|l-r Matt Warren, Tom Hall, Scott Cottrell|
photo Leeanne Hall
The other performers, Scot Cottrell and Matt Warren, had become silent at this stage, allowing Brisbane-based sound artist Hall to take the moment, but they were still present in the sound: a rich outburst of not-playing that served to demonstrate that this meeting of minds, and approaches to sonic construction and equipment was more than some dudes trading licks, and let me thank some higher power for that. Improvisation is a special thrill when it works, but all too often the chance for a peek at some kind of ecstatic insight gets lost as macho types take turns demonstrating their chops. Or even worse, no turns are taken at all. This was not the case here; we managed to see some real communication that had a strong dynamic sense. It was exciting, even funny for the audience and seemingly the performers, but this seems to be normal for Tom Hall: he is really genuinely thrilled by sound. He listens to it, captures and manipulates it, recontextualising into performance. His pleasure is infectious.
I’d attended the workshop Hall had run earlier that day. He took us for a wander about the docks area of Hobart, and whilst calmly discussing sounds and things that made them, his fascination became clear. He stares at his environment as well as listening to it, obsessing about bridges and holes in piers. He speculated that a particular bridge may well be totally unique in its position above the water, the way it sits in relation to the prevailing wind around the Hobart waterfront area, and that the sounds it generates might be the only sounds like that anywhere in the world. That it occurs to him to think of this is remarkable in itself, but he then gathers and stores the sound as best he can with his collection of microphones (something else he was quite excited by) with the promise of constructing a work with it.
The group carried out exercises—it was a workshop after all. Simple cupping of the hands about the ear to isolate sounds was a good starting point to get us speculating about the nature of sound in the everyday world, but a genuine moment of clarity came a little later.
Tom handed all the attendees earplugs. We stood on the lawn next to the busy and rather noisy Salamanca Market, one of Hobart’s best-known tourist attractions and a very familiar experience for actual residents. Plugs inserted, the market itself became removed and grew distant quite rapidly. This was strange indeed; we’d not moved. As the silence grew more palpable, I wondered what Hall was really doing here: the idea had been to create sensitivity in the ear itself on removing the earplugs afterwards, but this experience of silence was quite something. I felt strange, disconnected from the world after only a few minutes of this very simple exercise. The workshop group became a mild spectacle to observant marketgoers. We were, as it happened, standing about with fluorescent earplugs visible, not-listening with intent. Intended or not, this added to the odd, isolated feel of this moment.
Removal of the earplugs came after a short walk to a more central spot in the nearby Salamanca Square. I found the rush of sound a relief and, yes, it did all feel louder somehow. Just like the cymbal that was to ring over my head later that evening, there was something quite amazing in this brief, simple moment.
Tom Hall finds wonder in the small and the brief, in the things that go unnoticed in this busy life. Beyond that though, he is fortunate to be able to express this with a clarity one encounters all too infrequently.
Sound workshop with Tom Hall, Inflight, Hobart, Aug 18-19; www.tomhall.com.au
Andrew Harper is a writer and performer investigating hybrid and new forms, and an occasional producer and curator. He participated in the 2007 RealTime-Ten Days on the Island writing workshop.
RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 48
© Andrew Harper; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com