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Leah Scholes, The Box Leah Scholes, The Box
photo Daisy Noyes
THERE ARE MANY AVENUES VIA WHICH TO LOOK AT, LISTEN TO AND ENGAGE WITH THE BOX, THE LATEST PRODUCTION BY CHAMBERMADE OPERA AS PART OF THEIR LIVING ROOM SERIES. IT IS NOT SIMPLY A PIECE OF MUSIC THEATRE IN AN INTIMATE SETTING—THE SPACE IS A CENTRAL COMPONENT OF THE COMPOSITION. THIS WORK PULLS ATTENTION TO THE SOUND OF THE ROOM, EXPLORING RESONANT SURFACES AND ACOUSTIC QUIRKS.

This living room is situated in one of the leafier parts of Kew, in a house above the Yarra River, hovering among the treetops. Entering, we are led down a staircase to find our seats covered in white sheets, facing a curved glass wall of a window looking out into the trees, a suspended sheet to our left and a curious box-like structure on legs.

Throughout The Box there is a fine balance between the content of the work and the space in which it is situated. The trees in the window are more than a backdrop—they bring an aliveness to the work. There is a stark reality in the fact that we are sitting in someone’s home, yet as soprano Deborah Kayser moves about the area outside, cleaning various surfaces with a white cloth and singing small birdcalls, her gestures are obviously performative. There is a barely audible tam tam roll coming from somewhere inside the house and faint, pulsating scratching sound coming from inside the box.

As we become aware of these three sounds, we also become attuned to the resonant and reflective surfaces within the space. These somehow become clearer in contrast to Kayser’s voice, heard through the glass. We dwell within this simple soundscape for an extended duration, as the sounds blend and draw out the subtler aspects of the space. Once Kayser has entered the room she recites fragments of Willoh S Weiland’s highly visual text, which seems to speak directly to the surrounding space. The lengthy silences between these fragments of text hold our attention within the room.

We cannot help but wonder; what is the relationship between this woman and that box? She speaks, sings wordless sounds to it and the box responds. It is more than a structure within a building—it is a kind of creature. Acousmatic wooden scratching develops and morphs with a surprisingly versatile range of timbre. Inside the box, percussionists Matthias Schack-Arnott and Leah Scholes scratch and rub its interior surfaces with various objects. The repetitive back-and-forth motion of the scratching is reminiscent of electronic tape delay; however what is most salient about this sound is its tactility. The performers remain hidden from view throughout the performance, allowing the box to retain its mysterious character.

The relationship between the woman and the box is never revealed. It is impossible to know what she perceives it to be. This incomplete narrative thread is only one of several aspects of a composition woven through the space we engage with not only visually but sonically. Towards the end of the performance, Kayser moves to the balcony (hidden from view) above the audience to perform a duet with percussionist Eugene Ughetti on woodblocks. Instead of exploring musical gestures, this duet draws focus to the way that sounds are reflected from the river and the environment outside.

No single aspect of this performance dominates the space in which it is performed. All three percussionists remain hidden from view throughout. The sounds they produce all find ways to integrate with the space and the unfolding narrative. The Box is a work of extreme subtlety that blurs the line between living space and performance space. Having watched the sun set in the course of the performance, we are left in a room that is almost dark as the woman departs. Although, for me at least, the work seemed to have reached an obvious end, there was an extended period in which we lingered between the fantasy of performance and the reality of the surrounding living room.


Chambermade Opera, The Box, concept, music, space, object Fritz Hauser with Boa Baumann, libretto Willoh S Weiland, soprano Deborah Kayser, percussion Eugene Ughetti, Matthias Schack-Arnott, Leah Scholes; private residence, Kew, Melbourne, March 17-24

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 34

© Simon Charles; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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