OzAsia Review: Synergy Percussion Meets Noreum Machi

Space Theatre, Adelaide
Friday, September 12

Celebrating its 40th anniversary and led by the animated Timothy Constable, Australia’s Synergy Percussion, were joined in this exhilarating performance by the much younger Korean group Noreum Machi, founded in 1993, but directed since 1994 by the genial Kim Ju-Hong. The huge range of instruments used by Synergy, who kicked off the program with some help from Kim Ju-Hong, included two oversized marimbas, congas, tin cans (large and small), bass drums, various sizes of cymbals, maracas and tambourines, a conch, and among other things a large bowl of rice – uncooked of course. Complex cross rhythms in a piece by John Cage were made to sound clear and easy, and the action of the four players as they moved from one instrument to another gave physical drama to their performance. The control of volume and dazzling dexterity were the hallmarks of a piece for marimbas, and Tim Constable’s Last Waltz was given a particular richness by its rhythmic complexity. An engaging work by Nigel Westlake was in the mix, too. When the five players of Noreum Machi joined the four Synergy players, they brought a growing intensity to the music, introduced by the shrill tone of the piri, a small oboe. After interval, until the finale the Koreans had the stage to themselves, announcing themselves with gongs, drums and chanting from the back of the auditorium and processing down to the stage. Over their grey and white costumes they now had coloured sashes and were wearing hats, Kim Ju-Hong with a large woollen pom-pom on his, the other four with long wires with even longer white ribbons attached. Most wonderfully, before long the musicians became dancers while playing their gongs and cymbals, moving their heads to wave the ribbons in patterns, growing faster and more complex as they danced. At times that pom-pom became a flower. Next, divested of their dance costumes and hats, the musicians sat behind their drums, shaped like an hour-glass on its side, and gave a concentrated display of superlative drumming, which, as my teenage percussionist grandson beside me heartily approved of for its coordination. Towards the end the drumming accelerated to a perfect frenzy. The leader then explained that the two skins of the drum were the yin and yang, the earth and the sky, with humans in between, teaching us the words for them, and turning words into a chant – the audience enthusiastically participated and eventually we were all singing a catchy tune. This was a warm up for more performance, with the musicians dancing and playing again, ending with one of the drummers whirling around faster and faster. More chanting and handclapping, and then Synergy returned, the two groups enjoying each other as much as the audience was enjoying them. I need hardly say that the performance ended with a standing ovation, in which I was happy to join. Oh, and the ushers taking your ticket as you entered thoughtfully offered you earplugs if you felt you needed them.

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