Outback and Beyond

“Outback and Beyond” is a live electronic opera by Mike Cooper and Grayson Cooke.


“Outback and Beyond” is a live electronic opera performed by Mike Cooper and Grayson Cooke. To Cooper’s blistering soundtrack of lap-steel guitar, deconstructed Blues and electronics, Cooke performs a live remix of archival footage of the outback from the National Film and Sound Archive. Cooper also sings a libretto that explores the adventures and misadventures of Sir Charles Todd, the man who built the Overland Telegraph between Adelaide and Darwin in the 1870s. With an outback road-movie soundtrack, and footage from docu-dramas and feature films from the 1920s to the ‘50s, “Outback and Beyond” presents the audience with a series of micro-narratives reminiscent of the themes and aesthetics of the Western film genre, but crucially, it is a Western set in Australia’s outback, reflecting Australia’s own relationship to its land, its history and its peoples.

“Outback and Beyond” is an award-winning project that has been performed in Australia, Spain, Japan and the UK to great acclaim. Most recently it was selected for performance at the 2013 Athens Video Art Festival and the Down Under Berlin Australian Film Festival. It also won a “New Face” Award in the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival, and in February 2013 we performed the show in Tokyo for the festival. Details here.

Watch the promo clip below:

“Outback and Beyond” is a meeting of styles and stories. In its use of archival footage of the outback, the project becomes a kind of “Australian Western”, focusing on the key elements of the Western, such as the exploration of a supposedly empty land, the coming of transport and telecommunication technologies, conflict between settlers and native peoples, and the sublime and brutal nature of the land.

The libretto brings one aspect of that narrative into relief; the story of Charles Todd and the Overland Telegraph is one of the most important stories in the formation of Australia as a nation. The Overland Telegraph was the final link in joining Australia’s burgeoning telegraph network to the rest of the world; this was when Australia first came “on line” in a global sense.

The source of the libretto is a book by Alice Thomson – great great grand-daughter of Charles Todd – called The Singing Line. In 1855, Charles Todd and his young bride Alice – for whom Alice Springs was named – left Victorian England for the wilds of South Australia where he took up the post of Government Astronomer and Superintendent of Telegraphs. At the time South Australia was a place so isolated that letters from home took five months to arrive. It was Charles’s dream to improve this situation. In 1870, Todd and an army of men, supplies, and Afghan camels set out with the intention of running a telegraph line – ”the singing line” – from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north. The libretto is not narrative and is fashioned in the manner of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs’ books using “cut-up” techniques and random association of words and sung in a postmodern version of the “folk ballad”. The music – both sung and performed – is freely improvised, hence different at each presentation, rendering each performance of “Outback and Beyond“ visually and sonically unique.

This project has been supported by Southern Cross University and the National Film and Sound Archive. Footage from “The Inlanders” and “A 5000 Mile Journey Across Australia” used with permission of Frontier Services. Footage from “Back of Beyond” is used with the generous permission of the John Heyer estate. Still images used courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.

Below, you can watch documentation and recordings of some recent performances. Watch footage from a performance at Southern Cross University, April 2012:

And from our performance at the Walter Reid Centre in Rockhampton, QLD in March 2013:


Past Performances:

>>> September 2013: Norsk Filminstitut Cinematheket, Oslo, as park of Greg Pope’s Dream That Kicks program.

>>> September 2013: Down Under Berlin Australian Film Festival, Berlin.

>>> June 2013: Athens Video Art Festival, Athens, Greece.

>>> March 2013: Walter Reid Centre, Rockhampton, QLD.

>>> February 19th 2013: Super Deluxe, Tokyo, as part of Japan Media Arts Festival.

>>> April 18th 2012: StudioOne29, D Block, Southern Cross University, Lismore.

>>> December 12 2011: Pacific Solutions Conference, University of Barcelona.

>>> December 7 2011: Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, Kings College London.

>>> December 2 2011: Media Futures Research Institute, Bath Spa University.

>>> November 23 2011: Australia-Spain Business Association, Casa Asia, Barcelona.

>>> April 13 2011: Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, Southbank – Ian Hanger Recital Hall.

>>> March 8 2011: Byron Bay Film Festival. Byron Bay Community Centre, Byron Bay, NSW.


Images from Outback and Beyond at the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival, 2013