Sometime in the early seventies, experimental music icon, Brian Eno, left a hand-written note at the foot of a sleeping form in Washington Square Park, New York City. The slumbering busker was minimalist ambient music composer, Edward Gordon, aka Laraaji. Eno’s note was asking him if he would like to collaborate in a recording session which would eventually become the third of Eno’s legendary Ambient series of albums. He made contact, and his reputation as a composer and ambient trailblazer was set subsequently set in stone.
However, before Laraaji had this fortuitous encounter, and music became his primary calling, he had eked out a living working the clubs as a stand-up comedian.
Over forty-five years later, and in Adelaide for the first time after a career that has spanned well over fifty albums, Laraaji’s Adelaide Fringe performance had many asking, at its conclusion, whether it had been in some way, a throwback to those days when he used to perform as a comic.
Collectively, in fact, we left the hall wondering if we had just witnessed an elaborate musical practical joke.
The performance started late – which had some punters, queuing at the door, getting quite irate before the show had even begun, and their disgruntled mood unfortunately did not brighten by show’s end.
Once eventually inside Elder Hall, the audience were confronted by a stark stage containing only the artist’s gong and a dulcimer, or maybe it was a zither – it was hard to tell because our view of it was blocked by an orange tie-dyed sheet.
When the performer finally hit the stage, adorned totally in orange – cap, jacket, t-shirt, pants and sneakers – he signalled the start of the performance with a dramatically delivered set of finger cymbal notes.
What followed was one continuous – and highly repetitive – piece, that meandered through some primitive improvisational strumming of his instrument, interspersed with taped sounds of water gurgling and crickets and birds chirping.
Laraaji’s sound palette was centred around the strings of his instrument being plucked strummed or bowed, as well as occasionally being hit with brushes or stroked by other implements. He also spent inordinate amounts of time rubbing and hitting his gong with a variety of rubber mallets whilst intermittently intoning nonsense syllables (’yum, yum, yummmm…’), or reciting lists of words related by the same suffix.
The reoccurring idea was seemingly to have the listener aurally wander through various natural habitats – the peace park, the beauty garden, the ‘now’ garden. These meanderings were often accompanied by koto-like sounds that sounded suspiciously similar to David Bowie’s Moss Garden in form and tone.
On a number of occasions the heads of audience members around me lolled backwards, or slowly fell forward in slumber, jolted awake only by the occasional sound of movement as a dash for the exit was executed by others.
Often, the music seemed to have drawn to its natural conclusion, only to have the artist restart the sequences once again. On these occasions, a murmuring of quiet embarrassed laughter rippled through the audience as people who had just mentally prepared to give a cursory clap and hurriedly leave, realised that they were not yet being granted release from the indulgences being perpetrated upon their person.
After an hour and a half, it had become obvious that the performance was not going to finish until the shell necklace which had hung ominously upon the gong’s frame had been shaken at least once, as, by this time, this was the only item which had not yet been utilised.
When the necklace was finally taken from its resting place, and given a momentary rattle, there was an excited murmur as expectation for a quick finish intensified.
But, alas, more water gurgling, and another bout of formless bowing of strings, as well as random repeated declarations such as, ‘I am consciousness’, ensued for a good ten minutes more before the last plaintive finger cymbal notes finally rang out.
Comically, as the artist departed centre stage, he could not find an exit through the curtains at the side of the stage so he admirably turned that into a chance to have an ‘encore’ of sorts.
Returning to the microphone he asked us all to place our hands on our hearts and make a tone which would make our hands vibrate. Then we were asked to turn that tone into a rich belly laugh.
And we did, but it was as if we were being encouraged to leave the auditorium laughing at what may have been the most elaborate comedy routine played at this year’s Fringe.
Rating: 1 ½ stars
Laraaji played his first and only Adelaide performance at the Elder Hall, in the RCC on Sunday 17 March 2019.