Sydney Morning Herald MARCH 20, 2009 - by Garry Maddox


The Opera House will be the laboratory for a music and art experiment, writes Garry Maddox.

For a musician and multimedia artist who has never been to Australia, Brian Eno is about to have a big impact on Sydney's artistic landscape.

The former member of Roxy Music, ambient performer and producer of U2, Coldplay and Talking Heads is curating an adventurous program of music, performances and talks at the Opera House for the first Vivid Sydney festival in May.

Launched by the Premier, Nathan Rees, yesterday, Vivid Sydney has been created by Events NSW as an autumn and winter festival of music, ideas, images and performance.

Focusing on an eclectic range of creative work, the three-week event promises to energise The Rocks, Circular Quay, the city centre and Opera House with public art and performances.

Eno's creative influence will be everywhere around the city's most iconic building during Luminous, Vivid's music program. His most obvious work will be lighting the sails with a constantly changing "free-form painting" throughout the festival. Inside, Eno's installation 77 Million Paintings, which has been described as visual music, will take over the Studio.

As the curator of Luminous, he has programmed such diverse performers as the New York alternative band Battles, the vocalist and Sydney Festival highlight Reggie Watts, the British electro-pop group Ladytron, the trumpeter Jon Hassell, the electronic musician Jon Hopkins, the reggae artist Lee 'Scratch' Perry, the Irish singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey and the Algerian-French musician Rachid Taha.

The Australian band the Necks will collaborate with Back to Back Theatre, performers with disabilities who won over audiences with Small Metal Objects at the Sydney Festival in 2007, for a show called Food Court, and the so-called cosmic musician Laraaji will run meditation and laughter workshops ("dress comfortably and come ready to laugh").

Eno, who will also appear "in conversation" with various performers and collaborate on a final concert called Pure Scenius, described the Luminous artists as defying obvious categorisation.

"What I like to do is a kind of chemical experiment, where I think this is a promising ingredient, and that's a good catalyst, and this is a good context, there's a nice base, and I like to put them together and see what happens," he said.

"There will be a bunch of very interesting people from a lot of different areas of art and music and thinking, and the possibility of putting those people together in one place, keeping them there, and seeing how they reacted with one another was what really interested me."

Vivid, which runs from May 26 to June 14, includes three further programs:

*Fire Water, a free event billed as "three nights of flame, food and spectacle" in The Rocks. A highlight will be a recreation of the spectacular burning of the convict ship Three Bees, which sank in Sydney Cove in 1814 while carrying thirty kegs of gunpowder.

*Smart Light Sydney, featuring light art installations from Australian and international artists and designers. It includes a Light Walk from Sydney Observatory to the Opera House and LED lighting on the Harbour Bridge.

*Creative Sydney, a "festival of ideas" that includes seminars and small-scale performances on the creative industries. It features a Creatives Futures Conference and the naming of one hundred "creative catalysts" in Sydney.

The Opera House's chief executive, Richard Evans, called Eno "one of the most extraordinary artists of our generation" and expected the city would be buzzing during the festival.

"The evenings are going to be amazing," he said. "People are going to be wandering around looking at the different Smart Light installations.

"And [the Opera House is] being completely lit up - it's a generative artwork so it will look completely different all the time - so I think there'll be a tonne of people around Circular Quay and the Harbour area coming to look at that. On top of that, we've got multi-layers of performances that will happen... Another dozen Australian bands will come in and some more internationals."

The chief executive of Events NSW, Geoff Parmenter, described Vivid as "a purpose-built festival event on a large scale designed to demonstrate that Sydney is the creative capital of Australia". As well as providing public entertainment, much of it free, it was intended to attract tourists.