Review by Angus McPherson
A screaming clarinet multiphonic, pitches grating against each other, presages thunderous bass drums. The impact from the drums triggers blinking in the audience, bodies recoiling from the onslaught of sound that seems too vast and terrible to be contained in the tightly packed Old Fire Station. Late on Friday night, Aviva Endean opened the proceedings of Dual Rituals with Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg’s Ablauf (Expiration). This strident music began a recital that had all the solemnity and pageantry of a spiritual rite. The contrast between piercing howls and whispered prayers made Dual Rituals compelling and deeply unsettling.
Flanked by black-hooded bass drummers Peter Neville and Leah Scholes, Endean’s energy is implacable; she slides around the clarinet with virtuosic zeal and screams at the audience in short, vicious barks. She is just as nimble on bass clarinet as the drums recede to low rumbles. Ablauf fades out, the stage goes dark and Endean appears on video above the stage holding up a sign instructing the audience that they will ‘need earplugs to play’ the next piece.
Endean’s own composition, A Face Like Yours, invites the audience to copy the actions of her filmed self, and we obediently insert earplugs and begin touching and tapping at our faces. Drumming fingertips lightly against the earplugs elicits reverberations inside our heads, and in the otherwise silent audience, we run fingers over our scalps and behind our ears. We slap our cheeks and lips, a soft fleshy patter that rises and falls. When the stage fades once more to black the audience, bereft of its leader, seems unsure whether to break the spell by applauding.
The lights come up on Endean kneeling at the front of the stage, Tibetan sounding bowls in her hands for Pierluigi Billone’s Mani. Gonxha, a hypnotic performance of ceremonial prayer. Endean draws a variety of metallic sounds from the bowls – traditionally used in meditation – as she slides them together, mutes them or loosens her grip allowing them to ring out. It is a long piece to sustain such a narrow range of timbres, but Endean’s focus never slips. Her body is both resonator and dampener, as much a part of the percussion as the bowls, and the dull tapping of one bowl against the knuckles of her hand evokes an air of self-flagellation. This intensifies as she beats one bowl against the other pressed to her abdomen, as if trying to drive it into her belly. There is a sense of intrusion, as if this is a private act we have stumbled upon. Quiet gong-like vocalisations become chanting as Endean finally lifts her eyes to stare into the audience.
Endean sits at a desk, the pieces of a disassembled clarinet arranged before her like a vanitas still life. The premiere of Wojtek Blecharz’s Counter-Earth begins with the amplified sound of the clarinet’s barrel rolling across the wooden desk. Dramatically lit from above, Endean paints sounds with the clarinet’s parts, while cymbals chime from a recording, extending the ceremonial mood of Mani. Gonxha. The clarinet’s middle joints become machines for trapping and releasing breath, and one is played as a side-blown flute, reminiscent of a funerary Shakuhachi. The chiaroscuro lighting distorts Endean’s features as she stretches her eyelids open with her hands and claws at her face. Electronic sounds mingled with those produced by the clarinet, which is gradually assembled.
In the next movement, Endean delivers the text of the Wikipedia entry on the Syrian city of Aleppo in the voice of a friendly tour-guide. Her recitation of the historical value of one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world is rendered heartbreaking by the destruction that has resulted from the Civil War. Endean periodically interrupts her bright delivery with hissing chants from a darker text. ‘A slow death, a slow death, a slow death’ a chilling reminder of the suffering Aleppo has seen. Crouching, Endean reaches into a glowing chest, which illuminates her as she pulls out pieces of rubble and drops them onto the stage.
Bathed in blood red light, Endean plays an Aztec death whistle into a microphone for Counter-Earth’s finale. The rasping of the skull shaped instrument is light at first, but gradually mutates into something like raucous, hysterical laughter.
Aviva Endean drew the audience in with her trance-like intensity. Sustaining the reverent solemnity of a priest or shaman throughout, she made us complicit as witnesses to and participants in her dark rituals.
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Old Fire Station
4 September 2015