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Q&A/Dance/Film/Music

An electronic antidote

12 August 2020

In keeping with the times, local sound artist and electronic music producer Elsewhere/Rebecca (aka Rebecca Riggs-Bennett) has launched a debut album that’s designed specifically for home listening.

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Entitled ‘With Me, We Walk’, the album and two accompanying short films have been launched entirely online, and were released over one weekend as an interactive headphone experience. Both the album and the films respond to the pandemic, centring around connecting through movement and sound whilst in physical isolation.

Nina Levy caught up with Rebecca Riggs-Bennett to find out more about this intriguing, multi-layered project.

Nina Levy: Tell me about the name Elsewhere/Rebecca
Rebecca Riggs-Bennett:
I think at the time I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be regarded as “Elsewhere” (I didn’t. There are so many artists called Elsewhere) or “Rebecca” (same again). I kept thinking one or the other, so I decided for my stage name to literally be both. Admittedly I had already changed my stage name twice previously, so I knew the third time had to stick. I still feel very comfortable with this name, and I’m glad it was intuitively the right choice.

Elsewhere/Rebecca, aka Rebecca Riggs-Bennett. Photo: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry

NL: You describe your music as “anxious electronica”, which I love. I admit, though, I’m only guessing what it means, so what is “anxious electronica”?
RRB:
Anxiety ebbs and flows like water for me, and I’m learning how to manage it better as each year passes. I really liked how the two words sounded together when I thought of it, and it definitely feels appropriate to the way that I produce when anxiety factors into my creativity. In a way, through choosing to focus on producing meditative or “beautiful” music, the genre has become a defiant rejection towards anxious feelings. I also really struggled to feel comfortable with my own “music” for a while, and releasing an album was important for me to overcome negative self-perceptions of my music.

NL: You’ve collaborated extensively with performing artists in theatre and dance… how did you first get involved in that scene? What do you enjoy about working on these projects?
RRB:
Talk about coming full circle, because “With Me, We Walk” choreographer Ellen Hope-Thomson was one of the first people I worked with in WA’s performing arts scene! She had a dance project on at Fringe World and needed a composer. A mutual friend joined us together, and now she’s become responsible for everything involving movement for “With Me, We Walk”. That happened halfway through studying sound production, and immediately I thought, “This is great, I want to keep doing this.”

I really love collaborating with artists as well as sound designing and composing for other people’s projects. Being able to witness the minds of creatives working really hard to make artworks come to life is such a privilege. I enjoy supporting the work through producing sonic designs, which in turn brings the work to life sensorially. If the work were a cake, design would be the icing.

NL: Even though restrictions have eased a lot, you’re sticking with your initial vision of an entirely digital album… why is that?
RRB:
The album is intentionally about the experience of being home day to day and trying to find comfort in different ways. I truly feel that this album works better to be listened to at home or in your own space rather than a bar or venue. While great in their own ways, those spaces do not serve the energy I’m trying to cultivate for listeners. I want people to have comfortable, intimate and individual experiences with the music.

It’s also very much about accessibility for me. Unfortunately, most album launches at venues and bars are inaccessible, whereas the benefit of this time is that so many “live” experiences have made their way into the digital realm. Because of this pandemic, there is now so much more opportunity for artists to create experiences that can be accessed globally. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever do a traditional album launch in a bar. With electronic music by itself there’s very little liveness, or authentic connection. That’s a factor as to why I feel uncomfortable on stage.

NL: I identify with that last sentiment, of feeling uncomfortable on stage – I studied dance but never wanted to be a performer although I loved (and still love) moving. How do you feel about live performance versus recording?
RRB:
I trained as an actor when I was a teenager, so it’s been fascinating analysing my own discomfort. I’ve seen that producers who perform live don’t often have just one element on stage with them. Some sing, some play with analogue synthesisers, some have live instrumentation, even if it’s also electronic. I’ve been writing and exploring spoken word poetry for the past year, so I began to integrate that into my live sets, because I could finally connect with the audience in front of me. Before that I was just pressing buttons, and I found it pretty hard to see myself as even remotely engaging on stage. But I still have to move through the deep and dense anxiety lake in order to prepare and perform a live set. Fingers crossed that one day this will change! In saying all that, it was awesome performing choreography for the album’s music videos… but that’s 100% due to Ellen and the safety net team of womxn on the project.

Photographer Susie Blatchford, choreographer Ellen-Hope Thomson and Rebecca Riggs-Bennett.

NL: The album launch was an interactive experience, involving listeners responding to spoken provocations from you that invited them to use movement to respond to the music… What gave you the idea to do this? And how did it play out?
RRB:
Ellen and I conjured the idea, partly because we needed a participant outcome as part of the brilliant Drug Aware YCulture Metro grant that we received to produce the album (thanks Propel Youth Arts!). We decided it during the thick of COVID-19 in WA, when we couldn’t be with more than two people at a time, so that uncertainty had a major impact on the idea and we stuck with it. Essentially we released a third of the album across three days, which also included spoken provocations co-written by Ellen and myself between each track. I had recorded myself introducing each track, talking a bit about where it had come from, and then I’d state a movement provocation for the listeners to engage with as they listened to each piece of music. Almost 40 people signed up and the response was incredibly generous. Participants shared their own real time thoughts and filmed movement responses online to us, which was magical to receive. Overall, it was very rewarding to connect with strangers and friends through our work.

NL: And choreographer Ellen Hope-Thomson will be using these responses as inspiration for the music video to accompany the final track… how did that idea come about?
RRB:
Ellen has recently been evolving her choreographic practice to specialise in autobiographical dance – dance that brings together unique stories and embodied perspectives to highlight universal perspectives and attitudes. This was perfect for what I wanted with the integration of dance and movement into the album, and I feel this has been embodied through my performances for our accompanying music videos so far. We wanted to push the album launch a little further by welcoming contributions from participants for the music video that will accompany the album’s final track, “The Gorgeous Nothing”. Ellen is currently choreographing from those contributions with local dancers Mitch Spadaro and Lauren Catellani. The music video will be out by the end of the month!

You can stream or purchase “With Me, We Walk” on Bandcamp.

Catch the music video for “The Gorgeous Nothing” later this August, on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram Videos for two of the other album tracks, “comfort” and “that feeling” are already available for viewing on these platforms.

Pictured top is Elsewhere/Rebecca. Photo: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked for over a decade as an arts writer and critic. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. Since July 2016 Nina has also been co-editor of Dance Australia magazine. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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