Aviva Endean, Intimate Sound Immersion

Aviva Endean, photo by Michel Marang.
Aviva Endean, photo by Michel Marang.

Aviva Endean
Intimate Sound Immersion
Dane Certificate’s Magic Theatre
Thursday 25 July

What better time to visit a magic theatre down a dark, cobbled alleyway than a wet and windy winter night? The magic I sought on Thursday night was not, however, of the trick-shop kind. Nor did I seek spells or demonic powers, though all of the above found themselves, in a way, evoked in Aviva Endean’s Intimate Sound Immersion, a one-on-one encounter with one of Australia’s finest performers of contemporary clarinet repertoire.

Performers of contemporary music spend endless hours honing sounds that do not necessarily travel well to row WW of a concert hall. While instrumentalists must still be able to project a full tone to the back of an auditorium, they must also command an ever-growing repertoire of “extended techniques” ranging from barely perceptible whispers to deafening screeches, often augmenting their instruments with found objects and manipulating their sound in complex and astonishing ways. I did not know just how remarkable some of these sounds were until blindfolded and led behind the red curtain Dane Certificate’s Magic Theatre.

The performance begins with an almost imperceptible pulse by one’s ear. The sound is so low and so quiet that one is not entirely sure whether there is a draft or the building is shaking from a passing tram. The sensation grows louder and moves around one’s head, opening out the audience member’s spatial perception. Much of the performance plays on the juxtaposition of the still and the moving, the close and the distant, to remarkable effect.

The pulsing changes to a breathy sound that strikes both ears. By opening and closing two channels of a mysterious wind instrument (I suppose, not being able to see any of the tools of the magician’s trade) the listener is gripped in a rapid, rhythmic, spatial oscillation.

After this spatially-focused rhythmic intensity, the sound field is gloriously opened out by a chorus of chimes at different distances from the listener, including two small music boxes  at close range by each ear. This was an absolutely stunning moment and more could have been made of this difference between centralised and dispersed sounds, the opening of the intimate conversation out into an imaginary landscape.

After several more short timbral studies, one encounters a wandering solo of double trills and overtones on the bass clarinet. After passing through the previous sound worlds like so many mythical trials, one feels that one is “meeting” the clarinet like a creature at the end of a quest. What it says I will leave up to you to decide. The unique opportunity of hearing such a solo up close is worth the entrance fee alone, a privilege that performers, who are condemned to a life of unflatteringly-close contact with their sound, might not immediately think of offering their audiences. Just as the audience member is led into the clarinet’s chamber, they are led out. The entire process leaves one with a definite sense of having heard “something” in the warbling trills of the clarinet that one can take away into the cold Melbourne streets.

With low overheads and more spatial flexibility than perhaps any other performance medium, one-on-one performance could be the most dynamic performance genre today. Endean’s performance contributes to a small tradition of performances in Melbourne (including percussionist Matthias Schack-Arnott’s Chrysalis and Paris-based found-sound artist Pascal Battus’ Sound Massage) that exploit a 360 degree sound field usually reserved for complex speaker arrays and orchestral staging.

Intimate Sound Immersion runs until Sunday night, so get down to Dane Certificate’s Magic Theatre, if it is still there.

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