Where: Elder Hall at RCC Fringe, University of Adelaide
When: 17th of March
In the spirit of expanding my horizons over the weekend of performances at Elder Hall, I’d only been introduced to Laaraji through the previous nights’ Ambient Orchestra performances. An ambient music pioneer, Laaraji is arguably best known for his collaboration with Brian Eno on Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. Ambient Orchestra performed Dance 1 off this album and, true to the recorded version, it’s incessant chiming made it one of the liveliest pieces of ambient music I’d heard.
With this in mind, I didn’t expect the pared back layout on stage on Sunday night; a gong, and an Appalachian dulcimer going-on-sitar (if the new age-y decor was anything to go by) set out for a single performer.
Laaraji himself performed the entire set which revolved around evoking several aural ‘gardens’. Defined by a focus on an instrument or a method of playing, they gave structure to an otherwise meandering performance, and the audience would soon learn to distinguish one from another as they cycled through in series and back again. Regardless they all relied on self-sampling to create a dewy, nocturnal ambiance.
Laaraji’s ability to pull different sounds from the dulcimer was a highlight, ranging from distinct xylophone like notes to the lively strumming of a guitar (which got a noticeable reaction from the audience). The use of a reverb microphone and various cupped instruments on the gong made some memorably abstract sounds; much larger than you would expect from an analog source. Laaraji didn’t play the song as much as he probed it for sounds, focusing on specific parts of the surface and switching tools.
This performance suffered more than the other ‘ambient’ performances of the weekend from being hard to translate to a live audience. While this is due partially to the nature of the music, designed to float in the background rather than to be experienced up front, Laaraji’s tendency to repeat elements, almost in a trance-like state left little for the audience to interact with. He finished the performance with a meditative belly-laugh and invited the audience to do the same; and I believed at that moment that the performer lived his music, which required more a level of patience to aspire to, even if I wasn’t able to fully inhabit it during the performance.