Tract is an inspired and collaborative execution of musical styles, vision and cultural exchange. Worthy endeavours and excellent intentions but did the overall performance actually suceed?
It depends on a number of factors. Your understanding and openess towards musical improvisation, the recognition of distinctive cultural traditions (whether Indigenous Australian or otherwise) and being able to evaluate how building bridges between cultures can be both useful and progressive but can also facilitate loss of 'something' to allow this new shape to emerge. All these are vital to our perception as an audience member and then of course we have the matter of taste.
Without venturing into the realm of aesthetics the product Tract as an experience consisting of three distinct works Smoke by Paul Grabowsky, Glass by John Rodgers and Tract by Erkki Veltheim had both its strengths and weaknesses.
The first work Smoke, described by Grabowsky as an initiation into a musical experience and dedicated to the artists of the Young Wagilak Group, had a variety of ethereal components that shaped the music through a variety of different soundscapes. While listening I couldn't help but think this would be the perfect film score for a narrative that hinged upon discovery and entrance into a deeper and more fullfilling understanding.
The second work Glass, I personally found less harmonius, and this is purely my own personal opinion, but the piercing high notes hurt my ears more than they ought to have transported me into a space within the glass. While I also do admire the mastery wielded by those who know their instruments best I sometimes wonder whether clever trickery can often tempt us away from a much more raw expression of creativity.
Of the three improvised duets which punctuated the programme my favourite was the work of the bassoonist and drummer whose lively beats and rhythms richoted their listeners into a different world, for a time altogether too short.
The final work of the night, also named Tract, and composed by Veltheim, was the most interesting. It has been described as a combination of Aboriginal songs and classical European music but this is misleading. The latter is inspired and informed by the song cycles of the Young Wagilak Group and recognizing the attempt of the composer and the team to honour the integrity of the Indigenous work is vital. However, did the company of very talented musicians with their fifteen instruments suceed in offering the ideal complement to the songcycles narrated by the Young Wagilak Group? That depends.
Sometimes it can be as simple as being within the sound and being on the fringe of experiencing that sound. There were moments in this final work of brilliant clarity, especially when Erkki played alone with the performers as they shared their story, and more than concentration it was connection that was embodied and visible to us as an audience. A collaboration, yes. A combination, no.
Overall, is Tract worth experiencing? Yes, but the experience will be yours. There is plenty to absorb, enjoy and be inspired from, but be ready to challenge and explore your own expectations of cultural collaboration and musical improvisation.
The Australian National Academy of Music in association with the AAO presents
Venue: Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, 113 Sturt St, Southbank
Dates/Time: 7pm, Friday 2 and Saturday 3 September, 2011
Tickets: $50 – $25
Bookings: 136 100 | ticketmaster.com.au