Naretha Williams is an experimental audio artist, sound engineer and composer. She is also a Wiradjuri woman and Blak Mass, her debut album considers her heritage, sense of identity and place in Melbourne.
As has been happening over the last few years, she like The Night Terrors, The Necks and Goblin before her were granted access to the grand organ at the Melbourne Town Hall. The grand organ, built in 1929 (though refurbished in 2001) is four storeys high and takes up more floor space than five average homes and uses ninety thousand cubic feet of air every minute. There are two consoles, 552 keys, nearly 8,000 pipes and enough electric wire to run from Melbourne to Adelaide. It also has midi.
This album comes from Williams ongoing work called CRYPTEX, which explores themes of identity, place and body. The electronics in this piece were apparently composed partly using the code from her own DNA. It was a live performance in 2019 born from a commission by the City of Melbourne.
The concept of a woman of indigenous heritage using what could conceivably be considered as an instrument of white colonial oppression is not lost on William’s, though nor is the scope of this extraordinary instrument, which is a curious and challenging place to be.
Her approach is fascinating. It’s dark, gothic and quite unrelenting. As you would expect religious motifs abound, though she’s also using electronics and synthesizer, creating a pulsing forward momentum to her music. It feels big and bleak. There’s a darkness, a sense of foreboding which is quiet fascinating. She’s drawn as much influence from church music as the dancefloor yet the peculiar amalgamation of the two is unsettling to say the least.
It’s definitely a challenging work. There’s a power in her music. It’s strange, experimental and at times quite overwhelming, yet the organ never overwhelms her. This is what is so great about Blak Mass, Williams has harnessed the organ to her own ends, and has created a really compelling work that is much more about her than the tools she used to create it.