Liquid Architecture: In the Beginning

Simon Sellars Music & sound art

The first LA flyer, 2000 (designed by Daniel New)

I was recently asked about my involvement in the Liquid Architecture festival, so I thought I’d explain it here. Liquid Architecture originated in 2000 at RMIT University when I was working at RMIT’s Union Arts as their special events officer. My brief was to devise arts events that would showcase the talents of RMIT students. I knew of the ((tRansMIT)) student sound collective, led by Melbourne sound artist Nat Bates, so I decided to set up a festival promoting ((tRansMIT)) alongside special guests Ollie Olsen and Philip Brophy.

But I’m not responsible for Liquid Architecture as it stands today — that’s the result of the hard work of Nat, who co-produced the first year with me. Nat, as Artistic Director (along with his various colleagues including Bruce Mowson, Lawrence English and Sue Jones) grew the festival to the point where it attracts top-line international guests, while still holding true to the promotion of local talent. I’m amazed that he’s managed to transform our original student-driven initiative into a state-funded, national festival.

My contribution to Liquid Architecture can be summed up like this: I suggested it to the RMIT Union Arts bosses; I named it (see below); I invited Nat to co-produce it; I suggested the half lecture/half performance model; and I was only around for that first year, although Nat invited me back on a very part-time basis in 2004 and 2005 to redesign their web site and catalogue. I in turn rehired LA’s original graphic artist Daniel New, and we worked collaboratively on the festival’s visual image during those two years.

LA6 poster: the iceberg, Daniel’s idea, was a literal (and clever) interpretation of the “liquid architecture” concept.

Why “liquid architecture”? I vaguely knew of the term from the work of Marcus Novak, who used it to define “a fluid, imaginary landscape that only exists in the digital domain”, although when I borrowed the term, I was thinking more of Kodwo Eshun and his article Liquid Dystopia, about Drexciya. Eshun wrote, “Drexciya fictionalize frequencies into sound pictures of unreal environments — what Kraftwerk termed tone films — not filled with cars, bikes or trains but rather UAOs, soundcrafts”.

For me, the “architecture” part seemed appropriate in that the sound artists we were promoting were designing sonic environments, sonic structures (not “only in the digital domain”, by the way)…spliced with Eshun, and you get “liquid architecture”.

— Simon Sellars, 2007

Here’s the text of the original program for Liquid Architecture 1:


7pm, Sunday April 16, 2000
Part One: Liquid Dystopia

Undead & machine-translated performances by the ((tRansMIT)) sound collective. With special guest PHILIP BROPHY; short films between performances; and VJs playing video tag-team throughout.

Evolutions and mutations… future directions in experimental electronica…

6pm, Monday April 17, 2000
Part Two: Liquid Crystal

“A History of Electronic Music”, presented by OLLIE OLSEN – a mapping of early experiments through to the warped extremes of the 21st century. Followed by a screening of the acclaimed documentary Theremin. With ((tRansMIT)) presentations by Abi Crompton and Nat Bates, inviting you into the neon-lit recesses of their Sonic Laboratories.

Articles I’ve written about the festival: