They say the best of life happens when the sun goes down, and with Geelong after Dark returning for another night of mystery, mirth, and madness this May, we couldn’t agree more.
For the unfamiliar, the streets, laneways, and venues of Geelong’s CBD will become a free night of discovery as ordinary spaces by day transform at night into something exciting, unexpected, and very much alive with unique and surprising works and pop-up performances.
This will be the sixth year that the city is brought to life when the sun sets, and with each year the event has evolved and developed, increasing opportunities for more than 60 artists to showcase their craft.
One artist we’re particularly excited about this year is Geelong’s beloved hard-worn blues man Tim Hulsman, who will be showcasing a world-first audio-visual extravaganza with the aim of exploring one or more of the senses, to inspire and engage the people of Geelong.
Dubbed ‘Up Scale’, the performance will see Hulsman improvise live music on a giant, two-three stringed instrument, designed and built by industrial artist Mike Patton.
“The piece that we’re building is a five to six-meter-long slide guitar, which is bloody huge,” Hulsman explains. “Of course, with this kind of scale, it’s not literally a guitar,” he continues. “It’s an instrument and a sculptural artistic piece, but it actually plays music. We’re building all the elements of it from scratch so I’m really lucky that I’ve got Mike on board because he’s the guy that’s able to make anything work.”
The concept of building a gigantic guitar originally came from the question of how to make music be seen, inspired by a combination of Tim Winton’s novel ‘Dirt Music’ which describes an improvised instrument in the forest, and Grammy-award winning musician Gotye’s unique sound of a musical fence used on the track ‘Eyes Wide Open’, which featured on Gotye’s album ‘Making Mirrors’.
During the performance of ‘Up Scale’, where Hulman will be moving the length of the instrument, the music will be accompanied by triggering explosions of colour onto the mega screen behind by visual artist Nina Grant, in a multi-dimensional, interactive experience of light, sound and substance.
“I always wanted to have a visual art response to music, and to have that really engaging, all-encompassing kind of performance where you’ve got that visual element that’s really immediate. It’s big, and it’s colourful, and it’s bright, it’s got your attention,” Hulsman says.
“It’s all about getting away from digital forms and from the shortcuts we could easily have made. We could have made this with laptops, but then you’d be watching people sitting there on laptops,” he continues, referring to the visual elements of the performance. “What we’re doing is going back to the old analogue ways and layering up things and seeing it happen right there in front of you, with human hands making it work. We just love that element of it and the adventure of making it.”
It’s clear this unique installation is a very literal translation and interpretation of this year’s festival theme, ‘Heighten Your Senses’ as you surrender to, and embrace the unknown, with Patton, Grant and Hulsman utilising space in an unusual way. It was only after their application got approved for Geelong After Dark that they realised this would be a world-first creation.
“We’re completely on our own here,” he says. “There’s been big guitars built before, but not an electric slide guitar, instrument of this type.
“It makes it challenging for us, but also really creative and that’s the way I think we would have wanted it anyway. Even if we had found another one, it’s not like we would have just done the same thing. It’s just a great creative challenge of us all, but we have to keep our expectations to a minimum and just keep rolling with the punches as we go on. We learn as we go. Theoretically, it sounds magnificent, but when it’s going it actually sounds great. It just looks kind of crazy; we’re going to be looking like bloody mad scientists.”
The Up-Scale performance will be running for 15 minutes every hour from 6.45pm in the Little Malop Street Mall, with the opportunity to see and interact with the instrument and chat with the creators between performances.
Alongside this world-first, the after dark program will see a range of site-specific artworks exploring one or more of the senses to inspire, from dance, installation, interactive, music performances, projection, sound, and light to roving performers, storytelling, theatre and visual art.
Some program art-works we recommend you look out for this year include Tripex by Melbourne based studio, John Fish, which sees a large scale array of pixel tubes transform the Apex structure in Johnstone Park to become a luminous tower of pulsing light reminiscent of sci-fi film culture; while over at Beavs Bar you’ll find Professional storyteller, Niki na Meadhra and her Village of Voices venture beyond the veil of the night into the Otherworld with a thrilling story, two parts romance, two parts folklore – with just a dash of gothic horror!
Another project to look out for is the iconic multi-disciplinary visual artistry boffin Ayrlie Lane who returns to the dark with her ‘Tales of the Trees’. Roving in Johnstone Park, Ayrlie takes us on an interactive journey into the secret lives of the very trees that surround us every day. Become one with nature as the trees come alive this night and dance through the shadows and moonlight, breathing new life and joy upon the earth.
Geelong’s cultural organisations will also play a key role, with activities taking place in the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre; in and around Geelong Performing Arts Centre; the Geelong Gallery; the National Wool Museum; and the Old Courthouse.
“I look forward to it every year,” Hulsman says of the annual Geelong After Dark festival. “Even if I’m not performing, I go down and check it out. I just think it’s magnificent to have a showcase opportunity for so many local and other artists to come down and create a festival celebratory atmosphere and culture.
“I really love it and I’m honoured to be invited to be part of it,” he continues. “It means a lot of us as artists to have somewhere to experiment and take risks, and have an audience and an exhibition space to be able to do these kinds of things that are really outside the norm. I play loads of gigs, I don’t need another gig. This is something that drives people to discover new things and push the boundaries and you’ve got to be grateful for that.”
Go on, heighten your senses at Geelong After Dark on Friday, May 3.