Beneath the Surface (CD Review)
Beneath the Surface is Anne Norman’s recently released site-specific album of traditional works, new compositions and improvisations for solo shakuhachi and shakuhachi with violin(s). The CD features performances of Anne Norman (shakuhachi ), Emily Sheppard (violin) and Anja Tait (violin). As the name of the album indicates, all the music and spoken poetry on this album was recorded underground in the 172-meter-long Tunnel Number Five under Darwin (Australia). In this project, the tunnel, which was originally constructed in response to attacks by Japanese bombers during WW II, has become an underground concert venue and recording space. The fabulous acoustic of the site contributes a significant part to the projection and reflection of sound waves and in the way musical streams and layers are woven together to create the ultimate audio experience for listeners. Australian composer-performer Anne Norman, who spent many years studying shakuhachi in Japan, has brought a spirit of reconciliation to the tunnel to transform its original purpose and bring the little flute (the shakuhachi) and the giant flute (the tunnel) together to start a meaningful and daring adventure in sounds.
The music and poetry in the album flows effortlessly from the first to the last track to create a mesmerising journey which is rich in colours, pace and emotion. Anne Norman demonstrates her mastery of the shakuhachi as well as her in-depth understanding of the spirit of Japanese contemplative music in Sarus Cranes which opens the CD. Her exquisite rendering of traditional Japanese Zen music is heard again in Dragon Dreaming in which the traditional melody Tamuke is presented as an offering to the amazing sounds of ocean swells supported by a very sensitive violin accompaniment by Anja Tait.
Moving from the traditional sounds of Japan, the shakuhachi embarks on a journey across various horizons and boundaries. Original compositions for solo shakuhachi and improvisations with violin(s) provide a colourful feast of sounds.
The two original compositions for shakuhachi, Rain Now and Then and Whispered Shadows, are beautiful works. Rain Now and Then is a stream of delicate melodies born of a masterful control of breath. In Whispered Shadows, soft multi-phonic elements of the shakuhachi and voice come and go behind or in-between walking rhythms of recurring patterns, creating a surreal impression.
The improvisations, especially the live recordings on tracks 4, (Bouncing back), 10 (Have they gone yet?) and 17 (Beneath the Surface), reveal the exceptional power of collective and spontaneous creativity. Listeners are led through various landscapes of sounds and emotions by the magical sounds of the shakuhachi at play with the violin(s) through space. The last track, Beneath the Surface, is so rich in audio images that it sounds almost like an artistic cinematic soundtrack condensed into a timeline of less than 7 minutes.
The poems, written and recited by Anne Norman, add another dimension to the whole program. They generate atmospheres, add depth to the meaning of the music and lead listeners to the next aural world about to unfold.
This CD should be listened to as a whole (and on headphones) to experience the flow of music and emotions in a space that has been transformed into a higher purpose.
Listen to the whole CD at: Anne Norman’s Bandcamp Site
For the history of the Darwin World War II Tunnels: Darwin WW II Tunnels