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Tunnel Number Five

Darwin's WWII Oil Storage Tunnels were built during the war to protect oil stored in Darwin from Japanese bombing.

By the time the tunnels were completed the risk from bombing had gone and the tunnels never stored oil. Today tunnels five and six are open daily for visitors, and in 2015, Artistic Director and Melbourne based musician Anne Norman developed a whole new use for them. As a shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) player, always on the lookout for resonate spaces, Norman visited the tunnels and discovered their incredible acoustic powers.

Tunnel number five is approximately 172m long, 5m wide and 7m tall and sound travels along its length and width with clarity and strength – without the need for electronic amplification. In 2015, the Tunnel Number Five Festival of Underground Music was born out of an exquisite and unusual concert hall.

As Anisha Stitfold, Festival Producer explains, the beauty of the tunnels, and the atmosphere they create is not solely about the acoustics. It’s also about escaping noise contamination – and building beautiful community connections.

“If you like, it is also the fact that it is pure sound in an age of sound pollution. Once you get into the tunnels, there is no phone reception. The interference of electronic noise, such as mobile phones, is silenced – opening up the opportunity to focus on the aural sense.”

The history of the space also opened up an unexpected part of the project last year, with the reaction of the local Japanese community. 

“It was almost like a ceremony of sound to dispel negative connotations associated with the space and replace them with the healing powers of musical and cultural collaborations. The music created a sense of safety from which the Japanese community could revisit this space with a renewed sense of purpose and place.”

Each year the festival gathers a new group of daring improvisers and composers, to hear and play together, expanding on each other’s musical traditions. 

“Tunnel Number Five’s overarching aim is to grow a diverse, deep listening network, which gathers annually in Darwin. It is made up of a multicultural cast, crew and supporters and this year Co-Artistic Directors Anne Norman and Netanela Mizrahi have achieved this beautifully. Featuring 11 musicians spanning three continents, many more countries and life philosophies, they will play 12 instruments – all within the 13th instrument, the tunnel itself.” 

Returning from solo recitals in the USA, sitar master Kabita Ghosh joins Darwin’s Ad Hoc Ensemble in re-workings of classical Indian music for sitar, chamber ensemble and voices. Melbourne based vocalist Deborah Kayser, double bassist Nick Tsiavos and percussionist Peter Neville also join the lineup.

“The underground space is further activated by dancers Luther Wilson and Zachary Wilson, with the ensemble playing with light, shadow and form within the space. Jason Guwanbal Gurruwiwi explores ideas of homeland and connection to country, transporting the audience through a combination of ancient songs and new works inspired by Yolngu and Middle Eastern lullabies.”

The songmen left audience members in tears last year, with one concertgoer describing the performance as "an exquisite moment in time. Travel of mind and soul to a breathtaking degree.” 

Sun 13 – Thu 17 Aug | 7pm | WWII Oil Storage Tunnels, Darwin 

See the event listing.

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