Australian Art Orchestra – Hand to Earth
(AAO Recordings 008. Album Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)
This release from the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) is both intriguing and challenging. Intriguing, because it brings together new musical forms from different traditions in Australia, in which strong links to indigenous culture are palpably immediate and vivid. And challenging because it presents so many unfamiliar sounds. The music here is thoroughly enjoyable, and the use of improvisation within the context of traditional Australian song forms has real fascination.
The project came about initially in the course of the AAO’s annual residency in the highlands of Tasmania, and as part of the AAO’s commitment under the leadership of Peter Knight to exploring links between traditional and contemporary forms.
Six of the seven tracks are based on song cycles from the oral traditions of the southern part of East Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory. However, the music is improvised, building on a sharing of the Anglicised version of the songs between the musicians before the actual recording.
On Nunguryu nunguryu we hear the voice of Daniel Wilfred interacting with the trumpet of Peter Knight and the flute of Aviva Endean. They create a very atmospheric sound. It is genuinely moving to listen to. Water Song adds a second vocalist, Korean Sunny Kim and the track develops through interaction between the two voices and between the voices and trumpet and flute. Star Song features a duet between the two singers, Daniel Wilfred and Sunny Kim, that creates a slightly mysterious atmosphere through its use of echo.
Birrik birrik brings in David Wilfred, Daniel Wilfred’s brother, on voice and yidaki (didgeridoo). The track starts with birdsong which leads into a piece with flute and voice playing over a repeated rhythm. Guguk has some beautiful layers of sound with an excellent contribution from Sunny Kim. Gadayka/Grenadilla is the one purely instrumental track with the yidaki interacting with the bass clarinet, which creates another very interesting and attractive texture. The final track, Old People Song, sung by the two Wilfreds sounds as if it is a straightforward song from the First Nation tradition.
This album bears repeated listening so that one becomes accustomed to the different voices and sounds. It is impressive in its bringing together of traditional songs from an ancient culture with contemporary improvisation.