No Man’s Land
A Love Letter to Peace
John Psathas, Jasmine Millet, Mathew Knight
Wednesday 2 March 2016, Michael Fowler Centre, New Zealand Festival
A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs
A mesmerising, poignant and uplifting contemplation of the consequences of war, and the vision of some sort of artistic resolution from the descendants of the war-torn.
Usually a film’s soundtrack should be ‘invisible’ (not inaudible!) It should be understated so the dramatic focus should be on the actors, dialogue, action and setting. But No Man’s Land was all about the music – as it should be. The setting, the visuals, the photography, the editing, the technological wizardry were made whole and complete by the music. The music made sense of it all.
It was a team effort. Composer John Psathas had the idea and the drive to carry it on but Jasmine, Mathew and a host of musical and technological personnel had to make it real. Armenia, Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America – the global spread of this idea was its most magnificent achievement.
For eighty minutes I was captivated. The septet of live players were extraordinary. I longed for them to have a ‘cadenza’ moment, but the team effort extended to them too. They were an orchestra, in the sense that the whole was bigger than the parts.
The music was minimalist, with tiny changes and variations with each iteration, building to climaxes or resolution. Poignant beyond belief, the Part 2: Oh Beloved, was led by Renkei Hashimoto (shakuhachi) and three female singers: Ariana Tikao (NZ), Oum El Ghait Benessahraoui (Morocco) and Meeta Pandit (India). The women, clad with a modern style of national dress, were impressive, regal, upright. When Meeta Pandit sang a melismatic scale upward it was a relvelation.
Too many moments were important for the whole work, but I have to mention three instances in particular.
In Part 4: Soul of Mine, five leaders of religious orders were intoning prayers for their faithful. It was a seminal occasion – five denominations together. But what followed was astounding. Gareth Lubbe (South Africa) was singing in a cavernous bunker, under a European battlefield. He had no words, just sounds but his singing was extraordinary. He is a polyphonic singer – he has a fundamental tone, but he produced overtones simultaneously. His performance was interspersed by photographs of the dead on the WWI battlefield. After the prayers and invocations from the priests, no words could express the tragic loss of life and he, wordless, expressed that heartrending emotion.
In Part 5: Anthem, after the grandiose sound of the wind group, the orchestra and the organ, there was a point when the remote instrumentalists were swapping comments or instruments or anecdotes. The laughter, the good humour, the camaraderie was palpable and real. This was a crux of the whole project in a way – that people, humanity, are one.
In Part 6: Postlude (Lamentos), Armenian-born Serj Tankian was a imposing presence. His voice was rich and resonant, but when he reached up to the octave – again, it was revelatory.
The music aside, the stage show – spectacle – was something else. I think it could been possible only now with the technological advances in sound, communication and multi-media. Five years ago, it could not have been done so successfully. The screens bridged the gap from the live musicians to the film, and often had related patterns or videos of the remote instrumentalists from around the world. But, the technology was subservient to the music, not the other way around.
No Man’s Land was a triumph – a humbling invocation of humanity’s tendency to heal itself, however long it takes. 100 years? I hope many conflicts could be resolved much more speedily, and this event further raises people’s consciousness.