University of Sydney Percussion ensemble makes a SPLASH
Photo source: Hugh Guest
Philosopher David Armstrong’s Laws of Nature dictate that our concept of the world and the things that populate it are constant - our views and perceptions of all around us are unchanging. Splash Percussion’s concert, The So Called Laws of Nature, held last week, brings attention to a contrary stance; the notion of transformation and fluidity is the core of their repertoire. The concert was a study in the boundary between chaos and stillness, and the musicians at the heart of the performance embodied the fantastical atmosphere that the music inspired.
The opening piece, ‘The So Called Laws of Nature’ by David Lang, began with complete silence, as the musicians stood facing away from the audience. Tubular bells were slowly brought in and rang out in dissonant countermelodies. As the song progressed, the rhythm became so complex that it was difficult to tell if the ensemble were even in time with each other, though the syncopated effect was undoubtedly haunting. As the piece progressed, chaos began to erupt in the Old Darlington School and exacerbated the sense of discord and incongruence. Without warning, the piece ended much like it started, with a sudden silence as the final beat echoed around the hall. It was very clear this was unlike anything you might expect on a night out at the orchestra.
The rest of the evening ran parallel to James Guest’s introduction of the repertoire, which was that it “draws on the power of the world around us; forces that we try to harness or imitate and that sometimes overwhelm us”. The pieces that followed were indeed overwhelming, with highlights including an enchanting duet between Guest and Stuart Rynn, which took a step back from the cacophonous element of the titular piece, and instead introduced a playfulness as the sonorous notes of the vibraphone and marimba bounced off the walls of the Darlington Hall. Both percussionists exhibited exemplary talents during this piece and should be highly commended.
Another standout during the night was Gareth Farr’s ‘Sound Pig’, which took the element of chaotic quirkiness to a whole new level. As the introduction to the piece was being made, a member on stage loudly knocked over his bass drum, which was met with ironic scoffs from the audience members: “percussionists!” I heard about six mothers sneer in synchrony. The music itself was nothing more or less than an obnoxious outpouring of impeccably rhythmic sound, interspersed with somewhat more melodious intervals of sparkling glockenspiel and marimba. It was the kind of piece that musical amateurs like myself would mock, yet never have a fraction of the talent it takes to perform it. What made the performance of Farr’s dissonant masterpiece even more entertaining was the point at which a member of the audience (or was it?!) stepped onto stage and began to play the accordion. Furthering the absurdity, this was followed by every member of the ensemble pulling out Nerf guns and shooting the accordion player ‘dead’ on stage, before once more gunning every other member of the ensemble down, leaving a stage full of dead percussionists. Who ever said performance art was dead?
After the interval, the show continued in its chaotic and riveting countermelodies and confusingly rhythmic pieces. I would have to say that The So-Called Laws of Nature did indeed deliver what it promised: a questionably quirky perspective on the natural world around us and the interplay that exists between that and our own human nature. On a less wanky level, it was a great night, and Splash Percussion should be exceedingly proud of itself.