I'm not generally one for deep personal disclosures on my blog ( I hear great sighs of relief at that!), but I have to admit that for a couple of months I have been in a hole, creatively, emotionally and psychologically. I couldn't get the motivation to go to the studio or do anything creative so I spent my time on domestic tedium and far too much time on social media getting lost in links linking to other links linking to other links etc......That's enough naval gazing.
Last Sunday I decided enough was enough. I was going to get out of the house and do something to try and get motivated. My friend from long ago, bass player Nick Tsiavos and his ensemble (Deborah Kayser, soprano; Jerzy Koslowski, bass/baritone; Peter Neville, percussion, Matthias Schack-Arnott, percussion; Adam Simmons, saxophones/clarinets/shakuhachi; Eugene Eughetti, percussion) were performing his seven hour composition, Akathistos - The Machineries of Ritual, at Mona. I had been meaning to go to Mona and just spend some time reclining on the bean bags in the Bark Cloth room that is part of the Theatres of the World exhibition, so my visit had a dual purpose.
Nick's ensemble was playing in The Void, a gorgeous cavernous space dominated by a magnificent sandstone wall that is the natural wonder of this amazing underground museum.
Here are a few pics of this amazing wall.
At one end of The Void there is a bar. I purchased a pot of green tea and headed down The Void to settle on one of the antique chairs to listen to some music. I arrived at about 10.45 am so I hadn't missed too much of the performance. From the very first I was entranced. I expected the work to be good, no, I expected it to be very good. What I didn't expect was to be totally blown away, so much so that I seemed to be transported away from my self absorbed blues and into a zone of inspired mesmerisation. Akathistos is nothing short of a triumph! (Parts of the work have been recorded as Akathistos Fragments. You can read a review of the record here and if you are so inclined, the CD can be bought here. It is also available on iTunes.)
Above: Nick Tsiavos, Bass; Jerzny Kozlowski, bass/baritone, Deb Kayser, soprano.
According to Fordham University, the Jesuit University of New York, " The Akathistos hymn is the most famous Byzantine hymn to the Virgin Mary. ...... devotion to the Mother of God became central to the Identity of Constantinople in the sixth century, when she was taken as the protector of the city. This hymn expresses that devotion."
Nick Tsiavo's Akathistos is a contemporary imagining of that great Byzantine chant. Nick commented that "the priests would have his head" for his interpretation. I believe it is a powerful devotion for the modern age, evoking the spirit of Byzantine Constantinople in the context of our present time and place. It seemed most fitting that this expansive work was being performed in what could be described as a modern secular cathedral.
As I sat, sipping my tea I picked up my sketchbook and drew some of the patterns in the sandstone wall.
Although I have photographed the wall before, I had never spent such an extended period just looking at it. I decided to get up and photograph it in much more detail. In the photo above you can see the machining marks made by the enormous drills they used to carve out the cavern. They add a further dimension to the natural patterns and textures of the stone.
Up close you see the variation in colour and texture in more detail.
These triangular divetts occur at varying intervals along the wall, I presume they had some function during construction. Providing anchoring points for machinery, perhaps? The furry look to the stone is actually salt precipitating out on the surface.
The salt crystals create interesting shadows.....................
....and grow around and onto sections where faults have been cemented providing a strong contrast between the natural and the man-made.
above: One of the numerous giant bolts that give the wall its stability.
....and as I wandered around photographing the wall I was enveloped by music reverberating off every surface.
Above: Nick performs his 40 minute bass solo
In the 40 minute bass solo Nick explores the full richness of expression his instrument can yield. Bell like harmonics bounced around the towering walls. Col legno passages (where the string is struck with the wood of the bow) rang like droplets splashing into a silent lake. It sounded as though the walls themselves were making the music, like nature itself was speaking. As I listened thoughts streamed through my head, I wrote in my journal "How can sound shimmer? Is this the sound of light?"
As Nick played I also watched the audience. People passing through the hall stopped dead in their tracks as they marvelled at sounds they could not imagine coming from a double bass.
Above: A trainee guide dog sits enraptured. I swear that dog did not take his eyes of Nick the entire time he played.
And always that wall, sentinel and performer both.
I love the pile of sheet music on the floor. At this stage we are only about 3 hours into the performance.
Nick enjoys a beer at The Void bar after his solo, while we chat and the other performers in the ensemble continue playing.
Above: the bark cloth room as seen when entering.
I had no concept of how much time had passed, but my brain was starting to feel overloaded. I looked at my phone and I had been listening for 2 and a half hours. It was time to give my auditory cortex a break and go activate my visual cortex. I headed for the bark cloth room and took up residence on one of the bean bags.
Part of the Theatres of the World exhibition, this room houses bark cloths (mostly) from the South Pacific. Some of them are monumental in size. The richness of colour and pattern is astounding.
Above: the far wall of the room. In the foreground is the superb sculpture Grande Figurine (Femme Leoni), 1947, Alberto Giacometti
This photo gives you some idea of the scale. The large work in the centre is about 4 metres by 3.5 metres.
Some of the cloths are covered in complex and intricate detail..................
......some are more minimalist............
..and a few are not decorated at all - the beauty of the cloth standing alone.
During our chat Nick told me that the work comes together in the last hour and a half and reaches its climax in the last 17 minutes. In fact, the last 17 minutes were composed first and the work built backwards from that point.
So, I made my way back to hear the last 1 hour and 45 minutes. Again, a sense of time was lost. It may have passed in a minute or in a lifetime. All I know is that when the final quiet notes sounded I was alive with a sense of inner well being and quietude that had been lacking for some time. My creative drought was over.
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I am a hand embroidery artist living and working in the rugged and wild Central HIghlands of Tasmania.