The experimental music specialists will receive electric shocks while performing live on stage in Sydney.

The Australian Art Quartet is renowned for its boundary-busting performance methods, and its 2016 season is set to be electrifying – literally.

The Quartet’s six-concert series that aims to “blur the boundaries between performer, audience, art form, time and place” begins this week, and for their third concert – titled Shocking Cliches – the quartet will play while receiving shocks of up to 50 volts. “I’ve touched an electric fence before,” says violinist Dan Russell in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, “but this is the first time we’ve done this. I haven’t been electrocuted before.”

Joining Russell for the performance will be violinist Hayley Bullock, violist Leo Kram, and James Beck, the quartet’s cellist and artistic director. The four will tape wires to their bare skin, and then tape themselves to their instruments.  The shocks will occur at random intervals as the musicians perform Pachelbel’s Canon in D and Michaela Davies’ Untitled for Cyborg String Quartet, creating a new form of performance where the musicians ultimately have no control over their body or instruments.

“Michaela will spontaneously sabotage moments as we play,” explains Beck. “But her work is layered, it’s not just titillation. It’s the idea of voluntary and non-voluntary, about agency and free will. She is playing us as we perform this work. Pachelbel’s Canon is this paragon of beauty and purity. Brides walk down the aisle to it. It truly will be a moment of destroying the music and artistic sabotage.”

Davies is a musician and doctor of psychology as well as a composer, and she designed the computer system that delivers the electric shocks. “It throws you around and creates a strong local loss of control,” she comments, “it’s safe but pretty strong.”

As part of the Australian Art Quartet’s 2016 season, Andrew Batt-Rawden – composer and the publishing director of Limelight’s publisher Arts Illuminated – will be collaborating with Archibald Prize-winning artist Wendy Sharpe and the quartet to present Butt Naked Salon. Limelight’s Online Editor Maxim Boon wrote about the radical concept of combining naked life modelling with art and performance.  

More details of the Australian Art Quartet’s 2016 season can be found on its website.

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