Musical monodrama on memory and the macabre

David Chisholm and Mauricio Carrasco. Picture: Joe Mastroianni

A musical meditation on memory and the macabre by Footscray composer David Chisholm’s will enjoy its local debut at this year’s Melbourne Festival.

Chisholm’s musical monodrama, The Experiment, is a provocative horror story combining music and spoken word.

At the centre of the work is text by British playwright Mark Ravenhill, inspired by the writings of ethicist Peter Singer.

Virtuoso guitarist Mauricio Carrasco, a fellow Footscray resident, provides both the spoken and guitar elements, which are layered with electronic recordings.

The Experiment explores the dangers of moral relativism and accepting the suffering of an individual for a “greater” good.

Chisholm said the idea for the work was born in 2009 when he saw Ravenhill perform the monologue that shares the name with and forms the backbone of the piece.

“It was told in a way that it was never quite clear what was true or not,” he said.

Always drawn to a challenge, Chisholm decided to create the piece in an obscure form in which he had never worked.

“It’s a strange phenomenon, musical monodrama, it’s just a really anomalous form,” he said.

“I’ve always been interested in lost or residual forms, I’m curious why things become abandoned or are thrown away.

“I’m really interested in things that fail; our entire culture is based on success but I’m interested in people creating work or forms that pose a bigger risk.”

Weaving through the spoken text and guitar of Carrasco are a series of electronic recordings.

Chisholm said these are built from treated samples of old monodramas.

“I’ve taken key samples that are completely unrecognisable, but there is still this mirror of an idea,” he said.

“It might sound mystical, but there is a memory there, completely suppressed so you wouldn’t be able to recognise it, so it feels like it is familiar but is also unfamiliar.”

The performance also features visceral imagery by painter and video artist Emmanuel Bernadoux, in an immersive audio-visual scenography designed by Matthew Gingold.

Chisholm said the piece has settled into place nicely after successful runs at the Sydney and Adelaide Festivals.

The Experiment will be performed at The Malthouse, 8pm October 21 to 24. Tickets $25-$49.

Bookings: 9685 5111 or