In a treat for Sydney-siders, the rarely played Sydney Town Hall organ came alive for a night with composer and performer Robert Curgenven. For a meditative hour, Curgenven guided listeners through an overwhelming multi-sensory experience.
Unusually, the majority of audience members were invited to listen to the performance while lying on the floor of Centennial Hall with the sound of the organ vibrating through the air above and ground below. This approach re-centres the body as the receptacle for sound, allowing for a more visceral, rather than intellectual, experience of Curgenven’s soundscape. The orientation encourages reimagining the concert as sound and light, distanced from the instrument and performer to create free associations and images in the listener.
Beginning in the dark, the deep vibrations of the organ’s early notes ground the majority of the composition while the higher notes and vibrant lighting design play with mimicry. For example, at times Curgenven’s composition seems to recreate the repetitive anti-melodies of inorganic sounds like helicopter blades cutting through the air or an unsettling siren looping maniacally, which are contrasted with earthy and resonant sounds more easily associated with the rhythm of waves or wind. At the same time, the lighting design, including a variety of lights mounted around the hall, fluctuated between blinding golden splendour and vivid purples like a psychedelic disco and rich pulsing reds like a beating heart or a faux sunrise.
Inspired by his ancestral connection with Bronze Age trade routes between Cornwall and Ireland, Curgenven incorporated references to ancient navigation techniques including using the stars and moon as direction points. Relaxing into the rhythm of Curgenven’s performance, one interprets the depth of the organ’s resonance as representative of vast space either in a starscape that stretches into infinity or the overwhelming movement of time. The occasional whistle from the organ’s higher register acts like a guide, a reassuring reminder of the journey’s progress.
Typically associated with wedding marches or church services, the organ is re-enlivened with new possibilities in Curgenven’s physical, aural, and visual composition Bronze Lands (Tailte Cré-Umha).
Bronze Lands (Tailte Cré-Umha) was performed at Sydney Town Hall on January 21st as part of Sydney Festival