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rePercussions of Movement, courtesy the artists rePercussions of Movement, courtesy the artists
SOMETIMES I SEE A STAGE SET WITH PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS AND THINK OF A COLONY OF INSECTS READYING TO FIGHT, OR DANCE. GONGS HOLD A SILENT HYMN; A PHALANX OF MARIMBAS STAND READY FOR COMBAT; TUBULAR BELLS FORM A SCREEN BEHIND WHICH AN ARMY MIGHT APPEAR. THIS IS THE SETTING FOR A CONTEST OF MINDS, BODIES, TIME AND SOUND, IN A DANCE OF SPEED, STRENGTH AND SUBTLETY. AN ARCHITECTURE OF ANTICIPATION DRAWS ME IN.

The first time I heard the work of Iannis Xenakis, I perceived great cubes of sound, looming and leering, pushing space through different geometries. Sound is monument, mathematics, repetition, disfiguration, reconstruction. A Herculean effort, splintering and shifting cultural and aural mountains.

Here too, in Synergy’s recent Sydney concert, his works push boulders, gravel, stars, tonalities, habits of composing and of listening, but they also invite playfulness. In Psappha, soloist Timothy Constable becomes Spiderman traversing a scaffold. He plays a contest between a glockenspiel and concert bass drum, his stick suspended above the drum as if it were the moment before its death. In this piece, Constable could well have pushed the physicality more— a Cossack leap would not have gone amiss to amplify this contest between space and sound.

But what happens when the span of space between instrument and player becomes altered by technology? When sound is computerised with amplification and touchpads, it’s easy for action to become minimal. Beyond a finger twitch, the physicality of the performer can virtually disappear. When such work is integrated with visual projections and human movement, you are either reaching for heaven or creating a space too loaded with significance for either performers or audience to survive the experience.

RePercussions of Movement at Canberra’s Street Theatre is a case in point. Percussionist/composer Gary France worked in collaboration with video-maker/performer Kim O’Donnell to produce a multimedia work which promised “an intensive investigation of movement, physical and psychological, through a kaleidoscopic integration of percussion, images and spoken word.” I try to enter the performance space without being suspicious: my most satisfying musical/theatrical experiences are usually not itemised.

Street 2, a narrow space, is set with various electronic sound machines and a wide, curved projection diorama at the back. Strange, neo-primitive sculptures occupy the floor, like humanoid plinths in meltdown. I never manage to fathom their relationship to the two performers.

RePercussions of Movement seems caught between conflicting impulses—between primitive and aesthetic, kinetic and meditative, contemplative and didactic. The small floorspace appears static, despite being punctuated by O’Connell’s running or his falling to the ground. France’s soaring arm as it plays the Handsonic Touchpad draws far too much attention to itself by comparison. It is the most interesting movement in this space.

The diorama is awash with projected images sourced from eastern and middle-eastern places—an awkward travelogue [but whose?] of minarets, prayer flags, turning dharma wheels and polluted cities. The images manage to be both idealised and condemnatory. Undoing some fine cross-cultural sonic evocations from the video-maker, we are given some 40 minutes of visual Orientalism burdened with (Western) shame. Whose karmic burdens are these? Whose guilts and obsessions?

But most difficult, for me, are the sombre passages of text. We are warned to pay attention, to beware our lusts and desires: “We exist to bear witness to the world”. “The most dangerous place is the mind.” It seems dangerous to negate the organ most called upon to receive the work.

Awkwardly, rePercussions’ eco-warrior tone recalls Koyaanisquatsi (but without its awesome impact) and its rather static relationship with ideas and texts reminds me of an early 1980s sound-text performance of Charles Amirkhanian. An earnest Amirkhanian, wearing a boiler-suit, would stand in front of a single, static, slide-projected image of repeated words, reciting the same two words. His mouth was the only part of him that moved.

Henri Bergson, who is quoted in rePercussions’ text, writes stunningly of the “shivers” which occur when perception and memory are freed to enter and re-enter the present. I re-remember so many moments of Xenakis’ Psappha (also of his Claviers and Peaux in the same Synergy concert). Unhappily, within rePercussions there are too many impediments to this process. I am not even sure whether rePercussions wants to shiver me, which leaves me feeling strangely un-composed as I head for home.


See also Keith Gallasch's review of Synergy

Synergy Percussion, works by Steve Reich, Iannis Xenakis, performers Michael Askill, Timothy Constable, Bree Van Reyk, Alison Pratt, guest Jeremy Barnett; Carriageworks, Sydney, April 23-26

rePercussions of Movement, an audiovisual meditation on movement, with music and soundscape by Gary France, concept, film design, text, movement, voice Kim O’Connell, sculpture Jutte Feddersen; Street 2, The Street Theatre, Canberra, April 3

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008 pg. 51

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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