★★★★★ Ensemble Offspring percussionists astound at this year’s Mofo.
Barrel Room, Mona
January 15, 2016
A multitude of percussion instruments and chairs for the audience are set up in the centre of this cramped performance venue; the size of the space compromised by the tens of wine barrels that surround us.
On the busy first day of MOFO, we are in the Barrel Room of MONA underneath the museum’s wine bar. One of the first acts of the music and arts festival is Ensemble Offspring – at least, its two percussionists Claire Edwardes and Bree van Reyk.
They open the concert with van Reyk’s own Duet with Blindfold. Standing side by side with a series of drums before them, they wrap white fabric around their heads and, completely unable to see, they begin. Immediately obvious is the necessity to trust their own instincts – and each other’s. Not in any moment do the two instrumentalists betray a glimmer of doubt about where their instruments are as they play away, moving from drum to drum. They portray sheer confidence and an ability to let go when surrounded by risk.
The opening is astoundingly impressive, and the recital progressively so. The second piece is Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood, with its five parts arranged into a duo version by van Reyk and Edwardes. Van Reyk performs three of the parts (one with her foot) and Edwardes the remainder. Though it reverberates through the cement Barrel Room, it is still audibly crisp. The pair may as well be blindfolded for this work, too, with van Reyk regularly looking away from any distractions like sheet music or instrument and appearing to sink into her mind with concentration. They sit opposite each other, but scarcely make eye contact. This piece is highly complex in a rhythmic sense, and they do well to inject dynamic and textural range despite the fact.
Van Reyk’s work A Series of Breaths is next on the programme, a dreamy work that showcases the unique acoustics of the room: when she allows tones to ring, I am entirely immersed in them – the direction from which the sounds come from is indistinguishable. But when she plays shorter and higher notes, it’s more obvious that her percussive hits are occurring right in front of me.
Edwardes then performs alone for Xenakis’ Rebonds A/B, choosing to perform the two movements in reverse order. She gives warning that in the surrounds, the work will be loud – and she’s not wrong. The bass drum set up next to her rivals the wine barrels in size, and with each whack an audience member flinches. I am close enough to hear her panting, see her grin with utter satisfaction of the beat. At one point, she breaks a drum stick clean in half – picking up a second unmatched stick without pause (an impressive feat). The bass drum is earthy in its resonance, which rattles through my chest. While this work is explosively military and occasionally rigid, Edwardes performs with fluidity.
Unfortunately, the next work is the recital’s last – Ligeti’s Continuum arranged for the duo from its original harpsichord version. Edwardes warns it may induce tinnitus, and she’s not half wrong. The xylophone’s higher frequencies are highly uncomfortable to listen to for the duration of the piece – though, I can’t deny that it’s worth a few moments of suffering. I opt to avoid any more performances in this venue for a few hours after the magnificent concert is over. But it doesn’t take me long to return as the festival continues across MONA’s various spaces.
The Ensemble Offspring percussionists also performed their programme in the Nolan Gallery on Saturday.
For more information about MOFO’s upcoming events, visit mofo.net.au