The Secret Noise

“I’m curious about the personal, the secret, the mysterious. Drawn into inconspicuous otherworlds, I’m struck by sensations of sympathy towards situations of strangeness. In this noisy world of public utterances, I find myself attentive to private sounds.” Damien Ricketson


Sydney Lower Sydney Town Hall, 8pm Thu 20th – Sat 22nd November, matinee 3pm Sat 22nd November


$40/$20 iwannaticket.com.au


The Secret Noise is a surreal immersive experience exploring secrecy, movement and music. In this unique show-length multimedia event the audience will discover a sequence of strange fantastical scenes. The curious onlooker is privy to a procession of dreamlike rituals poetically referencing forbidden ceremonies, legally extinguished music, personalised music-making, covert music-making and private love songs. Occupying an unusual artistic space somewhere between music, dance and physical installation, The Secret Noise artistically addresses ethical boundaries between music-making as a public and private exchange and critically examines the ownership of sound and movement.

The Secret Noise brings together seven experienced artists from different disciplines who will create the work collaboratively. Conceived by the composer and Co-Artistic Director of Ensemble Offspring, Damien Ricketson, the project features dancers Narelle Benjamin and Katherine Cogill, actor/physical performer Katia Molino and musicians Claire Edwardes, Jason Noble and Bree van Reyk. Collectively the performers creatively respond to a series of cultural practices that, for various reasons, have been shielded or hidden from public consumption. Presented as a sequence of surreal scenes, The Secret Noise merges dance, music and installation in a unique multifaceted fashion. Although utilising the individual creative and technical rigour of experienced dancers, musicians and a physical performer, all artists are truly integrated performers with the musicians choreographed and dancers creating sound.

Through the use of experimental development processes an interesting relationship has been established between sound and movement where one intrinsically engenders the other. For example, original whirling instruments, created especially for the project, are given a voice by the movement patterns of the dancers. As such, the choreography creates the sound patterns which in turn provide the musicians with sonic material expanded by conventional instruments such as the clarinet. In reverse, composed music requires the dancers to find choreographic structures to realise specific musical structures. In other parts of the work, the dancers and musicians respond to a common visual language: arcane graphics that can equally be read as dance or musical notation.

The musicians are associated with Ensemble Offspring, a small arts company specialising in the performance of innovative new music. Ensemble Offspring will assume responsibility for the development and production of the work. A group of highly disciplined chamber musicians, the company has developed a reputation for their capacity to work across genres and art forms: for example collaborating with experimental film in projects for the Sydney Film Festival and ACMI and collaborating with Theatre Kantanka and co-devising Bargain Garden. Claire Edwardes and Damien Ricketson have collaborated closely with Katia Molino on Bargain Garden and Sounds Absurd and were choreographed together with Katherine Cogill in Critical Path’s inaugural Composer-Choreographer exchange.

The Secret Noise presents a unique opportunity to cultivate connections and create dialogue across art-forms by building and fostering artistic relationships, unlocking new creative processes and creative outcomes, and bringing together audiences from different arts communities.


Damien Ricketson (concept-director/composer)
Katherine Cogill (dancer/choreographer)
Bree van Reyk (percussion/composer)
Claire Edwardes (percussion/composer)
Katia Molino (physical movement/staging/dramaturgy)
Jason Noble (clarinet/composer)
Narelle Benjamin (dancer/choreographer)

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photography – Oliver Miller

Detailed Synopsis

The Secret Noise begins with interested participants downloading a visually striking but arcane graphic image. On presentation of the document in a sealed envelope to the venue, small groups of audience-members are ushered into an intermediate space suited to the venue for a private performance with a solo performer. Thus the audience is welcomed with a personalised intense artistic transaction, sonic or physical, before moving into an installation in the main space where the main production begins.

Plis Cachetés takes as its starting point a surreal exploration of artistic ownership and the law. From paranoid governments to monopolising corporations, hyper-protective artist-estates and composers withdrawing their early works, this scene is a compendium of sound based on music that has been legally extinguished from the public experience.

This scene takes its name from the French Scientific Academy’s method of patenting ideas via the submission of proposals as plis cachetés (sealed envelopes). In the period following the French revolution thousands of ideas were sealed and, until recently, remained lost and unavailable to the public. This scene alludes to proposals found in the plis cachetés concerning the invention of new forms of music and dance notation. Illegal music will be poetically interpreted into these visually stunning and arcane notational languages in a surreal experience somewhere between bureaucratic routine and the intimacy of a private show.

The first scene in the main performance area, Music of Friends, delves into the idea of musical cliques. The scene alludes to the chamber music tradition: from its pre-concert function as music heard only by royalty to music exclusively composed and played by groups of friends in private settings. In this modern-day rewrite of the repertory, Music of Friends becomes a slightly humorous commentary on the phenomenon of closed musical circles and the identification of music as a commodity to advance one’s own (and exclude others’) social standing.

From the ‘Plato code’ of Ancient Greece to US Congressional hearings into subliminal mind-control, the capacity of music to carry hidden messages is the subject of continuous controversy and conspiracy theories. The possibility of music having a superficial form as well as a secret form that may be unmasked by the inquisitive listener is the basis of this mash-up of hidden references. This scene is a playful rethink of techniques popular in the recording industry to conceal secret music and messages. Backmasking (the satanic message that reveals itself by spinning an LP backwards); incorrect play speeds (a new meaning found by changing LP speed or skipping through a CD); secret tracks (concealed between the grooves of an LP or in the pregap coding of CDs); hidden text and images (unveiled by the visualisation of digital audio); and modular structures (where a new work is exposed by the reordering and/or superimposition of separate tracks); form a catalogue of techniques reinvented into a live context and applied to an off-the-wall plundering of double-meaning sources ranging from Shostakovich to Radiohead.

Forbidden Spectacles is built around an abstract allusion to the bullroarer: a sacred instrument communicating the spirit over vast distances and excluded from the experience of the majority of the community. A visual as well as aural spectacle, the performers whirl a variety of especially designed objects through space to create sound. Fricative objects sounding like an Aeolian harp to humming cups and chortling plastic piping are used to create an earthly drone sometimes paired down to a fragile voice, at other times a swarm of sound. Throbbing cycles upon cycles. From this unbroken sustaining line emerge various melismatic utterances from a clarinet.

From court dances to the throbbing beat of the nightclub, music and dance has, for the most part, functioned as an expression of socialisation: a medium to bring people together. At least until the age of the iPod. With the experience of music increasingly individualised and personalised, the iMusic scene explores the ubiquitous headphone as an expression of private music. iMusic is based on electronic music that the audience will never hear.

download to attend

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drawings – Harry Pierce


Technical Specifications
Full technical specifications and a lighting plot will be available in late 2013. Here is some preliminary information:

Venue Specifications/Staging
The production is designed to be adaptable to a variety of possible spaces and environments. Structured as a sequence of independent scenes, the work can occur either in a conventional end-on space or a large single space where the audience surrounds the performance. The opening Plis cachetés scene is imagined to occur in a separate space to the main performance space (e.g. a separate room or a partitioned area of a foyer) and the audience will be led in and out of that scene in groups of approximately 10. Depending on the venue, the work could also play across multiple rooms with different scenes taking place in different spaces and the audience led through in stages by the performers. Ensemble Offspring is open to a dialogue with each presenter regarding what format best suits their venue.

Plis Cachetés needs a curtained or separate area for the introductory scene. If the consequent performance takes place with a standing audience a number of raised stage areas will be required.

Audience Size/Number of Performances/Duration
In installation style/standing format the work is better suited to audiences of 100-120. This small capacity can be compensated for via multiple performances per day (ie. matinee and night or early and late evening). The production will be between 45 and 70 minutes long with no interval depending on the venue configuration and number of daily/weekly performances. The production can also play in end-on configuration to up to 300 people depending on the size of the venue, but an installation style performance/mobile audience is preferred if possible. In either format, the audience arrival times will need to be staggered to allow for small groups to be taken through the opening scene.

The work will have a specialised lighting design with various specials and a dedicated operator. A lighting plot will be available in December 2013/January 2014.

The company travels with props, costumes and instruments with the exception of large percussion instruments including a vibraphone and gongs which will need to be sourced locally (Ensemble Offspring has nationwide contacts for sourcing percussion instruments). The performance does not require sound amplification or playback.

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Community Engagement

The artistic premise of The Secret Noise lends itself to the idea of secret-style promotional strategies. For example, the production comes with a supplementary website that can only be accessed via a newsletter link, viral referral or launched via quick response codes on promotional collateral. The website can be used to provide the plis cacheté downloads permitting entry to the event as well as providing additional content and previews relating to the work. The aim is to encourage potential audiences to attend from a perspective of curiosity, open-mindedness and a sense of exceptionality. The premise is that a prospective audience-member who actively seeks information through ‘secret’ channels as an inquisitive participant is more likely to attend. The performances may be marketed in ways akin to the growing success of secret unmarked restaurants or bars whereby individuals’ privileged knowledge of the event becomes a commodity worthy of distribution in itself. Ensemble Offspring can provide the support needed to resource this secret/viral/social media campaign strategy.

The project is designed to provoke engagement and participation from the community. To assist in this, the supplementary website not only acts as a promotional tool but an interface to enable audiences a deep and lasting engagement with the work. The website will comprise information ranging from interactive blogs to downloadable audio tracks, puzzles and tools to decipher hidden music and recompose elements of the work as well as a virtual booth to upload and/or experience private community-provided content. As such, further facts and resources on the topic of private and secret music-making will form part of an ongoing community-led creative offshoot.

In addition, all seven performers are available to provide master classes to advanced students or local emerging professionals. Such community engagement may comprise expert tuition in specific areas relating to music composition and performance, choreography, dance and physical theatre or provide assistance with developing cross-disciplinary work.

For further information about any aspect of the work, including production budgets, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

The Secret Noise is supported by the City of Sydney and the Australia Council for the Arts

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