THESE SOUND THERAPISTS MADE A STRESS-RELIEVING ORCHESTRA
By Michael Bailey
AFR 23 October 2023
Review: En Coda Symphony Orchestra, Nelson Meers Hall in Art Gallery Of NSW, October 22
The En Coda Symphony Orchestra came to the Art Gallery Of NSW promising “evidence-informed therapeutic benefits”, and their sound certainly engendered calm if the stillness and silence of Sunday evening’s audience was anything to go by.
At the core of En Coda are five Perth-based musicians and sound therapists, who were joined for this one-off recital by a 14-piece local orchestra.
After conductor Mark Coughlan invited us to close our eyes, but to listen with an “open heart”, Julian Silburn walked slowly from the back of the hall playing a didjeridu.
However this was no ordinary didge. Silburn made it himself from crystal quartz, and it delivered a rich low C with an immediately lulling effect.
Then Coughlan brought in the string instruments, and another surprise. They had all been tuned to 432hz, instead of the more typical 440hz which is otherwise known as concert pitch. The lower frequency has been scientifically proven to lower the heartbeat and blood pressure of the listener, and this evening it certainly made the orchestra sound a bit flatter and dronier, yet still able to deliver some gorgeous melodic lines from composer Stuart James.
Completing the enveloping, hour-long soundscape were Tenille Bentley, En Coda’s creative director who provided ethereal vocals while playing a shruti box - a kind of Indian harmonium, which underlaid the sound with a restful hum - and January Kultura, who tapped a native drum with what looked like a bunch of dried sticks, occasionally added chimes from a couple of glass bowls, and sang gossamer backing vocals.
Often those vocals were wordless incantations, but more often than not they were recognisable lyrics. Referring to such nebulous concepts as “delicate warriors” and “fields of grace”, the words invited a search for literal meaning which arguably grounded the experience while they were present.
However this was still overall a blissful experience, particularly in the last 10 minutes. The strings resounded a cascading melody and the layers beneath gradually intensified, to the point where tears welled at the corners of one’s (closed) eyes.
As the last vibration from the glass bowl decayed, Bentley gently instructed us to breathe in and out. Once there was complete silence, it took almost a full minute for anybody to applaud, such was the spell cast.
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