Fragrant Blossoms: Brutal-Shy Resonances and Unfolding Sonic-Visual Colour Cacophony
The cavernous sweep of the Q Theatre around the circular stage, with high ceilings and intimate performer-audience connection with bouncingly clear acoustics was an amazing setting for our creative team’s realisation of the Create NSW development of Shy Like Blushing Flowers at The Joan. Following in the venues resonance with its namesake, Joan Sutherland, operatic sound swirled the venue, but in sharply defined tones, with colour nuance of harmonics, and steel-like accuracy and strength of climactic passion moments amidst vulnerable mid-register and throat tones of great beauty from the Song Company’s soprano, Anna Fraser. Delicate and intimate interlacing of Filipino gong-chimes of the kulintang glowed under the soprano’s arched, poignant notes from the bones of the Chinese opera tradition, Kunqu. Ensemble Offspring’s artistic director and percussionist, Claire Edwardes dramatic sensitivity of pulling the music into hidden shimmers of tone, as if shy blossoming flower moments sonically, created duos and trios of great beauty before propelling the music out of shimmied crotales envelopes of sound into Peking opera gong slide-energy and raucous
kulintang patterning. Working with breath-like sensitivity of prepared piano timbres amongst the shy sounds of aching soprano beauty with crotales shimmers, and lightning-quick cascades of percussive piano sounds in an almost belligerent Jerry Lee Lewis and free jazz sudden strength, Hong Kong New Music Ensemble pianist Linda Yim dived sonically like the sensuous depth-plunging fish of Tang Xianzu’s poetic Kunqu libretto.
Thirty-foot back scrim projections of sensual slow motion hands, from Yim’s stroking of keys, merged with projected haze of flowing yellow motion peeking through Hong Kong skyscraper shapes eerily eroticised the landscape in video artist Simon Killalea’s live VJ responses to motion. Linking refracted crotales-like metal resonances and punctuating muffled stopped-piano sounds, colour spectralized, with remembered-soprano aching arch shapes echoed in circular motion around the auditorium in sound artist Ian Stevenson’s momentary sonic touches. Killalea, video artist with Australian indie bands Decoder and Cold Chisel, created trans-sensory motions with differing rail-motion tracks from Doonside to Penrith, Kowloon Tong to Shatian, in polyrhythmic statements visually that mirrored the complex rhythmic structures of colliding pianist hands and kulintang rhythmic propelling of the music forward. Organic motion of thirty-foot Jackson Pollack-like slipping fish motion in Killalea’s back projections merged out of and after the undulating soprano lines of sensual ‘birds in flight’.
Shy Like Blushing Flowers overall brooding images and sounds worked in a three-part structure. Brooding shapes of tall angular buildings from the Hong Kong skylines, gently rubbed and shifted in Cubist shapes of moody grey, of clouding fragrance mirroring classic Chinese literature’s ‘fragrant clouding’ euphemism for sensuality amidst brutal sonic resonances and tender modal sonority moments. Secondly, rhythmic flowing landscapes viewed from buses
and trains amongst vertically split amongst sensuous greens and revealed red shrines opened up the colour spectrum, as the living colours of the live performances exchanged brutality with tenderness in metal, air and hammered vibrations. Finally, Chiu Tanching’s opening guzheng sounds—a sudden forcefulness into undulating gentleness across Claire Edwarde’s whispered urgency and lingering bowed crotales—moved the world back from its spatialized link sounds into acoustic discourse, centred in Chinese qiyun colours. This aural cue, sparked alive the video artist into furious colour conglomerations in thirty
foot visuals which were fifty-feet wide on the back scrim; here, organic fish from both countries oscillated together in jumbled climaxes amidst skyscraper shapes to suddenly subside to vividly revealed intensity of pinks and reds of flower blossoms as shy crotales and whispered vocal eroticism of a suggested fragrant perfume hung in the air, to ambiguously close the forty-minute creative development.
Artists: Anna Fraser (soprano), Claire Edwardes (percussionist), Linda Yim (pianist), Bruce Crossman (composer), Simon Killalea (video artist/film), Ian Stevenson (sound design)
Support: Create NSW, NSW Government, The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Western Sydney University