Original article at Journal of Music here
'Don't Worry, It's Totally Safe'
'Body Noise Work' – an adventurous project by new music ensemble Kirkos – took place in Dublin last weekend. Tim Diovanni reviews a series of performances involving dripping water, instrument destruction and physical interference.
A woman dangling above a wire-framed bathtub pulls on a black rope and yanks herself up several stories. She wears a tattered outfit composed of tape and white tissue paper. A sleeping mask covers her eyes. Men drop dirty shredded materials that look like twigs into her tub. She revolves in the air and rattles a sheep bell from her big toe. One artist assuages an audience member: ‘Don’t worry, it’s totally safe.’
This feat, fearlessly executed by Natasha Bourke as part of her A Belly of Baths, was one of the many strange happenings that occurred at Body Noise Work in Temple Bar Gallery + Studios on Saturday 8 December. This event marked the culmination of a collaboration between artists from several disciplines, facilitated by Kirkos – who organised a similar Fluxus event in 2016 – and developed in workshops led by Jennifer Walshe in February and May in Carrick-on-Shannon, with mentorship from John Godfrey, Vicky Langan and EL Putnam. Throughout the project ran the theme of interconnectedness between spaces, artists, and disciplines, creating a multidisciplinary and participatory artistic practice.
Entanglements with objects
An effective example of this was Hedge by Seán Ó Dálaigh. A dishevelled pile consisting of a blue rope, a spiral of wire, a branch from a bush or tree and a long white pipe lay on the ground, while other objects hung from a hook overhead. Headphones played shiny sounds, evoking coins rolling in a bowl. Similar bundles with accompanying recordings were scattered about the gallery, intertwining with happenings in other levels and achieving the ‘entanglements with other objects’ that the composer described in his programme card.
This satisfying unity was also evident in Drips by Susan Geaney. Water trickled from a circle of IV bags into buckets on the ground floor. Geaney, in her programme note, invited participants to ‘take a moment to listen’ to the dripping water, which ‘can be an incredibly compelling and evocative experience.’ But the ambient events created an aural chaos that overwhelmed the sounds of the drips; the intended effect might have been achieved in a quieter environment.
Some events grabbed your attention. In their duet Urlár, Ruairí Donovan and Ó Dálaigh destroyed an old upright piano with crowbars, chisels, and screwdrivers. Even though breaking an instrument has become a cliché in experimental music, seeing and hearing these men bang, splinter, saw, snap, pop and crack the piano into bits, as if it were a walnut, was brutally shocking. One man picked up a piano key, which Donovan and Ó Dálaigh had separated from the instrument, and plinked a juvenile tune on the piano’s strings, which were also removed. You could hear the sounds of the demolition when visiting other performances and exhibits; these incessant noises forcefully reminded you of the progressing destruction.
‘Is it a metallic sound?’
To engage with Robert Coleman’s Speaking Tubes, audience members sat on a cushioned bench and placed an ear against an open pipe, from which sounds emerged. When I listened, I heard faint rustling sounds. Meanwhile, Coleman asked questions, through a tall open tube, about what the listener heard, such as, ‘Is it a metallic sound? Or is it an elastic sound?’ These inquiries encouraged you to investigate and develop your relationship with quotidian sounds.
Robbie Blake stood by a table of Kombucha teas, welcomed people to try them, and asked participants how they tasted. His query provoked a deeper engagement with sensations, moving fermented tea ‘beyond its wrongful everyday status,’ as the card for his GutSong said. On the opposite wall, colourful muslin cloths stained by Kombucha teas were nailed onto frames.
While Blake interacted with participants verbally, Sarah Lundy communicated with gestures; however, her work Shequinox (dirt nap), in which she offered visitors dried mealworms from a cracked egg and when they were rejected sprinkled them on the floor, seemed kitschy and overwrought.
The interactive one-on-one element of Laura Sarah Dowdall’s Proximitprovoked participants to express feelings by drawing them. Dowdall paired this with a slow athletic dance, in which she slinked and snaked, intensely focussed, throughout the first floor, shoulder-to-shoulder with onlookers, breaking traditional boundaries between the audience and performer.
Geaney and Bourke’s Legs featured, as the title suggests, plastic legs mounted on a wall, though without sufficient context; amid the general chaos it was difficult to gauge the desired effect.
Sebastian Adams’ Weight Piece, the only work that ostensibly every spectator watched at once, provided a brilliant conclusion to the evening.
The piece began with a series of hummed drones, produced by members of the collective from various locations in the building, to which the strings of the smashed piano, played by a member of the group, contributed pitches. Each chord created an open buzzing throb. (The drones suggested an influence from Walshe, whose Aisteach project includes drone music by the imaginary minimalist Pádraig Mac Giolla Mhuire.)
Adams, stripped down to his boxers, joined the aching texture on his viola. He played drones that ebbed and intensified, tightened and relaxed, some skittish and gritty, others pure and pleasant.
Soon, two artists attached ropes around Adams’ arms, which they then controlled like puppeteers: when they tugged his left arm down, the bow skittered off the strings; when they jerked his right arm up, the bow fluttered feebly above his viola. Adams, meanwhile, tried but failed to control his instrument.
Additional artists from the collective bound Adams with more ropes and bungee cords and pulled him down to the gallery floor. The music gradually ceased. Adams had lost control over his performance. A stillness hung in the air, and then the audience applauded, long and hard. The strangeness had ended; its reverberations, however, remain.