Jack Prest’s The Risk of Hyperbole is such an engaging, expansive interdisciplinary work that it feels like scaling a sonic mountain to get a full view. What always comes through, though, is the clarity of his vision and the freedom with which he shares it with his collaborators. While this is Prest’s work, it has the fingerprints of many musicians, artists, dancers, and more. Underlying all of it, though, is a conduit for emotional connection. From the music to the visuals, everything comes together in ways that connect with listeners and create space to feel it deeply. The Risk of Hyperbole is a true wonder.
I always like to go back to the beginning to start interviews. With that, can you tell me about some of your earliest memories of music and sound? Are there any experiences or songs that were formative at a young age and have stuck with you?
Actually, my first memory is of being in a music class. I have this memory from when I’m about 3 or 4 of sitting up the back of this hall and just watching everything unfold. My Mum later told me that she needed something for me to do as my older brother had started school and my younger brother was a newborn, so she put me in these classes, so middle child syndrome came in handy for something, I guess hahaha.
Was there a particular piece of music or experience that first opened your ears to more ‘out there’ experimental sounds?
That’s a tough one as my pursuit of experimental sounds comes more from an interest in conceptual art than music, seeing music as a tool for exploring and expressing concepts… but looking back… in my early teens, I loved listening to Primus, which I think really just opened up this strange world of virtuosic bizarro music, they didn’t seem to have any rules around what they did, this bleeding into things like Funkadelic, The Residents, Zappa, Eno, etc. got me super interested in the fact that the boundaries of sound and music are pretty much infinite. More recently, I saw Ryoji Ikeda perform Supersymmetry in 2015/16, which pretty much melted my brain in a very inspiring way.
Did you always want to be a musician?
Pretty much, I’ve always really been captivated by the space that sound can create, its universality, and its transportive nature. I feel like it was inevitable that creating music and sound would be an important part of my life; the fact I’ve been able to make a career doing this is a huge bonus.
So I really want to focus on The Risk of Hyberbole because it’s such a massive, monumental piece of work in my mind that continues to excite and move me. Can you tell me a little about where this piece’s idea was first hatched?
For sure! It was born out of another project of mine called Future Love Hangover, which was a kind of art pop sci-fi interdisciplinary thing. I’d been running that as a passion project off and on for about 10 years, and after I finished the last FLH album in 2018, I felt like it needed to evolve. Really I wanted to make a movie (I still do…), but I was doing a lot of work as a composer for dance and experimental theatre, so I decided I wanted to bring the same music-driven interdisciplinary concepts into a theatre/performance art space. I was then lucky enough to spend a week in Paris with my collaborators Joe Wilson and Chanelle Collier (who were in residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts), and we started figuring out what that theatre show might be. While in Paris, I saw a Ryoji Ikeda/Hiroshi Sugimoto production at the Paris Opera (which was as good as it sounds). During the intermission, I was captivated by the stagehands removing the set one section at a time. It was a weird utilitarian ballet. This triggered the beginning of a two-year creative process that ultimately became The Risk Of Hyperbole.
Was it always conceived as a trilogy?
Not at all, actually, as it was initially conceived as a live performance work. I had thought maybe I would release an album as well, but I wasn’t really sure. Then after I did the recording sessions for the performance, I had so much amazing material it ended up being 1, then 2, then 3 albums, hahaha. I felt it was important to give all the music its own space and life so that I didn’t end up using a piece of music in the show just because I liked it and not because it was necessary.
What was the process like in the studio once the pieces were composed? And how did those sessions, then, get transformed into what we hear on the releases?
The studio process was very free-flowing and improvised. I had pre-made a whole bunch of compositional sketches and sonic textures, some preset and others in Ableton sessions, to enable me to perform them live. I then got the musicians to respond to those through a series of improvisational tasks and graphic scores. Almost everything was done in a single take. From there, it was a bit of a mixture of how the post-production process went. As an engineer, I like to record things how I want them to sound, so I tracked a bunch of live effects and processing and some tracks, then hit the album almost entirely unedited with some slight mixing. Others though (especially on Vol.1 and 3), were more chopping up loops of the recordings and carving them into their final form.
The list of collaborators on The Risk of Hyperbole is wonderfully overwhelming – there are a lot of fantastic artists involved across disciplines (especially thinking about the live performance you premiered in late 2021 – but more on that in a minute!). Can you talk a little bit about how the collaborative processes helped elevate and expand the nature of this work? And how the input and expertise from these other artists helped push your own practice and approach?
I’m really humbled when I think about the amazing talent involved in this project. The musicians like Claire, Jason, and Freya are some of the best in the country for classical art music, and Ben, Nick, and Dave, who are long-time collaborators, are absolute guns. The musicians’ input was absolutely essential to the albums, and their abilities enabled me to work in the highly improvised and instinctual way that fit the concept for the compositional process. And as you’ve said, that’s before I even get to the performance where Azzam, Joe, and Chanelle contributed enormously to the work. As co-creators, they really brought their own practices into the work, providing me with amazing material to shape and direct. It was my first time working on a project of this size as a lead artist and director, and that really pushed my practice dealing with all these elements and pulling them together into something cohesive and emotional but also entertaining. I really enjoyed the challenge and am currently planning the next show!
What were some of the biggest challenges with creating these works?
For me, the hardest thing was I wanted it to be progressive and experimental, but I also wanted it to be entertaining. Sometimes experimental stuff can kind of forget about the emotional connection with an audience and feel somewhat alienating, which is cool and actually its whole own concept with equal merit, but it wasn’t what I was trying to achieve. I really wanted the audience to have an emotional release with this work, something cathartic and meditative that meant something personal to them but was also fun!
So you premiered the whole thing back in November 2021 – a video I was thrilled to premiere on Foxy Digitalis last year. Talk to me about pulling that performance together, especially tying the non-sonic aspects into it. Were those aspects – such as Joe Wilson and Chanelle Collier’s artwork and dancer Azzam Mohamed – part of your original conception as you composed The Risk of Hyperbole, or were these additional elements you wanted to incorporate into the performance? How did working across disciplines with those artists help inform or perhaps alter this work? It’s such a tremendous performance – I kind of just want to know all the gory details – ha!
Hahaha, thanks again for the premiere! It really meant a lot that you enjoyed the work so much! For me, the interdisciplinary nature of the work was really at its core, so it didn’t so much alter the work as it was a part of its foundation. I knew before even starting the process that I wanted to make a music performance that was interwoven with dance and visual art, but it was an organic development process that led to the final form. We even had some of Joe and Chanelle’s objects in the studio while we recorded and did an improvised performance in the studio on the last day of the recording sessions (which was actually really formative for the final show). In fact, on Vol. 1, you can hear the sounds of Azzam dancing and breathing and the sounds of Joe and Chanelle moving the objects around.
As I mentioned earlier, the initial development was collaborative with Joe and Chanelle, where we played with them installing and uninstalling objects while I improvised with ambient music. At that stage, we actually worked with a dancer, Jasminka Stenz, who was excellent, but for me, I was interested in bringing in a little more spectacle, which led me to Azzam. Azzam then spent a week (with choreographic consultant Martin Del Amo) creating movement language for the work while Joe and Chanelle further developed the objects at their studio before we all came together in the rehearsal room to piece it all together. Having already completed the score at this point, I was constantly going back and forth with the team, refining ideas, going over videos, and honing everything into the final vision. Although I see the work as being true to my vision for the performance, they 100% brought their own energy and artistic vision to the project.
Specifically, I wanted to ask about Azzam Mohamed because I was totally taken by his performance and how he was able to heighten the movement of the piece to new levels. Have you written music specifically for dance before? What was your approach for these sections – i.e., did you and Azzam talk specifics, or was it more of you creating this wonderful groove and letting him do his thing?
Man totally! Azzam is such an incredible performer. I’ve worked as a composer for dance for around 10 years or so, and Azzam and I actually met while I was composing for another show called Two Crews by Australian choreographer Nick Power. During that process, we were doing a lot of improvising in the studio, and he just responded so well to all the offers I made. So when I was thinking of someone to work with for this show, he was a natural choice.
To begin with, I just picked a bunch of the material from the recordings (still in demo-ish form) and sent them to Azzam, and he created a movement language. Then once we got into the final development and rehearsal, I would work more directly helping shape the structure of the choreography while still providing him with the freedom to do his thing. This kind of sums up my process as a collaborative creator, really. Give your collaborator the widest possible scope to begin with, and then tighten that up the further down the process you get. I feel like this meant with Azzam, we got the full scope and majesty of his dance and choreography, but that also a choreography that ebbed and flowed with what the performance needed.
What’s the story behind the name, The Risk of Hyperbole, anyway?
For me making this work is conceptually about feeling rather than meaning. I wanted the audience to have an emotional experience, something transcendent and meditative, rather than communicate any theme or message. Chatting to my partner (who studied art history), she said it reminded her of The Sublime, which resonated hugely with me as I find that era of abstract art, especially Rothko, so inspiring. In The Sublime movement, it was about representing nothing in the post-nuclear war world. For me, making this work in 2019 was a reaction to a post-truth world. The only way for me to make something truthful was to avoid meaning altogether, so The Risk Of Hyperbole (important to point out it’s not AT The Risk of Hyperbole, but the actual risk related to Hyperbole). It also just kind of sounded cool… hahaha.
What’s the future of The Risk of Hyperbole?
After Vol. 2 is the release of Vol. 3 – Movement (which delves into the more beat-based experimental club side of the performance), which will either be late this year or early next year. I’m also putting together a mini tour in Australia for October to present the music from Vol.2 and am hoping to remount the full performance either later in 2023 or in 2024.
And speaking of the future, the second volume is on its way on March 31st, which is exciting. What comes next?
Yeah, very exciting! Super keen to see this out in the world. There is also a short film on the way for the single “Prophecy,” which I directed and am super excited about! I’ve also been continuing to work with Azzam on several projects and have just started developing the next performance called Discovery Engine, which melds plainchant with 80s power ballads, haha.