Northern Void

Northern Void (excerpt) 5' 04", stereo mix © 2007

Background

Northern Void is a 44 minute live audio-visual project mounted by the sound/music duo Ph2 (Philip Brophy and Philip Samartzis). Ph2 has worked on a variety of sound/musical presentations, focusing on collaborative, experimental, immersive and improvisational works. Northern Void also involves Philip Brophy directing and making a video to which Ph2 perform a live soundtrack.

The SD video is a post-apocalyptic pastoral mediation on what will become of the suburbs in the far future. Bypassing any statistical analysis, this work chooses to freely imagine what will occur in a century from now at the locus of our most banal surroundings. Taking a strip of Plenty Rd. Preston as an emblematic environment of how life currently exists, Northern Void observes and transforms its locality into a gradually decaying dystopia of everyday collapse.

Northern Void was developed for presentation at ACMI cinema. Funding for the project has come from the City of Melbourne and Film Victoria, with support from ACMI and RMIT University.

Gus Franklin - Northern Void (Part 2) © 2007

Credits

Script & Direction - Philip Brophy
Score/Sound-Design - Ph2 (Philip Brophy & Philip Samartzis)
Project Management/Production - Keely Macarow
Studio Cinematography - Michael Williams
Principal Lighting Assistance - Rocco Oscan
On-set Compositing - Pancho Colladetti
Location Camerawork - Philip Brophy
Location Assistance - Philip Samartzis, Joel Morrison
Stills Photography - Pancho Colladetti
Hair & Make-up - Nickie Hanley
Costumes & Dressing - Holly-Anne Buck, Cassandra Tytler
Studio - Premiere Lighting
Post-production FX & Editing - Philip Brophy
Post-Production Mattes - Pancho Colladetti
Compositing Assistance - Takuya Katsu, Claire Slattery
Recording, Production & Mix - Philip Brophy & Philip Samartzis
Studios - Gelatin and Bee Hive
Additional Location Recording - Madelynne Cornish
Drums - Philip Brophy
Trumpet & recorder - Isobel Knowles
Trombone - Gus Franklin
Technical Advice - Dominic Redfern, Phip Murray, Isobel Knowles

Cast
Sam Acres, Carl Anderson, Nat Bates, Pas Battista, Nigel Brown, Holly-Anne Buck, Anthea Caddy, Rebecca Cannon, Benjamin Ducroz, Gus Franklin, Lily Hibberd, Maddy Hodge, Isobel Knowles, Brendan Lee, Simon Maidment, Kristina Matovic, Adam Milburn, Phil Pietrushka, Engel Schmidl, Thembi Soddell, George Stajsic, Cassandra Tytler

Support
City of Melbourne (Candy Mitchell); Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Kristine Bugeja, Alex Taylor, Helen Simondson, Andre Bernard); Film Victoria (Blythe Chandler, Shiralee Saul, Amelia King); Arts Victoria (Amanda Browne); RMIT University (Elizabeth Grierson); Australian Film Commission (Joseph Alessi); New Media Arts Fellowship (Australia Council)

2012

IMAGINING THE FUTURE, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne

2011

AWFULLY WONDERFUL, Performance Space, Sydney

2009

CD & DVD-A released on Sound Punch Records

2007

ACMI, Melbourne

Nigel Brown - Northern Void (Part 2) © 2007

Overview

The Northern Void is divided into 3 sections - The Present (2013), The Future (2085) and The Post-Future (3079). In The Future, sallow youth wait listlessly for trams that never come. Their skin glows grey despite darkened skies and billowing rainless clouds. Barren clay-infested earth surrounds decayed High Street shop facades. Scarred, ravaged, traumatized - yet strangely innocent, these youth appear to have stepped straight out of a bombed hospital ward. In the Post-Future, they linger still - shimmering ghosts of the Australia that never came.

Yet The Northern Void has altered little of the present at the time of its shooting in 2007. At the tram stops, petrol stations and intersections which comprise the uniform flow of people and cars in the pathways that stretch deep into the suburbs, one can already witness how Plenty Rd. Preston encapsulates the death of the 'high street'. Once a thoroughfare and vital access enabled by one of Melbourne's typical tram routes, it is scored by small businesses that have gradually withered over the last three decades of commercial enterprise and franchised dreaming. Cracked 60s brickwork, shrivelled 70s council shrubbery, peeling 80s computer-typeset signage, 90s Day-Glo painted lettering on darkened windows - Plenty Rd. Preston is like the corpus of business: dying slowly while tethered to an indifferent life-support system. And it's not just Preston: this is a perfect snapshot of Australia.

To travel this stretch with open eyes, one can witness something more than mere banality and ugliness: these are the scars of failed work modes, outdated visions, fatalistic endeavours. Inspired by the deep nothingness of this environment, Northern Void extends the atmosphere of this slowly dying realm into a cosmological rumination of how desperate and futile 'doing business' can be.

Northern Void (Part 1) © 2007

Technical

Video

Part 1 - 2013 AD - the Present.
The Plenty Rd. strip is utterly empty (shot well early on Sunday morning). Its locales are devoid of all life. No people appear anywhere, as if all the city's inhabitants have died. Bereft of any social presence, the buildings are like tombstones. Their haphazard architecture, their attempts at customised frontage, their desperation to attract business - all this and more is potently felt in the depiction of their emptiness.

Part 2 - 2085 AD - the Future.
The Plenty Rd. strip appears similar but aged. The building's abject surfaces remain as ugly as ever; they have not gathered any charm. People are dotted here and there. They are jaundiced, drained, ill. Clutches, calipers, wheelchairs - hardly any can walk. Some wait at tram stops for transport that will never come. Others lean against poles and shop fronts, frozen by lack of will. Bandages ineffectually cover strange sores. Some are dead already. Most are dying. Some stare into the distance. Others look right through us.

Part 3 - 3079 - the post-Future.
The Plenty Rd. strip has now atrophied, calcified and fossilized into desolate structures. All facades have disappeared. Frontages have caved in. Their interiors are exposed like robbed graves. Strange figures appear hovering and darting about. This is a ghost town, peopled by ectoplasmic entities. Once business owners and clientele with no other purpose or function, they now float aimlessly, returning to the only zone they ever called home.

The three part structure of The Northern Void is a sardonic reference to the classical '3 act structure' which modern cinema has had administered to its dying corpus by 'script doctors'. Similarly referential is the idea of 'the Northern suburbs'. Growing up in Reservoir, Philip Brophy has long perceived the North not as a heroic plateau of the common folk, but as a desolate plain of terse anonymity. Once a moderately violent zone at the outer ring of 70s skinhead violence (bordering on the 'far North' of Italian immigrant settlements in Lalor, Thomastown and Epping), Reservoir and Preston was supposedly 'saved' by the wonder of Northland in 1970. With its own Myers, this tacky sideshow of urbanity - like all utopian shopping centres - typified the numbing nothingness that would continue to posit shopping as a meaningful act. Back then, Northland was the future. The Northern Void extends this vision of a future.

The production of Northern Void was divided into two phases: a small location crew shooting and assembling documented material of the various locales along Plenty Rd.; and a larger crew assembled in a studio shooting performers against green-screen. In post-production, the performers were matched to and composited into the location backgrounds. Further processing and effecting is most evident in Parts 2 & 3 where digital effects post-production transforms the buildings and generates the ghost-like effects of the performers.

Studio production stills © 2007 - photos by Pancho Colladetti

Sound & Music

The soundtrack for Northern Void capitalises upon and extends Ph2's working practices. These are largely based around field recordings and captured textures which are then processed and multi-layered into dense fields of sound. Sometimes carved and sculptured into monolithic forms, other times distilled into near-silent aural quivers, the sonic investigations of Ph2 heighten the act of listening.

As part of the development of Northern Void, various location recordings have been assembled and then workshopped through a series of improvisations. These segments and passages have then been matched and shaped according to the visuals of Northern Void as they were being produced.

With the visuals complete, work concentrated on articulating the dramatic momentum and arcs within the three parts. This involves extensive experimentation to uncover the most innovative yet involving way of reflecting and intensifying the subtextual nuances of how the onscreen landscapes and locations are being transformed across time.

Northern Void visually merges the hyper-banality of western urban peripheries with a foreboding quasi-futurism. Evoking the 'failed futurism' of European cinema (especially the now-retro appeal of 50s Russian sci-fi) with the suburban dystopia depicted in many Japanese manga (comics), Northern Void paints the future Western landscape as mired in an all-too familiar present. The soundtrack constructed and performed focuses on the psychological dimension of being stranded in this timeless, stateless zone. Musically mirroring its dispossessed denizens, it follows the wonderfully non-judgemental tone of many art film soundtracks from the 60s and 70s. Expanses of natural semi-industrial sounds are merged with digital and synthetic tonings that suggest nature has been eroded and re-coded into a new realm whose atmosphere will be far from welcoming.

Sam Acres - Northern Void (Part 3) © 2007