Polar Force To Blow Away Audiences At PICA For Fringe World

'Polar Force'
Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

'Polar Force' will be showcasing for the first time in Perth at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) as part of Fringe World.

'Polar Force' is an immersive, multi-sensory musical performance. Audience members are thrust into the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on earth, Antarctica (without leaving the comfort of Perth!). Antarctic field recordings are imposed against bespoke musical instruments to create a truly sensational experience.

“I think PICA is the perfect partner,” 'Polar Force' Creator Eugene Ughetti says. “We just did the premiere season in Melbourne, and the second is going to be in Perth. I'm really excited for it. We're in conversation with some other presenters nationally and internationally as well.”

As well as mastermind, Eugene is the project Co-Director, Composer and Instrument Designer. He attributes his inspiration, friend and Sound Artist Dr. Philip Samartzis, however. Philip has been twice to Antarctica for research and took field recordings while there.

“It immediately got me excited, you know, the possibility of using his recordings and then using the same natural materials like air, ice, and water to create our own live experience,” Eugene says.

“And then we start to think about the aesthetic of the natural environment combined with the aesthetic of the built environment. What does a research station look like? What does a research station sound like? Those elements come together to create a really unusual tension.

“So it started with Philip’s recordings, and then there was a whole lot of research and design work around manipulating those elements. It’s definitely more than a full time job.

The project has taken three years to solidify because so many of the concepts are interlinked. “So much of it had to be taken into account simultaneously,” according to Eugene.

“The visual aesthetic relates to the instrument design, and the space design affects the way the performance has to unfold, and then the lighting design affects the nature of the entire performance.

“So much of the work was made collaboratively and took a lot of time to develop and refine. It wasn't like creating a piece of music and putting it on stage under a light.

Eugene stresses that though there is a custom designed set and some theatre production elements, it’s not a theatrical work. “It's really about encountering Antarctica through the sound world. It's very much a listening experience.

PolarForce BryonyJackson
Image © Bryony Jackson

“This is sound-led. I think with theatre the text is very much at the creative core of it, and sound may follow on from there. Whereas, with this, at the very centre are field recordings and compositions. Production elements follow on from them.

As for the custom set, Eugene describes it as “an inflatable structure a bit like an Antarctic base station”.

“Inside the space, you're privy to a scientific experiment of sorts – a sound research event. Centre stage are two musicians manipulating very industrial looking scientific equipment and outside the stage are speakers playing field recordings. It's very intimate.”

Intimate and original. Not many would think to associate the seemingly barren wilderness of Antarctica with a musical performance. “There’s sheer beauty and extraordinary complexity in the sound world of Antarctica. And then beyond that, it's also about humans and their relationship with that environment. We’re talking about a continent on earth that's so extraordinarily difficult to survive, one that’s almost as alien as Mars.

“It speaks a lot to the layers of protection, the means that one needs to use to experience an environment like Antarctica. You can't visit a place like that without serious transportation equipment, highly reinforced living structures, and protective clothing.”

Those protective layers are a sound focus. “So whether it's the Hercules aircraft or a necessary generator – these are actually the sounds of Antarctica today.” You can’t have a human being there without them.

Though the project is “apolitical” and “not a statement piece”, it does prompt climate change concerns – these days, it would be difficult not to. “You know you're in this world like Antarctica but you're also in this laboratory-like experience,” Eugene explains. “You're experiencing the natural world through the lens of a laboratory.”

Eugene admits it does raise all sorts of questions in the contemporary world. Example one being geo-political tensions.

“It points to the sheer beauty and power of the continent, but it also points to the ugliness and clunkiness of human beings interacting with the continent. On the surface are things like scientific equipment and protective layers, but it also speaks to things like excavation and political control of territories; they're all pretty linked in a sense.”

'Polar Force' plays PICA from 20-24 January.

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