The Meeting Points series is an ongoing artistic project that pits styles that would not normally be expected to even be aware of each other onstage. Hand To Earth is very clearly in this genre – it would not normally strike many, I am sure, to have a Korean jazz vocalist paired up with an experimental trumpeter/electronics performer and a Yolngu song-man get together to make music. And yet, in their third collaboration, the show these talented musicians bring (accompanied by two other talented musicians) is a full experience, brought to the people of Melbourne by the Australian Art Orchestra.
Experimental music – for that is what this show was – is often an intellectual exercise as much as an aesthetic one. As an audience member, it is important to listen to the tiny details, from the slow, eternal drones of the bass clarinet (performed by Aviva Endean) or the yidaki (similar to a digeridoo and performed by David Wilfred) through to the high pitched and staccato shrieks of the female vocals or trumpet. Everything in this style of music serves a purpose and fills in the texture of a sound experience that conveys ideas and sensations – fire, the rain, pesky flies, or even the stars. Sitting in the show, it was easy to see why they described Sunny Kim as “[o]ne of Korea’s most sought after jazz vocalists”. She carried herself in an almost ethereal way onstage, moving like water and using her voice to add those additional emphasis points that brought out the music. The decision to have her add her powerful voice, which somehow managed to sound like water, birds, and humanity all at once, was an inspired choice. Peter Knight, artistic director of the Australian Art Orchestra and the trumpeter/electronics man, provided much texture for the show, and the work he must have put into preparations for this really showed.
But of course, it was the works of Daniel Wilfred that carried the day. Singing in the language of the Yolngu – a good decision that made the pieces simultaneously modern and ancient – he managed to have stage presence without taking up much space. And despite not everyone in the audience being able to speak his sung language, it was easy to understand the meaning. His stylistic choices in the soundscape were generally well chosen, and he obviously is a master of his craft.
That is not to say the show was perfect – although the sound crew were spot on for the songs themselves, every performer was softly spoken (as is to be expected from musicians in this genre), which meant that people towards the back of the space had trouble hearing. Perhaps more confidence on the performers, or better attention to sounding could have improved this aspect. The show was also very Melbourne (read: experimental and intellectual) – whilst this made it enjoyable to watch, and everyone in the room seemed transfixed (as mentioned), the reach of this style of music has its limitations. And apart from the sounds emanating from onstage, it was actually relatively dull – there was a lack of showmanship outside of the music, and the lighting was fairly minimal.
Still, despite all of this, Hand to Earth was a good show, and earned the thunderous applause it received. If the rest of this series is of this calibre, then it is a rich addition to Melbourne’s cultural life (and there is indeed another show of a similar but completely unrelated style due later this year).
May we see more mixed music like this going forward.