SMN received an Australia Council New Media Grant for ‘Whippy’, a one-off performance in the Sydney CBD city block circling George, Pitt, Bathurst and Park Streets adjacent to Town Hall. The pivotal focus of the piece was the orchestration of sounds from three Mr Whippy vans and there theme tune "Greensleeves".
SMN took a multi-disciplinary approach to heighten the senses of sound and the rhythm of this well-known and highly frequented city block. ‘Whippy’ transformed this Sydney CBD city block into an orchestration of sounds derived and guided by the nature from the city space by using pedestrians carrying hidden devices activating sounds, mobile phones with ringing jingles, muzak piped through shops, buskers, children with musical toys, random car alarms, a convoy of ten cars with blaring speakers and the Mr Whippy vans circling the city block with a newly composed and manipulated version of the tune “Greensleeves”. To complement the mayhem typical of this particular city block performers played out the characters of hawkers, street eccentrics, religious fanatics, pamphlet distributors and sign bearers all delivering humorous SMN witticisms.
‘Whippy’ created a new perspective by its comprehensive manipulation of recognisable popular culture noise and tunes, and existing familiarities in this urban environment. ‘Whippy’ irony and humour confronted a desensitised culture, an audience made up from people who were either commuting, eating or meeting in this CBD city block and are constantly exposed to the extremes of the city.
Some of the most successful moments of the project were the spontaneous reactions and participation from the unknowing public and the happenings that characterise this particular city block. For example, the SMN planted Mormons went unnoticed walking alongside real Mormons and the Elvis impersonator, who was spotted in the area at the time, was attributed to the performance. The hardware store sign bearers were mistaken to be SMN performers even though they were carrying placards next to the SMN sign bearers because their placards featured the word ‘Screw’, which coincidentally is the title of SMN CD from 1997. There was also a humorous altercation between the bus driver and performers using the mobile telephones ringing the tune of ‘Greensleeves’ after the performance continued on a bus leaving the CBD block.
By heightening the sense of sounds in the CBD block SMN was able to successfully include the public through the presentation of multiple versions of ‘Greensleeves’. The song piped through the Woolworth’s supermarket and was cut up with price checks and security warnings. It was echoed outside where the tune was playing over and over by planted buskers who mixed strangely with the planted street eccentric (a famous street person who lived on the streets of inner Sydney) dancing around the street with boom box in hand playing a recording of ‘Greensleeves’. This culminated in the presentation of multiple detuned versions blaring from the convoy of cars and Mr Whippy vans ultimately synonymous with “Greensleeves”. The site’s uniqueness within the city district therefore allowed the general public to be active participants in ‘Whippy’ whether they realised it or not.
‘Whippy’ was assisted by the Australia Council of the Arts. SMN also thanks Scott Horscroft for sound production, and Ed Kavalee and the Sydney University Drama Society (SUDS). Photographic documentation by Ricky Cox, Damian Dillon and Cherine Fahd.