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There's a drop-in interactive sound laboratory in Marrickville

Caroline Gates

Welcome to the 27th guest blog post of Time Out Sydney's 52 Weeks of #SydCulture 2017 challenge! July’s culture selector is Caroline Gates: Program Director at FBi Radio. Every Tuesday of July, Caro will be telling us what she loved the week before. Think of it as your recommendations for this week, from someone who sees a helluva lot of arts and culture. Over to her.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m listening to Mariah Carey. Sort of. In front of me is a Korg MS-20 synthesiser doing its best to warble along to ‘Vision of Love’ and match the diva’s five-octave range.

I’m sitting around a communal table with ten welcoming strangers at Frontyard, a ‘Not-Only-Artist Run Initiative’ in Marrickville. It’s a three bedder that’s been turned into a multi-purpose creative space complete with kitchen garden and research library. The aim here is to build community by allowing participation and collaboration between people with a passion for culture. It’s a place where the process of making art is just as important as the result.

For two hours on Sunday, electronic musician Bridget Chappell turned Frontyard into a sound laboratory. An open, free workshop where people with an interest in synths and music-making could get hands-on with gear, learn together, and experiment with sound. The focus was on skilling up musically-inclined queer, non-binary and female participants; anyone with questions about making electronic music who might be too shy, broke, or intimidated to ask elsewhere.

Bridget Chappell at Frontyard
Photograph: Clare Cooper

Bridget performs solo as Hextape, as cellist of the Melbourne Squat Orchestra, and with post-punk band Fallow Ground. Her passion for synths is obvious and infectious. Bridget led the workshop by speaking about her own heroes: Charanjit Singh, the Bollywood composer who became an accidental acid house pioneer; Delia Derbyshire, who created the original Doctor Who theme song; and Wendy Carlos, who popularised the Moog synthesiser in 1968 with Switched-On Bach.

For the workshop, Bridget set up a communal table with an impressive maze of cables dotted with analogue and digital synths – some her own and others borrowed. She made the observation that leaving your comfort zone to experiment with new synths gives you an experience of “feeling like God and a child”. It’s a seductive idea.

Each person at the workshop came with a different level of experience and interest. Bridget recognised that our goals might be playing in a band, exploration – seeing what happens when you push technology to its limits – or just meditation and enjoyment. She speaks in plain language that makes everything understandable and accessible, a rare skill that’s appreciated by this newbie.

Sound Laboratory at Frontyard
Photograph: Supplied

Regardless of skill level, a workshop like this lights a spark that inspires further exploration. An entry point to rock music might be a school-loaned guitar and afternoons at the local independent record store. Beyond a laptop, what are the paths for people keen to get involved in making electronic music that will help to overcome the costs and fill knowledge gaps?

The Sound Laboratory is set up at Frontyard until Sunday July 16 with Bridget around each day, ready to welcome anyone interested in playing with sound. Sydney also has fantastic programs such as All Girl Electronic at Information and Cultural Exchange, and Music NSW’s Women in Electronic Music masterclasses. But imagine if this kind of space for creative experimentation could exist somewhere permanently here in Sydney – a sister to the Audio Foundation in Auckland or the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS). There’s a challenge to ensure the survival of spaces like this in a city that doesn’t make it easy. If only for a short window, Frontyard shows the task is surmountable.

You can check out the interactive Sound Laboratory at Frontyard (228 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville) from 9am-7pm every day until July 16. Bridget will be there every day playing with sound, and anyone (especially women, non-binary and queer musicians or musicians-to-be) is welcome and encouraged to drop by and have a play, a jam, experiment with the gear (synths, effects pedals, loops, Ableton, microphones), ask questions etc.

Check out our hit list of where to see free live music every night of the week – and read more about our 52 Weeks of #SydCulture challenge, and let us know what you're seeing/loving on Instagram via the hashtag #SydCulture.

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