The musicians of Vinegar Tom

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Music plays an important part in COUP: Canberra’s presentation of Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom, the third and final production in our Ralph Indie series.

Influenced by famed poet, playwright and theatre director, Bertold Brecht, Churchill bookends scenes in Vinegar Tom with songs performed by musicians in contemporary dress. Encouraging the audience the reflect on, and critique the action that has just taken place, the songs form an interruption – reminding the audience that what they have witnessed is a constructed version of reality. Pioneered by Brecht, this theatrical technique reminds audiences that pre-existing social and political norms are also constructed versions of reality, and as such, can be changed.

COUP: Canberra commissioned local and interstate experimental musicians working in various genres to compose original music to Churchill’s lyrics, giving them the freedom to rework the songs with contemporary relevance and tap into the emotional energy of the scene.

Love the music of Vinegar Tom? Here’s who you’ve been listening to:

‘Nobody Sings’ by Aphir
“Oh nobody sings about it but it happens all the time.”

Aphir is the solo electronic project of songwriter and producer, Becki Whitton. As Aphir, Becki has performed her glitched-out vocal & electronic soundscapes around Australia and internationally, including her performance at Berlin’s 2016 Music Tech Fest. Her work with indigenous singer/songwriter, Denni, saw her take to the main stage at the 2015 Falls Festival. Aphir has also been dubbed one of the next Flume’s by triple j unearthed.


‘Oh Doctor’ by Passive Smoke
“Oh, doctor, tell me/ Make me well / What’s wrong with me the way I am?”

Passive Smoke are a scrappy four piece from Canberra’s inner north. Since forming in late 2014, they’ve released a debut EP Inhale on Cinnamon Records and have supported Screaming Females, Two Steps on the Water, and Totally Mild.


‘Something to Burn’ by Alphamale + Marlene Radice
“Find something to burn / Let it go up in smoke /Burn your troubles away.”

Alphamale is the ambient drone project by experimental violist Hannah de Feyter. She creates protection music.

Marlēné Radice is a Melbourne-based composer specialising in notated electroacoustic composition by exploring how art and sound complement one another. Taking recorded sounds away from their original sources, she processes and manipulates these into new musical structures. Raw industrial noises, looped voices and hypnotic soundscapes are layered to create a nuanced and original sound. Marlēné has been featured on Fbi Radio’s Ears Have Ears (NSW), the Sonic.Art Quartet (Berlin), The Music Box Project (NSW), Art Not Apart Festival (ACT), COUP Melbourne, Feminatronic, Future Creatives Festival (VIC), the Monash New Music Ensemble (VIC) and her electronic duo Erwartung (NSW). She has been commissioned as sound designer/composer for the National Museum of Australia (2017) and Questacon (2013). She interns for Making Waves, an online platform promoting emerging Australian composers, and is on the committee for the Tilde New Music Festival.


‘If Everybody Worked as Hard as Me’ by GLASS
“The country is what it is / Because the family is what is / Because the man is who he is / Because the woman is who she is”

GLASS is singer songwriter Lara Sweeney. Armed with her electric guitar, gospel-soul voice, and a concern with the metaphysical, GLASS has been described as a “spooky country singer” whose songs hit like “necessary stab wounds to the gut.” To date, and for the foreseeable future, GLASS’ career resembles a kind of slow, inexorable pub crawl through Canberra’s labyrinthine music scene, including playing in duo Northumberland.


‘If you Float’ by Keresiya
“If you float you’re a witch / If you scream you’re a witch /If you sink, then you’re dead anyway.”

Kelsey Keresiya Mutandadzi is a multidisciplinary artist residing in Canberra, specialising in illustration, music production and performance art.

‘Lament for the Witches’ by E.B Kerr (with Aphir and GLASS)

“Where have the witches gone? Who are the witches now?”

E.B.Kerr (aka Liberty): An accomplished electronic artist, guitarist and experimental cellist, Liberty’s stylistically diverse music and soundscapes have provided the sonic environment for a variety of works across different art forms for more than two decades. This includes performance, film and installation involving collaborations and commissions with numerous artists and production companies. More recently, the study of music theory has engendered an emerging compositional practice investigating and intervening in the terrain between the performer and the ears of the listener. Her compositions engage both the digital and the analogue/organic seeking to explore and exploit the tension between them. The work is particularly engaged with what happens to sound between performance and amplification and the way each live performance becomes part of the composition.

Sound design by cilt (Becki Whitton and Hannah de Feyter)

  • Aphir ( 'Nobody Sings', 'Lament for the Witches')
  • Passive Smoke ('Oh Doctor'). Photo: Patrick Cox
  • Alphamale ('Something to Burn')
  • Marlene Radice ('Something to Burn')
  • GLASS ('If Everybody Worked as Hard as Me', 'Lament for the Witches')
  • Keresiya ('If You Float')
  • E.B. Kerr ('Lament for the Witches'