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Ad Lib Collective presents The Water Concerto 25 February 2022

Take an image of a single person standing against a dark background, with their hands immersed in a very large, uplit, transparent bowl and captured in motion swirling water with the text “Water Concerto”. The promotional flyer alone for this concert was was enough to pique my interest in attending this concert!

Upon arrival at the gallery, I was immediately greeted by the gentle sound of water, a sound installation created by John Pax and Thea Rossen. I wandered around the gallery and got beach sand stuck in between my toes (yes, literally!) before finding a place to sit. This was my third visit to the Holmes à Court Gallery; I love the space and how it adapts for each exhibition / concert I’ve attended.

Tying in with the Perth Festival theme of ocean, the Holmes à Court gallery is displaying Wam Wardanup - Strangers on the Shore, a collection of artworks that respond to early cross-cultural encounters along the Western Australian coastline between First Nations people and Macassan and Chinese traders and European shipwreck survivors. First Nations artists Sandra Harben and Kelsey Ashe’s giant 9m x 2m Wam Wardanup doyntj doyntj koorliny (Strangers on the Shore going along together) was the perfect backdrop for this concert; one could take in the vastness of the work for afar whilst experiencing the music.

Chinese-American composer Tan Dun, is most famous for his lush and award-winning score for Ang Lee’s film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a movie that I have watched many times. He has an amazing ability to write music so entrancing; you feel like you’re transported to another world. Dun uses inspiration from the sounds of water in his early life in rural China to create a hypnotic sound-world in the Water Concerto. He writes “What I want to present... is music that is for listening to in a visual way, and watching in an audio way. I want it to be intoxicating. And I hope some people will listen and rediscover life’s elements, things that are around us but we don’t notice”. If this was Dun’s goal - it certainly was a winner with me and ANAM graduate, producer and arranger Jared Yapp captured the essence of Tan Dun’s Water Concerto in this brilliant arrangement for sextet.

Lighting design by GSD Productions added to dramatic and immersive atmosphere of this concert. Beginning in darkness, the distant, eerie sound of 2 waterphones created a suspenseful and mysterious atmosphere. Percussionists Thea Rossen and Jet-Kye Chong slowly processed to the stage from the back of the audience, the swirling and bowing the waterphones to create sounds that immediately made me think being in the hull of an old, creaking, abandoned boat.

Dun’s sound-world was brought to life by Perth’s best musicians. Conducted by Kate Milligan and joined by Ashley Smith (clarinet & bass clarinet), Liam Wooding (piano), Sasha McCulloch (cello) and Libby Browning (double bass), it was exciting to witness a world-class production presented by local musicians. Soloist, Thea Rossen, was star of the show; I could have easily watched her weave her magic all night! Mesmerising throughout, her artistry and amazing theatrical gestures evoked an other-worldly experience. Rossen’s manipulation of the organic sound of water created the most incredible palette of sounds - whether the water was popping, plopping, dripping or swishing. My attention was captured and my imagination ran wild!

Two interludes composed by Yapp that responded to the artworks we were surrounded by in the exhibition, were interspersed within Dun’s composition. In the first interlude, members of the sextet made their way to large, uplit, clear bowls filled with water around the room and immersed large steel colanders into the water and then raised them high above the clear bowls - the sound of the water draining from the colander evoking images of the water lapping on the shore at the beach. The second interlude used sounds from pipes that were dipped into the bowls at varying depths and struck to produce different pitch sounds.

The final movement Allegro motto agitato was a scene of chaos with a flurry of rhythmic activity from PVC pipes hit with thongs, with loud angry bird-like calls from kazoos played by Smith, McCulloch, Browning and Wooding, punctuated with accented chords from the instrumentalists.

After reaching a climax, the sound suddenly dissipated and we we bought back to the eerie sound of the waterphone from the beginning of the piece. The other instruments slowly enter imitating the sound of the waterphone; cello and double bass glissando harmonics adding to the mysterious sound palette. The energy then builds once again leading to an exciting end to the work.

Congratulations to the Ad Lib collective on this amazing performance - I can’t wait to see what you do next!

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