Newport’s Substation proves yet again to be a sublime venue for taking in art-works by providing the vaulted space for ASUNA’s sonic circle experience. The lights are warm and plush carpets are laid a short distance from an expanding circle of toy keyboards. There is a spot for everyone, and it feels as though the audience has arrived very early for a low-key festival, or are being bit too casual at an art gallery opening. Melbourne has a tense-ness sometimes, a feeling of pretension that was slyly present here in the perched members of the avant-guard and minimalist. Yet, the carpets and the circularity, our collective fascination with the centre of the room, and the unassuming entrance of tonight’s performer Naoyuki Arashi (ASUNA) dispelled most of that. The lights were lowered and a little lamp with a rice-paper shade lit up; the collective breathed a sigh.
There is no performance. Arashi is completely absorbed in his task, which is not so much ‘playing’ but allowing each keyboard to join the wave. On some of the central keyboards (the tiniest ones) he has a peg holding down particular keys, and on the outer rows (none are bigger than 2 octaves) paddle-pop sticks are applied, wedged under the neighbouring key to sustain notes. One is struck by his precision: Arashi is methodical, and yet is obviously flexible according to what frequency he is looking for. What occurs is one sustained chord, which waves and pulses at the listeners who at first are intellectually listening, and then carried away by their bodies, exploring how the sound changes in the space. People are suddenly all around, circling the mandala, approaching from high and low, cupping their ears and giving over to the sound bath. For anyone curious, the chord chosen is an A7 with suspended 4th (A D E G) and these four notes bring about an uplifting exhilaration, with tension supplied by the sus4.
The joy of this show is that the intellect is totally useless. This is a sensory time to be soft and curious and entranced. The people observing the slow augmentation of sound became beauteous because there was no need for clever masks, or even for focus. You take it as you feel. As Arashi stood back and drank water, the realisation came that he would now work on taking away the sacred chord. This slowly had an emotional impact, though very subtle and not overwrought. These delightful toys were eventually silenced, little lives extinguished, and vibrating bodies shuffled back into the Melbourne night.