Posts filed under ‘Festivals’
It’s a startling and slightly mind-spinning exercise getting one’s head around the massive changes happening in the book world at present. First up, read this bulwark against piracy from the erudite John Birmingham in the Brisbane Times for a glimpse into the perspective of the average* jobbing novelist. It made for essential background before hitting up the Vivid Ideas session last night at the State Library covering the fractal economic mysteries of exactly WTF is going on with the publishing industry right now.
A few predictions and assertations from the panel caught the imagination immediately. These are (likely or not) food for what quickly grew into a monster train of thought what kept me up longer than the final scene of the latest episode of Game of Thrones:
- Books (as we know and love in bookstores and libraries) will be obsolete within five years.
- Australia is eighteen months to three years behind the U.S.A. in terms of adapting to the changes in technology.
- Electronic reader technology has only been around for five years, and driven by the insatiable consumer lust for content-on-demand, is likely to become the dominant format for publishing for the foreseeable future.
Do the math. Taken as the hard truth these three factoids spell utter disaster for local writers. Apparently by the time we catch up on the absurd debate around bookstore pricing, the war will have been lost. Australian publishers don’t know what to do; “it’s hard to turn the Queen Mary” as one panellist quipped. It was difficult to avoid seeing this as a bit of oversimplification, a throwaway line justifying an entire industry being a wombat frozen in the glare of Amazonian headlights – but one’s growing sense of disquiet as the debate went on tended towards sympathy with publishers and authors alike.
Because it’s not a publishing revolution at all. It’s a land-grab, with approximately two companies creating a virtual duopoly on information distribution channels in the new millenium. Lest we forget this is our information, our content they want to leech off of. With all the hype around access and cloud-publishing, it’s easy to lose track of the questionable track records of the companies providing this service. At best, they are behaving irresponsibly, at worst, they are the hacking, burning and pillaging Conquistadors of the Information Age. It’s the new frontier of colonisation. Your mind. And here’s the thing, authors are losing out, publishers are losing out, and yet we’re all kowtowing to our new electronic overlords as if it ain’t no thing.
By the time the panel had switched to Q & A I felt an urge to speak up. Without knowing quite what to say, a range of anxious phrases turned one’s lips into what I hoped might address the concept of a publishing revolution that might actually benefit readers, publishers and authors together. It made no sense, no answer was provided (if there was one then the questions would not need to be asked) and I left the building more anxious than I had arrived. Listening back on the podcast (kindly provided by 2SER) I realised what I meant to say was “I’d rather give away my work for free than let those fuckers make money off it”.
Because (and I use the nomenclature ‘those fuckers’ to avoid lawsuit – let’s just say you know exactly who I mean) I don’t want to do business with companies who exploit their workers, who store their information in non-renewable clouds, who take no responsibility for their actions. This is civilisation we’re talking about; the thing of which literature is the founding cornerstone, the thing that’s so fragile three days without running water could end it all, and yet has been going for thousands of years and what we hope will carry on for thousands more, if only we could see that far.
Let’s go back to Game of Thrones for a second. One of the more heartening predictions from the panel was that publishing would get increasingly more “niche”, and driven towards consumers via the ever more popular channels of social media. Not difficult to see that coming, but in the wee hours as I wept into my pillow for the impossible unborn slave-authors of the future I was struck by a kind of vision. Because as the George R.R. Martin novels have demonstrated: everything is niche, until it isn’t. And what’s happening in the book industry is no different to the changes to the international business models of music, film & television as driven by consumer demand. And reports indicate that Australians are world-leaders in ripping off creatives’ hard work with the laptops and internets and the piracies, as lamented by the aforementioned John Birmingham. The fact is that consumers don’t tend to think about how their entertainment gets made, as long as it gets made and they can see it right away. The handsome irony of all this; if you hang around the trendy Surry Hills bars with said eye-patch wearing hipsters is they all pretty much fancy themselves as creatives, and would be the first to complain when their employers’ cheque bounced, or when their favourite show gets cancelled because it was unprofitable. But I digress, that is perhaps an issue for another day…
The point is that the successful series of novels and subsequent HBO television event demonstrates a business model that can work, with video and literary crossover, satisfying a consumer demand in a way that’s sustainable for publishers – assuming they can see past the piracy issue – building fan bases niche-by-niche by giving away their content for free. I defy you to name a fan of the series who would not be willing to put up cold hard cash in order to keep that particular series afloat. Perish the thought- but should the powers at HBO see fit to cancel production, you can expect a riot. The HBO subscription model is proven, it is able to bring content of the highest quality to discerning consumers (whether they pay up-front or not); in fact the ability to quickly access the show within hours of release only generates more buzz online, more fans, and it’s only a small cultural leap from this sense of MUST-HAVE-NOW to a broad societal appreciation of the arts, and a willingness to reward those who provide the books, music and television shows we crave. I for one pledge to buy two copies of every episode on DVD – post fact. And not just because I’m a writer who one day might like to earn some money – but because I want these risk-taking companies to be rewarded for their efforts to provide something outside the box.
So there you have it, the future of publishing is this; increasing output of niche, quality content, branded and provided to the customers for free. Monetise it how you will, (if you must) but your true fans will come through a relationship based on giving. The greedy minds at other publishers won’t know what hit them. As for them who say ‘it-can’t-be-done’ I have only two further points. They said the same thing to the founder of Penguin, did they not? Adapt or perish, do not suffer the same fate as the Incans at the hands of the Conquistadors in the you-know-where.
PLEASE GET OUT OF THE NEW ONE IF YOU CAN’T LEND YOUR HAND*
Brilliant session at the Vivid Ideas talkfest last night with inspirational discussion around the institutional social divisions that prevent access to creative learning. A lot was covered, and we highly recommend listening in on the podcast here – but for those tainted by short attention spans we can provide a highlight reel of the broad socioeconomic and educational landscapes drawn out between the symbiotic poles of science and the arts. In short; the ‘digital divide’ is the gap created by institutionalised imbalances in gender, language, literacy or geographical distance. These are complex equations, factoring in cultural & financial issues with historical precedent and ingrained preconceptions about fundamental concepts of society (such as ‘learning’ or ‘creativity’ or ‘engineering’). While it’s refreshing to hear people talking about breaking down these walls rather than the usual blithe acceptance of things-as-they-are-and-ever-will-be (this is a discussion we are very much a part of here at 5WHQ); beyond refreshment, the folks at Vivid Ideas have served up terrific examples of people who are actually implementing solutions in the real world, to tear down access barriers, to build new concepts of learning and creativity. Humbling, to say the least.
Each speaker offered an insight into the kinds of things they are trying to implement in the name of opening new channels of learning, and between these broad strokes it becomes awe-strikingly clear just how close to the cusp of massive social change we are getting.
I can only recommend people get down and try to catch whatever sessions they can at this event (previously known as Creative Sydney), now in its fourth incarnation at the top of the MCA and other select venues, it has come into it’s own. Always enlightening, surprising and entertaining. And there’s pretty lights too.
*with apologies to Robert Zimmerman
presented by Strings Attached & Younes Bachir
Underbelly Arts Festival, Turbine Hall, Cockatoo Island, July 2011
This site-specific, one-off performance was probably the hottest ticket on the island last Saturday, and those lucky enough to get a booking were mostly unsure what to expect. If they had done the Underbelly Arts Lab tour in the fortnight leading up to the festival they might have known it would be physical, aerial theatre exploring humanity in its primal, post-catastrophic element. But we should know better than to reduce expressionism down to baser meanings, and be ready to accept a performance as it stands. Or in this case, take it as it runs, desperately seeking food or shelter, oblivious to the peering masses of onlookers crowding the cavernous space, we should take this sort of theatre as it screams, as it flies, as it hungers, as it fights for survival. For the one thing it does not do is simply stand still. Or when it does, it’s as a metaphor covered in meat.
As this performance is once-only I feel at liberty to explain; the bulk of the piece takes place at one end of the massive turbine hall. After a poetic prologue from a delirious flying dreamer we are invited through, behind canvas curtains, into a place he describes as “my mind”. There are no seats, and milling around we discover various bodies twisted, shivering amongst mud and metal wreckage, pieces of cars, clotheslines, the detritus of our time. If anyone else like me had been irked by the glut of “disaster porn” earlier this year, it was irresistible to be reminded of that by the shifting, shuffling crowd, not wanting to look too close, but all angling for a glimpse of these suffering humans. Too evocative of that unspeakable pain we could not help but see broadcast over and over to the point of fatigue.
So begins a series of violent theatrical vignettes as the people emerge from the wrecked piles of junk and literally, metaphorically and physically begin to rebuild society. What was a matter of desensitisation is now shocked back at us in the wonderful post-industrial expressionism of a crazed world. Echoes of Lord of the Flies and Tetsuo: Bodyhammer resonate to capture the bizarre fusion of human and technology, fear and futurism. The audience are as much involved as spectator, being shunted around as new elements of the performance begin or end we must move toward or away from the action. It’s pure spectacle and music in Aristotle’s terms; with characters as primal archetypes in mimesis, the barest of narrative as a visual catharsis.
I always wonder why ‘traditional’ theatre writers can’t seem to cope with new forms as these. Audiences seem to love it. It’s equally puzzling when all the elements of the convention are present, just managed in new ways, new styles. But then, I suppose traditional theatre writers are too busy sharpening their pen-knives to dissect traditional theatre to worry about turning up to something so unconventionally imagined as this. It’s definitely theatre, definitely modern, and definitely just a little bit ancient and primal, too. Well I for one; don’t mind if one less critic is in the audience. OJO was sold out, so more luck for the rest of us.
OJO: at the Underbelly Arts Festival, Cockatoo Island. Featuring Younes Bachir, Alejandro Rolandi, LeeAnne Litton, Dean Cross, Kathryn Puie, Angela Goh, Matt Cornell, Mark Hill, Kate Sherman, Carolyn Eccles, Gideon PG, Robbie Ho, Matt Rochford, Elisa Bryant, Charlie Shelly, Julia Landery, Victoria Waghorn, Cameron Lam, Craig Hull, Leanne Kelly.
at the MCA, Sydney June 5-13
Some very interesting conversations are taking place out at the Museum of Contemporary Art this week; where Creative Sydney is taking an opportunity to bring together the notoriously cliquey elements of the arts scene. Normally you find fashionista mixing only with fashionista folk, filmies with other filmies, and freelance publishers frantically fixing their copy for pre-press facsimile. Forever the twain shall stay in their separate corners of the earth, because Sydney is far too inwardly focused to make time to look at the sheer diversity of creative culture at every turn. Right?
‘Art with a capital A’ gives mainstream critics the kind of creamed jeans you read about in one of those magazines. Mention folk-art and watch them glaze over, thinking of leather stitching, basket weaving or (at best) those ironic life size paddle-pop-stick figures devised by Marge Simpson. Stuff that belongs at a market stall, not an art gallery, right? Leave Real Art to those who know.
PLATFORM 3: Festival of Hip Hop
CarriageWorks, March 19-20
The foyer was buzzing; spontaneous breakdancing sessions with b-boys and b-girls of all skill levels spinning their skills around CarriageWorks. Everyone’s open to meeting new friends with the common ground of a love of music and dance.
ELEVATE: presented by Stalker Theatre Company.
premiered at the Platform 3 Festival of Hip Hop
Carriageworks Foyer, March 2010
It’s dance, it’s physical theatre, it’s aerobatics, it’s sculpture, it’s physically demanding and full of risk. It’s breakdancing on stilts. Call it what you will, I call it fusion.