Arts / ‘Circularsawruses’ take mystery out of making music

Flautist Kiri Sollis with Michael Sollis play Mark Cain’s slide-flute.

MEMBERS of Canberra’s Griffyn Ensemble are keen to continue one of the most extraordinary exercises in music making ever seen in the nation’s capital.

“We’ve transformed satellite dishes, PVC pipes, foot pumps, balloons, skis, tin cans, fence-posts, bicycles, wooden boxes, garden utensils and more into some of the most incredible musical instruments you’ve never seen,” Griffyn director Michael Sollis recently told a concert audience at the Belconnen Arts Centre,

Sollis also boasted he’d assembled “a crackpot team of maverick musicians and makers,” his regular team musos, Chris Stone, Susan Ellis, Holly Downes, and Kiri Sollis, along with Perth instrument-maker, Mark Cain, virtuoso community musician Jim Sharrock and Canberra visual artist Byrd to make not just music but a “musical playground”. Together with community members, they’ve morphed into the “Circularsawruses”.

Michael Sollis in the instrument workshop.

“We have scoured through old sheds, recycling plants and garbage bins to find offcuts and once-loved materials,” Sollis said.

“After some incredible experimentation and creative design, we have transformed these objects into brand new instruments.”

Sollis’ philosophy is simple enough and, as a first-time father in 2018, he should know.

“There is nothing more wondrous than watching a wide-eyed child discover sound. It could be as simple as seeing them strike two blocks of wood together, inventing a series of variations and patterns – thus making music for the first time.

“If only we could revisit that experience, to once again be that curious child.”

In his newest exercise, he has gathered the Circularsawruses, including children and adults from the community, to create new and often very strange-sounding musical instruments.

In last month’s concert they showed a few of their efforts, painful to a few parents with sensitive ears but fun for the rest of the audience, including the kids. Not just that, it served the purpose of taking the mystery out of music making, too often confined to an elite.

We heard works on Cain’s PVC slide flute, which classical flautist Kiri Sollis told us took some of the control out of her normally masterly hands. We heard fiddler Chris Stone on the “Urbanjo” and hurdy-gurdy music produced with the aid of some serious bicycle-riding that sounded like a wild beast growling.

With careful attention, we could make out “The Little Drummer Boy” and Scotland the Brave” on balloon-pipes, and a new work, “Hazy Australian Summer”, where the relentless tune of the cicada actually sounded more like a mosquito. Soprano Susan Ellis, Kiri Sollis and Chris Holly recreated the sounds of a large, slow-moving animal in “Walrus Chorus”.

Three members of the Circularsawruses – Annika Romeyn, Peter Shaw, and John Furlonger – join The Griffyn Ensemble for the “Giant, All-Ages Instrument Playground”.

Sollis tried new, colour-coded musical notations in a six-movement composition called “Baloons”, not a misspelling but named after Baloo the Bear.

Playfulness was of the essence in this new “Giant, All-Ages Instrument Playground”.

Now the Griffyns, buoyed by the support of the community, want to hear from Belconnen residents of all backgrounds, ages and musical experiences keen to become Circularsawruses. They might even stage another concert before the summer is done.

Inquiries about joining the Circularsawruses to griffyn@griffynensemble.com

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