Sydney Morning Herald MAY 28, 2009 - by Katrina Lobley


With the inimitable Brian Eno in charge of the program, Luminous is set to ignite the sails.

Richard Evans knew he was onto something when, at his daughter's weekend soccer match, Luminous was suddenly the hot topic among parents on the sidelines.

The Sydney Opera House's inaugural mid-year music festival, curated by Brian Eno, kicked off this week and culminates on June 14 with a concert featuring the renowned musician, producer and artist collaborating with other Luminous artists.

Luminous is part of Vivid Sydney, a festival that will transform the city centre into a canvas of music and light for three weeks.

"Everyone seems to be talking about the fact Eno is coming, which is great," the Opera House chief executive, Evans, says.

"To be able to launch a new festival like this with someone of the calibre of Brian is such a thrill for me."

Eno was already negotiating to bring his ever-changing image and sound installation, 77 Million Paintings, to the Opera House as part of Smart Light Sydney (a Vivid Sydney program focusing on light art) when he became the "obvious choice" for curating Luminous.

Although Eno would have carte blanche to shape the inaugural program as he saw fit, it still wasn't an easy sell, says Evans.

"When we approached him, it took a bit of discussion - he's never been to Australia, he's averse to flying long distances on environmental grounds - but he definitely saw the opportunity of doing something that'll be the biggest festival of its type in the southern hemisphere," Evans says.

"I think if it had just been a music festival, he would have said no."

While Eno's musical program is far-reaching, incorporating everyone from British electro-popsters Ladytron to reggae innovator Lee 'Scratch' Perry, his program also emphasises ideas.

Eno will open the festival tomorrow with a keynote address, perform with neuroscientist and sci-fi writer David Eagleman on June 6 and be "in conversation" with composer, trumpeter and friend Jon Hassell on June 7.

"He's going to be in and around here for the whole period so people who are real Brian Eno fans will find there's a sporting chance to meet him," Evans says. If they don't stumble across Eno, fans can satisfy themselves viewing 77 Million Paintings (on show in The Studio for free) or Eno's lighting of the Opera House sails for the entire festival period.

Fortunately, Eno was also keen to include Australian artists in his program. "The really cool thing for us is that it's not just a whole lot of international bands flying in and flying out - he's really committed to Australian acts, too," Evans says.

Australian support acts are Palace Of Fire (with ex-Wolfmother members) supporting Battles on May 30-31, Lola Lovina (Rachid Taha, June 1), Pivot (Ladytron, June 3), the Crooked Fiddle Band (Damien Dempsey, June 5), the Alister Spence Trio (Jon Hassell And Maarifa Street, June 6), Sine (Lee 'Scratch' Perry, June 11) and Watussi (Seun Kuti And Egypt 80, June 12).

Luminous will also reach beyond the Opera House - to the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta - which will host Rachid Taha (described as "Algeria's answer to Johnny Cash") on June 4 and Seun Kuti, son Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, on June 11.

Finally, there's the sprawling Luminous concert final. The trio of ninety-minute concerts on June 14 (starting at 5pm, 7.30pm, 9.45pm) has Eno joining forces with Underworld's Karl Hyde, guitarist Leo Abrahams, synthesist Jon Hopkins and Australia's The Necks. While the first concert will feature a planned sequence of events, the following two will be more like spontaneous adventures in sight and sound.

Electronica wunderkind Hopkins admits he doesn't yet know what he'll be doing in the finale but over the past five years he's become familiar enough with Eno to take it in his stride. The pair met through a mutual friend and ended up jamming together. Eno liked Hopkins's sound so much he asked him to help produce Coldplay's hit Viva La Vida album (a reworked version of Hopkins's Light Through The Veins tune bookends the disc).

This work led to Coldplay asking Hopkins to open for them in venus as far-flung as New York's Madison Square Garden and Tokyo's Saitama Super Arena.

"I thought they were joking at first," recalls the twenty-nine-year-old Londoner. "I'd never played in America before and the first big show was in America. People doing strange music like me don't usually get to play crowds like that."

Hopkins's "strange music", which will also be heard at three stand-alone gigs at the Opera House on June 6 and 7, mashes walls of synth with delicate traces of beat-boxing, drums and piano.

The unusual blend is the product of a somewhat schizophrenic musical upbringing: Hopkins was a piano prodigy who fell big time for the allure of electronica.

"I like the fact with electronic music you're not just creating compositions but entire worlds of sound - and sounds that have never been heard before. It's like an entire new world," he says.