Melbourne Festival: Robbie Thomson & MESS

What if you could harness the power of lightning and turn it into a musical instrument?  That’s essentially what we witnessed from Glasgow based artist Robbie Thomson’s Melbourne Festival piece, XFRMR (Transformer).

Held within the Substation in Newport, Thomson’s piece uses a Tesla Coil (a transformer that creates powerful electrical fields) to create electrical strikes within a large metal cage. These visually stunning electrical strikes were used as an instrument to create music. A clever projection mapping video played over the stage, creating some very stunning visual effects that played into the sound scape. The smell of ozone, sparks of wild electrical lightning, and captivating projection mapped visuals made this piece both visually and audibly stunning.

Robbie Thomson’s act was held after local duo Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS) performed an abstract sound piece on a 360 ’rounds’ stage filled with analogue synthesizers.  Halfway into their piece, the audience was quite visibly falling asleep and uncomfortable, with barely anything interesting having happened for a full half hour.  A handful of people left the building and I have to confess I was envious of them. MESS’s show was ultimately disappointing and never felt as if it went anywhere interesting.

These two vastly different performances made me question what constituted sound art. If the art is physically abrasive, unimaginative, and not enjoyable for the audience, does that mean it’s not worth seeing live? Probably. If you can turn abstract sounds — such as a lightning bolt — into something far greater than its simple nature of electricity striking through the air, leaving you thinking about and discussing the piece days later, isn’t that more meaningful?

Ultimately it goes to show how different this medium of art can be. At the end of the day we are happy to live in Melbourne where different forms of art can be enjoyed by a (sold-out) crowd.

Tomas Zagoda is a filmmaker, writer, coffee addict and tall person who does not play basketball. You can follow him @TomasZagoda.

The Melbourne Festival runs from 3-23 October 2016 in venues across Melbourne CBD. Book tickets now. Plus read our guide to the best events.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Miranda Brown Publicity.
Image credit: Melbourne Festival.