27 July 2022
It was late September 2017 when a visual artist encountered an experimental musician at Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s bequest property, Bundanon, established in bush on the left bank of the Shoalhaven River 15 km inland from Nowra and about 170 km south of Sydney.
Jody Graham and Mark Cauvin first met after Jody heard dark, strange, growling sounds emanating bunyip-like from Mark’s improvising on his double bass in the forest at night. Mark later found himself sitting beside a bizarrely furry drawing tool that Jody had fashioned from the foot of an already dead possum.
Both had been invited to participate in an artists’ residential Siteworks event, ‘Birds and the Bees’. Early in the southern spring. Right. They even got to lodge for a few days in the one house, hive-like, albeit with other artists in residence.
If this is starting to read like the setup in a Carl Hiaasen comic crime novel, you’re not too far from the mark. Except it ain’t Florida and, thankfully, there’s a dearth of murders or negligent deaths. No animals – actual or mythical – were harmed in the making of this art. You can’t hurt dead creatures.
Anyway, to resume with the mating connotations (or at least a middle-aged analogue), the two hit it off. Now when I say this I don’t mean some drunk-students-at-a-house-party-shagging-on-the-stairs kind of hitting it off. No. More a slow dance of intrigue and allure.
So fast-forward almost 18 months (yep, a slow dance) and Jody invited Mark and two other artists who’d participated in the Siteworks event to collaborate in a performance for her exhibition, Pee in a Wetsuit, at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Sydney’s inner west in 2019.
Jody wanted artists other than herself to come and play with her drawing tools; and the performance had Mark engaging and providing the aural backdrop for the trio’s mark-making.
From there the idea of the two working on a joint performance was conceived. During the pandemic lockdowns Mark contacted Jody to follow up on the joint project idea. His performance opportunities had been eliminated and he wanted to create new work to fill the void.
The gestation proceeded with fortnightly chats, learning about each other’s creative practice and identifying a shared artistic language; the outcome being their first Sound Drawing performance at BigCi international creative grounds in Bilpin in January 2021.
Jody had invited Mark to join her at a Wildfires residency to use the space for a week’s rehearsal leading to two successful performances before an audience, and working with theatre director Felicity Nicol and a professional crew to produce a performance video.
So, from the artists’ and audience perspectives, what is Sound Drawing?
To this point it’s been a collaboration to create real-time performances of visual sound, presented by the two as installation art accompanied by exhibits of drawings, paintings, and artist tools.
Mark and Jody use both mark-making and sound-making tools, with Mark deploying digital and analogue technology as media to create and record the work and to enhance the perceived connection between the drawing and the sound.
In a spirit of call-and-response, Jody expresses the time, extent, and volume of Mark’s sound in layers with gradients of colour, tone and materials. Thus the storyline and flow of her marks articulate a progression from foreground to background and return, and allows a concertina effect of shifting leads between artist and musician.
This performance in real time moves beyond conventional music graphic notation, where scores are predetermined prior to performance and time/duration has already been prescribed, and becomes the art in itself recorded digitally as well as drawn on paper.
Jody and Mark have over the last 18 months been consistently rehearsing and working on new ideas and concepts connected to sound, drawing, and performance through improvisation and experimentation. Their objectives are to inspire audiences with new sounds and visual representations, most recently at the Soundout Festival in Canberra’s Drill Hall Gallery in June 2022, and to create audio-visual installations for exhibitions.
If all this sounds a bit wanky, that’s a real risk. And so it is to the two performers’ artistic credit that there is genuine substance to their collaboration.
This is not to say that the resulting visual output is ‘hang-on-the-wall’ saleable. I suspect most will remain rolled-up in the artist’s studio. But the audio-visual recording of performances is quite another thing and, more than that, the audience experience of the live performance is something else again. You really do gotta be there.*
They are also looking to push the pairing of drawing and sound with technology that will enable Jody to control sound recording parameters using sensors that Mark attaches to her drawing hands (or any other part of her). And Mark is working on sound feedback loops by which Jody, through microphones attached to her and to surfaces she draws on, can listen to the sounds she makes as she draws, while Mark will have the ability to mix these sounds in real time and perform with them through loudspeakers.
So, who knows what will blossom next. Characters in a new Carl Hiaasen novel, perhaps?
* For the writer, Rick O'Brien, modernist art reached its apogee with Paul Cezanne around 1902, and his taste in improvisational music favours Miles Davis and John Coltrane circa 1959. So, while he owns a few of Jody Graham’s (more conventional) pieces, he approached the assignment at the Drill Hall in Canberra with a degree of trepidation, anticipating frenetic daubs accompanied by ‘strangled cat’ music.
To his relief the experience was enjoyable, amusing, even fun – with the audience of forty or so people showing genuine and prolonged appreciation. (NB No manually asphyxiated felines were encountered.)
Image: Jody Graham & Mark Cauvin – Sound Drawing
Photo credit: Graeme Wienand