Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Mon 7 Mar
Wikipedia tells me Exquisite Corpse is an old parlour game where people used to take turns writing stories by building on the work of the previous player. For this project the idea was extended to include twelve composers and two visual artists. Each composer built on the last piece of musical notation from the previous participant to create a collaborative score, and the visual artists did similarly.
It is important to understand the collaborative nature of this work to appreciate the final product. If it at times seems fragmented it’s because no one composer had an idea of what the final piece would sound like. Given the circumstances, it’s remarkable to say that it did by and large come across as a unified work, and that’s due to the artistry of the Zephyr Quartet. Two violins, a viola and cello bow, pluck and strum their way through a frequently changing soundscape that has many moods. I preferred the moments where all instruments were being bowed in traditional fashion but the experimental passages were often more rhythmic, and it was intriguing guessing where it would go next.
And then there were the visuals. Projected on screen throughout were a series of bizarre drawings of a surrealist world that reminded me of the animations of the type that the Monty Python team made famous. The Python versions we know were harmless fun and devoid of meaning. But what of these? Did they mean anything? Were they connected to the music is some way, and if so, how? While quite charming and often amusing (it didn’t seem appropriate to laugh) I ultimately found them intrusive. Rather than complement the musical score, I was being distracted. They were too assertive; too pronounced in their presence.
What worked well were the coloured tubes that snaked around the stage and emitted various hues and frequencies to create a pleasing aura of colour and movement around the quartet. For me, this was all the visual effect I needed.
It was like being at two performances – one musical and the other visual. I could enjoy one or the other, but not both simultaneously. But kudos to the Zephyr Quarter for this brave idea – musically it largely worked for me, but overall it felt like a metaphor for modern distracted life: there’s just too much going on.
(also published on The Clothesline)