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online e-dition june 26: aurora 2012


a moving song for the earth

oliver downes: clocks and clouds, aurora festival of living music

Oliver Downes is a freelance writer based near Sydney. He is a trained pianist whose interests include music, literature and film. He has recently completed a Masters of Creative Writing through the University of Sydney.

Terumi Narushima, Kraig Grady, Clocks and Clouds Terumi Narushima, Kraig Grady, Clocks and Clouds
photo Corrie Ancone
WHILE FOLK OF VARIOUS ORIGINS CAME TOGETHER FOR THE STYLISED MACHISMO PROVIDED BY PRO-WRESTLING AUSTRALIA IN THE MAIN FOYER OF CASULA POWERHOUSE, EXPERIMENTAL PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE CLOCKS AND CLOUDS BROUGHT TOGETHER EXOTIC RITUALS OF AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT NATURE IN THE MAIN THEATRE.

Drawing upon sources as diverse as Harry Partch's 1973 work US Highball as well as his identification with the meta-culture of Anaphoria (a conceptual landmass whose inhabitants' key characteristic is a "desire to be foreigners"), composer and general C&C head honcho Kraig Grady's work, Terrains, Winds and Currents, provided an absorbing listen.

The centrepiece of the work was the set of twelve Meru Bars, an instrument of Grady's own creation, that rose like mesas behind a harmonium and pair of vibraphones, all microtonally tuned. The Meru, which is fundamentally a set of gigantic bass vibraphone bars, lent the work a gripping solemnity, the hour-long through-composed piece remaining mesmerising for its duration, due in no small part to the skill with which it was approached by Grady as well as Terumi Narushima behind the harmonium and Finn Ryan on vibraphone.

With Narushima establishing a drone on the harmonium, Ryan trod carefully amid the Meru, striking each note with precise reverence, a liturgical quality being compounded by a single bowed note on the vibes. The sound of the Meru seemed to emanate from deep within the earth, its blended resonances suggesting imaginary ceremonies unfolding in forgotten caves. When this opening 'terrain' section closed with the exit of the Meru from the texture, the remaining instruments seemed bereft without its subterranean heat.

Meru bars, Clocks and Clouds Meru bars, Clocks and Clouds
photo Gail Priest
This sense of desolation faded as Grady and Ryan generated a new urgency on the vibes, the harmonium providing flashes of melodic material, the effect being that of wind over wet rock, swift and indefinable. Indeed the music here was elemental, almost lysergic, the aesthetic bringing to mind the broken musician in Tim Winton's Dirt Music. Consigned to hermitude, he finds solace in a makeshift drone, the sound of which seems to contain the world, "like the great open spaces of apnoea, the freedom he knows within the hard, clear bubble of the diver's held breath. After a point there's no swimming in it, just a calm glide through thermoclynes, something closer to flight. Within the drone, sound is temperature and taste and smell and memory, wucka-whang." Grady seemed to be striving for something similar here, the rapidly oscillating tones suggesting rippling clusters of light, refractions in which the mind might become lost.

All of which would be so much twaddle were it not for the extreme discipline that Grady, Ryan and Narushima brought to the material, seamlessly coaxing distinct shifts in texture from the preceding flux. None more effective than the return of the Meru, the roiling bouyancy of the previous section giving way to a solemnity worthy of the disappearance of species, static vibe chords reverberating in isolation over the terrestrial groan of the bass bars. This was an hypnotic and moving song for the earth.


Aurora Festival of Living Music: Clocks and Clouds, Kraig Grady, Terumi Narushima, Finn Ryan, Casula Powerhouse, Sydney, May 5; www.auroranewmusic.com.au/

Oliver Downes is a freelance writer based near Sydney. He is a trained pianist whose interests include music, literature and film. He has recently completed a Masters of Creative Writing through the University of Sydney.

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. web

© Oliver Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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