Concert Reviews

Concert Review: A Nourishing Evening Of Sound With Julianna Barwick & Mary Lattimore

Where: The Great South Pacific Tuning Fork, Auckland NZ
When: 19 Jun 2019
Clare Martin

An unusual gig was hosted at the Tuning Fork in Auckland last night with three artists profiling mainly solo sets. Visiting these shores from America were the two headlining artists - Mary Lattimore (harp and loops) and Julianna Barwick (voice/Roland piano/synths). Both had solo sets before joining together in the last section of the evening to collaborate.

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Roy Montgomery

But first, opening the evening was Roy Montgomery with a guitar/pedal/vocal piece. He laid down a manifesto that his performance was a ‘work in progress’ and joked that we might want to find the bar to avoid hearing his singing. A veteran of experimental guitar sounds, and having been in the foundational Flying Nun band The Pin Group and carved a niche internationally as a cult guitarist, this was a good choice to begin to bend open our ears. Somewhat rough and ready however with a piece that opened with his reluctant vocals At This Point In My Life I Find Myself Talking to Ghosts… An introspective poetic piece that was framed over 25-minutes.

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At moments it was sheer brilliance, at other moments it stumbled and fell over. Some of the guitar picking had certain thinness to the sound quality and then in full strum, there was an almost church organ-like depth. But Montgomery brought an intriguing space to his sound and finished with the intense section titled I’m Not Going Quietly Into the Night. A great opportunity to hear this unique guitar sound.

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Mary Lattimore

With loop pedal and layering of harp arpeggios, glissandi and rhythmic plucked notes, Lattimore was a confection of charm and melancholy.

The darkness of guitar reverb was punctuated by the arrival of Mary Lattimore’s golden harp. Not an instrument many in the room had the pleasure to hear live. And not an instrument you stow in your back pocket for an international flight either. It turns out the Tuning Fork had arranged for this 1917-built beauty to be onstage. Performing a few pieces from her 2018 album Hundreds of Days she began with It Feels Like Floating which indeed set our little boats bobbing on the seas of harp bliss. With loop pedal and layering of harp arpeggios, glissandi and rhythmic plucked notes, Lattimore was a confection of charm and melancholy.

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Following up with the brilliant Baltic Birch in which I could hear the sombre spaces of winter. Touches of distortion added an ‘out of step’ unreality. And the beautiful On the Day I Saw the Dead Whale (true story apparently), was shreds of an almost remembered tune, maybe a folk song you had heard long ago. The starry Wawa by the Ocean dedicated to a friend and a meeting in the Wawa Cafe faded her set to a finish.

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Julianna Barwick

... Barwick held a choral precision and beauty that brought us into the cathedral of her sound.

Julianna Barwick brought onstage a calm intensity. Without any introductions or song titles given, the actual pieces remain a mystery. That is an apt place for this other-worldly sound to remain, mystery filled the venue with ambient synth and voice loops. I could swear the music is designed to stimulate brain alpha or even theta waves. The audience swayed a little as the trance took hold. As if life’s frenetic pace was being lowered into a deep well never to return, we entered a timeless limbic zone.

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Barwick’s vocals are clear as a choirboy at the top of her range, her intonation was crystalline. This was more medieval plainsong than 21st-century modern music despite the electronic element. With this style of sustained singing, one step off the pathway and it would be tuning disaster. But Barwick held a choral precision and beauty that brought us into the cathedral of her sound. Even though her second piece was somewhat shortened and lacked the same satisfaction as her first extended piece, we were already converted to her private antechamber.

thirdset julianna and mary june19 1

... the sum of two didn’t add up to a new whole, they seemed to perform separately, and their duetting seemed coincidental rather than enlightened.

The return of Lattimore for the last part of the evening was eagerly anticipated. With two solo artists of such individuality, a collaboration would surely create something new and special. I can’t say that was fulfilled, the sum of two didn’t add up to a new whole, they seemed to perform separately, and their duetting seemed coincidental rather than enlightened.

It was a relatively short collaborative set, but we had already a full and nourishing evening of sound. And the trance will be in our veins for days, with the resonance of reverb guitar, harp, and unearthly choir sending us floating out into the night, a wintery moon above.

Radio 13 thanks and credits Chontalle Musson from CPM Photography for all the images featured on this article. 

Written By: Clare Martin Clare has performed as an opera, recital and oratorio artist in UK most notably the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. In NZ she has performed with NZ Opera and with the NZ Symphony Orchestra but more recently she has moved into a wider range of contemporary genres including jazz and even Leonard Cohen. Since 2008 Clare has been teaching from her own music studio working with professional and beginner singers. In 2017 she was a mentor on TVNZ’s The Naked Choir working with a cappella choirs and she currently coaches barbershop and a woman’s ensemble.

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