Hidden behind Queensland’s oldest surviving building lies the Spring Hill Reservoir, a series of underground vaults, hidden underwater for nearly 90 years. Now a unique performance space, its use on Friday night typifies the spirit of the Anywhere Festival.
Fairy lights hang like trailing moss over the opening to the subterranean venue, beckoning us into this underworld of vault-like archways and chambers. The space is breathtaking, both eerie and dungeon-like, but made enchanting by artfully placed tangled trails of fairy lights, resembling sparkling diamonds chanced upon in an underground grotto, which are used to delineate performance areas in four alcoves radiating like a cross from the centre of this surreal stage.
The first impression is the sound of water flowing, which although pleasant, is slightly unsettling in the context of an ‘underwater’ setting; then, the fullness of the sound, as it reverberates and echoes in the chambers, and the shifting focus and genesis of sounds sweeps you into the piece. Two guitars, a violin and a cello create haunting harmonies with sad notes reminiscent of wind whispering in trees and sighing over bleak cliffs – these strings all underpinned by the paradoxical ebb and flow of minimalist electronica.
The walls behind the musicians’ stations are painted with light – to accompany the underlying current of watery sounds, there are images of water in many forms, from ripples, waves, droplets and splashes, to bubbles beneath the surface, overlaid with a palette of shifting geometric shapes.
Layers of colour and sound entice you from one room into another while bubbles rise through water all around you, mimicking the experience of being underwater. With the deeper notes from the cello, sonorous vibrations reverberate through the cavernous space, confounding the senses, and the origin of the sound is not always clear, adding to the trance-like experience. As the music moves through the venue, so too do the musicians; in between movements in the piece, the sight of a cellist wandering through the audience enhances this other-worldly feel.
There is an impression of people floating through a watery world – the muted light gives everything a ghostly aspect, and one is reminded of a dream-sequence, and seemingly transported into a parallel universe of sound and light.
Photos from Argo at the Spring Hill Reservoir.
At the centre of this alternate dimension are Connor and Ben, not only conducting the musicians, but also choreographing the sound, the light, and the audience as well. Different people interacted with the performance in different ways- some wandered through the space, apparently randomly, but perhaps drawn by nuances in the music, while others followed the progression of musicians through the rooms. Others stood or reclined with their eyes closed, absorbing the many layers of sound, and occasional couples stood entwined, islands oblivious to others, unaffected by the tide of people flowing around them.
Beneath the ‘Glassy’ surface we glimpsed currents of a whole host of different musical and artistic references, including the surrealism of David Lynch, and the spectral music of his often-time collaborator Badalamenti, cinematic dream sequences, and the gentle surf of '70s concept albums, coupled with the cool musical genius of '80s synth musicians. However, Argo is a unique concept that is greater than the sum of these parts, and impresses in achieving its aim of breaking down barriers between musical genres- and going one step further, to blur the boundaries between musical genre and art installation.
The overall effect of ‘Flow’ was profoundly relaxing and soothing, as the stresses of the week melted away in this otherworldly, multi-sensory experience.
Argo was formed in 2015, when long-time friends Connor D’Netto and Ben Heim collaborated to perform and produce a series of original concerts, which this year has included events as part of the Queensland Music Festival, QSOCurrent, and the Anywhere Festival; Argo is rapidly gaining a reputation for creating immersive, innovative soundscapes and captivating conceptual events.
Playing with Argo in ‘Flow’ were:
Benjamin Ellerby - classical guitar
Joseph Fallon - classical and electric guitar
Eleanor Hill - violin
Hannah Harley – cello