HEART OF GLASS
Back in 2011 Wally De Backer – yes, three points, GOTYE – finally finished off a little ditty he’d chiseled away at for months called Somebody That I Used To Know. It went on to enjoy mild success, topping the triple j Hottest 100 in 2012, shifting over 10 million (with an M) units worldwide, hitting #1 in ten different countries and leading to sold out tours of USA, Europe and Asia. In short, Wally’s tax bill for the past year is more than I’ll earn in this lifetime.
And it couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke. To whit, he is making a special trip to Canberra to launch and support the FRACTURED HEART exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archive, an exciting project birthed from this very song. A brief history, and then we’ll hear extensively from the man himself.
At 2011’s ARIAs, Wally was summoned to perform Somebody... with Kimbra. Never one to rest on laurels, Wally hatched an idea to make the performance backdrop particularly special; a 10x15-feet multi-polygon heart lit up like a Daft Punk live set in time to the notes. Split into two pieces, allowing Kimbra to slide into view partway through the song (hence Fractured Heart), it took a team comprising core creatives Cindi Drennan, Craig Laurendet, Sean Healy and the fabulously named animator Luku Kukuku two intensive months to build.
Such was its allure it was co-opted for the next Vivid Live! Festival in Sydney and now we have it here at the NFSA, intricately restructured as a motion-sensor interactive exhibition where all parts of the song can be remixed live whilst coloured light erupts along the structure. Yes, it’s as cool as it sounds.
So let’s start at the beginning... How did this all come about? ‘It was loosely based on taking fractal elements of my dad’s two-part broken heart artwork on the inside of the Making Mirrors album cover,’ Wally tells us from a Japanese hotel room, sporting a beard children could lose their frisbees in. ‘I say loosely because the animation Luku did feels like it was from a different world.
‘Rather than a 16x9 ratio screen behind a performance – which I’ve done plenty of now – I wanted more projection mapping and visual components. Cindi had done really beautiful projection mapping onto buildings over the years. I talked to her and partner Craig about using images and films clips as a basis to allow me and Kimbra to be a part of the artwork. With that we came up with the idea of combining Kat Kallady’s artwork from the single.’
Wally’s praise for his fellow artistes is too plentiful to show in full here, and he reveals there was much tweaking to get it to the neat interactive experience it is now.
‘I’d stand in front of it saying, “Everything is really good about how it looks and feels, but this is how we should break up the musical parts of the song, so that even a non-musician can feel like they’re mixing and quickly have a clear sense how the song breaks down; which parts are loops, which parts are toggles etc.” With me moving and chopping music bits and putting them in folders Luku and Craig managed to very quickly realise this made it more playable and they managed to incorporate it in the last week or so.’
With the exhibition now safely covered in this article – and we’re all going along to it now, right? – let’s get down what we want to hear... Is Wally sick of Somebody... by now? ‘I don’t really think about it.’ Does his success as Gotye mean the end of other musical project The Basics? ‘We have a compilation of unreleased stuff and live tracks coming out soon... I guess it’s pretty open. There’s definitely potential for us to make another record.’ Did he have any idea Somebody... would be as big as it is? ‘I had an inkling there was something special... I get a good feeling about when the melody, harmony, sounds, arrangement and lyrics are all working together, hence waiting so many months to find Kimbra.’ And what does he think of the various parodies doing the rounds?
‘I do look at the numbers the parodies have achieved and I wish that my mash-up [of the parodies] had gotten that,’ Wally says. ‘Funny story... I finished that mash-up, put it online, and 20 minutes after thought, “I’ve forgot to put Zonday in there!” He was the prompter to make the mash-up! My friend Simon sent through an email when my video first came out saying, “You may have a successful video but don’t let it go to your head because you’re 70-odd-million views away from this:” and he sent me a link to Chocolate Rain by Zonday. And then maybe a year later he sent another email saying, “What the fuck?” and a link to Zonday covering Somebody That I Used to Know!’
But for now, the Capital will be further spiced up this Centenary year with the Million-Dollar-Man’s presence, and he’s pumped about it.
‘It’s going to be great! Cindi and Craig have done such wonderful work and it’s great of Michael [Loebenstein] at the NFSA to present the piece. More people are going to have the chance to play with it and I am very much hoping that on the day I’ll be able to present a new track for it [State of the Art]! And maybe I can chop up a bit of the other records so that they can sort of switch songs for people as it’s presented there.’
Wally De Backer will be at the National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA) – yes, in the trembling flesh – in Acton on Friday February 15 from 6pm to launch the Fractured Heart interactive exhibition. There are no bookings required - just show your shining face on the day. It will be held on the front steps. The Visual Music session in Arc Cinema did require bookings but is now sold out.