New and Experimental Arts Laboratory (NEAL), Jem

“Don’t cling to something until it’s ‘perfect’,” Jem Savage advises aspiring artists and musicians. “Seek feedback and share your work. Don’t be afraid of criticism, because people want to encourage the arts.”

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Jem boasts many talents as a musician, engineer and sound artist. He has worked with the Australian Art Orchestra as a musician, producer and on the sound and technical side of performances. As a freelancer, he has worked on projects with Andrea Keller and recently recorded The Surface Project’s Björk: Interpreted concert at Chapel off Chapel. He works in genres as diverse as jazz, contemporary classical and experimental music. He is currently studying his PhD within the faculty of Fine Arts and Music at Melbourne University, and co-curates the New and Experimental Arts Laboratory (NEAL) – a workshop and presentation space for contemporary and experimental music and art in Geelong.

The program was launched by Jem and Vicki Hallett, another local artist whose incredible story has been featured on Humans in Geelong previously. With their combined networks, Jem and Vicki joined forces with Simon Finch to secure their first venue. Both Jem and Vicki met at BIFEM – the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music – when Vicki introduced herself by saying “Hi, I hear you’re from Geelong too!” After that, for Geelong After Dark 2017, the two developed “Chromaticity” – a sound installation that generated sound in response to Ferne Millen’s landscape photography of the You Yangs. The impetus for a combined network of Geelong-based artists came from Vicki’s innovative thinking: and so, NEAL was born.

NEAL holds monthly concerts at the Waurn Ponds Library meeting space for new and experienced artists with content ranging from musical performances to multimedia presentations.

Concerts are followed by a range of talks from practitioners in the industry. The space at NEAL provides an opportunity for all artists, young and old, first to present their music and then to network after the performance. The youngest composer to perform at NEAL was in their mid-twenties, whilst the oldest performer was over 60 years old.

“Their brains are bursting with energy,” Jem says. “When they talk with each other you can see that they’re full of ideas.”

There have been many beautiful and diverse performances performed at NEAL, Jem says. A recent event featured sound artist Dr. Ros Bandt’s ‘Confetti’, featuring Brigid Burke’s visuals and a live woodwind quartet. The performance featured eerily beautiful lighting and a mix of music, silence, imagery and total darkness. It was so captivating, Jem says, that there wasn’t a single sound or movement from the entire audience.

The space is ideal for composers who struggle for performance opportunities for their works. NEAL has received outstanding praise as a centre for local musicians to engage their work locally, premiere their compositions and create audio and video documentation – often critical for grant writing and festival applications. Performers and audience members alike are encouraged to stick around after concerts to discuss, network and provide feedback.

We are holding a special event for National Science Week – Intersections of Scient and Art, which will take place on August 16th, 8pm. Event tickets here (free): You can find the event here:

Concerts at NEAL are free to attend and welcome to all, from fellow musicians to art lovers. Come along to the Waurn Ponds Library meeting space to experience the community, listen to music and enjoy a glass of local wine.

Story: Stephanie Downing. Photo: Supplied