscribe and provide consider this: a door suggests an entrance but you may find that it is locked, a sign may proscribe the door to be used for the entrance, but an open window can still provide access. People climb buildings like Spiderman or in Parklour, young men walking over the red arc of the pedestrian bridges across the Yarra River.

The ways that skateboard riders use of public sculpture like “Architectural Fragment” 1992 by Petrus Spronk at the State Library or Inge King’s  “Forward Surge” 1972-74 at the Art Centre. Is this a reverse readymade, like a Rembrandt painting used as an ironing board, or are the skateboard riders using these sculptures not just for their geometry but also their aesthetics. Skateboard riding is an aesthetic sport, with the objective to make spectacular use of the infrastructure and judged on degrees of difficulty.

Sculpture provides an easily identifiable meeting place in the city and while you are waiting you want to seat. People can sit on sculptures and climb on sculptures even if the sculptor does not intend it but the sculptures can be so much better if this natural desire is incorporated into the design. Simon Perry “The Public Purse” 1994 in the Bourke St. mall provides such an opportunity. Tom Bass designed his public sculptures to be sat on. He made sculptures for children; the hard bronze doesn’t suffer from their touch. “The Children’s Tree” 1963 in front of the CML Building on Elizabeth St in the city and “The Genie” 1973 in Queen Victoria Gardens can both be sat on. The plinth of “The Children’s Tree” is a favorite seat for buskers playing an instrument.

Busker playing "dagpipes", his own invention, on the plinth of "The Children's Tree"

(Thanks again, for the idea, to Shifty MacDougal, who writes these interesting comments on my entries about public sculpture.)


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