UA15 CHATS: Lucy Phelan x Emma Ramsay

July 23, 2015

Lucy Cliche is in residence on Cockatoo Island and will be performing as part of the music program for Underbelly Arts Festival this August 1-2. As an experimental musician, she is a key figure in the independent and experimental music communities both in Australia and abroad.

Her recent release ‘Drain Down’ (Noise In My Head/NIMH002) topped the industrial Juno dance charts in Europe. You could say the industrial roots of her current solo work were born from early participation in rave culture in Sydney. Her creative journey has traipsed so many other music realms since that time – the heavy post punk dirges of Naked on the Vague, atmospheric goth pop of early solo explorations to minimal weird soundscapes of Half High.

Somehow it has all been pointing towards this current incarnation of Lucy Cliche – uniquely placed techno; seriously banging (I mean banging!) sculpted dance music for those who dare to commit to the endless dance floor.

Here’s Lucy Cliche in conversation with Emma Ramsay – UA15 music curator / a member of wayward dance band Holy Balm / a founding director of live art festival Tiny Stadiums / a creative producer / a co-director of Tele Visions. Phew.

“The convergence of the realms of art & music is more achievable for artists than ever before.”

EMMA RAMSAY     Agree or disagree? Why?

LUCY CLICHE       I’m not entirely sure, but I hope so. It’s a seemingly arbitrary distinction really. I mean, I guess it depends on the type of music and art … its intention and its digestion.  I’m going to throw out another statement back at you – I think sound is like any other ‘artistic’ medium, and should be treated as such. Music is indeed sound, but is sound music?

ER    I think the line where sound becomes music is about intent & composition. Similar things could be said in terms of the larger umbrellas of art – say, photography as sculpture & drawing as performance etc. I like the idea that artists can speak to where that line is drawn. I think that is where for me the most interesting work is, that takes a risk to exist in a slightly different context or just slightly ‘out of place’.

Like avant-garde sound artists taking over local television & doing a broadcast – such as Meredith Monk’s Turtle Dreams 1983 work . Or an installation artist setting up a temporary TV station within an art gallery – such as Sean People’s ‘Channel G’ work at Westspace in 2013.

LC    Yep, I agree. And I guess that’s what’s happening at Underbelly Arts, well for me at least. Being someone who primarily works with sound and music in a non-art context, being invited to be part of Underbelly Arts, and to think a bit more broadly about my practice, was both exciting and challenging. I’m going to be interested in how it all eventuates!

So, now that we’ve answered ‘yes’ – this convergence of art and music is indeed more achievable… it would also be interesting to ask, why this is the case? Who or what is driving this convergence?

ER     I think the many ways we can consume art nowadays in the multi-use-platform space of ‘online’ (as an additional / complementary / mirror of art spaces) it could be said to be responsible for a recent wave of convergence.

I feel like the convergence happens in waves, and flows into new areas as artists gain access to new platforms to ‘publish’ their work to use that term very loosely. Those artists who experiment with that flow can get some great work happening I think.


Speaking of ~ flow ~ I have been reflecting on how your live sets have evolved, and have been thinking on the plasticity of dropping in and out different musical elements across the duration of a live set – and how that informs the flow of a performance.

Do you think, in electronic music, the line could be said to be the essential unit for composition? Where the longer form possibilities of a line within a song can build a scene where the live performer is literally choreographing the audience in real time? The ‘line’ is the ultimate malleable object for the artist. A song line, a drawn line, a letter, the line of a poem…a bloodline…I’m interested in how the line exists differently in recorded outcomes & live performance of your music – how do they inform each other?

LC    I think you’re right Emma about how the free-form elongated line in electronic music is a real-time tool for the artist, there’s an instant exchange between artist and audience, especially with more beat/dance driven music where people are physically responding to the sounds…it’s something which I’ve found gratifying, and it feeds into my set…if people are responding to certain sounds, my tendency is to push things a bit more and see if the response shifts too. It’s a real communication between myself and the audience.

The recorded outcome is somewhat harder for me at this point… because it feels more static – whereas for live performance it’s spontaneous somewhat. But for a recorded outcome, it’s more meticulous.

ER     Would you consider your music experimental – and if so – to you – what makes it experimental?

LC     Broadly yes, I’d say my music as Lucy Cliche has experimental elements.

I originally wanted to answer this question by trying to define what experimental is, but that’s a bit of a wormhole really… and as Mark E Smith said; ‘The conventional is now experimental. The experimental is now conventional’. That said, I ended up simply concluding that that  ‘experimental’ is a descriptor to say that the music is not entirely straight forward, in whatever context or genre that might be…

LCLliche video still 02

So yes, my music is experimental in its process; I rarely have a strict vision or know where a track is going until I start creating it, so there tends to be a lot of mucking around in this process, which also seems to be continuous, I’m always changing how I play live tracks live, I’ll add in a new element, sequence etc…I guess that kind of feeds into your previous question about the difference between recording and live performance, and why I probably prefer playing live – due to the free and exploratory nature of it.

ER    Just to zoom out a bit – what kinds of experimental artists do you look to for a like-minded approach to making work?

LC    I think my influences are really cumulative and all around me. I’ve been engaged with various forms of broadly experimental music for a pretty long time now, and I think that’s all just filtered through to me in all the types of music I’m making across a few different projects and collaborations of mine.

I’m always interested in how people are making their sounds, what is their process, their instrumentation, how they’re putting it all together. There’s really no right way to approach making music/sound and everyone’s processes are so unique, which I find fascinating.

I generally look to music that seems a bit loose or has an element of risk. I’m reluctant to list specific artists I look to because it is just so interconnected in my head. To limit myself to recent/ contemporary artists from Australia that might have a like minded approach to my solo stuff- Vacuum (Andrea Blake and Jenny Branagan), Nicky Crane (James from Total Control), Cooper Bowman (Altered States), Liam Osbourne (Future Archaic), Daze, Dan White, Chunyin, Holy Balm and Four Door, Andrew McClellan (Soft Power and Enderie Nuatal), Tuff Sherm, Video Ezy, Forces, Multiple Man, Horse MacGyver, Workshop, Gardland, Kangaroo Skull, various projects of Tom Smith, Tlaotlon, Gareth Psaltis and Phile, and there’s so many more….

This Underbelly Arts
Festival, Lucy Cliche will be writing site specific material live on the island & performing multiple sets throughout the festival.

Plus a finale on the Saturday night at 9pm in the Turbine Hall – not to be missed!