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Dark Matter between Australia and Norway

Daryl Buckley talks to Keith Gallasch


Just as Australian-Norwegian relations were souring over Australia’s handling of the Tampa affair, Daryl Buckley was working on the final stages of an international collaboration some 4 years in the making. A rumoured ban on Australian wine was making Buckley nervous about getting Norwegian artists and freight into Australia for the November premiere of Dark Matter at the Brisbane Powerhouse.
Buckley is Artistic Director of ELISION, the enterprising and widely travelled, Brisbane-based, new music ensemble. ELISION and Buckley are now at their busiest. Sonorous Bodies (composer Liza Lim, koto Satsuki Odamura, video Judith Wright) has just opened in Berlin. Moon Spirit Feasting (premiered as Yuè Ling Jié at the 2000 Adelaide Festival) is on the Melbourne Festival program this October and is being recorded for CD release. And Buckley and Lim are going to be parents.

Dark Matter began as a conversation between Buckley and Christian Eggen of Norway’s CIKADA Ensemble in 1997 when the conductor was working with ELISION. Eggen had been inspired, says Buckley, by the way ELISION was opening up ensemble practice. The companies “liked each other and decided to something that was not a concert. ELISION has had a long relationship with English composer Richard Barrett in investigating form and it was decided to get him aboard.”

A search for “an installation artist with an architectural sensibility” was also initiated. ELISION has made its mark in a commitment to contemporary composition, but more especially in investigating the dynamic between music and visual imagery especially in the use of space evident in Opening of the Mouth (Midland Railway Workshop, Perth Festival, 1977, Brussels, 1998) with British artist Crow, and Bar-do’I-thos-grol (The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Lismore) with composer Liza Lim, artist Domenico de Clario. Moon Spirit Feasting (composer Liza Lim, director Michael Kantor, designer Dorotka Sopinska) was performed on a barge on Adelaide’s River Torrens.

The leading Norwegian artist, Per Inge Bjørlo with his long history of creating installations and working with industrial waste, was the artist selected for Dark Matter. In 1985 he had been commissioned to carry out decorative work for Follum Factories. A studio was put at his disposal free of charge and, ever since, Bjørlo has been associated with this paper-producing factory where expertise, machines and a working milieu are at hand. his internationally exhibited works have incorporated mirror splinters, hair, stainless steel, blindingly strong light bulbs and rubber floors.

Buckley describes his encounter with Barrett and Bjørlo in Amsterdam in 1999 as “a meeting of intense minds” with “a lived commitment to art.” Progress since the project’s inception has been extraordinary, he says, given the risks of cultural and geographic gaps. With British Council support Barrett was able to work with Per Inge Bjørlo at his home in Norway. Buckley describes it as an ideal collaboration. The proximity to the paper mill sponsor was another advantage.

Buckley is a guitarist and will play a key role in Dark Matter. He’s been working on the Transmissions sections of the work with Barrett for 2 years. As well, with the composer he’s discussed the selection of players, “those with the capability and who can be pushed.” Also on the agenda has been, he says, “how to work with CIKADA in an intelligent way...they haven’t had ELISION’s experience with Barrett. It’s not ELISION plus CIKADA, but all the musicians working as a whole.” CIKADA, in turn, have played pieces from Dark Matter at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in the UK. Carl Rossman has been playing some of the work as a solo for contrabass clarinet.

The impulse to deal with dark matter (particles that go through matter as in a particle physics laboratory in Cern, Switzerland, visited by the composer and designer) came from composer Barrett, the phrase suggesting what is not known, evocative of a cosmological theme beyond physics. “It’s also about the spirit of a quest into existence.” He describes Barrett as a materialist, “an older kind of Marxist’, “however, the final movement is influenced by Buddhist precepts.” Buckley says that “Richard Barrett will be at the sound desk with sound designer Michael Hewes manipulating taped sound in real time.” The text comprises English, Chinese and an invented language and is sung by Deborah Kayser.

Dark Matter explores the interconnectedness and transmission of human knowledge. It incorporates understandings of human consciousness and perception drawn from Hindu metaphysics, Renaissance `hermetic’ thought to more recent developments within the realm of physics. Its imaginary `narrative’ is formed within the listener/viewer as they move through multiple spaces and acoustic environments creating their own pathway through a labyrinth of real (acoustic and/or electronic) sound-sources. The location of a moving ‘body’ (performer, audience) within ‘space’ is central to the manipulation of sound and physical elements. (ELISION website)

As for the spatial dimensions of the work, the main theatre at the Powerhouse will be cleared of its seating and the audience will be placed among the performers and the sculptural elements of the work. Some of the audience of 150 will find themselves viewing the work from chambers. not that Buckley’s seen the very final design—”They’re being a little secretive.”

The Powerhouse will be transformed into multiple spaces: one relatively large area in the centre, in front of the main stages, where all activities are audible and more or less visible, and other spaces delimited by installation-elements, which will have spatial and acoustic qualities of their own, based on their shape and the materials from which they are made. For instance, a small `claustrophobic’ area containing a speaker, whose sound is deadened by the area being surrounded by felt: also rows of large cubical frameworks made of steel pipes lined with various materials; and other pieces and objects already made by Per Inge Bjørlo. The audience enter through a small aperture. A choreography of relocations for the performers constantly recomposes and reforms the performing ensemble, extending the multiplicity of available perspectives.

Support for the work has amazed Buckley with pre-production funding coming from the Norwegian Cultural Council, sponsorship from the Norska paper mill assisting with manufacturing and freight, and a steel company providing raw material. A power factory in Norway assisted with travel. The British Council and DAAD, Berlin have assisted Barrett and the production has been supported by the New Media Arts Fund of the Australia Council.

Buckley is proud of the model he and ELISION have pioneered for international collaboration. “Australian artists think a lot about touring but they should be thinking collaboration. The trouble with touring is that you don’t enter into local history. You leave little behind. You don’t influence people’s thinking. You merely briefly fill a space left by someone else. How do do you become part of a city somewhere else in the world and make a serious contribution to it?” Dark Matter might, says Buckley, “really open the door to central Europe... John Howard willing.”


ELISION ensemble, CIKADA ensemble, Dark Matter, composer Richard Barrett, soprano Deborah Kayser, designer Per Inge Bjørlo, sound designer Michael Hewes; Brisbane Powerhouse, November 16-18

RealTime issue #45 Oct-Nov 2001 pg. 10

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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