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Review: Tunnel Number Five – Sacred Sound Journey

Hidden underneath the city and unbeknown to many on the streets above, a unique musical experience was echoing through the World War II tunnels. Directed by Anne Norman, Tunnel Number Five: A Festival Of Underground Music featured several performances over five nights.

Each evening presented artists whose sounds complimented the unique acoustics of the space. The first night featured sonic mediations from Anne Norman on the Japanese shakuhachi flute. Then came a performance titled Stringlines featuring Anja Tait, Netanela Mizrahi and Ernie Gruner on violin and viola. The Yolngu songmen Jason Gurruwiwi and Guyundula Burarrwanga and West Papuan singer Henk Rumbewas awed the crowd on Thursday night.

On Friday I was lucky enough to catch the transcendental performance of Sarah Hopkins. Sacred Sound Journey included Hopkins playing a variety of instruments including cello, bells and the distinctive harmonic whirlies.

Although these whirlies may look like your average pool noodle, they are in fact legitimate instruments that can play harmonic notes in a variety of tunings. I must admit, I never saw myself reviewing in earnest the twirling of something that is used as a ‘vibrational healing tool’. However, when combined with the unconventional space and the resonating acoustics the whirlies created a meditative and moving sound that complimented Hopkins’ other instruments perfectly.

Combining cello with Tuvan throat singing, Hopkins’ cross-cultural performance canvassed several unique techniques and playing styles. For those who haven’t heard of it, Tuvan throat singing is a vocalisation technique that involves singing simultaneous notes via circular breathing and it sounds as distinctive as you would expect. At times her cello playing was reminiscent of a whale song and at other moments it was indistinguishable from a didgeridoo.

Hopkins actively engaged with the audience, bringing a number of them up to play bells and created opportunities for group participation in the music. Friday’s performance was uplifting and somewhat otherworldly. Hopkins is an eccentric Australian performer, whose music ranges from the classical to the unconventional. 

The following Saturday night was filled with performers from all previous nights, in what would have been a dazzling showcase. Overall, the Tunnel Number Five music festival offered a truly inimitable experience within an exceptional and historic setting. For those who missed out, keep your fingers crossed for another appearance next year.

Chelsea Heaney | Acting Music Editor | Off The Leash | Friday 19 August 2016 | WWII Oil Storage Tunnels, Darwin | 

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