Invenio Singers — Luminesce, Thursday May 18, 7pm, Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre
Not so long ago it was common to hear the word “narrative” in complaints about our political parties, but not because of its presence. The term was overused and became irritating, in the vein of “going forward”, but initially it was apt for two reasons: our political leaders had given up trying to carry us with them in pursuit of one vision or another (although the Institute of Public Affairs’ free market agenda seemed omnipresent at times) and we generally like it when there is a story to follow.
As a journalist I’m always looking for the story, whether in an interview with a musician or in a live concert that I’m reviewing. But, like melody in a musical work, it can be a tempting morsel that is not always needed and can be refreshingly challenging to do without.
During Melbourne’s White Night in 2016 I made a point of heading from the station to St Paul’s Cathedral to see and hear Gian Slater‘s inventive vocalists Invenio, who were giving the four-hour performance Sun in a collaboration with video artist Robert Jarvis. This must have been most challenging. Between the singers — variously lit or in darkness and at times flooded with colour at the far end of this enormous, vaulted space — and the crowded entrance doors was an ever-moving bustle of people either looking for seats, filing in or out, or arising from their seats to move out into the streets. How the ensemble members concentrated amid this unrest, I’m not sure, but it was not ideal for audience members content to spend more time and take it all in.
What a contrast, then, to hear and see the new work Luminesce in the superb, small space of the MRC Salon. I have never been to a concert “in this space” (to use another overused phrase) that I did not love.
But before the concert I was, of course, unsettled about what was to come. I wanted to gain some idea of what to expect. I wanted a narrative.
I read that Luminesce would explore light and darkness, sound and silence; that it would vary visual patterns along with sound, geometry with pitch and colour with dynamics. I read that singing is an energy, an act, an initiation of beauty.
But questions were bustling through my mind just as White Night patrons moved in and out of St Paul’s Cathedral. In this performance, will silence be valued? Will darkness be used, as it is so often, to convey or create uncertainty, fear or horror? Will the experience of Luminesce be enhanced by knowing how it is meant to work, knowing what happens when a singer sings high or low, loud or soft? Or will it be more like a meditation, to be received and accepted, but not puzzled over?
The way it happened in the end was that Luminesce began for me well before the performance, as I became more aware of lights and darkness around me — in gardens, in traffic, in signs, on buildings and the floodlit Arts Centre fountain, moving but not changing.
Then, in the Salon, Luminesce heightened my awareness while gradually wrestling into submission my dogged determination to analyse. I tried to record my impressions, taking fragmented notes, then gave in to the patterns, the sounds, the rhythms and the shapes.
Changes were a constant, some evolutionary, some sudden. Notes were sustained and sibilant. Voices were invoking, commanding, appealing — mostly without words, but at times to great effect with them. Sequences of notes matched sequences of projected colours. Voices and light had synchronicity, sequentiality and yet differentiation.
The lighting effects were truly amazing, but for me the vocals held sway. These were voices carefully crafted, with such definition and precision, such power and also fragility, engaging in interjections and conversations, sometimes percussive, sometimes burbling, always so superbly controlled and ultimately beautiful to behold.
At the close I felt as if all analysis had been swept away in a tide of pure awareness. This was an experience best left hanging, not described, simply felt.
I turned to a couple of women in the front row who told me they did not know of Invenio or Robert Jarvis or Gian Slater, but came along because it sounded like something different. They were blown away.
For those interested, here is an extract from Invenio’s website about Luminesce. It may help explain the mechanics and intent:
“Invenio’s latest work is a new collaboration with video artist Robert Jarvis that uses voices as triggers for lighting events.
“Composed by Gian Slater, Luminesce explores a pattern orientated musical landscape derived from a visual perspective through Jarvis’ software program, Voxstripe. Within the parameters of symmetry, form and velocity, the music ranges from intensely rhythmic to lush harmonic clusters, creating a different vocal ensemble landscape and performative environment.
“Out of the darkness, sheets of colour and geometric shapes are projected on to each of the seven performers, activated and deactivated through every sound and every silence. Groupings of the performers emerge together as waves of light mirror the musical form, whilst always returning to the solo or unison voice, the spotlight or the blanket of illumination.”