OzAsia Review: Assembly Operation

The Space Theatre was an appropriately intimate location for this perplexing avant-garde performance, although it would have been even more perplexing if a one-page statement of intent wasn’t handed out to punters before the show.

This proved helpful as there was no word of explanation from the three onstage players, one of whom was creator Eugene Ughetti, who evidently wanted to make points and evoke percussion-driven themes by way of an assembly line of “three iconic representations of Chinese culture”, not all of which were exactly musical.

The trio of performers began with the most wearying of three phases. Seated at desks and pulling loops of paper across them, they created weird sounds before pulling out sheets of tissue paper and crinkling and tearing them with synchronised movements. Intriguing for a while, it grew a little irksome, particularly if you knew nothing about what exactly they were all on about.

Things improved as they switched to a further-away trio of tables and began to play instruments, some of which looked like actual drums and others like covered kitchen bowls. Strange auditory textures gave way to clanking chains and gong-like strikes that suggested the soundtrack to Baraka, while occasional screeches sounded like ‘musique concrete’ and sometimes made us wince.

This section was accompanied by video of unclear images, and it finally came together and ceramics were subtly constructed from the ‘instruments’, which were then played (sort of) by violin bows.

The final sequence of this hour-long piece had the three players take to keyboards which then produced deliberately retro sounds and suggested nothing less than Kraftwerk on Casio calculators. This was the strongest (and loudest) part and was elaborately and pleasingly lo-fi.

But what did it all mean? The written explanation did hint at what you were supposed to actually get from the whole experience but, nevertheless, the audience was restless, probably as they’d been ready for something odd but, in the end, they got something really odd. Perhaps a little assembly might be required to make it less impenetrable?

Assembly Operation’s last show was on Sunday October 28

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