Photo – Nam Quan
If nothing else, You Are Here is an ambitious piece of work. An audio-visual performance piece devised by Mr Maps (in conjunction with visual artists Jaymis Loveday and Kate Palella), You Are Here finds the Brisbane instrumental rock ensemble attempting to offer a genuinely different experience to their audiences.
The work takes place in a transformed rehearsal studio. A limited audience of observers are invited into a dimly-lit mess of instruments, cables and haphazard semi-industrial sculptures. Positioned around the room are the five members of Mr Maps (and Loveday). Once the audience is seated comfortably in the figurative eye of the tornado of mess, the band begin to play. As they play, their instruments trigger flickering, unpredictable blasts of light from around the room.
It’s initially quite a spectacular experience. The music of Mr Maps has always been defined through a form of subverted melodrama – too lithe and clever for bombast but too melodically triumphant to fully escape it – and this kind of immersive, ethereal experience seems to expand upon the natural contours of their compositions. Vast crescendos bathe the audience in overwhelming torrents of stimuli while more subdued and intricate passages huddle within flickering images.
Furthermore, Mr Maps’ work is infinitely more suited to this kind of experience than any other they’ve explored as a band. Intricately composed and performed, the Brisbane quintet’s work has always seemed somewhat uncomfortable in the standard rock venue – distorted by volume and swathed in chatter, their dynamics compressed by casual audiences. It feels more sensible to sit quietly and attentively to appreciate the subtlety of the band’s work.
Eventually, however, the novelty wears off. Like most magic tricks, once one begins to understand the mechanics of how You Are Here functions, it becomes a decidedly less fascinating affair. The basic premise of the piece is that the band’s instruments are synchronised to different sectors of their lighting rig. As their music is performed, their lighting rig responds accordingly. There isn’t much more to it than that and, once that is grasped, You Are Here begins to grow tiresome.
Put simply, Mr Maps have little experience crafting audiovisual performances and You Are Here suffers as a result. It’s obvious that a great deal of consideration has gone into arranging the band’s music into a seamless one-hour performance (with a series of motifs recalled throughout the progression of the band’s set lending a sense of continuity and coherence) but it’s equally obvious that the visual progression of the work wasn’t afforded a similar amount of consideration.
There simply isn’t enough differentiation within the production to sustain audience interest over the course of an hour. To elaborate, there is little to separate the experience of watching the band perform ‘Cover Your Heads’ to flashing lights from the experience of watching the band perform ‘Hundred Hour Flight’ to flashing lights. Certainly, both performances are fascinating and rewarding in their own right – but place them alongside several similar experiences and they lose their lustre.
Now, this isn’t to say that You Are Here is in anyway an odious experience. Where the band’s grasp of audiovisual performance falls down, their music remains exceptional. It’s hard to fault the musicianship or imagination behind beautiful works like ‘Nostalgia is Crippling’ or ‘Fly You Monumental Mistake’. The band simply fall prey to the usual pitfalls one would expect of artists working outside their comfort zone.
Even then, the ambition of You Are Here is to be applauded. Whereas most bands seeking a visual element are content to drape a sheet behind their performance and project videos with their music, Mr Maps transformed an entire room. Personally, this reviewer hopes they continue down this track. Eventually, they’re sure to showcase the same finesse visually as they have always done musically.
Brisbane Festival 2011 presents
You Are Here
Venue: The Whitlam, Metro Arts
Dates: Tue 20 - Sat 24 September, 2011
Tickets: $20 – $15
Bookings: Foxtix 1300 111 369