Tag Archives: MRC

ENLIGHTENED BY PURE AWARENESS

Invenio

Vocal ensemble Invenio performs at White Night Melbourne in 2016 in St Paul’s Cathedral.

REVIEW

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.

Invenio in St Paul's Cathedral 2016

Invenio in St Paul’s Cathedral 2016

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.

Invenio 2016

Invenio in St Paul’s Cathedral 2016

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.

ROGER MITCHELL

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.”

FINDING CONSOLATION IN SADNESS

Still Night: Music in Poetry

Still Night: Music in Poetry                                      Image: Natasha Blankfield

REVIEW

Still Night: Music in Poetry, Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, Friday 25 November 2016, 7pm

There is a gradually growing section in our hallway book shelves that contains poetry, yet it is all too rarely visited. In that respect it is like death, which we too often avoid confronting until it is thrust upon us.

So much can be conveyed in poetry if we give it the time to reflect upon it that it deserves. So much can be conveyed in music if we give it the attention it deserves, by listening.

In Still Night composer and pianist Andrea Keller gave us the opportunity to hear the music in poetry as well as the time to reflect on the many strands of thought expressed in 10 carefully chosen and very different poems that deal with death, grief and loss.

Keller (piano) joined Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Stephen Magnusson (guitars) and vocalists Gian Slater and Vince Jones in an hour-long set in the acoustically rich Salon space that was totally absorbing.

Keller’s program notes explain that this project arose out of a realisation that her isolated experiences of death, grief and loss, as well as the inadequacy of Anglo-Australian culture to deal with the emotions of such realities, differed sharply from the life evident in a Copenhagen cemetery she visited in 2007, where people enjoyed picnics, admired the beauty of the gardens and paid respect to loved ones.

Still Night: Music in Poetry

Still Night: Music in Poetry                             Image: Natasha Blankfield

This concert worked on many levels, but I found myself slipping easily between momentary explorations of the ideas conveyed by the words and the pure joy of experiencing voice and other instruments.

From the opening poem, Listen, Listen by Izumi Shikibu, it was clear we would be given time to reflect on the words and to feel their meanings conveyed on surges of sound, as if ocean waves washed them to us.

In E.E. Cummings’ Finis, the power of piano contrasted with the fragility and purity of the voices, which were undulating, rocking, ebbing and flowing, Slater’s notes bending with great agility.

One of the most effective of the night’s poems was Proust’s bleak So Tired of Having Suffered, Slater’s voice beginning as a whisper and gaining strength, drama coming from Keller and Wilson, and Jones adding a kind of mantra with a jazz feel.

The chemistry between Wilson and Slater in Yeats’ Where My Books Go was given additional synergy by Magnusson and Keller.

Anyone familiar with Jeannie Lewis’s rendition of Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night will understand that I have long associated those lyrics with power, but Jones’s gentle vocals made this more of an appeal than an exhortation. Magnusson’s guitar journey in this was superb.

The words of Richard James Allen’s poem Hamlet’s Reply convey loss and emptiness in a powerful way, especially the last lines: “Alone, with nothing but the night. Alone. And soon, just the night.” I thought that Jones’s voice was vying with the sax in this, so those lyrics were a little lost at a crucial point.

Slater’s voice — ethereal and boundless — was eminently suited to Whitman’s Darest Thou O Soul, floating over the strong piano patterns created by Keller. And Magnusson’s spindly, fine tendrils of sound were ideal for Teasdale’s optimistic If Death is Kind, in which the vocalists blended and crossed beautifully.

Julien Wilson’s work on tenor sax and bass clarinet was an absolute delight during this concert.

In considering how Still Night: Music in Poetry might contribute to our responses to death, Andrea Keller quotes Robert White that “meditating on a beautiful expression of sadness can help to provide a thoroughly uplifting sense of consolation”.

Each member of the sold-out Salon audience will know whether this work succeeded, but I can say that to me it was a journey to places that I needed to explore.

ROGER MITCHELL

PS: Ode to a Nightingale is my favourite Keats poem, and I love these lines:

Darkling I listen; and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Andrea Keller

Andrea Keller performs at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2016