An extraordinary installation taking place at the Rosslyn Gallery has become the source of inspiration for Mary Doumany and Miles Brown’s new outfit, The Narcoleptor.
Tonight sees the classical harp virtuosa join forces with the well-known City of Melbourne curator and thereminist at the opening of VOLATILIS.
The new duo, performs a celebratory live score as part of the installation, exploring the journey of heartbreak, growth and rebirth through the visual metaphor of a constructed volatile landscape.
That landscape is documented by contemporary queer filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist Jenna Eriksen from Aotearoa who travels through Iceland, Australia and New Zealand in an attempt to create a cathartic response to traversing emotions through space.
Eriksen’s unique images, informed by a sense of connection, affinity and belonging to a place, become the trigger for Doumany and Brown, who surrounded by projections they too are being exposed to for the first time, improvise on stage creating the perfect soundscape to immerse the audience.
At the centre of an eighty-three square metre landscape installation with a seven metre hand rendered pastel glacier and a seven minute projection loop, this performance solidifies the artists’ coming together, after their first joint performance in September last year.
Watch the trailer for VOLATILIS below:
Second generation Greek Australian Mary Doumany, who has been playing the harp since she was 12 years old, comes from a family with a very long musical tradition, that goes back many generations. Growing up she was exposed to the sounds of the bouzouki and the balalaika, while going to the opera and learning piano and ballet.
“My mum’s father used to play piano for the silent movies in Sydney and my father’s family played traditional instruments while both my parents loved to sing,” she says.
“My father took me to see Theodorakis perform when I was six years old and I can to this day remember seeing a very dramatic tall guy, waiving his arms in the air while all those sounds were coming together, and being mesmerised.”
It is that feeling of being in awe that she has throughout her career tried to experience both as an artist and as a receiver of art. The same desire brought her together with Miles Brown, just a little bit over a year ago.
“I was performing with Philip Brophy who’s an expert in Japanese Manga Anime; Miles happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to have a play. We had a session at his place which was fun but it wasn’t until we played live at the Make it Up Club that we realised we could create a duo.”
“We felt we found something great; we were so happy with the sound of it that we decided to master it and make it an LP,” Doumany explains, describing the project as the melding soundworlds of their iconic instruments creating a dream-state effect.
“We listened to it afterwards and it’s got a bit of a horror movie vibe, something reminiscent of Diamanda Galás, something from the beatnik era… it is a bit sci-fi, feels somewhat like Susperia,” she says.
The Narcoleptor, as Doumany describes it, is many things and vibes put together, connecting the past with the future.
The harp is so ancient and the theremin is so futuristic and new. Both the harp and the theremin can produce and impose a mystical atmosphere, mastering melodies in ways both genius and magic.
A lover of mythology, she came up the name of the duo which reminds her of a creature that moves between two worlds.
The Narcoleptor – a word that does not really exist – derived from narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disorder of excessive daytime sleepiness which may occur with other symptoms such as cataplexy, sleep paralysis and hallucinations.
For Doumany, that creature comes alive when you fall asleep in a way that is beyond your control.
“The Narcoleptor awaits you at the gateway between waking and sleeping. It’s neither good nor bad but it will take you to places you’ve never been and make you feel things you’ve never felt.”
Watch a preview of The Narcoleptor EP below:
The multi-disciplinary artist who is also considered to be one of the most original voices in the Australian arts community, is recongised locally and internationally for her live performances and compositions embracing the folk, jazz, rock and classical genres encompassing text and visuals.
“I enjoy experimenting with different things and evoking different feelings. I write and perform ‘Angel’ music and melodies that are destined for meditation as well, however, I love letting my most extreme emotions come out; my fear, my anger, my hope,” she muses.
“You can’t always go to these extremes in music, in some genres you have to keep it nice… but, it is important in art to also be intense and ecstatic whether that’s fear and anger, or whether that’s ecstatic joy or bliss.”
Doumany does not like to stay flat and in the middle constantly, but rather prefers to explore the edges. She believes that safely standing in the middle means that artists are not challenged.
“We plateau, stagnate. We will fall inwards rather than expand outwards; this is entropy!”
To create those new sounds, she often draws inspiration from ancient Greek music and byzantine sounds like the very calming quiet simple string sounds or the Greek lyra.
“It’s a very primitive sound,” she adds. “When I play in The Narcoleptor, I often change the tuning of the harp to make it sound more primitive, more like a lyra. It’s also very ceremonial, it’s a pagan sound.”
Indeed, Doumany, apart from casting spells through her harp’s strings, screams and whispers as Miles Brown tames the electromagnetic fields between his theremin’s metal antennas, creating the optic acoustic illusion of a nightmarish setting.
“The project is 100 per cent improvisation; music and sounds that are generated in the moment. It’s like riding a wave… you don’t know what the wave is going to be like and which way it will go, but you’re going to ride it. This is how Miles and I bounce off each other and our environment on stage, creating sound that is like no other.”
She sees fashion as a dome that instead of truly inspiring, hinders individuality but imposing uniformity.
“The danger of fashion is seeing someone do something interesting and go and do the exact same thing, whether that is an outfit or makeup or a form of artistic expression,” she says.
“We repeat rather than create our own identity and constantly moving forward. That’s the fashion in music and the arts as well, and everything really. People aren’t individual enough.”
Doumany compares artistic creation to genetics stressing that in order for the genetic pool to expand, humans had to mix; different races, body types, religions and overall potential came together creating identities that never before existed.
“This is what Miles and I do. We come from completely different backgrounds and we get up on stage to give birth to something virgin,” she muses, describing The Narcoleptor as the conjuring up of two emotional states and two different stories.
This is my passion as a teacher as well, to help others find their unique voice on the harp. To inspire and stimulate students to be the best artists possible, to find their own identity, their own story and share it in their most original and unique way.”
When: Apr 24 at 6 PM – Apr 30 at 9 PM. Performance from 7:00pm.
Where: 222 Rosslyn Gallery – This is an all accessible venue. No admission fee.
*This event takes place on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge elders of this land, past, present and emerging.*
MORE ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Mary majored in harp under Una Morgan, and later undertook private lessons with Marisa Robles in London. At this time, she also studied composition with Alan Lane and voice with Margaret Nixon.
At nineteen, Mary secured the principal position with the Australian Youth Orchestra, remaining with them for four years. Playing both lever and pedal harps, Mary has performed with the Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland Symphony Orchestras, and her extensive orchestral experience encompasses opera, orchestral, ballet and music theatre repertoires. Opera scores have included Britten’s The Turn of the Screw for the Neil Armfield/Australian Opera production, and Puccini’s La Boheme under the baton of the late Stuart Challender.
She made her solo debut for ABC Radio with Debussy’s Danses Sacree et Profane at age twenty, and has since performed widely as a recitalist, festival guest, and chamber ensemble musician nationally and overseas. She’s also performed on soundtracks for Australian and international films, television series, and advertising campaigns. Having been awarded prizes by Don Banks and Franz Holford at two consecutive Young Australian Composers Competitions she later went on to form a song-writing partnership with producer and bassist Jeremy Alsop writing and performing together as ‘The Lovers’. She has also embraced opportunities to compose for music theatre productions and television, with her songs featuring on several recent releases through ABC Classics. Later, funded by the Australia Council, Mary wrote and recorded an album of original solo harp compositions, Elemental: impressions of the natural world.
Mary regularly tours Europe and the US, and spends a significant part of each year in Tokyo, where she collaborates with local and international experimental musicians.
She was a recitalist, playing her own compositions, at the 2018 World Harp Congress in Hong Kong, also curating the Australasian Harp Orchestra who performed her composition, based on a theme written by one of her HK students. An accomplished visual artist, a selection of Mary’s visual artworks have been acquired by the Australian National Gallery.