Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Car Park

Michael Atherton conducts Car Orchestra at Campbelltown Arts Centre

The Artswipe was driving around this afternoon, lamenting the self-imposed death of my Seatbelt Series and wondering what my next serious body of work would be and how it might suit a future Sydney Biennale. All of a sudden my creative reverie was interrupted by a cacophony of horn honking. I turned my attention to the car radio and realised the incessant racket was not coming from the road but from a story broadcasting on Triple J's Hack program.

I was about to slip back into my fugue state, when journalist Antoinette Chiha referred to the din of horns as "music". Shades of Bjork making pulp of paparazzi pond scum came to mind. Indeed the horns were music belonging to the "wind section" of several utes parked at the amphitheatre of Campbelltown Arts Centre at the weekend. The inhabitants of the utes were being "conducted" by classical music composer Michael Atherton along with the "fusion" of mag wheels, car engines and rap artists.

I have always been afraid of being raped in the eardrum so I was about to switch the dial before realising it was either Triple J or possibly dying a slow death to the "junk in my trunk" of some Black Eyed Pee Stain on 2 Day FM. So I sat there in traffic, having a serious "Michael Douglas in Falling Down moment", gritting my teeth while Atherton was interviewed about how his choice of cars as music generators were inspiration derived from his professional stomping ground of western Sydney. It strikes me as odd that Atherton, who is a music professor at the University of Western Sydney, would perpetuate such dull cliches about western Sydney, as if it's the only part of the world that's ever witnessed a proliferation of "car cultures". Add "cultures" to another word, stir and you have a phenomenon. (For example: when I get home I engaged with some "instant coffee culture", answered the phone for "unsolicited call centre culture", before turning on the "TV culture" and settling in for a night ending with a "sleep culture" filled with dreams where I had at least three cultural studies PhDs).

Usually I'm never so moved with what I hear on the radio to get all "Artswipe culture" about it. But it struck me that western Sydney lost a whole lot of its culture recently due to the closure of several art degrees at the University of Western Sydney (the whole saga documented at this
student run blog) and here is this UWS professor reducing western Sydney culture to a shallow car cliche. It seems music is the only arts-related degree left after the fine arts, electronic arts, theatre and dance degrees all bit the proverbial bitumen. If Atherton is the jewel in that degree's crown, I'll hedge my bets that their music degree could be restructured as engineering. Perhaps western Sydney regional galleries should start boycotting any UWS related involvement in their events. Unless a car rally convention is on the cards.


Anonymous said...


Colin Stradbroke

the reader said...

It is truly sad that this is what the official staff representation of UWS has been reduced to. Thanks artswipe for you most appropriate critique of this puke-worthy exploitation of a "working class" myth by the kind of clueless academic who the UWS admin thinks is still worth having on their books (you can almost hear their cynical minds thinking "better him than someone who actually has some critical vision").

Skanky Jane said...


Thanks for something good to read this fine Sat morn Arty as I pump myself ready for another co-op meeting (my life is one big cliche - but kudos to Michelle Nikou for making the best ever art comment about that). I just thought, when reading 'bout the work you mention that recontextualising low forms in this way (The Kingpins being one example of alternative approaches) has kinda been done to death - (although Ben Morieson does a good job). Is he on about Noise music? (a la Luigi Russolo's The Art of Noises & John Cage's junk percussions)

But your point is more about the cliche, and not to detract from it, but as an aside - I've been falling over the problem of cliches & stereotypes in my own work lately. A question, for me, is why, for what purpose, do we use or fall back on cliches and stereotypes? Are they what they are because there is an element of truth to them? (They seem to be a kind of shorthand.) Where is that line - between perpetuating the myth and reconstructing or turning the tables on it?

SJ the wondering cliche xx

Anonymous said...


"Her most famous piece is her suite for Holden car horns, choir and percussion, which has been performed at various festivals"

diehard3 said...

Atherton is a dick and possibly a vampire, this is well known.