Next Wave: Fluvial

Matthias Schack-Arnott in Fluvial. Photo by Jesse Hunniford.
Matthias Schack-Arnott in Fluvial. Photo by Jesse Hunniford.

Matthias Schack-Arnott
Next Wave Festival
North Melbourne Town Hall
1 May, 2014

Hundreds of sheets of metal, aluminium pipes, tiny metal piano tuning pins and glass bottles hang above or lie upon two long, raised platforms that run in parallel through the centre of the space. There is just enough room between them for the percussionist Matthias Schack-Arnott to move, the sole percussionist in the installation-performance Fluvial.

“Fluvial” may describe the changes wrought upon an environment by streams and rivers. Forever moving, sometimes gentle and sometimes violent may well describe Schack-Arnott’s performance. The show begins and ends with graceful, poetic gestures. At one end of the metallic array, Schack-Arnott sends four thin metal pipes, hanging parallel to the ground, into motion. When struck, they emit clear tones that pulse as they rotate. Schack-Arnott watches their orbits narrowly avoid each other, as though he were some modern-day Copernicus turning his calculations from the heavens to the pressing terrestrial matters of the age.

Things take a chaotic turn after this harmonious vision. Schack-Arnott brings the pipes in collision with the granite tiles beneath them, juxtaposing the pipes’ ethereal tones with the dead clunkings of stone. Moving through the centre aisle, Schack-Arnott strikes a deeper set of pipes that lie across a fulcrum on the granite tiles. As they rebound from the stone they emit a sharp sound like rain on a roof.

Each episode of the piece presents a truly intriguing new sound. While percussionists will be familiar with a tremolo on pipes with soft mallets, the effect of a dozen pieces of sheet metal, suspended from their centres, being thrust onto a piece of granite and then released will be a revelation in the extremes of muting and uncontrolled resonance. As will Matthias’ dramatic throttling and submerging of a bunch of glass bottles in a sink of water and the cacophonous (the only truly ear-splitting moment in the piece) collision of a flock of metal sheeting with a cloud of microtonally-tuned wind-chimes.

The installation is as thought-provoking as it is beautiful. The system’s forces hang in a state of equilibrium. Each piece of metal and granite is microtonally tuned in clusters around different pitch centres. This helps to separate the different sound sources for the listener and at times produces a ritualistic, chant-like quality to the performance. One is also aware that nothing is absolutely static or ordered in this musico-environmental model. As the audience enters, the air movement they produce occasionally causes a bottle to moves against another, or a finely-balanced chime finally tips over into a new position. Schack-Arnott is no prime mover in this environment, but one who powerfully interferes with its balance of forces. Theatrically stunning, aurally stimulating, Fluvial is an unmissable experience at this year’s Next Wave festival.

Fluvial runs 1–4 and 7–11 May.

Partial Durations is a RealTime/Matthew Lorenzon joint project.

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