Review by Joel Roberts
As the opening performance of BIFEM 2017, Jenna Lyle’s Plank Rodeo was a brief apéritif to a night of diverse musical events. The concept behind the piece is simple and beautiful: a group of four performers physically support each other while they ‘ride’ on top of a precarious pile of boards. The sounds of creaking and popping are captured by transducers and microphones as the boards give in to the performers’ weight and movement. Processed in real time by the composer, then amplified, the sounds created an inviting imaginary landscape as they reverberated through the halls of the Bendigo Art Gallery.
The sonic impression of the work was that of a geological soundscape, reminding me of a painting in the Tasmanian Museum where an Antarctic icebreaker gouges a path through sheets of sea ice. The work’s connection with landscape was also reinforced by its placement within a hall of nineteenth-century paintings of people and places. The juxtaposition of new music among old paintings was perhaps tongue in cheek, as this environment is typically reserved for performances from the classical canon.
For audience members who were familiar with these musicians, this was an opportunity to witness vulnerable musical exploration outside the instrumental and vocal specialisations that these performers are highly regarded for. This conjunction of human movement with wooden ‘instruments’ provided a fresh perspective to our conventional expectations of what instrumental performance is, or should be.
As the musicians indelicately clung to each other while fulfilling the physical and listening tasks of the work, they experienced and expressed ‘ensemble’ in its most primitive form. They were literally ‘together’ and physically dependent upon each other. In this sometimes painfully close proximity, they played and explored the sounds available to them as the piece swept from delicate moments of tiny creaks and crackles to outrageously loud moments where the musicians’ stomping generated explosive sounds that shocked the audience. In one moment of relative quiet, Jessica Aszodi delicately tickled the base of the ‘instrument’ with her toes, stimulating a subtle audio response from the soundscape.
While a performance of this work by dancers could have exploited a more refined approach to human movement, this performance of Plank Rodeo was an opportunity for the audience and musicians to experience aspects of music making and sound generation at their most fundamental level, and provided a re-examination of what instrumental performance can, or could be.
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Bendigo Art Gallery
Friday 1 September, 2017
Jacob Abela, performer
Jessica Aszodi, performer
Matteo Cesari, performer
Jenna Lyle, electronics
Jane Sheldon, performer