Australian rock innovators The Church have covered many feels over their long lifespan, such as psychedelic, space, ambient and avant garde music. The current incarnation is Steve Kilbey, Tim Powles, Peter Koppes and Ian Haug. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image version of The Church band are experimentalists, sonic surrealists suggesting the mood for a classic Avant garde film of Steve’s choice ‘The Blood of a Poet’ by Jean Cocteau (1930). The work was performed on November 21st at ACMI Federation Square Melbourne.
Our ACMI host tells us of a conversation he had with Steve a year prior and how the gig came to be here today. The event is equal measures of brilliance, visual surrealistic cinema, great venue and musical experimentation. An anthemed rock piece begins with the opening credits, with synthesiser score in the background. Tim plays with mallets. The sound in theatre 2 is superb.
1st Episode ‘Wounded Hand’. Steve narrates a passage and a Napoleonic era aristocratic looking man draws on a screen. We have just the right amount of drama and mystique. The Church play a Live in Pompeii (Pink Floyd) type soundscape, with bass, drums, and effect laden guitars. The man beholds the mark in his hand, the wig is cast aside, the eye beholds. We are compelled by the angst of the man, the hand, the mask, the synth parts. “Is it not crazy to wake up statues?”.
2nd Episode ‘Do Walls have ears?’ Pondering on the nature of the wound, a macabre statue comes to life “Try to enter the mirror” it commands the man. He obliges and disappears into a musical void of dark space, the music beckoning, sliding, slithering and the man looks for a way out or a way in? The guitar strings create parallel worlds each door a different reality. A child terrorized by a madam in ‘learn to fly lessons’. The Church produce echoes of sound as if from an inner hysteria, desperation, it shrieks tones;- shrill like an air raid siren. The Church of an alternative dimension, the orchestrators of supreme mood.
A mesmerist appears, a spiral turns, his body is revealed bit by bit on the couch, the era of Sigmund Freud. A hermaphrodite figure removes the pelvic veil and revealed are the words” In danger of death”, I laugh. Directions for death- again ‘a glory in death’, the stark words remind us, is it a commentary of war efforts? A hysteria, a bad dream? The man emerged from the mirror, bemused with the macabre statue and pounds it to pieces with a hammer- I laugh again.
3rd Episode- ‘Snowball fight’. The music picks up, the boys will play. A sheer delight in the mayhem of the fight. A rumble, a spectator, a boy dies. The Church accompanies the scene powerfully, unobtrusively, perfectly.
4th Episode ‘Profanation of the host’. We are amidst paradox- the juxtaposed day world of high society. A guardian angel appears, a black man, the boys corpse lay on the floor near the table and the music returns to the opening piece. Just a minor trifle to the aristocracy. The Church carry us on, the boy is gone, absorbed into the angel. The angel reclaims the ace of hearts card, our player is the man from early on. The woman looks on in disdain, the man takes his life, the audience applaud. The Church play a death knoll, a dynamic sending off for this poor fellow. The woman becomes the statue, a statue who walks, the statue from before.
We are taken by statues, silhouettes, symbols and the serene melodies and rhythms of The Church. The tower falls as in the start. The audience applaud till the band have left the stage- exquisite. The world of cinema created in 1930 between the two world wars, was steeped in themes of death, paradox, intrigue, paranoia and the murky side of human nature. The Church captures the angst and dynamism – the space and mystique, the questioning nature perfectly. The synthesiser backdrop was augmented by the live work and it is by far, one of my favourite live Church band performances ever. Thank you ACMI for a return to an ‘early cinema’ type experience where musicians accompanied the action before the era of recorded sound. I do hope The Church band will do more of this sort of work. Captivating- The Church play ‘Blood of a Poet’, the end.