Review / The Griffyns go a little quirky

Music / “A Night in Hyperreality”, The Griffyn Ensemble. At the Canberra Contemporary Arts Space, Gorman House, September 1. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

THE Canberra Contemporary Arts Space was an appropriate venue for this innovative, quirky concert (no-“aural experience!”).

Upon entry the audience was invited to explore the exhibited works, not only before the show (some did) but also during the performance (no one did).

There were mock Chinese wedding photographs, abstract paintings, an oversized Elmo from Sesame Street sporting a Donald Trump badge, a water feature that related to a fish leaping on a wall and a large furry rabbit that seemed to breathe of its own accord!

Unusual props but spot on for “A Night of Hyperreality” (not a word noted in my 1990 edition of the “Macquarie Dictionary”), concert 3 of the Griffyn Ensemble’s well named “6 Curious Concerts”.

“Ship Building”, played by Michael Sollis on a small ancient organ greeted everyone (as they arrived to greet Elmo) then some loudish “Pendulum Music” invited all to “go to sleep”. Curious!

The incessant one-pitch beeping of a mobile phone-like alarm clock then provided the rhythmic background for “Wake Up!”, a work for the solo piccolo of Kiri Sollis, which commenced quite simply but then grew in complexity as the instrument eventually began to dominate the beeps. “Pacific Sirens” pitched live sounds against recorded sounds with imagination encouraged to roam free. I thought I heard the noise of an airliner ascending (my concert companion believed that sound to be the ocean), then a cat that wailed before singing (wonderfully accurate pitching from soprano Susan Ellis), along with some distortion through the speakers which, in the overall mix, I’m not sure was intended or was a bit of a production issue. No one will ever know!

“Able To Be” again had live playing against a recorded sound track plus graphics projected on a wall and the recorded voice of Marilyn Monroe. This didn’t quite work for me. Again it could have been intended, but the clarity of the Marilyn recording was poor, so much of what she said was missed. The accompanying graphics appeared only briefly, so much of the story seemingly wasn’t told.

“Happy Birthday, Mr President” this was not! The printed program warned that “Cities Change the Song of Birds” would contain very coarse language.

Street talk from an American city, accompanied by film, was backed by the gentle, seductive harp of Laura Tanata, an odd pairing but, then again, this was meant to be curious!

I found the shock value of the vulgar talk lasted only about a minute. The image of the rude, crude, mongrel world being portrayed then became a bit boring. If the aim of the piece had been to highlight the plight of the downtrodden in the US, the effect was severely diminished by just being over the top for too long.

Yet another solo piece (perhaps the billing should have read “The Griffyn Mostly Individuals” rather than The Griffyn Ensemble) with Holly Downes playing her own composition “Ground Bass”, along with a pre-recorded soundtrack. The playing was deep and sonorous and the explanatory text posed the question – “where is it coming from?”

The music meandered about a bit in a somewhat repetitive fashion, which had my mind asking the alternative question – where is it going? The wretched beeping alarm clock returned for a “Wake Up!” reprise to end the show and thankfully Kiri easily outplayed it again.

This “sound experience” as always displayed the vivid imagination and musical creativity of the group who are fearless in presenting challenges for themselves and their audiences.

Personally, I’m a melody man so Cole Porter and Jerome Kern are more my cup of tea. I do wonder though what the original Cole Porter music lovers would have thought when they first heard the seeming odd noises emitting from the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Mr Presley. Curious!

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