Woodburn Creatives, Sydney
November 22, 2018

The sound of water gurgles through speakers as the audience gathers around composer Alice Chance’s Wishpond. Strewn with pebbles, the blue pond at the centre of a gauzy green enclave in Redfern’s Woodburn Creatives warehouse space is full of tiny fish and gently sparkling lights, tadpole-like creatures flitting across the surface of dozens of smart phones. The composer leads the audience in chant-like vocalisations that mingle with the layered pitches emanating from the pond. Led by Chance, the audience casts imaginary fish-food (or wishes, or breath, or softly sung notes) into the pond, where coloured dots attract the wildlife on the phone screens.

Wishpond ­– which required the audience to prepare their phones (brightness and volume up, notifications turned off) and enter their secret, anonymous wishes through a website set up by the composer – was a delightful, atmospheric opening to the final Backstage Music concert for the year, Singles Club. The only tension in this whimsical work was that between the need to follow Chance’s gestured directions and a desire to lose oneself in the glimmering spectacle of the pond.

Alice Chance, Backstage Music, Singles Club

The concert that followed was built by percussionist and composer Bree van Reyk (of Ensemble Offspring and Synergy Percussion fame) around collaboration, riffing on the Singles Club theme in Personal Ads artist bios and quirky stage banter, but ultimately celebrating artists coming together to meld their practices and feed off each other creatively.

Pianist, composer and instrument builder Cor Fuhler’s delicately textured Cinnamon Breeze saw Van Reyk playing a vibraphone, a coiled spring stretched across the keys, the jangling timbre offset by the luminous tone of a ‘regular’ note. Composer and percussionist (like the other artists in this program he wears too many creative hats to usefully list here) Marcus Whale joined artist Lauren Brincat for her work Red Piece, a piece underlining Brincat’s reference to the After Cage era in her Personal Ad, which saw Whale exhaling and inhaling through a harmonica, Brincat ringing a bell, her ear pressed to Whale’s chest. Paired with this miniature was Brincat’s Testing, Testing, a meditation on echoes and the irresistible (and slightly narcissistic desire) to explore and test them, Whale kneeling, face pressed against a large gong, his accented vocals setting it ringing and feeding his voice back in a haunting, ceremonial work.

Backstage Music, Singles ClubRhiannon Newton and Bree Van Reyk at Backstage Music’s Single’s Club. Photo © Ollie Miller

Van Reyk returned to the stage, this time with dancer and choreographer Rhiannon Newton for Double Pressures, which saw the two performers back to back, Van Reyk beating out rhythms on suspended wooden two-by-fours as she and Newtown, pivoted in a rolling motion. Van Reyk’s rhythms matched the urgency of the choreography until the two broke away, Newton’s movements unfurling slowly.

Whale joined Van Reyk for his own work, Caldera, named for the collapse of a volcano into itself, a beautifully hypnotic duet that saw the two percussionists striking lengths of hanging aluminium girders, sometimes harsh, sometimes bell-like, creating an otherworldly atmosphere – augmented by electronics – brought to a close by Van Reyk striking a bell, the audience watching mesmerised over several minutes as it swung to a stop, the sound long since decayed into silence.

Singles Club was a laid-back, playful event, revelling in the sheer fun of collaboration –  this wasn’t the tightly focussed, strictly choreographed set with which flute player Claire Chase opened the season. While the presentation became slightly rambling towards the end of the evening, the set changes and stage banter not as crisp as earlier, the threads drawn through the program gave it a compelling shape and the sense of ceremony evoked – never too serious or stodgy – created a certain lingering gravitas. This continued in the final work, Fuhler’s Compass, in which all of the artists – joined by Backstage’s curators Lamorna Nightingale and Elizabeth Jigalin – came together and processed through and around the audience, enveloping them with the music of singing bowls and cups of different shapes and sizes, from Fuhler’s resounding goblet to Jigalin’s tiny tinkling bowls.

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