Take a journey across the Irish seas in ‘Bronze Lands’ for Sydney Festival 2020


Take a journey across the Irish seas in ‘Bronze Lands’ for Sydney Festival 2020

Featured image credit Lihuen Galli, below text from Sydney Festival 2020 website.

In Sydney Festival 2020 show Bronze Lands (Tailte Cré-Umha) Robert Curgenven takes inspiration from Bronze Age sea navigation, drawing on his heritage (his name is Cornish) and the history of Ireland’s relations with Cornwall and Europe.

Luminous and meditative, Curgenven’s music exploits the possibilities of the organ: from delicate, whistling tones to subterranean depths. It’s a 50-minute modern musical journey designed for pipe organ, decibel-boosting sound system and the physical space of the hall, creating a sound experience that’s aural, architectural and physical.

Check out our Q&A with sound artist Robert Curgenven below!

What story does this performance hope to tell?
The performance itself doesn’t tell any story, but the score used to devise the 50minute piece was devised from a navigational route across Europe some 5000years ago. Following a map from Mycanae in Greece, along coasts and rivers to Cornwall and finally Ireland, the shape of this 4000km route and the relation and distances of the travellers to the seas and lands determined the shape and depth of the piece over its 50minute duration. The route itself draws on archaeological research into Ireland’s prehistoric shift into the Bronze Age, in particular its relationship to societies across the Mediterranean as this was a very special time, forming the basis for the developments of the new civilisations.

Bronze, an alloy of tin (from Cornwall, crucial in the Bronze Age’s trading and development) and copper (plentiful in Ireland) is stronger than both its constituents. The development of bronze yielded shiny new goods, with these new ways of social organisation, stronger weapons to defend these new empires plus around that time a shift towards written communication. The score charts a specific navigation across these locations and durations and the movements are the basis for the shape of the piece – but it has not been translated into sound. Anything can be used as a score for music, from lines on a page to lines on the earth – this one doesn’t describe all the individual parts verbatim but is the basis from which the piece grows.


Why are people encouraged to lie down while listening to this show?
The physical dimension of the piece is more apparent when lying down – from the sub-bass coming from the organ and sound system moving through the floor, to the movement of the air and sound around the audience’s bodies. It offers a better vantage to enjoy the slow changes in the lights overhead as well as encouraging a shift in the audience’s perception of time throughout the piece as they are freed from other distractions. Above all it emphasises the reception of the piece as a group experience, the audience hears and feels it together.

How did you learn to play the organ? Who was your inspiration?
I started as a young child, playing Bach and that kind of thing, particularly attracted to the power of the music as well as an elegant sense of order behind it, then gradually becoming interested in other kinds of music. These days, in terms of pipe organ music, I’m interested in Ligeti – who did three amazing pieces for pipe organ, Xenakis, Messiaen, Scriabin, Reger, Widor and some of the contemporary European composers like Kali Malone and Ellen Arkbro.

Why do you think it’s important to share the story of Ireland’s relationship with Europe and Cornwall?
I’ve lived in Ireland the past five years, making it my home, and previously to that I’d lived in Cornwall for three years, which is where my surname and heritage originated before my grandfather’s grandfather moved to Australia. So this interest grew out of a personal connection and learning to understand where I am and how these two places, adjacent in the north Atlantic, have changed in their relationship over a specific duration, which has some parallels to changes in Australia before colonisation.

But as mentioned above, the focus for the piece is on a specific moment in history, which in many ways laid the foundations for the development of what some would view as European ‘civilisation’ as it developed over the past 5000 years. The approach to trade, travel, navigation was in some ways very outward looking at that time, the systems of knowledge were still strong at that point which yielded an understanding of where we were – beneath the stars, in relation to other nations near and far – and also when they were, both in terms during the year by the calendar but also through the existing systems of oral history how that time was connected to the past and the future.

Bronze Lands (Tailte Cré-Umha): Sydney Festival 2020
WHEN: January 21, 2020
WHERE: Sydney Town Hall
COST: $39 + BF

For more information about Bronze Lands, click HERE

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