Music and mountains

Greg Hooper

Elision, Glass House Mountains Project

Elision, Glass House Mountains Project

Credo

The Queensland Music Festival opens early morning, out west with Riley Lee and others around the Winton Musical Fence. In Brisbane that night Credo the innocence of God is the big ticket blockbuster, marketed as a high tech multimedia extravaganza linking performers live across the world in a work of innovation, ferocity and spiritual depth. The production is big, filling the Concert Hall stage with percussive contraptions, an orchestra, singers, and 3 big projection screens high up back. The hook of Credo is for musicians from Belfast, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Brisbane to join together live through the miracle of technology—hands across the ocean, jam on the bread of life, smiles of religious tolerance and mutual appreciation. Unfortunately the tech hookup does not develop any sense of live interaction. Each screen is more or less assigned a specific set of musicians. They play, we watch. Might as well be prerecorded.

The general feel of Credo is episodic; bits of music, some singing, cut to live musicians in Istanbul or Belfast or Jerusalem, back to the orchestra, maybe some declamatory wisdom. Individual musicians are a standout, great percussionist on the local stage, fantastic reed player and percussionist from Turkey, plenty of the others as well, but the orchestra is weirdly powerless, at times too far down in the mix to hear. Good bits aside, Credo was disappointing overall, an ecumenical-Lite journey through the religions of the world (what, there’s only 3?). Singing nuns, strummed guitars, kumbaya.

Erik Griswold

More intimate and rewarding was pianist Erik Griswold at St Mary’s—a modest, fully functioning church in South Brisbane. Inside the church the setup is traditional worship, big altar up front, Jesus to the left next to the prepared piano, saints to the right next to the Steinway. Flower arrangement in the middle. Griswold is a rare performer of the rhythmic, prepares his piano honky-tonk style, paper and leather across the strings, a welcome extension to the Cageian tradition. The program is a mix of Griswold’s own compositions—rhythms from the Americas, a bit of Thelonius Monk, traditional Chinese folk songs.

Latin beats on the prepared piano start the show. Shimmering ostinato bass, chimes and tuned snare drums make for a seriously happy rhumba train to Cuba. The preparation of the piano is subtle and sophisticated, sounds are surprisingly diverse yet the pitch remains clear. Set number 2 is on the Steinway, gentle clustered arpeggios, a narrow pitch range, diffuse layers through the reverbing church. The switching between the pianos divides the program into rhythm (prepared piano) and ambient (Steinway). On the Steinway Griswold uses music boxes for inspiration, twirls them with a finger to get them going, then improvises a delicate response. He ties a bunch of seed pods to his hand as a shaker, uses windchimes for spiky notes and overlapping layers. He goes to the prepared piano again, speaks of the similarity between Chinese folk songs and blues guitar. Resonant, rubbery bass, papery sounds in the mid range, damped woodblocks in the upper register, grandeur builds up like a slow and epic pan across the desert mountains. Over to Thelonius Monk on prepared piano plus melodica. Strange nostalgia, half time on the Goon Show, flyboys around the piano for a singalong and a pint.

Finks

Japan’s Leni-Basso has been around for about 10 years. Finks starts with large screen projections behind a sparse stage, bared light on canvas. Dress is neat casuals, greys, subtle blocks of colour. The dancers enter to the corners, bang into mic stands, shove their faces into cameras to leave traces on the screen that decay into bleached out solarised glitch video. The sound design follows the same techno-glitch as the lighting and video—refined minimal, speaking the tech to itself, tightly integrated with the performers.

People get on and off chairs, walk on and off stage, move together and apart. Movements are from martial arts, the scenes are ugly, social aggro with the bruises ritualised out. There is a piggy in the middle torment of the chairs, ganging up on the little guy, holding out the promise of rest but never letting him sit down. In the end the tormentors use the chairs themselves. We get to observe an uncaring anthropology of workplace politics, approach and rejection, what was your name again? Text instructions project onto the screen, dancers become values, filling the variables in a generative dance function. Passionless conflict is the go, carving out a place others will call your own. Maybe this section goes on too long as it systematically works its way through the instructions. Maybe that’s just life as work.

The cameras have been picking up the dancers’ actions, playing them back on the huge screen, looped, distorted, time delayed. We get used to that echo, but gradually the echo goes unbalanced, the video comes first, the live action later. We see the dancers up on the screen, working in pairs, moving in slo-mo, getting somewhere then getting dragged back. Time breaks down, slips about. Space breaks as well, as dancers start to work with their shadows, the shadows of their partners, and the shadows of dancers who are no longer there or not there yet.

Glass House Mountains

Into the 3 largest rooms of the IMA for Elision’s Glass House Mountains Project (Judy Watson visuals, Liza Lim sounds). The Glass House Mountains are a set of eroded volcanic plugs rising out of the coastal plains on the drive north from Brisbane. They’re always referred to as a family, traces of tradition in iconic south-east Queensland. Nearest the IMA entrance, Watson has rows of mounded dirt, classic red, pineapples sticking out—a little farm like you first notice planted around the mountains themselves. Above the dirt hang striped spears, menacing, in flight. But they aren’t spears, they’re boning rods—marker poles once used by surveyors to carve up and quantify the land—ready for sale, ready for the pineapples. Lim’s soundtrack sits low in the room, ominous rumblings, rapid fire scratching, burying the faint unaltered traces of the original kookaburra calls.

The second space is sparse, a projected video pool of water running across axe grinding grooves, the natural sounds of stream and insect. Alongside, Watson has spun Beerwah, the mountain as mother, a translucent fabric veil abstracting the mountain into a container of light. In the corner, cellist Rosanne Hunt interprets Lim’s score where cartography maps the gradient of the mountain onto a musical timeline. Measured, evocative, the cello crackles, breathes and scrapes, paced to the slow drones and pulses of the field recordings that are transformed and embedded throughout the space. My favourite performance of the festival.

The final space has a large end-wall video projection. Shots of approaching the Glass House Mountains from the sea, rowing low down, Captain Cook-like. Satellite imaging, surveillance shots from space, checking the place out from above. On the floor and in front of the projection, are stained canvasses, topographic maps of the whole family of mountains. Sound is unobtrusive, slow, the occasional bird calls clear above the breathing drones.

Sound, image and object evoke the mountains and the history of their representation. Underlying the spaces and objects is a way of working through history for closer relations to the specifics of place.

2005 Queensland Music Festival, Credo: The Innocence of God, artistic director Andrea Molino, QPAC, July 15; Erik Griswold in Concert, St Mary’s Church, South Brisbane, July 23; Leni-Basso, Finks, Brisbane Powerhouse, July 28-30; Elision, Glass House Mountains, Judy Watson and Liza Lim, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. July 21-31

RealTime issue #69 Oct-Nov 2005 pg. 42

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2005
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