Artspace

Philip Dadson

Philip Dadson

Conundrum Quartet

13 - 20 March 1999

A joint project with Soundculture '99

 

Philip Dadson, leader of the sound-performance group From Scratch, presents four works using drums in combination with automatons, video projections, light, and recorded sound. The project draws on the place of the drum in religious ritual in order to discuss the human condition from the dimensions of ego (HE), environmental conditioning (HO), mortality (HA), and spiritual awakening (HU). They also involve word plays: HA is a 'humdrum', with the image of a humming skull projected onto the front of a drum and the sound onto its back; HO is an 'ear drum', with silent video projections of close-ups of ears being beaten with a drumstick; HU is a 'talking drum', a drum containing a speaker playing chants; HE is a 'snare drum', trapping a small automaton drummer, and playing off the idea of the ego as a snare.

 

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We published a book of Philip Dadson's Sound Stories to accompany the exhibition. Here are some excerpts:

 

HAPPY. A From Scratch performance in Balmain required the organisers to supply three pianos for a performance. While recommending grand pianos, we conceded that uprights would do the trick, so it was no surprise to arrive and see three small Chinese pianos at the ready. The pianos had names emblazoned across their fronts; two were named 'Blessing' and one, 'Happy'. A happy and two blessings seemed a good omen. The piece required the instruments to be positioned in an equilateral triangle in the middle of the space with the keyboards facing the audience who were seated. The piano tuner had been in to double check the sonority of the pianos and in the early evening they were moved into position for a rehearsal, which went smoothly to plan. 7.55pm and the concert goers had mostly arrived, and were in high expectation of what might lie ahead. Just ahead of start time I did a final check on the setup, making a fine adjustment to the positioning of the pianos. Happy was a bit out of line, and one nudge fixed it. As I walked away to the perimeter of the space, Happy fell full over face first behind me with a mighty crash, as if some divine boundary had been broken, the instrument lying there in a scream of sustained tones. The keyboards were unusually heavy, and one more inch had tipped Happy's balance. Happy it was no longer. Quickly recovering from the shock, many hands put Happy upright, but the sustain pedal had jammed and no amount of fiddling would free it. So after a good twenty-minute delay reassembling the instrument before a somewhat bewildered audience, the piece was played with Happy on full sustain. What the rendition lacked in rhythmic clarity it gained in resonant sonority.

 

ENGINES. Driving into Monaco, we encountered a multitude of cars and people and realised too late that we had driven into the centre of the annual Grand Prix. Various detours were arranged and we soon found ourselves inching along an underground tunnel directly beneath the race track. The whine and roar of high revving motors echoed and distorted throughout the tunnel producing a sound like trumpeting elephants in a cathedral. Joining in, we sang loudly out the car windows.

EARTHQUAKE. Napier, where I was born, is an epicentre for earthquakes. In 1931 the town was destroyed by a wave of quakes that lasted for days. In my family, the threat of an earthquake was a natural feature of our lives. I remember in primary school the regular practise routines of getting under desks and running to shelter in doorways. My mother was so sensitive to an earthquake she could hear it coming long before you felt the ground quiver. If I was around at the time she would say, 'Shhhh! Listen! Can you hear it? There's an earthquake coming.' Everything in nature would go mysteriously still and quiet, and then you would feel it. Everything would shake and roll, and occasionally all hell would break loose. I often imagined I could hear an earthquake coming, but now I think it was the absence of external sound and the internal sound of my own heart pounding.

 

THE BUDDHA'S FEET. With a memory of the gigantic reclining Buddha imprinted on my mind, I returned to Bangkok, expressly to revisit Wat Po temple and spend some hours there. This time, rather than roam around the temple, I decided to sit in contemplation of the Buddha— some 160 feet long, forty-feet high, and covered in gold leaf, head resting on one elbow, the face peaceful, with an expression of irony. From the moment of entry I was struck by an unusual sound I couldn't readily place. Cascading pitches of watery metallic voices sort of bird-like, bell-like; sometimes clear, sometimes blurred; close yet distant; golden but earthy; echoing and resonating throughout the temple; later layered with the burble of children playing nearby. After an hour or so of enchantment I went in search of the source. Along the length of the Buddha's back the sounds became visible. 108 metal bowls lined the wall, each a slightly different shape and size, supported in a ring of metal at waist height. For a donation, devotees receive a bowl of 108 tiny coins. They walk along the row of bowls, tossing a coin into each as they go, for good luck. The sounds are as random as the number and the actions of the visitors, the pitches and rhythms equally surprising. (108 mother of pearl inlays depicting the life and virtues of the Buddha are carved into the giant soles of his feet.)

 

Copyright Philip Dadson, 1999

 

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