Review / A stunning sonic experience

Music / Dans Les Arbres. At ANU Drill Hall Gallery, June 22. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

Christian Wallumrød on the prepared piano… the soundboard on the piano is tapped, its strings are played with a mallet and fingers with sustaining pedal down. Photo by PETER HISLOP

SOUND poetry, electro-acoustic, noise, improvisational or experimental music are all descriptions of what Dans Les Arbres creates, they also make a mystical and engaging world out of their unique musical language.

The performers in Dans Les Arbres are Xavier Charles on clarinet; Ivar Grydeland, electric guitar; Christian Wallumrød on the prepared piano and Ingar Zach, percussions. Dans Les Arbres means “In the Trees”, their title could be explained by the poem “The Sound of Trees” by American poet Robert Frost, which mentions the fascinating sound that trees make in the wind because many of the sounds they make are similarly captivating.

The communication between the players seems telepathic, especially as some have their eyes closed for minutes on end. The rhythm comes from a large percussion section all played by Ingar Zach. Adding to the rhythm section is Ivar Grydeland who taps and strokes his double-necked pedal steel guitar with a mallet and a small bow.

The clarinet breathes, clicks, growls and gasps then cuts through the music with its high and low pitches. The piano seems to play a more minimal role, but it has its poignant and standout moments.

Dans Les Arbres… The players never look at one another, they feel and experience each other through an unspoken language. Photo by PETER HISLOP

The sound is mesmerising, hypnotic, it’s almost ritual as it rotates around the Drill Hall Gallery. It oscillates in waves and there is a resemblance to the sounds of twittering birds coming from the clarinet and the rustling of leaves in the wind and from the huge gran cassa (bass drum), which is hanging from a frame horizontally, a deep distant thunder.

There is so much variation in texture and sound, nothing is static for long. New ambiences arrive every few seconds. Some sounds are unrecognisable even though they come from traditional instruments. A small brass cymbal has air blown through its centre hole. Metal discs and Christmas bells are bounced and slid across the skin of the drum. Steel wool is pressed into the strings on the guitar, creating an unearthly creepy creaking sound.

The players never look at one another, they feel and experience each other through an unspoken language. At times, it’s hard to tell where the music is coming from; instruments are used in unique and complex ways, but it all gels. It sounds like a thought-out composition, even a written-out composition.

The music fluctuates through to a symphonic storm of sound. It’s alive with dynamic and sonic propulsion. Eventually, the resonance slowly wisps away towards silence, like after a storm. Then it quietens to a reverent hush, as it began, and the audience and players emerge from a stunning sonic experience.

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