Little Shop of Horrors

Took my youngest to see Live Live Cinema's performance to accompany Little Shop of Horrors last night. The musicians were excellent and many of the sound effects ingenious.

One thing that really stood out was how much fun they appeared to be having on stage. This was really engaging and they were relaxed and able to joke at times too.

Vanilla creme duo

While shopping at Woolworths recently, I think I must've made the mistake of shopping while hungry because I brought home a couple of packets of biscuits.

One was these Vanilla Creme Duo and they stood out because they were on special and had the words "Belgian chocolate".

If you know chocolate then you should know that the chocolate in Belgium is the "bomb". I use that word unadvisedly, both for positive emphasis and in somewhat bad taste after the bombings in Belgium.

The Vanilla Creme Duo are part of Woolworths "Gold" range, which is meant to convey a greater sense of quality than the "Homebrand" and "Select" brands. Personally I've found that both provide good quality, particularly the tea bags I buy.

First, a comment on the packaging. Normally I am suspicious of anything that uses spot varnish lettering, such as the word 'Gold' you can sort of see reflecting light on the packet above, and gold metallic inks like the "Belgian" stamp and Woolworths logo with the word "Select". Too often I've bought CDs with these kinds of gimmicks and concluded that it's overcompensating for the lackluster quality of the contents, however that hasn't been my experience with Woolworths products.

The emphasis on the Belgian origins is what caught my eye but I do wonder if it isn't a liability for a multinational supermarket chain who try to present themselves as Australian rather than South African. Then again, dinky di products like Vegemite have been owned by US-based Kraft for a long time now, maybe people don't care.

Anyway, let's talk about the biscuit. The while Belgian chocolate covers much of the product and provides and wonderfully smooth mouth-feel. There's enough that some people have described these biscuits as chocolates when I've shared them.

The biscuit itself is dry and not very sweet, which is a good thing. I really detest how sweet most Australian biscuits are, particularly Tim Tams. Like a Tim Tam, the Vanilla Creme Duo is coated in chocolate and has a faux cream layer wedged between two biscuits. This vanilla cream has a satisfyingly fragrant taste.

I've seen that there's a coffee-flavoured Creme Duo also available but what I'd really like to see are more daring fragrant flavours. Let me suggest rum, aniseed, passion fruit, cardamon or nutmeg.

In conclusion, let me recommend these biscuits if you feel like a treat. They are a quality experience and encourage me to look for more of Woolworths' "Gold" products -- particularly after the intoxicating ice cream I sampled.

Morning music

Most weeks I record music, usually for the Disquiet Junto and Naviar Haiku projects. Sometimes there's an overlap between them, where a track will be reworked or parts recycled.

Over Easter I recorded a piece as a result of the Junto that asked for "music that you’d want to wake up to — music you’d like to imagine other people would want to wake up to."

I'd recorded the part on my guitar but used the MIDI information to create an orchestra with Ableton Live's samples.

The Naviar Haiku project was also asking for music that evoked a morning, so I used the guitar to create an alternate version of the same piece.

One key distinction between them that isn't immediately obvious is the tempo. MIDI allowed me to speed the piece up early on, while the recorded guitar parts remained at a fixed tempo throughout.

A part with my name

About 12 years ago I considered changing my name.

If I had I wouldn't now get to claim this boiler.

Printmaking at Parkview

My partner organised a printmaking workshop at Parkview Primary through the Regional Arts NSW Country Art Support Program.

The exhibition the other week was a great opportunity to compare and contrast the results.

Of course I liked my daughter's work, but I was also really taken with these two too:

Charlie Longhurst's two-headed dude flying over a hotted-up car;

and, Gabrielle Trounce's bird.

Shame by another name

Previously I've written about my admiration for the reference to Boticelli's Venus in a campaign aimed at curbing dangerous driving.

One of the things I realised recently is that the inference these drivers have small penises is meant to use the powerful psychological effect of shame to change their driving habits.

It seems to be a trend in the messages used to influence driver behaviour. Look at this poster that aims to discourage using a mobile phone while driving.

In this case the phrase "get your hand off it" infers masturbation. It harkens back to the call of mothers dissuading their progeny from handling their privates in public.

And it has also taken on another meaning in being used to suggest delusional language.

Small-minded Liberals and problems with Sydney

It's no secret that I loath Mike Baird. He's a figurehead for so many bad policies at present. (Image via Australia United)

Another Liberal party politician who is endearing for all the wrong reasons is Christopher "The Fixer" Pyne.

As the federal minister in charge of a rapidly-growing part of the economy, I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at Pyne's recent example of ABBA as the sort of innovation that Australia needs to emulate:
Due to its unique sound, the band had been seen to be very innovative in the ‘70s, he said. “And we are counting on Australia to give the world the next ABBA.”
The quote comes from Margot Saville's delightful piece for Crikey on an "innovation summit" held in Sydney recently.

Saville praises Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer, who identifies the damage that Baird's government is doing to Sydney:
“The NSW government is so addicted to gambling revenue that it has shut down most of Sydney’s nightlife in order to boost this line item by funneling people into the casino or pokies rooms ... It’s a bit hard to build a technology industry when every second 20-year-old wants to leave because you’ve turned the place into a bumpkin country town.”
Gambling revenue amounted to $2.1 billion in the NSW state budget last year and policies like the 'lock out' laws are doing substantial damage. The result, Barrie observes, is difficulty attracting skilled professionals to Sydney at a time when there's a virtual goldrush in IT around the world.
The three largest companies in the world, by market capitalisation, are Apple, Alphabet (Google) and Microsoft. These companies, together with Facebook (six) and Amazon (nine) generate more than half a trillion dollars in revenue every year, which is 70% of Australia’s gross national income, he said. By contrast, the top 10 Australian companies consist of two miners, four banks, Telstra, a supermarket company and a superannuation company.
In addition to difficulty attracting skilled professionals, there's a significant shortage of students learning IT. Numbers have decreased by around 40% in the last decade.

When I was in Sydney last year it was interesting to hear grumbling from a couple of people about a crackdown on services like Airbnb, which offers a way for people to rent accommodation like private dwellings. These services have been a rapidly growing competitor to services like hotels. Yet, once again, the NSW government appears to be responding to lobbyists rather than representing the interests of constituents.

Anyway, I was just thinking about these issues while reading Monica Tan optimistically suggest that "lockout laws will spark a Sydney underground renaissance". At this point one can only dream.

Chris' Heritage dips

Chris' dips are known to stand out for various reasons and the new range continues this impression but for very different reasons.

Originally it was the hommus that stood out for me. It tasted good and, even after the supermarket shelves started sagging under the weight of competitors, it was the product I'd seek out for many years. These days there are other brands I eat more often and it seems like Chris' hommus disappeared.

So I was curious when a new brand of dips appeared in Woolworths that had the Chris' brand but were in terracotta pots. The price was prohibitively expensive, so I've only bought two as they were reduced to around half price. I've noticed that these "Heritage" dips have been on special recently and I'd guess that it's because they aren't selling.

The full price at $8 is probably meant to represent the quality of the ingredients, which would be in line with my opinion of the Chris' Dips brand. However, there are a number of things that make me think this product is doomed.

Let's start with the terracotta pot. While I recognise it is worthwhile to provide reusable packaging, the weight of this container must be almost equivalent to the contents. In my mind that becomes unsustainable as shipping costs mean it will compare badly to competitors in plastic. Maybe this is why it is sold in the prepared meal section rather than alongside other dips.

Based on the two "Heritage" flavours I've tried, the contents are also challenging to sell because they are also very unusual in the Australian marketplace. The flavours are unlike anything I've seen outside of a fancy restaurant but, again, that might be meant to connote quality.

The blue cheese and fig blend that I tried first led me to wonder if it wasn't out of date. The smell was sick and not in the good way. At first I thought I'd chuck it and accept it was a bad investment, but I persevered and by the end of the third attempt I'd come to like it. However, I couldn't interest anyone else in my house in trying it. That isn't surprising though, as no one else here likes blue cheese.

The gorgonzola, pear and walnut blend is less confronting but still very unusual. The smell is still on the strong side but the taste is lot creamier. The sachet of walnuts was small and, frankly, didn't add much to my experience. I ate this dip in two sittings though.

The packaging suggests that the term "Heritage" is an allusion to Chris himself, as Christos Tassios died in 2012. The result for me is lingering questions as to whether the product is too advanced for a market that is assumed to becoming more sophisticated and willing to pay more for quality.

The "Heritage" dips are a fascinating example of extending a brand in a different direction posthumously. While they're tasty if you like strong cheese flavours, it'll be interesting to see if there's a market for this expensive and unusual product.

Differing opinions of new theatres

Smokescreen hides accountability

What is becoming even more concerning than air pollution in the Riverina rivaling that infamous smog over Beijing, is the lack of oversight accompanying the lack of accountability for 'burning off' on farms.

An EPA spokesman stated in The Area News on 12 April that farms did not fall under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act and the responsibility for regulation belonged to councils.

In contrast Griffith City Council's Director of Sustainable Development, Neil Southorn, was quoted as saying that local government "has no specific powers to act in regard to agricultural smoke or burn-off, or act on the subsequent air quality issues... It is unclear why the EPA say otherwise in regards to agricultural burn-off.”

While councils might be best located to monitor and act on air pollution issues, there clearly needs to be support to do so. At present the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage only monitors air quality in Wagga and Albury.

Air quality is a perennial issue in the Riverina and one which impacts on the health of every member of the community. More needs to be done to ensure that residents are able to access oxygen free from small particle pollution.

Conservation workshop

One of the first things I did when I started working at Pioneer Park Museum was to apply for the Museum of of Applied Arts and Sciences' Regional Program. 

We were successful in our applications for a visit from a curator, which is planned for July, and a conservation workshop that we held last week. There were 16 people in attendance, including visitors from the Yanco Powerhouse Museum and other historical groups in the Western Riverina.

Gosia Dudek from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney showed a variety of techniques and technologies for conserving and presenting historical objects. For example, in the foreground of the picture on the right you can make out supports that were designed to hold books open in displays. These were made from acid-free card.

She explained there had been a move away from restoration, as history was sometimes lost when substituting for original materials. The result was a focus on preventative conservation to prevent further deterioration.

It was outlined that the main causes of damage were handling, UV light, fluctuating temperatures, pests and contaminants. Some damage, such as light, can occur over time, so it is cumulative. The ideal conditions for storage are a temperature range of 16-22C with humidity at between 45-60%.

Gosia demonstrated a range of ideas that had practical applications. She showed how to mount paper-based items using corners to avoid damage.

It was interesting that the adhesive can be an issue. She showed that it important to ensure the corner is applied around the mounting board, so that the adhesive is kept away from the object being presented.

Images were also shown to benefit from frames, both for conservation and aesthetics. It was one of those lessons I remember learning when I first studied photography, how a solid border provides contrast to the image mounted within.

This frame added effective contrast, with the dark blue colour making the warmer hues of the photograph 'pop'. It was easily constructed from card and I was surprised how much it elevated the quality of the print. Using acid-free card was emphasised to prevent the long-term impact of the material on the object.

When this frame was lifted, it was revealing to see the image was obviously cut from a newspaper. It seemed a beaut example of how a little effort in presentation raises the appeal of the object.

The walk around the Park with Gosia also provided simple and applicable steps for presentation and conservation. She pointed out that it wasn't just the artificial lights that required UV filters when we looked at displays that were facing open doorways and saw the need to install film that would reduce the light spectrum.

She also observed that the hairbrushes on display were resting on their bristles, which would bend under the weight of the brush handle. Also that the Matchbox cars needed better support, both for the cardboard packaging that was warping under the weight of being propped upright and the impact of the cars metal chassis on the rubber wheels of those on display.

Polythylene terephthalate glycol was one technology that seemed to be revolutionary in allowing curators to make displays. This plastic could be cut with scissors and folded to create the kinds of supports that would have required skills in manipulating heavier sheets of plastic in the past.

Vibration was an issue that Gosia said she'd become more aware of recently. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney had seen evidence of objects on display shifting through vibration, although this wasn't as pronounced as what a museum located at Christchurch in New Zealand had witnessed after an earthquake. 

In that example she said the use of these resin spots placed under objects had saved many from falling. Gosia demonstrated how these were created with small spots of Rhoplex applied onto Mylar sheeting with a wooden skewer.

The workshop was a great opportunity to have my eyes opened to issues of conservation and presentation. It was also great to provide the Park as a focus for local historical societies and other individuals, with the 16 people there comparing notes on a range of subjects.

Celebrating 45 years of Pioneer Park Museum

On Tuesday 12 April Griffith Pioneer Park Museum will celebrate 45 years since it first opened to the public.

As the day falls during the school holidays, the Museum will offer free train rides at 11am and 1pm for visitors to the Park. Furthermore, entrance will be at children’s prices for the day -- $6 per person.

There have been various trains at Pioneer Park Museum since 1975 and they have served to entertain children and carry people around the grounds.

The current train has been operating since 1982, as a result of Roy Golsby-Smith. With the assistance of his son and others, he converted a Ferguson tractor that was sold to the Museum by Mr Signor of Yenda for $400.

Local engineer Gordon Sells supplied and shaped the steel that forms the chassis, while Bordignon Engineering provided and fitted truck wheels. “Blue” Emery supplied the tyres and “Nugget” Kemp donated many bits and pieces.

Griffith Pioneer Park Museum was officially opened on Saturday 12 April 1971 by Mrs Elizabeth "Doll" Clarke (nee Roberts). She was the granddaughter of Alfred and Elizabeth Hill, whose cottage “Fairview” was the first building acquired by the Museum and where Mrs Clarke had lived for 40 years.

Visit Griffith Pioneer Park Museum on Tuesday 12 April 2016 and help celebrate local history with a free train ride.

Photo of Harvey Terrazas and Roy Golsby-Smith by John Robinson.

Burning requires action

The blanket of smoke covering Griffith on Wednesday morning was an extreme but not isolated example of the air pollution that impacts on the health Riverina residents.

Our atmosphere should not be a dumping ground. The public health costs need to be acknowledged and accounted to polluters.

The dozen people attending Griffith Base Hospital with breathing problems is the tip of the metaphorical iceberg when you consider the potential issues that develop over time.

Perhaps the Rural Fire Service can introduce a system that results in the staggering of burns?

Something needs to be done, especially given that asthma is more prevalent in rural New South Wales than many other areas of Australia.

Clayton and Shuttleworth engine at Pioneer Park

The value of the collection at Griffith Pioneer Park Museum was recently affirmed with a request for detailed information on a rare item.

Jonathan Wheeler, a restorer based in England, contacted Griffith Pioneer Museum Park staff through the Museum’s Facebook page to ask for help in restoring a Clayton and Shuttleworth engine.

“This particular type of Clayton engine with the circular type firebox is not common,” wrote Mr Wheeler. “I know of only three – your 8 [horse power], [a friend’s] 6hp and this 12hp I am working on.”

The Clayton and Shuttleworth portable steam engine in the Museum’s collection was built in 1902 and is thought to have been used at Tubbo Station and Mr Wheeler requested photographs from a variety of angles to assist with his restoration project, as well as details of the firebox door handle.

“It was interesting to learn how scarce these old engines have become,” said Councillor John Dal Broi, Chair of the Griffith Pioneer Park Museum Committee. “What was even more surprising is that the Clayton and Shuttleworth engine here in Griffith appears to be the only known example with an intact firebox door handle.”

Jason Richardson, Museum Curator, sketched around the handle and provided detailed measurements to Mr Wheeler so that a replacement could be produced for his restoration project. Soon after, Wheeler shared videos showing his restored Clayton and Shuttleworth engine producing steam.

“It’s great to see interest in the old steam engines,” said Mr Richardson. “These workhorses powered communities around a century ago. They were used to drive mining crushers, wood saws, chaff cutters, and all sorts of other machinery.”

Portable steam engines were a forerunner to the traction steam engines that developed into the tractors we know from the early 20th Century. “These machines were the backbone of industry in regional Australia and helped transform the landscape from bushland to productive farms,” he added.

Conservation workshop at Pioneer Park

Griffith Pioneer Park Museum will host a workshop on conserving historical items this Tuesday 5 April. The day-long workshop will introduce conservation practices, information on protection of historical items and basic steps for preventing their decay.

The day will include demonstrations of safe handling methods and basic treatments for ceramics, wood and related materials such as leather, metal, plastics, rubber, paper and textiles. A walk-through of Pioneer Park Museum’s exhibits will provide discussion points on conservation display methods, as well as preventive environmental measures such as the control of light, temperature, pests and pollutants.

Gosia Dudek is a mixed-media conservator with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. She has extensive experience gained over the past 28 years in conserving and preparing objects for display at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

"Conservators think of the long-term consequences of our treatments. We aim to use the best, reversible materials and techniques available in the industry.” said Ms Dudek.

Those in attendance are encouraged to bring an item they cherish to find out the best way to preserve it. There will also be information sheets available to learn more about conservation.

“This is an opportunity to learn from a conservator based in one of the leading museums in the state,” said Jason Richardson, Curator at Pioneer Park Museum. “There are a wide range of issues surrounding the protection of historical items and it is something of a hidden art. This is a chance to gain experience in an area that is largely undertaken away from public view at cultural institutions.”

Wolf Shield's Residuum

This review was written for Cyclic Defrost, please visit their site.

“It’s a dark day,” sings Randolf Reimann over a simple synthesiser melody as squelchy percussion gains pace. His words echo as the line concludes “on the strip” and is repeated through the song with some variation but the constant reiteration works in a pop way to lodge itself in your head.

In one of those serendipities that probably only make sense to the person observing them, this Wolf Shield album was playing as I chatted on Facebook with a producer. We were discussing making pop electronic music and he was encouraging me to experiment with short vocal loops after sharing a track based around three words that I couldn’t stop repeating: “One, two — barbecue!”

The songs on Residuum work in a similar way and listeners will find themselves likely to intone about a dark day on the strip. That song also brings to mind Randy’s performance in a Scout hall outside Wagga Wagga mid-2015 when 'Dark Day' opened his set.

He had a cast on one arm and was using a broom for a mic stand as his hands operated equipment including a Tempest drum machine. The sense he was making do with what was at hand in this reduced capacity didn’t hide the skill with which he performed.

The tempo of the track immediately called for dancing but, of course, no one did as Wolf Shield was the first act on the bill and the afternoon light showed what an unlikely venue it was for live electronic music. So we sat around on plastic chairs and watched.

“How did we let it get this bad?” Randy asks as the second track ’No More’ opens with a faster melody and percussion. The layering of short loops, such as drum parts and arpeggiated synthesisers, build the tracks through repetition and the approach mirrors the vocal delivery in seemingly looping short phrases. The fact they’re not actual loops, coupled with rising effects in places like the echo to provide variation, brings a richness often missing from electronic music.

The other richness in listening to this album though, is more sentimental for me. I’d met Randy the year before in 2014 while attending a RealArtWorks workshop outside Tabulam that led to the ‘Nothing Is Useless’ exhibition at Lismore Regional Gallery. In 2015 the workshop at Oura was preparing new content for an exhibition at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, where Randy would contribute audio and perform with his other musical act, Tralala Blip.

The night before Randy's performance in Oura, we’d been talking late into the night about electronic music gear. He’d mentioned having been in a Sydney hardcore band in the 1990s and that samples from tapes of rehearsals had found their way into his current music. It was intriguing yet something of a bumsteer as, even having listened to the album numerous times, there’s very little to identify this material.

There are textures and drone-like hums and occasionally pitched-down vocal loops that might be echoes of his earlier punk band Massappeal, otherwise it’s not obvious. Just like it’s not obvious when listening to this electronic dance music with pop vocal delivery that Randy is punk.

The track ’Poor People Don’t Drive’ might be a giveaway of his anti-establishment leaning though. It varies the formula of looping a phrase with the echo missing from his vocal, replaced with a little reverb to make him seem more present.

The line about poor people resonates with the obvious ignorance of the 2014 comment from Liberal politician Joe Hockey that must’ve inspired it. As a poor driver based in regional Australia it still stings for me that the treasurer would think that raising fuel excise would be an equitable approach to taxation. I travel over a 100kms each day I drive to work and lately Randy’s track has worked its way into my head on those journeys.

It makes me happy to hear a political comment within pop electronic music. So much stupidity seems to echo in the media and then vanish. It’s good to hear that something like this got stuck into Randy’s brain and now he’s working to stick it into the brains of listeners too.

‘The Silver River’ has a kinda ‘80s sound, from the vocal inflection to the synthesised hand claps. When ‘Polarise’ follows it, with similar hand claps but heavier reverb, there’s a sense of the tempo slowing down and the production style shifting to decades earlier.

The focus on the drum machine as a compositional tool suggests its influence and I expect Wolf Shield started when Randy turned on his Tempest. It’s a sonic palette that can’t help but reference pop music from earlier decades but also the subversive influence that electronic music brought in the 1990s.

As the album progresses it maintains a cohesive feel through the apparent formula of short vocal and musical phrases. The rhythms are based on a 4/4 house feel but spiced up with the aforementioned hand claps and also those zap-like effects that make low toms sound like video games.

The “bonus track” ‘I Saw What You Saw (live)’ shifts to a 3/4 feel and pushes the formula over ten minutes, but otherwise a minimal approach is consistent throughout and demonstrates how less can be more in the hands of an experienced musician.

Residuum is a satisfying album that brings together a variety of influences, like the Ramones-like short-attention-span songwriting to the electronic dance music instrumentation. It’s an album that resonates with me for various personal reasons but I think that, even if you haven’t had the chance to meet Randy or see Wolf Shield perform, listeners will find tracks repeating in their heads.

It’s got a bit going on and rewards repeated listening.

Finishing at Western Riverina Arts

I've been a PACO at Western Riverina Arts since August 2013 until today.

That stands for Projects and Communications Officer. It was a part-time role, so it's pleasing to see 117 pieces in the media clippings folder. That's around one a week!

My involvement with Western Riverina Arts began before the organisation was formed, as I attended the public meetings in 2010 when Leeton Shire Council first developed the idea of establishing a regional arts board.

I wrote a letter to support the idea and I, in my role as Corporate Communications Manager at Council, remember suggesting the tagline "Connecting Creative Communities" from the words that Lyn Williams had selected. It's pleasing to see how many other regional arts boards now use something similar.

In 2012, after I'd left Council, I was employed to run workshops on behalf of Western Riverina Arts at Leeton and Narrandera libraries. I later ran similar workshops again at these venues in this role during 2015.

In 2013 I joined the Reimagining The Murrumbidgee project that was funded by the CMA as an artist creating a soundtrack. Then after I began working here, was given the opportunity to design the exhibition catalogue.

I also contributed to the development of government-funded projects, such as proposing an upcoming Laptop Orchestra project supported through FRRR and suggesting the oral history project that became For Prosperity's Sake -- one of a few pilot creative-ageing projects in NSW.

Another contribution to the activities of Western Riverina Arts was a photography competition in Leeton that was run in 2014 and 2015, which attracted dozens of entries.

(Sadly we decided to discontinue this in 2016 after Council started their own competition that would've made promotion confusing. This irks me as we had always included in the conditions of our competition the possibility of sharing images with Council.)

One more thing I've enjoyed in this role was talking to the audience at Dream Big in 2014. You can hear my tips for promoting creativity in this video.

Finally, I'd like to say what a joy it's been to promote local artists. There are many people creating stimulating work in our region and it's been a pleasure to learn about them.

I've had some success getting stories out to a wider audience, such as this profile of Mel Ifield that was seen in Canberra and this piece on Sarah McEwan's Her Riot project. More recently a piece on the upcoming Griffith Sculptural Symposium was used by Regional Arts NSW and Griffith City Council's insert in local newspaper The Area News.

Working for Western Riverina Arts has opened new opportunities for me. I'm now working as a curator at Pioneer Park Museum and am utilising what I learned from Derek about Instagram for use there.

I've also learned how to apply for funding and will be delivering a CASP project in June there. These opportunities have made me realise that my focus has shifted from working at WRA and, as a result, I need to move on.

So, so long and thanks. Hopefully another person can benefit from the role now.