Bay FM Arts Canvass presenter Karena Wynn-Moylan will be showing a different skill set this Friday when she fronts Co.sonance, the multimedia ensemble she formed to perform The Ice Suite – an electronic, acoustic, filmic descent into the world of heroic Antarctic exploration. With Ken Naughton on violin, Cye Wood on five-string violin and viola, Grayson Cooke on live-mix digital imagery and Karena with spoken word and digital programming you will be enveloped in the last days of Robert Falcon Scott and his men as they battle terrible ordeals to reach safety after making it to the South Pole.
Co.sonance performed this piece at the MONA in Hobart last year as part of the centenary of Antarctic exploration on the exact day of Scott’s death 100 years ago.
Why do you think we have such a romantic attraction to Antarctica?
It’s the last of the truly wild places left on the planet. It’s a very hostile environment that challenges certain types of personalities. I think it is not accidental that a lot of the early Antarctic explorers had military or navy backgrounds – they approached the whole venture as if they were going to war. They knew they had to be prepared and disciplined and expect danger and hardship.
Why did you try to recreate the feeling of place with music?
Well it’s not just music – soundscape, film and spoken word. There are some stories that are so epic you have to use a combination of forms of expression to tell them. Film does this all the time very well on its own but the visuals would be nothing without the right music behind them. Throw in the right words spoken at the right moment and you have a powerful effect on people’s emotions.
What is it about the journey of Robert Falcon Scott that you want to tell?
I have often been asked why I didn’t tell the story of Mawson, the legendary Australian Antarctic explorer, or Shackleton, who singlehandedly rescued his stranded men. The impetus to tell Scott’s story came when I read an article in the newspaper more than ten years ago.
Scott and his remaining three team members died trapped in their tent by days of blizzards. ( Oates , the fourth, famously walked out of their tent – ‘I am going outside, I may be some time’ – he was never seen again). They were 17km from the supply depot where they would have survived. When rescuers finally found them eight months later, they simply built a cairn to mark their grave and a cross to remain as a memorial was placed on top.
The mound was buried under snow and ice until it sank 27 metres under the Ross Ice Shelf, where the bodies were slowly moved along until Scott finally passed the site of One Ton Depot where, 86 years after his death, they would had found safety. From space the bodies could be seen under the ice. It was just the poignancy of this final reaching of the goal of home and safety, 86 years too late, that struck me. Right to the very end, his concern was for others and the tragedy for Scott and his men is that it was very little things, and bad weather and bad luck, that brought about their end.
Tell me a little about the players?
Ken Naughton is a classically trained pianist and violinist that a lot of people would know from his teaching at Shearwater and his attendance at tango classes! We worked together for two years on a variety of songs and compositions and also performed as the duo Co.polymer, before we started working on The Ice Suite.
Cye Wood is also a familiar name on the liner notes of so many other people’s CDs. He collaborated with Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance) to write the soundtrack to the ABC television series On the trail of Genghis Khan. He will be playing a five-string octave-shifted violin and viola.
Grayson Cooke is head of the Digital Media unit at Southern Cross University. He has compiled all the imagery used in the show, which was drawn from the original images shot by Ponting, the photographer on the Scott expedition, other Antarctic footage, NASA deep-space photographs, quotes from Scott’s diaries, and even the Ballina river! In performance he draws on 20 channels of different images, combining, mixing, filtering and using them to dramatise the story. Grayson was recently awarded a Japan New Media award for the show he created with Mike Cooper Outback and Beyond: A live Australian western.
I have to also mention Elyjah McCleod, who has staged some beautiful solo shows in the shire over the years, provided the vocal for the song Infinity, which some people consider the most moving moment in the show! He will not be performing live, but is presented as a disembodied voice from the past across space and time.
How did you create this composition?
As a composer I work with a computer and samples instead of an orchestra. I divided the music into three distinct parts: the setting out in the ship to parts unknown and landfall; the race across the ice to the South Pole; the ordeal through the blizzard and the death of the five men. Ken and I would try to imagine what the sound of a blinding white ice sheet would sound like, find a sound on Ken’s synth or in my bag of samples, and slowly build up each part of the story. When there were a few minutes of music or noise, Cye would come around and add some amazing passages on viola or violin. I was lead composer on this in that it was my vision and production of the music, but after we started to work together it became a very happy collaboration and all three of us are credited as composers on the score.
While we were writing the score, Grayson was researching and compiling the imagery.
Can you tell me a little about the multimedia presentation?
In some ways it’s like a giant, very arty, live rock clip! Except there’re no guitars and one off-stage singer. And although there is a narrative thread to the presentation it is not a documentary.
Ken and Cye will play live electrifying violin and viola, Grayson will mesmerise people with the array of images that draw you into the story, and while I am controlling the programmed backing I also have passages of spoken word where I get inside the emotional mindset of the doomed explorers.
We came up with the term ‘experiential theatre’ to try to describe what we do. We allow the imagery and the music to provide all the action.
The scariest part is the technological performers – the computers. We have failsafes and backups in the case of a Mac or Windows dummy spit but, with computers, there is always a risk.
What should we expect for your Byron Show?
Beautiful music, stunning imagery, moving words.
Also Cye Wood will be playing support act with a beautiful solo show of his own that he has been working on for some time.
Warning: rug up! You might feel pretty cold and we also try and make you feel the relentlessness of the wind and snow and at the same time the beauty of this strange world. It’s not all doom and gloom. Although it is a tragic story, they had fun along the way; Scott even took a piano and four wind-up gramophones to amuse his men, and they all played harmonicas!
The Ice Suite by Co.sonance
Friday 8pm at the Byron Theatre.
Support act – Cye Wood
Book through Community Centre 6685 6807.