Sound as body, body as composer

Elizabeth Drake on the objects of sound in a Ros Warby-Graeme Leak collaboration

Ros Warby & Graeme Leak, original home

Ros Warby & Graeme Leak, original home

original home is the second in a series of works by Ros Warby, exploring the possibilities that lie within (or between) music and dance.

At first there is the question of how to begin. A double question. How to begin to make the work and how to begin the work. When neither sound nor movement are privileged, nor developed separately. Right from the beginning they are allowed to interact and to cause events to happen, crossing over from one discipline to another. A kind of cross-stitching.

The rhythms and ph(r)ased collisions of sound and bodies, are both decidedly musical and intensely human. There is an interchange of impulses. We meet the body as composer in its purest sense.

There is a question of how to begin and there is a question of how to proceed. It begins quietly, or at least the space is quiet, or at least empty. There are sounds coming up from underneath the floor, underneath the seating. Instruments warming up, air being forced down a long tube. This is theatrical. Someone is waiting in the wings. We fall silent.

And then a rock rolls across the floor. This rolling stone (rock) is awkward, unsymmetrical, noisy. There is a certain rhythm. Its trajectory is unpredictable. The rolling of the rock gives us a direction as to how to enter the work. The haphazard movement of the rock suggests that anything might happen, where one sound or movement does not predict the next and cannot be fixed. A work premised very much on receptivity.

The dancers are placing objects against the side wall. These objects are treasures. They have a history, detailed histories of their own. A seed pod was found in the Queensland Botanical Gardens and brought to Melbourne. The seed pods with their promise of new life, dried and clattery on the wooden floor. There is on old drum, and the head of another old and broken drum. Some of these objects have been waiting for repair for years, broken and (apparently) of no use. They have been broken and taken apart. Other instruments have been built out of them and these bits of wood are the offcuts.

The objects (instruments) are brought in without caution. The dancers are dropping things, without reference to the sound they make. Without reference or reverence or caution.

Objects remain on the floor where they have landed, silent now. Once or twice they are kicked out of the way. The debris on the floor is never really abandoned. But it is nevertheless scattered, dropped, strewn across the empty floor. The objects are treated with a certain carelessness, something (very) difficult to achieve.

One of the dancers lies on the floor, alongside the (other) objects. She becomes one link in a chain (of objects). Bodies and objects are transferable. I remember standing next to the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois, at an exhibition in Perth. I was tempted to talk to them, such was their human presence.

Drum sticks fall like fiddlesticks onto the wooden floor. Dancers step in between the sticks, careful not to cause movement, careful not to allow a stick to move. Just as in the game, you can remove the sticks so long as others do not move. In this case if one stick were to move it would betray itself. By making a noise.

She moves along a straight line, her footsteps are marked, in time, by the sound of two pieces of wood being struck. The spinning ring, like a small miracle, grows louder as it comes closer to the floor. It makes a kind of crescendo before it lands, stops, falls silent. The whining of the bowed metal plate, reminding us of Pierre Henri’s saw. Its weary lament.

The rock is one brought back from Europe in a suitcase. “Has this got rocks in it?” There is a question of weight.

I am thinking about contact dancing, only here it is to do with things, or more exactly the sound(s) of things. Contact dancing involves the shifting of weight from one body to another, sharing the weight and moving according to the shifts between these two bodies. In original home, the sound, as body, could be imagined as the other partner, whose materiality could be trusted and lent on as the body of another. Sound as body, body as composer. This play between sound and body points to the weight of sound just as did the weight of the rock. The rock rolls for a second time. It makes a(n unintended) direct line for the back wall and crashes into it. Again it takes forever to settle. A kind of balancing and falling at the same time.

There is a stillness as one of the dancers perches on the rock. Her stillness is allowed to crack and she falls and moves on. Against the back wall she balances on a disk. This back wall is miked. She whips the wall with an electric extension cord given her by the composer. Slapping the electric cord against the wall. She lifts the rock steadily while balancing on an hour glass shaped drum. As she stands up the objects fall over, knocked over in her carelessness. There are abrupt endings and unexpected linkages. Objects, like ideas are dropped when no longer useful, and without ceremony, you move on.

The final image is one of breath. At first we hear a long drawn out blurt, a kind of Tibetan blasphemy. The breath is being forced through a long metal tube. We see the man lifting a made-up instrument of 3 pieces, almost too long to hold, almost out of reach. With the introduction of some small valve or flute into the core of the tube, the sound transforms into a fragile, wavering, sliding, musical line. We hear the frail wanderings of the breath, as the lights die down.

We are reminded (again) of the fragility of being human, of the body, of our closeness to death. We feel the frailty of the human body, with all its limitations and fallibilities.

Imagine that, still alive, after all these years.

Ros Warby, original home, performers Ros Warby, Shona Innes, Graeme Leak; sound objects, Graeme Leak; Dancehouse, Feb 5 – 14

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 37

© Elizabeth Drake; for permission to reproduce apply to

1 April 1999

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