As if it wasn’t thrilling enough to have Solange coming to Sydney next month, she’ll be presenting a one-off, experiential show in nothing less than a repurposed WWII-era oil tank.
Opened late last year as part of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s footprint-doubling Sydney Modern wing, the Tank is a hangar-like space that fits 800 people and boasts a 25-second reverb that artists like Solange are sure to directly incorporate when they perform in it for the 17-day Volume festival, which runs from September 22 to October 8.
“We’ve had weekly production calls with the international artists about what they’re doing,” says music curator Jonathan Wilson. “Solange’s performance is going to be unbelievable. It’s going to be a series of vignettes, or moments, across the Tank.”
The Tank itself is a highlight of the new building, thanks to its unusual origins and dramatic halo of echo and reverb. When Tokyo-based architecture firm SANAA designed the new building, the team opted to create a spectacular art space out of the disused oil tank, which dates back to the 1940s. It was decommissioned in the ’70s and sat dormant before being decontaminated in the ’90s.
Now it’s an exhibition space, which opened with Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas’s The End of Imagination. But for Volume, it’ll also host ambitious creative voices like American artist and singer Lonnie Holley and Zambian musician, singer and rapper Sampa The Great.
“It’s wild that we have this secret space that’s now unlocked in Sydney,” Wilson says. “There’s a giant spiral staircase that leads you into the Tank, but the way it’s built is pretty much as is. Each night is something vastly different exploring that space.”
Also part of the Art Gallery’s site-responsive programming for Volume is the 13-metre-high Atrium, which will offer a circular stage in the middle and sight lines across three levels of the building. That stage will see Holley play a full-band set with a 10-piece ensemble, and many performers at Volume will get to do a unique set in each space.
Besides hosting experimental artists from around the world – including South Korean–Japanese psych/drone musical family TENGGER and long-time Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker – the festival will premiere commissioned recordings by Dean Hurley, Lea Bertucci and other artists to play throughout the gallery rather than the usual background playlist.
“The museum is a non-traditional venue for music like this,” says Wilson. “You’re not selling a normal show, but an experience. We’re adding that sonic element to shift people’s experiences. It’s [also] this shifting narrative that music is art. It’s not the background entertainment to the art: it’s the actual art form itself.”
Volume’s expansive program spans not just music but also film, dance and performance, with a range of free and ticketed performances. Wilson is especially keen for Japanese sound artist Fuji|||||||||||ta, who will play his custom-built organ; the bill also includes Chinese-Australian guzheng player Mindy Meng Wang, Australian experimentalist Oren Ambarchi and other performers playing simultaneously in the Tank and the Atrium. The Swinomish/Iñupiaq indie rock musician Katherine Paul will lead her American act Black Belt Eagle Scout both on its own and as the backing band for indie icon Phil Elverum, who performs as Mount Eerie.
As part of a free North and South program co-curated by Brisbane composer Lawrence English, artists that Wilson calls “megastars of the ambient world” will perform across various halls and sections of both Art Gallery buildings. They include American composer Ellen Fullman, who plays a self-made, 29-metre-long string instrument that will stretch across the entrance court of the Art Gallery’s original South building.
So this isn’t your typical festival. And despite a marquee name like Solange, she’s meant to be just as much of a draw as anyone else on the program. “We invite these international artists to perform,” says Wilson, “but we’re also trying very much to bring parity to the local artists. Everyone’s on the same playing field: there’s no headliner each night.”
Dovetailing with school holidays, Volume also includes kid-friendly offerings like a free shadow puppet workshop hosted by Indonesian artist Jumaadi and a five-day synth-building workshop run by Filipino artists Datu Arellano and Toni Muñoz. Both workshops culminate in a live performance incorporating both hosts and participants.
Other pop-up-style highlights include daily dance performances at 12.30pm and string pieces at 2:30pm, plus Australian artist and filmmaker Sam Smith’s immersive video work A Concave Space screening daily in the Tank with free entry.
Wilson hopes that such a varied breadth of offerings will encourage visitors to take a chance on the unknown – and in the process, join in on this reactive relationship between space and performance all around the gallery.
“There’s activation across the board for the whole time,” he says. “All day every day, there’s something happening.”
Volumes festival is on from September 22 to October 8, find out more and get your tickets here.
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