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Online exclusive

Stevie Wishart: the anatomy of the hurdy-gurdy

Keith Gallasch

Stevie Wishart Stevie Wishart
Stevie Wishart Solo is a phantasmogorical sonic experience, the primary source the transformations of the mediaeval hurdy-gurdy aurally and visually—and on strikingly different planes. The focus is not on the performer. She works quietly, head down, over her instrument or at her sound desk at the centre of The Studio floor, or moving slowly between the scattered rostra we’re seated on, or half-watching the large video screen while she plays. Although the concert commences with violin, the hurdy-gurdy becomes the instrument of choice, most powerfully and mesmerically in the long post-interval composition Drawn on Sound: HG Roll.

For fans of Wishart’s Azeruz CD with its clever pop leanings and short tracks, this concert was to be a very different experience, intimate, reflective, our eyes closed (ears open to the rich complexities of the score) or fixed on the big screen with Joan Grounds’ sublime slo-mo video on the form of the instrument, its strange mechanics and, even, its feel—Wishart’s hand (tattooed for the filming with Guido of Arezzo’s musical scale) hovering, plucking, strumming, dancing ethereally over the strings. Although live playing and screen action do not correspond literally, their relationship is never disjunctive—a curious harmony of sound and image envelopes the audience.

As an incidental and unconventional introduction to the hurdy-gurdy, the concert moved through the musical and sonic possibilities of the instrument on its own and in various mixes, evoking at various times, without being imitative, organ, sitar, string quartet, orchestra, sometimes seeming to amplify the workings of its own innards—like the creaking of an antique timber sailing ship. Wishart’s compositions entail mergings of jigs, dark marches, dirges, bursts of white noise, thunderous sonic wrap-arounds, long winding chords punctuated by emphatic bass notes in meditative passages as well as her own integrated vocalisings. Each hurdy-gurdy work unfolds with care and intensity, with moments of beauty and surprise.

Stevie Wishart solo, The Studio, Sydney Opera House, March 16, 8.15pm

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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