leigh hobba: the performance

lucy hawthorne

Do you know the type of sound which massages the back of your skull? No? Yes? Well… it is my best attempt at quantifying the intensity of sound that Leigh Hobba managed to create in his performance at the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery. I tried to keep my eyes open to the shadows, the video images and the live dancer but it occasionally became necessary to lull in the pulsating sounds of Hobba’s clarinet playing and avoid sensual overload by just closing them.

Leigh Hobba is a performance, sound and video artist who announced this event as a “distillation of 20 years work”: favourite performance pieces dating back to 1976. As one of the younger members of the audience, I had never seen any of these so I had no idea what to expect. In the darkened room, two wide screen television monitors sat on each side of the stage, and on a plinth next to the microphone and music stand, a tiny monitor blinked with static. From behind a black curtain, an elongated shadow of the clarinet spreads across the white wall, the monitor revealing what I finally decide is Hobba's pulsing stomach. He alternates between repetitive, modulating series of notes and the bending of long single notes. The effect is ultimately spine chilling. Combined with the rhythmic tapping of the keys, Hobba’s desperate breathing—due to the pressures of continuous playing and circular breathing—and the ever present shadow provide an almost overwhelmingly sensual introduction to his work.

Hobba’s collaborator, Wendy Morrow, enters the room as the sound ceases. My view of her is blocked so, as with the introduction, I am captivated by her shadow. The quiet that follows Hobba’s work fills with dancing until Hobba returns and reads text, accompanied by images that flash up on the various screens: a young boy acting out a brief movement routine, a baby curled up, the jet trail of a plane and the flags of nations fluttering in the wind with repetitive flag pole clanking.

Later that night, when I am sitting through a different performance, A 1000 Doors, A Thousand Windows, I am struck by similarities in the projections, the use of digital sound distortion and the hypnotic effect created by repetition. Hobba calls his work performance art, and Xenia Hanusiak, the singer and co-creator of A 1000 Doors… calls hers music, but both challenge the traditional boundaries between visual art and music.

Leigh Hobba’s performance created a sensual environment that was almost overwhelmingly magical and evoked a strong emotional response, an experience not dependent on prior knowledge of his work.

31 March 2007