Soundscape artist James Pinker and artist Natalie Tozer are getting together in a project to celebrate innovative creative space LOT23. Adam Gifford reports

"I don't do retro," says James Pinker. "I've always wanted to push forward. I don't see any point in looking back."

That's why you won't see him behind the drum kit for occasional revivals of The Features, one of the most angular and spiky bands to emerge from Auckland's brief punk flurry.

Dead Can Dance can dance without him, but he has moved on without ever losing interest in making a noise.

That's why he's supplying the soundscape for next Friday's installation by artist Natalie Tozer at LOT23, If this then that.

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The performance is to mark the second birthday of the Eden Tce gallery/performance space/film and video studio.

It's a space he and partner Lisa Reihana use often, as Tozer's husband Sam Tozer was director of photography for Reihana's In Pursuit of Venus (infected). Pinker has the soundscape credit on that work as well, along with Sean Cooper.

Then there's Holiwater, a project with Tom Bailey, Vikash and Prabash Maharaj now in its 10th year which aims to focus attention on the sustainable management of water through music and film.

With Tim Gruchy he is Haptic, which played its space music/ambient dub alongside the SCOUT installation in the Britomart Quarter during last month's ArtWeek.

"Not many people realise I still make music and do a lot of audio as well as being a curator," says Pinker, whose day job is overseeing Auckland Council's galleries in South Auckland.

Pinker rates the sound system at LOT23 as one of the best he has heard, which makes working there all the more enjoyable.

"Very early on I realised I wanted to be a sound engineer and a producer more than I wanted to be a drummer, and spent years trying to do that," he says.

Unlike now, when former bandmates are teaching polytech courses in sound engineering, there were no lessons available back at the turn of the 80s. You had to get into a studio somehow and learn.

"I fell in love with the studio the first time I went in one. It was Harlequin Studios in Mt Eden with Doug Rogers. I went in with Jed Town to do [Features song] What's Going On. Then hearing albums, some of the English productions I was hearing, no records made here ever sounded as good, even if they were done on the same equipment. It was that X factor, how do you get that sound? Records like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Sex Pistols' album, Joy Division - when you hear Martin Hannett, you realise it's just on another level. I'm not a super-highly trained musician, so I just had to get into it and pretend, and a lot of that experimental stuff, you just teach yourself."

In the early 80s The Features made their way across the Tasman, where former Scavenger Brendan Perry asked Pinker to drum in his new band, Dead Can Dance. With fellow Feature, the late Karel van Bergen, he then hooked up with Pukekohe-raised Graeme Revell in pioneering industrial music outfit SPK.

"I had a high-quality cassette recorder and high-quality mic, and we used to go into junkyards and abandoned factories around Sydney and I'd beat on bits of metal with my father's hammer and we'd put a synth on top of that," he says.

SPK's experiments in metal percussion were seized on by many of the bands they encountered when they went to England and the United States.

"For the American tour we did a lot of metal percussion. In each town we'd spend the morning in junkyards getting old drums and pipes to use for the evening's performance."

Pinker quit SPK when Revell told him he was being replaced by a drum machine, but he stayed on in London, falling in with the Vauxhall-based scene around artist and musician Russell Mills. That led to eight years working with Canadian-born guitarist and producer Michael Brook.

"He knew sound, he'd worked with Brian Eno a lot and also Daniel Lanois, he had this other kind of knowledge," Pinker says. "It was an amazing journey. I played with him, I was his technician, his go-to guy, his driver. So I'd be playing percussion and drums with [Pakistani qawwali singer] Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan one album, the next one programming drum machines and synthesizers for [Algerian rai singer] Cheb Khaled, then going to Real World and tech-ing for the Cocteau Twins. I had this interesting look into that world, but I soon realised I was not a very good songwriter after making a couple of albums of my own material as Heavenly Bodies."

By 1995 Pinker was back in Auckland working with Alan Jansson during the flowering of South Auckland hip-hop, drumming for Sisters Underground. Since then it's been not so much a career as part of a creative life.

Nostalgia was part of Pinker's brief for If this then that.

"I wanted James to come up with something that sounds like it is underwater or noises in the next room, very nostalgic and beautiful and peaceful and dreamy," Tozer says.

The core of the installation is an 18-minute video shot with Pivot camera glasses.

"I wanted to bring my painting work into my new life so I started wearing spy goggles to film stuff in my everyday life," she says. "I then did some paintings and used a chroma animation filter so the footage is revealed by the action of painting."

Tozer says painting now feels like a luxury as she juggles curating, running the LOT23 business and being mother to 5-year-old Penelope and 2-year-old Tom. "I'm exploring practice and what it means to be an artist. Are you still an artist if you are just thinking about painting?" she says.

More importantly, it's a celebration of what LOT23 is trying to do as a creative and collaborative space for artists, musicians and film-makers.

Performance


What:

If this then that, installation by Natalie Tozer with soundscape by James Pinker


Where and when:

LOT23, 23 Minnie St, Eden Tce, November 13, from 6pm


And:

Work by artists who have used LOT23 will be on display in the gallery until December