Ethan Switch - Monday, 29 August 2005
Dead lights on the main show off noodles and lines drawn in a Java 3D program. Off the lip of the stage is the console operator, a George Khut. Connected via a chest strap to the laptop, the man breathes in and out to quiet suggestions such as "take sips of air" and "breathe in hard." Swimming in and out and out and in, the lines represent the constrictions and relaxations of the diaphragm, as best as they can relay the information. A relaxing visual feast of nothing, the start of the Song Company's production of Drawing Breath is enough to knock out those eager for a nap.
Watching on for five minutes or more, the gasping and wheezing of an iron lung rides over the speakers. Nobody is certain of the greater con or if indeed there really is a person backstage breathing weakly on a deathbed straight into a microphone. Slight as the delivery is, the purely mechanical sound of undertones and gasps comes direct from the chest device.
Amid a spattering of microphones dangling from the ceiling, standing around the lip of the stage and circling the round of the centre, the vocalists six and art director from the Song Company walk deep into a quiet space.
From the very start they launch deep into what is an amazingly cunning array of various sounds and pressure plays on their lungs and vocal chords. Merrily, and with an increasingly healthy dose of mirth, they regale with a solid succession of harmonies and melodies that don't take themselves too seriously.
Bouncing syllables off one another and throwing about all sense of disorder, they create startlingly different moods and movements with each song. A tipsy romp on drunken hiccoughs through the forest proves quite a hilarious respite from the all too serious stifling air. Whirring and clicking into the intermission, it's sheer fun watching and listening to the performances.
Representing the respiratory system, of breath and exhalation, of circulation and the relationship in between, the computer generated lines serving as backdrop drone on and on. No help for the deaf, no aid for the blind. Connecting a dialogue between the visual and aural aspects of Drawing Breath falling a little short with the aim far further than the reach.
Evocative of operas and Celtic parades through medieval trudges, the second half of the concert is far more distant and sports a cold veneer of archaic gloss when sitting alongside the first. Technically sound and with no faults on the actual delivery, there isn't as hearty a feeling of warmth or pleasure for the sake of pleasure.
Throughout the night and every now and then, tenor Richard Black looks from under his fringe. There in his eyes, reflecting a few of those in the seats, a question on why exactly the Conservatorium, beast of a grand looking castle, is silent save for the singers. The other vocals also offer a look into this question, though not as nervously as Black.
Despite the fine efforts of those on stage, warbling and whistling through the various tunes, the audience remain steadfast in their quiet awe. Occasionally a laugh is hidden under tight lips and an air of stately manner breaks the overarching void of palm assisted appreciation. Reservations and a resounding silence greet the performers of the Song Company on each end.
Slipping into a world of unknown, this act of passive death and very aggressive restraint sends the night into a vacuum and of mysterious dubiety.
Changing of the dynamics in the overall resonance, a most difficult thing for raw ears to pick up, a shifting of the faces and places at the start of the second. Nicole Thomson stands on the outer for one song and sees Ruth Kilpatrick sitting down at the peak of the arc for the next. These movements bears no resemblance to a simple translation.
Eruptions from the crowd come the night's end is monstrously horrific. Cascading rhythms of applause and pips of "bravo" of and from patrons silent for the previous two hours of the concert doing little to create a world for those looking to enter. The welcome new blood finds a scab blocking easy penetration.
On stage, the performances are splendid and entertaining. Off stage, and in the belly of the gallery, a stunning display of sodomy.