In Depth: Get to know Red Gum
Premiering at Colour Club via ‘Inner Bloom’ last week, Red Gum is a visual-audio collaboration created in response to an electronic track produced by Diamond Lee a.k.a Millennium Mambo. The film was choreographed and improvised by Samakshi Sidhu, and filmed and directed by Maxine Zanoni.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Diamond, Samakshi and Maxine about the project and got an in-depth look at the eight-and-a-half-minute masterpiece. Enjoy!
Firstly, please introduce yourselves and how the three of you began to start collaborating together.
D: Hey there! I am Diamond and I made the music and directed this collaboration. This project started out as an ‘I don’t know what to do’ uni project as it was free choice. I knew Samakshi by their name and through their dance cohort as I’m friendly with most of them. On a whim, I texted them at 2am on a Tuesday morning if they wanted to work and that’s how it started!
S: Hello! I am Samakshi, the dancer from this project. I’m currently in my last year studying dance at VCA. Diamond and I knew each other through common friends from my cohort and he reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in a collaboration and I said yes.
M: Hi! I’m Maxine and I filmed Red Gum. I met Diamond through my partner. We were out for drinks one night and he started telling me about the song he was making and how he wanted to do an audio-visual collaboration with a dancer. He said “I just need to find someone to film” and I said “I’ll do it!”
What made this project come about? Tell us about the creative process.
D: At first, I wanted to do a live jam with electronics working on the floor with Samaksh. Then I realised it’s not possible for me as I didn’t have the equipment to achieve what I wanted. A laptop and a midi keyboard could possibly have worked in this context but there’s too much latency involved. So the process was just me coming into the dance studio with Samakshi with a new demo every week. The demo was refined each week with Samakshi’s feedback and in turn I gave Samakshi notes on what I wanted to achieve for the choreography. We both lay out the intentions for the piece at the start. I allowed Samakshi the freedom to improvise and choreograph movements at any given moment within the music as it is the most natural way for me to work - to let things be.
S: The process was very fluid in nature. Rehearsals mostly consisted of Diamond and I jamming together, he would come to the studio with a section of the music he wanted me to respond to, and without much conversation beforehand I would improvise. We usually debriefed details of energetic state, conceptual ideas and particular movement scores post the improv. Though I do love the idea of movement being derived from a concept, the simple marriage of movement meeting sound and in this case Diamond meeting me was very special. There was full freedom to explore myself within Diamond’s sound, as well as influence his way of music making.
The choice of music, movement and camera angles really tell a story, was there a story or in particular, you wanted to project?
M: I think when you’re creating any visual counterpart for music, there has to be a story for it to be engaging. For me, Red Gum is about the journey from tranquillity to fury. When I first heard the song (which was a fairly different version from the final track), I immediately felt there were these distinct sonic sections that had vastly different tone and feeling to them. It starts with this diegetic ambient noise - rainfall and drawn out synths. This is very blue to me, and the movement I associate with that is still and intimate. The song transitions to be more glitchy and sporadic - so naturally a matrix-green came to mind. We end on a deep red as the song intensifies, and the movement (both dance and camera) match this energy. So we really relied on lighting to tell that story.
D: For me personally, the story comes out throughout the process. There was no story from the start but it came together as we refined the music, the dance, choreography and actually finding a space to film. When I was talking to Maxine about the cinematography for “Red Gum”, we referred to Christopher Doyle a lot. He collaborated with Wong Kar Wai and made movies like “Chungking Express”, “Happy Together”, “Fallen Angels” etc. His camera work is wonky and out of the pocket, but they tell a very natural story, by focusing on the faces, the movements of the body and putting characters into a space and letting the characters interact within the space through their own pace and feeling. So the story comes naturally through circumstance, with the space and Samakshi!
Diamond, I want to ask you about your music, what inspired you or influenced you to make these beautiful elongated soundscapes?
D: That’s a big question and a tough one to answer! I am very much influenced by the city and natural soundscapes. I usually seek inspiration through walking around nature and the city and observing the sonics of their environment. I find a lot of music within ambiences and I hope that reflects and comes out in my music. In terms of musical influences, I am very much inspired by the works of Malibu, Yves Tumor, and Varg2tm. They just have a way of combining beautiful soundscapes with noisy, club influenced sounds. Very very inspiring for me whenever I listen to their works.
The cinematography is transcendent and compliments the movement so beautifully, tell me how you two worked so well together?
M: It was a pretty natural thing! We met up once to do a rehearsal, where I just sat and watched Samakshi improvise. Then I followed her around the space and filmed on my phone to get a feel for it. We approached it with the mindset that we were both dancing together - cinematography is practically dancing!
S: Maxine and I only met once for a rehearsal before shooting, and we both agreed that we wanted to stay in the state of improvisation and apart from a few cues that were set, our main intention was to flow together. We naturally had a great flow and we were able to sense each other proprioceptively. It felt like we were dancing together.
Samakshi, when did you become involved with dance and what influences led you to how you perform now?
S: That’s a big question! I started dancing when I was 3 or 4, I’ve done a range from commercial dancing, Indian classical, ballet and contemporary and also have a big interest in performance art. My teachers and the music and dance from my time in India and Israel have been a big influence. More recently, having been in Melbourne for the last 2 years, the dance scene here has definitely had an influence on me. More specifically at this point I am highly influenced by the idea of following your instincts and finding a state of flow, as well as how I as a movement artist can aid the natural world.
How important do you think mixing three different forms of art is? What would you say is the best thing about it?
D: I would say there are no differences between music, dance and cinema. And I can say this with every other art form. Everything is interconnected with one another and it’s not about how technical you are with the medium and how well you execute them. It’s all about your intention and the feeling you want to express. I’d say it’s much more important to explore other forms of art expression outside of your main medium, from there you can take those perspectives and put it into your practice. And that’s what this collaboration is all about. Learning and taking in from others.
M: I say this a lot, but film in itself relies on mixing art forms. Film would be nothing without actors, without music, without fashion, without writing! The best thing is you get all these different perspectives because each person is tuned into their one little niche area for the sake of a bigger idea, which is really cute and beautiful to me.
S: I’d say it’s very important for interdisciplinary collaborations to happen. Because we come from such different mediums, everyone added their own take to this project. We had the privilege of different viewpoints, and that’s one of the most important things in my opinion. I want to be in a room full of people who don’t think like me, and that’s what we had here. Diamond, Maxine and I got different ideas for the same project and were able to mold those ideas together. That’s my absolute favourite thing about a collaboration.
Maxine, what got you into filming and directing?
M: I started directing at 18, which felt like a natural progression from photography. What was special about this project for me was the fact that I also shot it. I’ve never had the opportunity to be behind the camera, yet it’s something I've always been drawn to. Even when I direct, I am very much a visual director, with lots of camera notes - so getting the chance to hold and operate the camera was very cool.
What further projects do you three have up your sleeves, whether that individual or together?
S: I’m currently finishing uni this year, which takes up a lot of time. I'm about to start the creation process for a new work I want to choreograph and showcase at the end of the year. I am also dancing in a friend's work for the Fringe festival.
D: I might have DJing gigs coming up in Naarm/Melbourne? But it’s all in the grey at the moment. I might also be DJing in Penang and Kuala Lumpur for my friend’s exhibition when I go back and visit in July. I’m also thinking about doing an EP under Millennium Mambo.
M: I'm currently in post for another music video, that probably won’t release until September or so. Otherwise I'm hoping to get back into photography, as I think I've been missing that lately.