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Review: Tunnel Number Five – Song of the Land: Song of the People

It is hard to imagine a more unique concert hall than Darwin’s World War II Oil Storage Tunnels. Built to store oil but never used, they have finally found their ultimate purpose – hosting acoustically impressive musical experiences that highlight the ingenuity of Darwin’s arts community.

The Tunnel Number Five series of concerts could not be replicated in any city other than Darwin, or any location other than the World War II Oil Storage Tunnels. Darwin is a small city, but a city of vibrant culture whose residents appear to have an above average appreciation for the arts. Each night of the Tunnel Number Five concert series was packed; up to one hundred people on each evening sat in the heat of the tunnels, holding their breath so as not to disturb the acoustics of the performance.

Anne Norman, a world-renowned shakuhachi player and curator of the festival, played on each night of the concert series. It may even be reductive to refer to her as a shakuhachi player; her instruments included the space, the walls, and even her own body, as she walked throughout the tunnel and created sound accordingly.

The power of the space and its acoustics, as exemplified by Norman’s performance each evening, was perhaps best demonstrated on the third night, entitled ‘Song of the Land: Song of the People’. Here, Yolngu songmen Jason Gurruwiwi and Guyundula Burarrwanga brought chills to the spines of audience members with their incredible performance. Gurruwiwi’s powerful voice was able to reach its full sonic potential in the acoustics of the tunnel, and was accompanied by an incredible yidaki performance.

The performance by the Yolngu songmen on this evening was an interesting counterpoint to that of West Papuan singer Henk Rumbewas, who enchanted his audience with an entertaining and impressively loud performance of traditional West Papuan music. The evening ended with all of the performers coming together; this was a unique and privileged experience for the audience – which one felt lucky to be a part of. 

Frances Grant | Off The Leash | Thursday 18 August 2016 | WWII Oil Storage Tunnels, Darwin

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