This week at Auckland Arts Festival: March 13 -19

by Metro / 13 March, 2017
Be transported to the Amazon with Binaural sound, hang out with Harrison Ford or gallery-hop in the dark: all at this week’s Auckland Arts Festival.

In The Encounter, Richard Katz uses a microphone, while  the audience, wearing headphones, experiences the spatial illusions of binaural technology.

The Encounter, March 15-19, Aotea Centre.

A runaway Edinburgh Festival and Broadway hit, The Encounter is the latest touring show by experimental UK theatre company Complicite.

Richard Katz is in a dressing room in the bowels of the Sydney Opera House when Metro calls. “We’ve just been making sure everything sounds as good as it possibly can,” the performer says, referring to The Encounter’s multiple acoustic variables that must be calibrated by a team of 10.

This isn’t your regular show — it’s a “sonic exploration of the Amazon, consciousness and truth”. Katz takes centre stage, accompanied only by a microphone and lots of water bottles, while the audience wears headphones to experience the spatial illusions of binaural technology (3D sound), through which the story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre is told. In 1969, McIntyre became lost in the remote Brazilian Amazon, which led to a life-changing spiritual encounter with the indigenous Mayoruna.

What are the ethical considerations when narrating a story about an indigenous, faraway people?

On one level you could make this a Boy’s Own adventure: white man goes into forest, finds a bunch of “natives”, gets captured, survives… But obviously there’s so much more to it than that. We are totally aware the person we’re presenting is not the blue-eyed hero of our story. And do we believe him? Well, we question his integrity, I hope; we question the sequence of events as he describes them, and we have these interventions where other characters come in and interrogate the ideas behind the story. What was he looking for? What was he doing there in the forest? He’s there because he wants to take something. On the face of it he just wants to take a photograph, but [it’s] much more than that. In his own words, he’s “tearing open a corner of the universe”, and you can’t untear it, you can’t go and say, “Hi folks, I’m just here to take some photographs of you guys. I’ll be gone in a day or two.” Whether he’s nuanced his story to make it more exciting, we don’t know. But the nugget of the story that makes it interesting and unusual is this experience he tries to describe. He didn’t talk about it for 20 years. As a sort of quasi-spiritual experience, he didn’t know how to talk about it, and it took him 20 years to be comfortable with talking about it.

And that’s the idea that he received messages telepathically from the Mayoruna?

Yes, exactly. So it’s a really, really tough one. The questions of indigeneity are really crucial for the story, especially because it’s clear in the West that there’s a great debate about climate change and there’s a great debate about the deforestation of the Amazon and many other “untouched” parts of the world, and they’re shrinking by the minute. Hopefully, if we can present complicated human beings who are smart but flawed, it allows the audience to ask, “What would I do?” and therefore, “What should I be doing now?”

How does the use of binaural sound impact the audience?

We’re able to put audience members in the middle of the stage, as it were, because we’ve got this micro-phone and they’ve got their headphones on, so it puts them slap-bang in the middle of the action. The thing I love about the show is that you’re experiencing something very privately and intimately, in the company of 500 people — an experience most people won’t have had before.

Given the state of global politics, is it an interesting time to be touring internationally? 

Sure. There’s the One Nation party over here [in Australia] getting traction. I don’t know much about it, but it’s very easy to provoke fear in people and to get under their skin. It’s very easy to appeal to the animalistic sense of human beings. It’s harder to appeal to the part of them that sees everything as part of yourself. In a way, that’s one of the great lessons of this story. At the end, one of the discoveries McIntyre makes is that he’s not separate or isolated from nature, he is part of nature. We are the universe, we are people, the universe is peopled through us, the big bang is still happening, we’re just at the end of it.

- Alice Harbourne 

Dame Gillian Whitehead is one of six composers who collaborated on Passio.

Passio, Town Hall, March 19. 

Local work has ancient English music at its heart.

Before there was the St Matthew Passion, there was the St Matthew Passion: the English composer Richard Davy’s setting of the gospel’s crucifixion story, written 200 years before Bach’s.

It’s the earliest-surviving version, and it may be the earliest musical version there ever was — there’s no way to know, says Dame Gillian Whitehead, one of six New Zealand composers who collaborated to expand the Davy Passion into a modern performance work.

“This is pre-Reformation England we’re talking about, and at the time of the Reformation, a huge body of music was destroyed… You can’t be sure what existed before Davy’s piece, but it’s certainly the earliest we have. But the more important thing is that hardly anyone in this country knows it — I didn’t myself before Jack Body told me about it — and it’s a lovely, lovely piece of music.”

It was Body’s idea to get a group together to create a massive work with the Davy Passion at its core. He, Whitehead, David Farquhar, Ross Harris, Lissa Meridian and Michael Norris each chose a section to focus on, and worked with each other to ensure their contributions flow seamlessly together.

“The order of what the six of us have done is anonymous, so it flows like a through-composed piece,” says Whitehead. “Someone who knows New Zealand music well could work out who did what, but we didn’t want the focus to be on individuals; we wanted people focusing on the drama of the story.

“We decided to put the choir in the middle of the hall with most of the musicians, and have three other groups of musicians widely spaced around them, with the audience free to walk anywhere in the space. Sound coming from four sides, perhaps, depending on where you put yourself, and of course different composers used that in different ways. When the piece was performed in Wellington, it was a lovely experience to walk round and hear the sound moving ... It’s a wonderful way to experience music.”

— David Larsen

Vospertron - Roving performance, as part of White Night. Photo courtesy of Vivid Performance Group Ltd.

More top picks

EventWhite Night

This one-night-only visual arts festival evolves in scale and quality each year. Expect one-off installations, late-night gallery openings and performances in the central city and ’burbs. Avoid sore feet with the free White Night buses.
Various venues, March 18.

MusicRaiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones has the Auckland Philharmonia on his side at two screenings of Spielberg’s 1981 action-adventure movie. The APO performs the swashbuckling score live as Jones fights the forces of evil.
The Civic, March 18-19.


Every day won’t be like Sunday (Groan – Ed) at this high-octane homage to Morrissey, formerly frontman of English rock band The Smiths. Mexicans are mad for Morrissey; here, seven Mexican musos perform his songs  — in Spanish! — in an unlikely, joyous musical mash-up.
SPIEGELTENT, March 16-17.


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