The Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic hits all the right notes. Intelligent and accessible, the festival takes its place among a growing number of superbly curated and executed contemporary music festivals in Australia. The audience crowds down a stairway into the bowels of the Arts Centre. Coloured lights and ambient sound design herald their entrance into a netherworld of heightened experience. Once inside, the audience has free run of three or so simultaneous acts curated by Sophia Brous and drawn from the world over. The acts are durational, sincere, cross-cultural, and avant-garde, but peppered with high-profile acts presenting more conventional fare. The audiences crowding into the performances on Friday night prove once again that, if presented in an open and enticing light, audiences absolutely love contemporary music. Friday night’s program was underpinned by a three-hour performance of the Javanese Kuda Lumping (Flat Horse) ritual directed by Chunky Move’s founding Artistic Director Gideon Obarzanek with lighting design by Ben Cisterne. The performers, accompanied by an Indonesian music ensemble, danced themselves into trance states before being lifted out of the room by black-clad shamans. The audience could equally attend a performance by Tao Dance Theatre as they twisted and contorted their way through some of the most controlled contact improv I have ever seen. I was particularly interested to see Matthias Schack-Arnott’s new performance Diplopia, which follows his lauded solo percussion projects Fluvial and Chrysalis.
Diplopia (double vision) plays on the simple yet effective idea of attaching a microphone to each wrist of the performer and amplifying them through stereo speakers so that the performer’s hand movements are translated into rhythmic panning effects. Schack-Arnott surrounded himself with cymbals and tam-tams of different sizes, which furnished him with a beautiful array of metallic resonances.
Schack-Arnott began by gently playing a series of mid-range upturned cymbals, moving his arms in circles. The audience was lulled by the gently pulsating hum highlighted by metallic shimmering. Tighter and looser arm circles produced striking phasing effects, while several very slow circles produced a viscous aural effect like smearing clay. By contrast, a wide, fast arc over a single small cymbal would produce a short, clipped yelp. The moment I began wondering what the harmonic, microtonal properties of the cymbal array might be, Schack-Arnott started playing multiple cymbals producing beating, dissonant tones.
Schack-Arnott explored large tamtams, which gave a rather dead bassy hum, and much smaller cymbals whose rhythmic, amplified resonance was almost vocal in timbre. Swelling sine tones based on harmonics of the cymbals were dispelled by immaculately-timed attacks. The higher the pitch of the cymbal, the more complex and interesting the tones, with the higher cymbals accompanied by beating harmonics.
The flowing, rhythmic performance was a perfect opening for Supersense, but I’d like to hear these ideas explored further. What would jagged and irregular movements sound like? What about using only one microphone so that initial attacks were not amplified but their resonances were? How many different tones could one cast one’s hand over before they became indistinguishable? Schack-Arnott has opened up a world of new possibilities.
Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic
State Theatre Rehearsal Room, Arts Centre Melbourne
Friday 7 August, 2015