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Frank Lovece (1956-2018)

 

Around 37 years ago, when I first encountered Frank Lovece in the Melbourne music scene, I was intimidated by what seemed his fierce, hardcore punk intellectualism. I seemed, just then, to be on the other side of some imaginary culture-fence. Frank and his loyal, lifetime friends – Marcus Bergner, Michael Buckley, and his wonderful partner Marisa Stirpe, who later comprised with him the great sound-poetry group Arf Arf – didn’t like anything too slick, too professional, too official, too pop. At the very start, I was probably tainted with that association in their eyes.

 

In time, I (happily for me) came to earn some respect from them all – for, as Frank wrote to me in an email of 2016, my “great love for film”. That was a real compliment, coming from him. Frank made, or co-made, a bunch of short films, and I remember vividly and fondly his 16mm. short Te possino ammazza (1987), and what he said about it that, in that moment, taught me something crucial about the art of mise en scène in cinema: “When you set up a frame with the camera, and get people to move through it, that’s already a choreography …”.

 

Mainly, though, Frank was a fine-grained, chiselling (in the Letterist sense), montage guy, setting atoms of frequently murky imagery (frames, often drawn or animated) against particles of acoustic sound. The most achieved example of this life long quest in Frank’s art was the wonderful, collective film by Arf Arf, Thread of Voice (1993).

 

Frank was one of the most “cultured” people I’ve ever known, and I mean that in an entirely unique, individualised way. Somehow, he knew about certain poets, thinkers, avant-garde filmmakers literally decades before other people did – he even knew some of them personally, like Gianfranco Baruchello, whose work (like the book Why Duchamp) became so important for me.

 

I remember Frank telling me, in his quiet, strong, obsessed voice, sitting outside the State Library where he long worked (I imagine him among the closed stacks there, finding the most obscure and wondrous books), about his reading of the philosophy of Jean-Luc Marion – years before I came upon that name in other contexts.

 

I also recall how another close friend of Frank’s, Stuart Grant, once made valiant attempts (recruiting me for the persuasion process) to help get Frank into Monash University’s PhD-by-art-research program, based on everything he had done in his life as a creator – but that just didn’t fly within the academy. Frank's particular "culture", indeed his genius, was clearly beyond the university system.

 

Happier memories: I had the pleasure of seeing Frank perform live many times. In the early '80s, with D-Rays (their song “Jenny”, collected on a Fast Forward cassette-magazine published by Bruce Milne, is an absolute classic, and I remember its lyrics printed as a poem in a little zine of the same era called Dag Mag); over several decades with Arf Arf (some of their best performance work immortalised in Thread of Voice); and finally for me in 2012, just before I left Australia, with the re-formed Primitive Calculators, alongside Stuart and other original members from the early ‘80s: I shall never forget the power of Frank, sitting behind his laptop, rhythmically punching the chant “No! No! No!” into his microphone. What a gesture!

 

Frank was always smiling and joking – at least, in my passing encounters with him – but sometimes his jokes had a sudden, hard edge. I remember in relation to D-Rays, I asked him to describe to me what kind of music it was they were making. Stupid question! Frank strung me along, listing a string of bands: “As I like to ask people: you know The Fall?”, and I nodded “Yes” enthusiastically all the way down that line – until he produced his well-groomed punchline: “Well, our aim is to sound nothing like any of them!”

 

I also recall his disdain, expressed to me in the late ‘80s, for my friend and ally Philip Brophy’s “long short” Salt, Salivia, Sperm and Sweat (1988): “I thought it would be like Artaud, with shit and piss and stuff, the complete grotesque, but …” – he sighed wearily through clenched teeth, and it was a direct flashback to his anti-pop sentiment of 1981.

 

It seemed to me that Frank was always thinking, creating, working away on all sorts of things, and the fragility of this struck me often: ever since 2003 he had promised me some multi-media contribution for Rouge and later LOLA magazines, but it was always a matter of something as–yet-unfinished (by his standards) that was scribbled (prose, poetry or pictorial) on a piece of paper, or recorded on cassette, or caught by chance with a video camera.

 

So there are few “monuments” to Frank’s art around to consult right now – he truly embraced what he called “incidental art”, things that were spontaneous, fleeting, ephemeral … and thus better absorbed into the flow of daily living.

 

Frank was in contact with me about new works – by him, or his friends – but he wasn’t the kind of person who would pop a DVD in the post or send a Vimeo link; it was, much better and more apt, a matter of you being in his town, his vicinity, so that you could sit down and watch it with him, and have (as he would say) a good “natter” or “chatter” about whatever thoughts it gave rise to.

 

Frank, I’ve still got your voice – talking, reciting, singing, shouting, growling – in my head, and I’ll do my best to keep up my end of the chatter.

 

© Adrian Martin January 2018.


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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