Review / Brilliant exploration of the sonic landscape

Music / “The Garden of Music”. At the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, September 30. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

Trombonist Simone de Haan. Photo by PETER HISLOP

EXPERIMENTAL, improvised and exploratory music can lead art into new territories and create sonic landscapes that open up the possibilities of sound.

Audiences rarely get to hear the type of music and sounds that come from exploratory music, but in “The Garden of Music”, performed by five innovative musicians at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, they threw everything they had at their audience.

The performers were Simone de Haan on trombone, Rhys Butler on alto sax, Ben Drury on double bass, Alexander Hunter on viola de gamba and Richard Johnson playing a variety of wind instruments.

Richard Johnson in action. Photo by PETER HISLOP

The mixture of tone colours that one musical instrument is capable of producing seems endless. However, when a musician who has been playing and experimenting with their chosen instrument for years, they can create things that probably even surprise them.

Simone de Haan with his trombone and using a range of mutes seems capable of making music and sounds that defy the innate character of his instrument. The double bass played by Drury became a percussion instrument; it was amazing how similar it sounded like a timpani when the strings were played on by hand like a drum.

The soprano sax, played by Johnson, which was positioned over a kick drum was played into the skin of the drum and rubbed against the skin to produce tones that cultivated almost indescribable sounds. He also produced an unusual high-pitched harmonic, as did the alto sax played by Butler. Johnson made this sound by biting on the reed, which closed down the airflow creating a harmonic in the mouthpiece.

In the Drill Hall Gallery, surrounded by the artworks of Jude Rae, the players produced dynamics that ranged from the softest whisper to the loudest roar. The trombone when played with all the air de Haan could muster, blasted out at a booming volume that reverberated heavily and it swallowed all the other instruments. A piercing staccato, as just described on the trombone seemed to indicate a new section was to begin, as though it was a musical marker for all players.

When Johnson introduced the bass clarinet, it gave the trombone a run for its money, matching some of its depths and diversity of tone. The sounds that these five players created throughout the evening combined almost every kind of tone colour and intonation that their instruments could make.

At one point, the trombone was dismantled, and the slide was quickly pulled from its housing, which created a vacuum of sound that exploded through the air.

Shredding the boundaries of music with traditional instruments is something every composer should hear and experiment with, as these players have. Sounds like this will offer a better understanding of the complex diversities that an acoustic instrument can make.

As Johnson says: “This is music that lives outside of traditional areas”. Moreover, these are sounds and ideas that are not heard often enough.

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