NFSA Connects with Gotye

Gotye shared his songwriting techniques
 Imelda Cooney
Gotye at NFSA Connects. Photo by Darren Weinert

The popularity of the latest NFSA Connects videoconference was entirely due to our presenter, arguably Australia’s most lauded contemporary musician on the international stage: Gotye. The 32-year-old multi-instrumentalist is a winner of ARIA and Grammy awards, and his hit song ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ has sold more than 13 million copies worldwide.

Not surprising then that interest in the event was not confined to school students, the main audience of NFSA Connects.

We hosted some extra special guests – Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean, and Gai Brodtmann, Member for Canberra – along with the chair of the NFSA board, Gabrielle Trainor. Even ABC-TV sent a film crew to Questacon’s HD-equipped studio to cover Gotye’s appearance.
Hon. Simon Crean MP at NFSA Connects with Gotye. Photo by Darren Weinert

Gotye (real name Wally De Backer) shared his composition and performance techniques with about 90 students from high schools in Victoria, Queensland and NSW. Mention of his 2007 hit ‘Hearts a Mess’ prompted one student to cry out ‘That’s my favourite song!’, much to everyone’s delight.

One of Gotye’s talents is ‘sampling’ which he does using the latest audio technology but he also samples from old tapes and records – for which he scours second-hand stores and op shops.

At one point, having been asked by student Daisy what sort of equipment he uses, Gotye replied ‘hang on a minute’ and rushed off-camera. He returned with his latest acquisition, picked up in Los Angeles after receiving his three Grammy Awards earlier in the week: a small square yellow box with dials and a speaker. It quickly became evident that it had an American plug but Questacon’s handy technicians Alex and Aiden thankfully managed to find some alternative AA batteries (Gotye kept up his delivery throughout, unfazed by the frenzied search). Inquiring student Daisy was treated to a Gotye rendition of her name sampled through his new toy. I reckon Daisy is pretty satisfied with his answer!

NFSA CEO and session facilitator, Michael Loebenstein, matched Gotye’s pace with insightful comments and questions that provided students with the scaffold to discover different aspects of Gotye’s work.

Gotye then explored his response to the countless cover versions of ‘Somebody that I Used to Know’ floating around the internet. He has created a brilliant mash-up of all the covers and there it is on YouTube: Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra. Talk about embracing what is out there!

Around this time Minister Crean had to depart. We were pleased that he had the opportunity to observe the authentic experience that educational programs such as NFSA Connects provide to regional students in connecting them with professional creative artists via videoconference.
Gotye (foreground) with Michael Loebenstein, NFSACEO. Photo by Darren Weinert.


Gotye’s phenomenal energy and genuine interest in the students was clear. His focus, his enthusiasm and his professionalism were all impressive. As Evan Jones, a participating teacher commented, ‘… the students got a huge amount from their experience. Wally was very engaging and so far from acting like a rock star. His humility was really impressive and he is a great communicator.’

Our NFSA Connects event was only one part of a long day for Gotye. He also launched Fractured Heart, a sound and light sculpture that has featured in his live shows and is now at the NFSA, and introduced a 90-minute session of film clips and animations he’d curated for Gotye @ NFSA.

Watch individual clips from the session on the NFSA’s YouTube channel.




Event: 90 minutes with Gotye, presented in association with Electroboard
Date: Friday 15 February 2013
Venue: Questacon, Canberra
Schools: Balwyn High School, VIC; Campbelltown Performing Arts High School, NSW; Hunter School of the Performing Arts, NSW; Kelvin Grove State College, QLD; Somerville House, QLD; Surf Coast Secondary College, VIC