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Online e-dition July 17, 2013

Musical multiplicities

Matthew Lorenzon, The NIS, The Click Clack Project

The NIS, The Amplified Elephants, BOLT Ensemble The NIS, The Amplified Elephants, BOLT Ensemble
photo Tim McNeilage
A recording of the roar of a vast crowd fills the pitch-black auditorium of the Footscray Community Arts Centre for the opening of The NIS, an all-abilities sonic arts show featuring The Amplified Elephants and the BOLT Ensemble. They could have just left the lights on, because the house was packed with an excited audience who had braved the wind and rain to see the show.

A red searchlight reveals the winds, strings, harp and percussion of the BOLT Ensemble. Downstage, The Amplified Elephants are seated next to gleaming robotic structures: a frame of bells and an apparatus, the Gotholin, which draws violin bows across four violins. Teagan Connor punctuates the ambience with an eerie scraping from the instrument. A harp line (Mary Doumany) follows in its wake. Activated via a synthesiser keyboard, Robyn McGrath releases a jangling peal of bells from a robotic carillon. As Doumany begins playing sweeping glissandi, an incredible oscillating sound rises from the Whirling Dervishes—power drills with sound-producing bowls attached. Flashing coloured lights heighten the tension in the Lost World Auditorium, as the piece is entitled, signaling our entrance into the dream-like, symbolic world of The NIS.

The NIS, The Amplified Elephants, BOLT Ensemble The NIS, The Amplified Elephants, BOLT Ensemble
photo Tim McNeilage
"Worker," "god" and "wolf" are some of the archetypes explored through the concert’s nine movements with the help of Tien Pham's dark animations and a series of interviews and field recordings. Connections are developed between the symbols of the politician and the wolf, corporations and global warming, even god and the wolf, as well as a host of other characters, at times subjects, at others objects of discourse: workers, children and animals. The animations also double as games, generating parts of the music. In one animation, a crowd of figures wanders between traffic lights in a sun-baked wasteland, fragments of musical scores for different instruments appear onscreen prompting changes in the sonic landscape.

The NIS, The Amplified Elephants, BOLT Ensemble The NIS, The Amplified Elephants, BOLT Ensemble
photo Tim McNeilage
First performed in 2009 at Fortyfivedownstairs, this show has developed over the years. At the Footscray Community Arts Centre the theatrical interventions of The Amplified Elephants were missed, though Kathryn Sutherland's playing of a punching bag fitted with pressure-sensitive triggers echoes the show's original physicality. The ensemble has also grown to include Thomas Lutze (Pedal Triggers), Teagan Connor (Whirling Dervish and Gotholin) and Daniel Munnery (Tiny Tappers and sampler). The dynamic lighting and impressive technological resources of The NIS add drama to the relatively static composition, where fleeting gestures and sudden whispers disappear into the soundscape as soon as they appear.

As Director James Hullick writes in his program note, linear narrative is not the only way in which to understand ourselves and works of art. Sometimes a freer juxtaposition of ideas and sounds is needed, even when they may only appear once, undeveloped and do not have any real-world correlates. This approach is summed up in the show's title, The "NIS," which, like the famous hapax "ptyx" of the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, is a word invented by Katherine Sutherland to signify nothing. This play of signifiers is not entirely empty, however, as through this juxtaposition of ideas The NIS also brings together communities, as the large list of collaborators shows, to produce a thought-provoking and multi-faceted performance.

The Click Clack Project: The NIS, The Amplified Elephants, BOLT Ensemble, Footscray Community Arts Centre, 4 July;

RealTime issue #115 June-July 2013 pg. web

© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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