According to Megan Alice Clune, there’s a lot of “weird stuff” on her phone’s voice-record app.
“I was in a car park the other day,” says Clune, by way of example, “and I [recorded] these two street cleaners cleaning the concrete floor. The space was so resonant. It was an amazing sound.”
It’s hard to pin a label on Clune’s work. The 35-year-old Sydney musician, writer and sound artist recently returned to Australia after a period living in Tokyo. It was there she made her debut album, If You Do – an ambient-electro creation full of undulating, stylised vocals and synthesised sounds, largely inspired by noises Clune recorded in and around Tokyo. She’s now also curating the ambient-inspired Art After Dark at Galleria Campari music program for the Biennale of Sydney, which is open now and runs until Monday June 13.
Clune began her music career at the Victorian College of the Arts, where she studied clarinet. But by around 2012 – after her first “super tough, super competitive couple of years out of uni” – she decided that classical music wasn’t for her.
After a stint as a music writer (editing the now defunct World’s Only magazine and, at one time, writing for Broadsheet), Clune began curating music nights for the Elizabeth Bay gallery, Alaska Projects. It was there she found her way to ambient and experimental music.
“I got to meet a lot of artists,” she says. “Classical musicians, [but also] more experimental, electronic music producers and visual artists working in different mediums.”
From that melting pot Clune began working with musicians like American ambient composer Christina Vantzou, who taught her to write music without notation. “Instead of crotchets and quavers, [it] uses images and text to communicate ideas,” says Clune.
One of her first major collaborations was with the multi-instrument Alaska Orchestra, styled off early ambient acts like American sound artist La Monte Young and German electronic band Tangerine Dream. In 2018 Clune and Alaska Orchestra performed an arrangement of Brian Eno’s iconic ambient album, Music for Airports, during three sold-out performances at the Sydney Opera House. The piece was performed again in 2020 for the Opera House’s Digital Season.
Around 2013, Clune found her way into sound art. During a trip to New York, she visited La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s legendary 1960s sound and light installation, Dream House – now located in Tribeca since 1993 – and something clicked.
“It’s this completely immersive experience,” she says. “It’s kind of psychedelic. Your brain can’t quite compute having that many individual tones being that close together.”
The experience prompted Clune to explore binaural tones, leading to her 2015 sound installation, Relating to Deep Inward Thought Rather Than Intellect; or, This is What I'm Talking About. Meanwhile her 2020 installation, a living room, explored the connection between music and everyday objects, based around Erik Satie's 1917 composition, Furniture Music.
Now Clune is parlaying her expertise into Art After Dark, a three-month run of experimental, ambient and new classical performances by local NSW artists, held each Wednesday night at Galleria Campari, a pop-up bar at the Biennale. Curated alongside projection artist Carla Zimbler, it’s a bright spot on the calendar for artists coming off two years of pandemic-affected life.
“There’s a big mix of artists,” says Clune. “It’s been a very tough time for the music industry. It’s also been hard for experimental music in Sydney. It’s taken a long time for shows to start up again.”
The program will include performances by musicians like Alexandra Spence, who performs with field recordings and everyday objects, and viola artist Mara Schwerdtfeger, who also collaborates with Clune in the Alaska Orchestra.
Clune will also perform her own improvised piece at the Biennale on Wednesday May 18, based around this year’s theme of rīvus.
“I really like [that] the Biennale are highlighting the community around art-making,” says Clune. “It’s not so much about solo artists and the vision of one person; it’s about how things are interconnected. Which feels very timely.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Campari. Catch Megan Alice Clune and Carla Zimbler’s Art After Dark program at Galleria Campari every Wednesday at 6pm during the Biennale of Sydney.