Inland 17.1 concert

True Strength, Crys Cole & Oren Ambarchi, James Rushford & Joe Talia, Okkyung Lee

published in Wire, No.397, London, 2017
Okkyung Lee (2017)


A large audience has gathered in the Oratory of a disused convent in Abbotsford, Melbourne. Their tone is genuflective not for spiritual concerns, but sonic ones. The first Inland Concert for the year (curated by Alexander Garsden & Rohan Drape and co-presented with Liquid Architecture) has established itself as a hard-listening concern over the last 3 years. The series of occasional informal gatherings of a handful of exploratory solo or chamber acts typically blurs the lines which once existed between ensemble repertoire, chance collaborations, and extended technique. This concert suitably concentrated these concerns and interests into an engaging evening.


The final performance occurred in darkness. Seated somewhere in the space, Okkyung Lee did what she does best: she starts, continues, and eventually stops. Clearly championing sonic journey over cerebral destination, her trademark cello becomes its own self-generating machine of sonic energy. Two things become apparent during this. The first is the rich muscular tone of her cello, simply miced and played through the small but quality PA system. It fills the space with its characteristic throb, attenuated by Okkyung who—one eventually realises—had been sitting in the centre rear of the audience, facing the PA speakers so as to interact with the aural reflecting skin of her performance. The second striking facet is the subsumption of gesture in her performance. Not once is there a showy disconnected line or fancy trill left to hang in the air. Like a tightrope walker, she continually balances her frame by nursing, rocking, scraping and rowing with the body of the cello. None of this was visible in the darkness: one could hear it, though, in the looping repetition of algorithmic arcs and fingered pressure points which produced the squeaks, squalls, screams and sighs from the cello.

For those like myself who are often numbed by ‘firebrand’ expressionism in improv music’s pyrotechnical humanism, this Inland concert series again presented an alternative to such height scaling, choosing to remain with its ear close to the ground. There, the vibrations speak with a quiet difference.

Text © Philip Brophy. Image © Okkyung Lee & Keelan O’Hehir.