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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | ‘The Lost Karaoke Tapes’ Takes You Down An Enjoyable Rabbit Hole Of 80s Pop Culture

By Hye Won Cecilia Lee on January 31, 2020

Nicole Lizée and the Australian Art Orchestra perform 'The Lost Karaoke Tapes' (Photo : Claire Harvey)
Nicole Lizée and the Australian Art Orchestra perform ‘The Lost Karaoke Tapes’ (Photo : Claire Harvey)

Soundstreams: The Lost Karaoke Tapes. Nicole Lizée with the Australian Art Orchestra. The Great Hall. Jan 30, 2020.

Nicole Lizée’s Karappo Okesutura Vol III: The Lost Karaoke Tapes is a striking mashup of live music and technology, full of emotion and whip smart humour. Lizée leaps down the rabbit hole into a variety of visual mementos from the 80s, while the expert Australian Art Orchestra successfully recreate the sounds of the past, in the present, complete with the earliest at-home sound effects: chipmunks and tape-slowdowns.

Imagine being the magical tyrant of the latest, coolest sound effects with your new tape machine, while munching on familiar old-school candies — Sour Belts Rainbow Belts, Pop Rocks Candy, Nerds Candy in double-flavoured boxes with separate spouts. This was one of the ultimate archetypical fantasies of both the Gen-Xers and Xennials. Moving this dream into the 21st century, last night, Lizée’s curation of all-things-mixed was effective enough to verge on the manipulation and creation of ‘old’ memories, even for those who were born well after the 1990s.

Lizée draws heavily from her own life experiences — in this case, she chose her childhood, and her memories: Sask Power public announcements and commercial segments from the CKCK Radio, Regina, Saskatchewan (currently branded as Jack 94.5: Regina’s Greatest Hits), were instantly recognizable as part of growing up in 1980s Canada. Lizée would’ve been a young MTV watcher (launched in August 1981), and having seen how music videos grew up to replace ‘just’ music, her use of both visual and sound cues from the iconic music video hits (Grease, anyone?) were highly effective for the audience — there was no mistaking their distance from the present, cued by hairstyles, iconic synth and drum sounds.

Nicole Lizée and the Australian Art Orchestra perform 'The Lost Karaoke Tapes' (Photo : Claire Harvey)
Nicole Lizée and the Australian Art Orchestra perform ‘The Lost Karaoke Tapes’ (Photo : Claire Harvey)

Punch after punch, Lizée dropped Easter eggs from both Canada and Australia. AAO and Lizée first started their collaboration in 2014, and their shared interest in fusing genres and disciplines has grown greatly since then, and the growth shows not only in a seamless integration of thematic material from both cultures, but also in the finesse of the performance itself.

In particular, Georgie Darvidis was excellent as the singer of this karaoke experience. Her understanding and delivery of well-known tunes were on point in their stylistic excellence. In addition, her parallel singing to the ‘malfunctioning’ of the karaoke machine (a Lizée trademark), mimicking both electronic and acoustic performance direction for fast-up and slow-down of the ‘tapes,’ resulting in pitch re-centering and adjusting speed, was so good that it made a few audience members chuckle every time. Beautiful. Tuneful. And hilarious.

Ben Reimer and Joe Talia, the two percussionists, delivered plenty of drive through their drumming; after all, a back-up band, even an ‘empty’ one (Karappo Okesutura literally means ‘empty orchestra’), is all about an impeccable rhythm section with sparse accompanying chords, and their crisp sound cut right through Lizée’s turntables, adding much clarity and unity to the live ensemble performance.

The AAO had presence as a group in their theatrics, on top of their musical excellence; there were a few moments where they stole the attention from the fast-evolving amusement on the screen: swinging a brightly coloured whirly tube, methodically and loudly ripping off pages from a paper book, or simply self-making the sound effect by chucking a bagful of Pop Rocks candy into their mouths, letting it explode on their tongues — and amplifying it.

They weren’t just making sounds, but rather creating a performance moment, away from their traditional instruments, saturating the moments with fun and humour.

Nicole Lizée and the Australian Art Orchestra perform 'The Lost Karaoke Tapes' (Photo : Claire Harvey)
Nicole Lizée and the Australian Art Orchestra perform ‘The Lost Karaoke Tapes’ (Photo : Claire Harvey)

The strings — both cello and the bass, felt rather quiet in certain sections of the mix; however, the smaller sectional and solo work of both players — Samuel Pankhurst (bass), and Leanne Zacharias (cello) — had much pep and drive to match the drummers and the forever-changing mix from Lizée’s board.

Since the birth of the very first karaoke machine in 1971, the fun and fantasy of belting out one’s favourite tunes with a back-up band has become an easy possibility: anyone who dares take a turn in the spotlight gets to sing. With a band.

When one sings, one goes to a place. It’s never about being at the karaoke. The tunes may carry us either back into the past, or into the future — sometimes hopeful, and sometimes less so.

With scenes from far-away past — the “Perfection” game (remember that game, where you had to put all those yellow pieces into the right holes before the timer ran out, and popped all the pieces out?) and Lite-Brite, and from the closer past: clips from Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” (1995); the ubiquitous music games with dropping notes to blast à la Guitar Hero — Lizée’s clash-ups created a genuine nostalgia amongst the crowd, whether it was real or imagined. I moved to Canada in the early 90s, and though I am a Xennial, I never personally experienced most Canadian culture of 80s. However, there I was, listening to 80s pop in a flux of time-tempi-pitch, looking at clips from Mr. Dressup, remembering my non-existent 80s Canadian childhood.

An hour of cheeky fun, The Lost Karaoke Tapes is a superb collection of miscellaneous items, capable of resurrecting an entire decade. The drama starts with the text prompt, a familiar karaoke track start. Lizée and the AAO will take audiences down the rabbit hole and into the 80s.

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Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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