Amplified Elephants

Lawrie Horner
Summary 
I met the band the Amplified Elephants and their artistic director James Hullick. James started the band six years ago from an arts program for people with an intellectual disability. I went and watched the band practice at the Footscray Community Arts Centre. There was laughter and jokes. It was wonderful. James says the band is popular because they have an honest and open relationship with their audience. They have a new CD that will be available in January. The Amplified Elephants will play shows in November at Federation Square. All the shows are free and wheelchair accessible.
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Lawrie Horner on 07/11/2012
Keyboard player during a live performance, spotlights shining on instruments.
Amplified Elephants

An ensemble of experimental sound artists.

I met the experimental music band the Amplified Elephants to talk with them and their artistic director James Hullick. The Amplified Elephants will play at Federation Square in November and all shows are free and wheelchair accessible.

The Amplified Elephants sound

The Amplified Elephants' new CD The Howling Sound will be available in January on the X-alt Label, which is part of Jolt Arts.

I listened to the CD. I heard a deep reverberating rumble, a wind machine, discordant bells, foreboding uncanny whistling, a discordant keyboard holding a chord. The sound is spare, weird, peculiar, other-worldly and dark.

Who are the Amplified Elephants?

The Amplified Elephants are a ten-piece ensemble of sound artists or experimental musicians. They are acclaimed in the media and have performed at major Melbourne venues.

Artistic director James Hullick is an internationally trained musician. He put together the Amplified Elephants six years ago, using clients who are part of the Footscray Community Arts Centre's Artlife Program. The program is for people with intellectual disabilities.

Meeting the group

I met the Amplified Elephants at the Footscray Community Arts Centre and spoke over lunch with keyboard players Liz Hofbauer and Robyn McGrath. Liz is inspired by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the 60s. Robyn had elephants on her bag, photos of elephants in a magazine, and even an elephant brooch on her shirt. Both are looking forward to playing concerts at Federation Square in November.

In a rehearsal room after lunch, the Amplified Elephants sat in a row near where their keyboards were set up. There was laughter and jokes as they waited for James. James entered and there were more laughs, applause and trumpeting. The atmosphere was wonderful.

Life-changing

For James, the experience of the Amplified Elephants has been life-changing. When the band started they just wanted to play in a Footscray café. Now they have a recording contract and have played big venues. My arts practice wouldn't be what it is without the Amplified Elephants, says James.

I ask James what makes the Amplified Elephants different.

They have an immediate, honest and open relationship with their audience. They don't hide anything, says James.

The band's not about individuals but about group problem solving. They have a sense of wonder and freshness with the sounds. They are very generous with each other and there's no need to manage personalities.

The music is written by the Amplified Elephants. James says, Pieces arise from improvisations. The workshop process is uninhibited. There are no concerns about who wrote what.

James says the band has a contagious energy and loves that the Amplified Elephants take the music so seriously.

The upcoming concerts

James says when the Amplified Elephants perform at concerts the music is purposefully minimalist with simple repeated sounds.

It will encourage the audience to listen. The community personality will come out. There will be cluster blocks of sound from the chamber orchestra and the Amplified Elephants.

The set will have a science fiction feel and will look like a space ship and there will be video projections.

I put the question to James of how people react to the Amplified Elephants.

One man wept. He walked in off the street at the last Fed Square show and there were tears running down his face. He found our music so confronting.

The Amplified Elephants are playing free concerts from 12 to 23 November. For more information call 9362 8882, www.clickclackproject.org .

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