Boombox (The Australian Voices)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
The latest work from the genre-bending choral group The Australian Voices, “Boombox” is promoted as the ultimate skirmish between human voice and machine. Although the titular device appears on stage from the show’s outset, however, it doesn’t particularly feature until later in the work, because who needs technology when you have the acappella voices of over 20 vocalists?
Like their other works, “Boombox” is about letting voices soar and although it perhaps has more personality than its predecessors, its character is a lot more capricious too. Indeed, the rich musical tapestry of the show, is quite patchwork in its eclecticism. From milling around the stage, members merge into early segments that are random in disassociation with each other: about dialup modem sounds, a wild applause thing and ‘words that turn into other words’, which sees the audience taken from ‘closely’ to ‘oblivion’, via Bolivia and a balding audience member, through a series of random, but similar sounding and rhyming, words. While there is a great deal of appeal to segments such as ‘baby shark’, and early, engaging comedy thanks largely to the antics of co-director/creator and performer Samuel Boyd, the curious choices can be confusing to audience members in search of signposts as to the journey of the complete experience.
As the show progresses from the experimental ‘thousand things that have nothing to do with each other’ (as conductor and the group’s Artistic Director Gordon Hamilton is credited as initially pitching it), there is an increased focus on melody and the techniques of singing, which is where things really shine. When during ‘Ave Maria’ (just a little bit), comment is made of its sequence of chords and purity of intent, it is a truth absolutely realised as even in dissection of the classical work, the orchestra of voices cannot but excel, crescendoing with ‘Songs of Praise’-like uplift to a place of pure beauty, perhaps better appreciated in a more acoustically-empathetic venue.
With its blend of soaring vocals and pop culture, this is music as you have never heard it before with rap battles and political speeches taking centre stage alongside works such as Frederick Septimus Kelly’s 1915 orchestral elegy, written during his time at Gallipoli. The speeches, of course, are standouts, as they were in the earlier 2015 showcase “Unrepresentative Swill.” Although ‘Not Now, Not Ever’ the group’s You Tube hit, melodic interrogation of Julia Gillard’s parliamentary speech addressing misogyny is, as always, a crowd favourite, it is the new work ‘Total Political Correctness’, possibly the world’s only choral arrangement to feature Donald Trump, that is the absolute highlight.
Certainly, The Australian Voices is known for its creative fusion as much as its members’ divine choral skills. Although “Boombox” may not represent its usual seamless combination of pop culture and classical sounds, the enthusiasm and innovation of the group cannot be denied. And Brisbane should be immensely proud to have given birth to a collective of such calibre who stand on the cutting edge of choral music.