Review: Between Zero and One
Composed by John Psathas and performed by Strike Percussion, a six-piece ensemble, Between Zero and One forms a cosmic and semi-religious wondering about “what happens in the universe’s downtime”. Part Sigur Ros, part Cirque du Soleil, the show gives the impression of a waterfall travelling backwards, capturing a deep, rumbling, epic yearning for some kind of deep truth.
Taking inspiration from all pockets of musical history, the show’s most magnetic aspects highlight its ambition: objects are struck gladiatorially with rope, drums are blown into to raise and lower pitch, cheeks and chests are slapped musically. In addition to the standard percussion ensemble, there’s an abundance of custom instruments most prominent during 'Dog Eat Dog', composed by David Downes (the only non-Psathas piece bar the opening and closing pieces, which were co-written with Jack Hooper) - including a Borg-like drum module; cymbal conifers growing from the ceiling; a fusion of a kazoo and a Pūrerehua; and a hypnotic medieval torture wheel with five bright red surfaces hit rhythmically in turn with a spinning flail by an impassive dominatrice.
objects are struck gladiatorially with rope, drums are blown into to raise and lower pitch, cheeks and chests are slapped musically
There’s also a hypnotic hi-hat ostinato segue from the first to the second piece (played by Leni Sulusi: talented, charismatic, was probably once head boy, elegantly solves the problem of which facial expression to wear when playing a quite serious piece of music); the best involve-the-audience section I have seen for a long while; wonderful marimba and vibraphone playing by Dori Raphael (much flair) and Murray Hickman (spectacular limbs); and the bell drums, built by Jim Wafer of Nelson, commissioned for construction by Psathas after hearing him busking in Wellington. They look science-fictional, Martian.
Psathas’ work here is masterful. He’s one of New Zealand’s choicest composers: world-renowned, big-time, pro-press photos. His work was heard by billions when he composed the music for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Olympic games and to compare Between Zero and One to an event of that scale would conjure an appropriate level of dazzle and glamour.
It’s a joy to see this level of composition on a small stage in Auckland. The performers’ pride in the work is pheremonally exciting and each achieved the sleight-of-hand competency that’s crucial in a show like this, performed with the same assuredness you get when you know for sure you’ve bought someone a great birthday gift. It was technically difficult music, but far from a dry run-through of intelligent but inaccessible composition, this was a visceral, human exploration of sound and visual media that made for an intimate and increasingly engrossing experience.
Also integral to the show was the video accompaniment by Tim Gruchy, with projected-on partitions amplifying the mood of the show. At times it seemed alive, reacting to what the players were doing - a loud strike would send ripples of light across the stage - while other images conjured a ‘90s ‘world music’ vibe and had abstract thematic ties: a series of pixelated family photographs receding behind what seemed to be a rain-covered window, a potentially-African psychedelic print.
The penultimate climax started as a found Youtube clip, kind of ‘shreds’-ey in a weird and good way and turned into a pre-recorded Skype session with musicians from around the world projected onto the back screen. This built on a rolling theme of communication technology (earlier in the show, the blip blip sound of a cell phone signal caused by a too-close phone was incorporated into the backing track) which blended naturally and appropriately discomfortingly with the piece’s organic instruments (like a toe shoe, or the kind of technology where you can’t see the screws on your wristwatch because it has fused with your wrist). Musically, this was the weakest part - dexterous but gratuitous - but led into the strong and rousing finale, which mirrored the opening in similar Big-Bang style, universe destruction this time. I was reminded of the infectious energy of STOMP with me as a child emerging from the Aotea centre banging on cars.
Though I enjoyed the grandeur and spectacle of this show, I loved most the flashes of personality and connection, the small intricacies, and the quietly hypnotising moments. You’ll want to throw French superlatives (‘tour de force’, ‘joie de vivre’) onto the stage. My +1 asked me to use the word “immersive” and to encourage people to “dive on in there and swim around in it.” Do, I recommend it.
8 - 12 April