Adversity is the mother of many things. 2020 – the year our voice broke – was the year that composer and artist James Hullick established )-(u||!c|< Studios. The entity is the production house for James Hullick’s sonic practice and projects that he directs – a house of sonic and creative delights. And you get to be Charlie in the chocolate factory. Key facets of the studios are the Making Lab, the Record Label and the workshop program. Workshops are delivered in partnership with JOLT Arts, a charitable not-for-profit entity that James Hullick directs. Much of the workshop activity is tailored to artists with disabilities. Located in Northcote, Melbourne, the studios themselves are modelled on the the sorts of production houses and creation initiatives that have grown up around leading artists throughout history.
James Hullick created the studios as a gift for you – for you the curious and creative explorer: that you may find ideas, sounds, objects and communities here that might inspire you, or gracefully enrich your life in some ever-so-tiny and mighty way.
Set yourself free and venture into the wilds of the auditory outer reaches: there you will find James Hullick enraptured in the silver of white noise.
Recently James’ artistic identity has been broadening from that of cutting edge composer and sound artist, to that of all out iconic performer – emphasising his remarkable abilities for character singing, piano, electric and acoustic guitar, and electronic music. Characters such as Le Scatterman and Strange James have become tour de force stage acts that inhabit a large percentage of Hullick’s output. These acts are born from a larger conception titled Epic Topias. Epic Topias is a saga of productions, recordings, publications and interventions that articulate mythological interactions between deified aliens and a Melbourne-based family. The crap Dad in the family is Le Scatterman. One of the aliens his family interacts with is Strange James.
The birth of James’ STRANGE JAMES identity came with the SSO’s 2017 premiere of WERE/OBLIVION for chamber orchestra and unhinged rock god (conducted by Brett Dean):
“his face painted in garish colours and head dusted with glitter – wringing thunderous sound from his electric guitar, channeling Bowie and Hendrix. An exploration of the tensions between artistic practice and family life, WERE/OBLIVION set Hullick’s text – a letter addressed to his daughters, sung by the composer in guttural, sometimes screaming tones in a powerful, heartfelt performance of fractured sound and fury.” Limelight 2017.
Le Scatterman is a comedy and sound art act. Epic Topias toys with the life and times of Le Scatterman – placing him in a range of delightfully unpleasant scenarios. And yet – though impolite, divorced, broke, downtrodden, and a sound artist – Le Scatteman has a knack for survival and personal growth.
“Hullick’s “Scatterman” presented a non-linear narrative tied by his solo performance as a delusional artist going through a personal and family crisis. The audience followed Hullick as he talked to himself, gesticulating and staggering around a couch or playing a prepared piano while opening one beer can after another. Before launching into a drunken rendition of” … a musical number, “he addressed the audience to talk about the death of his mother: “here in Brisbane, at Subiaco beach where she was taken by a crocodile”. The uncouth antics are contrasted by candid images of his family and an undertone of failure pervades the character’s indulgences. According to the composer, “Scatterman is not a show or a composition”, it is concerned with the self-defeating idea of seeking the perfect life: being the perfect husband, mother, child, society or artist.” Cool Perth Nights.
James Hullick’s auditory creation practice is wide ranging. His arts career began in the form of solo pianist, vocalist and composer. He was taught by Felix Werder (Australia/Germany), James Tenney (USA), Warren Burt (Australia/USA) and briefly by Liza Lim (Australia). As a young man he attended the Stockhausen Summer Classes and spent a short time at Luciano Berio’s Tempo Reale Studio in Florence. After spending his late teens and early 20s focusing on the study of composition and music making, he then branched out into electronic sound making in his mid to late 20s before adding sound sculpture, installation art and music making machinery to his creative activities in his early 30s.
James’ work is characterised by an unusual ability to use sound to engage in social issues, and an unusual versatility of aesthetic, which ranges from neo-Gothicism to more austere classically principled process-based perceptual works. His sonic works have been performed, exhibited and presented in Asia, North America and Europe for a variety of ensembles, electronic formats and installation formats. A number of James’ projects have been at the forefront of sonic art: real time scores (scores that update in real time via a computer), sk-eye like mind (2007), The NIS (2009); sound making machines The Gotholin (2007), Swarmlings (2010); community arts projects The Click Clack Project (2010), to name just a few of the sonic terrains that James continues to embrace.
James has been working with The Amplified Elephants, an ensemble for sound makers with intellectual disabilities, since 2005. The Amplified Elephants, who according to one The Age review “taught us all how to listen”, were based at the Footscray Community Arts Centre until 2019, where James’ work within communities was first supported.
In 2002 James formed the BOLT Ensemble, a chamber ensemble that performs his work and is engaged in projects that James artistically directs.
Critics and arts thinkers have actively engaged with James’ works:
In 2008 in New York James exhibited the INCUBATOR installations: black wigs, cold light and speaker sculptures. On the opening nights for these works (Pratt Institute; Gallery Sakiko) James composed scores for cellist Will Martina while Martina was performing those same scores. “Truly mind-blowing” was the review. The feat was expanded to octet, when James ‘live-composed’ for the BOLT Ensemble in a Melbourne Festival (2014) event. The score was shredded – using an office paper shredder machine – in the performance as part of the piece.
When reviewing the 2014 sonic year The Age newspaper singled out THESE COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOURS (2014) — claiming that the 10 works for chamber orchestra and collaborating communities “stood out as an original, memorable, creative experience”.
John Davis, Director of the Australian Music Centre describes James as “amongst the most outstanding composers of his generation”. Art critic, Ashley Crawford summarized James’ aesthetic as “a decidedly fresh take on the Neo Gothic.” Owen McKern at 3PBS Radio talks of James in arresting terms as “creatively courageous” and a “composer of genius”.
A “wild one in the Australian new sound scene” wrote a German critic, responding to James’ BRUCHLANDUNG chamber opera (2007-13), and that “the transparent psychology shocks as much as electrifies the listener”.
In 2008 James founded JOLT Sonic Arts Inc, an organisation dedicated to creating and presenting new cutting edge works. In 2009 JOLT and the Footscray Community Arts Centre co-presented THE NIS – a large multimedia sonic art event combining artists from a range of communities. This project marked a shift in James’ oeuvre towards delivering large-scale events at high artistic and management levels. It also led to the formation of The Click Clack Project – a community arts initiative through JOLT – developing new work and presenting events with artists emerging from various communities. Since that time JOLT has presented JOLT festivals and tours in the UK, Europe and Asia.
James has completed a three-year Postdoctoral Fellowship (2012-2015) at the University of Melbourne. He was awarded an Australia Council Creative Australia Fellowship (2015) and received the Michael Kieran Harvey Piano Scholarship (2015-16).