Review by Anja Bless
A hybrid audio piece curated and creatively produced by Utp’s Daniel Browning with support from Creative Producer Travis De Vries, Blak Box – Precarities is an immersive experience giving voice to First Nations artists to explore the pain and hope of uncertainty. Using narrow broadcast, the piece is something like a silent disco, as the audience dons headphones plugged into radio receivers that tune into both the live microphones of the performers and pre-recorded audio that blend together into a seamless and dynamic audio landscape.
Set in The Cutaway at Barangaroo Reserve, this choice of audio delivery helps makes the performances feel closer to the audience while being in a cavernous space. Paired with the warm and somewhat breathtaking lighting design by Karen Norris, this industrial, cold and concrete space feels reclaimed and reimagined. And this is very much the intention of the performing artists, Eric Avery, Lorna Munro, Steven Oliver, Dobby, and Ancestress who are working to redefine their relationship with colonised Country, symbolised in the artificial gash in the landscape that is The Cutaway and the human designed nature of Barangaroo. As Munro describes it in a pre-show artist panel, this piece is a form of ‘audio sovereignty’.
With the audience set in the middle of the space, with each performer positioned around them facing inwards, this performance is less to be seen than heard and felt. Particular highlights are the soundscapes and compositions by Eric Avery on violin, Dobby on piano and percussion, and Steven Oliver on vocals and guitar. They build on pre-recorded audio to help draw in the audience, giving the excitement and dynamism of live performance while providing depth and emotionality to the sound. Ancestress’ vocals help punctuate the performance, giving an eerie quality that lends to the theme of precariousness with almost a dolphin song of call and response with Avery’s violin. Munro’s vocal performance lends a further element of strength to the performance, a particular highlight being her translation of the famous ‘once more unto the breach’ monologue in Shakespeare’s Henry V into Wiradjuri, reimagining the scene as Indigenous warriors preparing to fight once more against the invaders of their land. The performances are also punctuated by recordings of the artists in rehearsal, adding touches of much needed lightness among the heavier soundscapes and providing a glimpse into the comradely spirit between the performers. More moments like this, of laughter and joy, could have helped to further lend to the notion of precarity in the piece overall and help ensure ongoing engagement from the audience.
With near perfect production quality, a strong and powerful group of performers, and an impressive performance space there was little to hamper the experience of Blak Box – Precarities. However, there were (perhaps only for opening night) a perplexingly large number of photographers moving through the audience, at times walking into spotlights meant for the performers. This distracted somewhat from the overall experience. Perhaps due to the vastness of the performance space, it also felt a little like the performance did not know how to definitively end. With no curtains or backstage and an odd choice for lights down right before the final song, it made for a bit of a fizzle out for what was otherwise a roaring performance in terms of energy and power.
These are minor points however, and it was exciting to see space and Country being reclaimed by First Nations artists, and their voices and sounds heard in such an intimate manner. If you are unable to attend this production, I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for what these artists do next.