Interview with Benjmin Walsh

Brunswick Picture House on Sunday 22nd at 8pm

Ben and Shaun’s Arrival – from Brunswick to India

When percussionist/composer Benjmin Walsh was walking through a bookshop, something in the kids’ section caught his eye.

‘It was a graphic novel,’ he says, ‘with over 700 images drawn with pencil. As I looked through, my jaw dropped open. There were no words, just the imagery of Shaun Tan. I bought the book. It’s such an amazing body of work – then I had the idea to score the book – which is weird. Scoring images doesn’t make sense. It took me two years of having the idea before my agent, who was running Graphic: a festival for illustrators and animators, at the Opera House, had the idea to commission the very thing I had been dreaming of! Shaun Tan said ‘Yes!’. And that is how we created the show The Arrival that now tours the world!’

Presented by The Orkestra of the Underground this is an amazing sonic performance usually presented to sold out audiences at the Sydney Opera House, the Melbourne Writers Festival, and MoFo in Tasmania. Now, this large-scale show comes to the Brunswick Picture House to coincide with a live stream of the concert to audiences at the Tata Literature Live Festival in Mumbai. 

This is a large presentation of tiny, intricate stories, with the visual work from The Arrival brought alive on the big screen.

‘A really beautiful side story is that Shaun has a huge connection to the work because his parents were refugees and he spent seven years trying to work out what drives a person to be disrupted and leave where they live. So he wove those stories into his fictional work. It’s such an epic body of work, and he hadn’t looked at the images since, and in the book quite often there are six or seven images to a page. When I took each single image and gave the emotion of the score, he experienced it for the first time. He saw his story for the first time – and he loved it.’

There is power in such a complex story being told without words. Very often people are entering countries who don’t speak the language [of the place], so to have the emotive context so strong and resonant is at the heart of the work.

Ben, reflecting on his conversation with Greens ex-leader Christine Milne, after a show in Tasmania, says ‘She said that the show really made you see the people as people – that that was the hardest thing in politics – where often you are speaking [about the experiences of refugees] in a realm where people don’t care. She said she thought everyone needed to see this show because of the massive disconnect so many have around refugees stories and what causes [people] to leave their homes. This show is a beautiful ride.’

The show focuses on people in society who are often disregarded and misunderstood, and the story it tells is ‘voiced’ by an orchestra that Ben has created that sits outside the usual tradition. 

‘I wanted my Orkestra of the Undergroud to be a non-elitist orchestra, so it’s not just rooted in western classical culture, but in electronics, Indian classical, and percussion… people standing together making a beautiful sound. I felt like my generation, and the next one, don’t connect with orchestras because there is a stigma that it is elitist. It should be wild, and hit you with a force because you have this wall of sound!’

For Ben, the visual component is key in getting his audiences to listen with extra care.

‘We live in a visual world, and I am a sound person, but I do make films. I feel as a composer and musician I want to give people something to look at so they open their ears. People don’t want to sit and listen for an hour, so if I give them something their eyes can eat [too] I can do my thing… I enjoy telling the story – in this case it’s a great challenge – it is about the score – people find themselves in tears, just watching the images it steers them through, they end up doing the animation in their mind.’

So come witness an amazing live ‘sonic-scape’ that combines with Shaun Tan’s exquisite illustrations to create a unique orchestral and visual experience. Ben Walsh unveils his score using a tapestry of instruments featuring violin, sousaphone, clarinet, guitar, tabla, synthesisers, drums and percussion, clarinet, saxophone, zithers and a collection of handmade instruments… oh, and a vacuum cleaner.

At the Brunswick Picture House on Sunday at 8pm with doors open at 7.30pm. Seating inside $45. Tix

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