Remembering Tom

Tom was a beautiful young man I had the absolute privilege of getting to know over the past 4 years. Tom lived in Hong Kong and our mentoring sessions happened on Saturday afternoons via Zoom. Tom never shied away from sharing his thoughts with me, he was an incredible communicator, had a wonderful witty sense of humour and a remarkable perception to know the world around him and the people who knew him best. When Tom chatted to me last week he was excited about turning 18 very soon and we discussed what he might do and that pretty much sums up the incredible passion for life Tom shared with us…

While Tom’s life with us came to a sudden end recently, he will always be remembered for his legacy as a practical thinker and a creative mastermind of Uno. Tom loved cooking and was originally inspired by Uncle Roger’s videos, until he moved on to tease Gordon Ramsay.

Tom was a very compassionate young man, and our mentor sessions would usually begin with him asking me how I had slept the night before.

I’m feeling the numbness of knowing there has been a departure of someone I wish there were more, much more time with… Tom, you were one of a kind and thank you for every thing you shared… photo permission & credit Merridy Smits

What are the AirSticks, really?

It seems like my work and performance has centred around the AirSticks for the last year, and that 2023 is going to be even more AirStick focused. I have done two live performances using the technology now; once at JOLTED for Melbourne Design Week, and then at Burrinja Cultural Arts Centre in Upwey, where I was able to blend my original film work, dance and music compositions created with AirSticks.

One question I get a lot is “what are the AirSticks?” So maybe it’s time to get back to basics and explain a bit about the technology I am working with.

I was first introduced to the idea of a wearable, adaptable and accessible music instrument by my friend and colleague, Dr Anthea Skinner, in early 2020. We did a lot of experimentation with different versions of a wearable, I even tried the Woojer wearable haptic feedback tech for a while (it was too bulky and designed for a male body type, so was not ideal for me). My role in the project has been to use my already developed dance and movement practice, and find ways that sound composition tech can be incorporated into that.

Now I have two AirSticks 2.0 models. They use a gyroscope and connect to my laptop for programming with various sounds like musical instruments, prerecorded vocals and sound effects. Then I wear the devices strapped to my wrists and as I move, I find the sounds in the space around me. Right now, when I make big, sweeping motions, for example, I get reverberating bass drums, and when I make small, delicate movements, I can capture the harp strings.

Looking forward, I am exited about the next stages of this project. Working with the inventor, Dr Alon Ilsar as well as a team of researchers, dramaturges and choreographers, I am now learning how to program the AirSticks myself. We have all survived the grant application process for further research and were successful at some, so we have added a collaboration with the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). I am now starting a residency at VCA to continue our development and work on a 50 minute performance piece.

For a deeper look at the AirSticks tech, you can check out the AirSticks website here or stay tuned for more from me!

AirDancer

The past few months have seen big developments in the AirSticks project. We have had two successful grant applications and expanded the team to include costume designers, lighting, choreographers and mentors.

It also means that I have been granted a 12 month residency at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). This will allow me to work on the AirSticks project with VCA PhD students as well as use of the motion capture technology.

I now have my own AirStick instrument to practice with at home, and am learning to use the Ableton Live software to create totally original compositions.

I am finding new ways to make music with the AirSticks. It is amazing to explore, dare I say it, the Rhythm of My Body Shapes. It’s also pretty exciting to learn more about the sounds of music. Especially with these beautiful new hearing aids. Now I can pick up nuances to the music which I never did before.

This month will also see my performance of ‘Humanist’ at Burrinja Cultural Centre in Upwey, on the closing night of a three day dance festival. This is an installation mixed media piece I have been working on and have now also brought in a soundscape created using the AirSticks.

https://www.burrinja.org.au/burrinja-whats-on/burrinja-in-motion

Latest Exhibit

‘My Pop, My Hero’

This work was part of a local exhibition run by Burrinja Cultural Centre, the ‘Upwey Archies’.

It had to be a portrait of someone important to me. I decided to use an old photograph of my grandfather, Bert. I used my imagination for the oranges, because he was an orange grower in Robinvale. I will never forget this beautiful man.