In the Australian outback, the Cobar Sound chapel quenches the soul

Life in Cobar was a fragile thing until the arrival of the Silver Tank. In the vastness, red earth In the interior of Australia, more than 400 miles northwest of the Sydney coast, rainwater is scarce. For thousands of years, the nomadic Ngiyampaa Aboriginal people have excelled in the art of survival by creating natural rock reservoirs. But after European settlers discovered copper and gold in the area in the 1870s, enough water was needed to sustain a booming mining town. Reservoirs have been dug. Water is trained remotely. Then, in 1901, a steel water tank 33 feet high silver paint, hence its nickname, to be was erected about a mile outside of town. While the threat of drought remains (and still to this day), it turned dusty Cobar, a freckle at the edge of the Outback, into a desert oasis.

Today, Cobar carries water from the Burrendong Dam, about 233 miles east, and the tank, whose silver finish has long since rusted and graffitied, has run out of water. However, it is filled with something new – music. On April 2, after two decades of work, it will officially be reborn as the Cobar Sound Chapel, a daring sonic art collaboration between Georges Lentz, one of Australia’s leading contemporary composers, and Glenn Murcutt, an Australian Pritzker Prize-winning architect and Praemium Imperiale. To re-imagine his tankless tank, Murcutt installed a cube about 16 feet long in its cylindrical space, where Lentz .’s “Sequence Quartet(s)” (2000-21), a 24-hour electronic classic, will stream through a quadraphonic sound system. Inside the chamber is a concrete bench that seats up to four, from which one can look out onto the ceiling’s gold-rimmed windows. Then, in the morning, noon, and evening, the stream of otherworldly sounds would reverberate throughout the concrete pavilion and spill over into the sky that inspired it. The artists hope that their work will make visitors reflect on our place in the universe. Lentz, 56, says, “There is a mysterious element to our existence that we overlook when in danger.” By aiming for something higher than ourselves, we realize I am just a small part of this grand scheme. ”

Lentz has been fascinated by questions about cosmology and spirituality since he was a child. Born in Echternach, a small Luxembourg town founded around the seventh century, he grew up attending classical music festivals and stargazing with his father. He later studied music in Hanover, Germany. While on the train to the university in the fall of 1988, he overheard a story in the German scientific journal Geo about the formation of the universe. It made him less stressed, and he fell into a depression that kept him awake for weeks. “It You feel like an abyss that you look into and go, “Wow!” he says.

Since then, Lentz has devoted his entire work to exploring the questions of the universe, turning his initial fear into a contemplative quest, one only intensified after he moved to Australia in 1990 and exposed the oceanic skies of the Outback. Both a continuation and a culmination of his work, “Sequence Quartet(s)” began as an attempt to turn that sky into a piece of music. To do so, he teamed up with Noise, an experimental string quartet based in Sydney. They used a variety of techniques; to reflect a starry night, for example, musicians invoked contemporary pointism Aboriginal painter Kathleen Petyarre, strummed their bows on top of their instruments to create contained sounds. “If you repeat that,” says Oliver Miller, cellist of Noise and technical and creative consultant for the chapel, “it converges into a galaxy formation, where you get a cluster of the Milky Way. ”

They ended up with about six hours of music, which, through digital editing, Lentz expanded into a 24-hour, technology-enhanced, awe-inspiring, and reverent audio scene. Inspired by Gerhard Richter, he layered recorded sounds as if they were in a palimpsest. In one track I sampled, a curtain of penetrating wire gave the impression of a dust storm haunting the horizon. On another occasion, I fell into a trance as the strings retracted into shiny, ethereal dots, ringing as if in an empty basement. I had heard it from the top of a hill in Connecticut, but listening to the music inside the chapel would be a completely different experience.

Around 2000, Lentz began to dream of a music box in the middle of a copper scene, a place where his music could live with its muse. But it wasn’t until he played a concert in Cobar in 2008 that he saw the town as a potential venue. He presented the idea to the Cobar Shire Council, which then suggested that the top of the hill carry the tank, recommending that it be demolished to make room. “Absolutely not!” Lentz said. Soon after, he called 85-year-old Murcutt, who is known for his hand-drawn designs, dedicated to landscapes inspired by Indigenous Australian architecture, such as farmhouses and barns. “You’d be mad doing something like this,” Murcutt recalls thinking. “But it’s also extraordinary.”

Murcutt has always been drawn to the desert, where its sparseness resonates with the Aboriginal mantra – lightly touch the earth – that he strives to obey. In keeping with that idea, he began designing, largely thanks to government funding, a simple, solar-powered chapel that would unify sound, place, and atmosphere. Two large concrete slabs mark the entrance to the outside. Inside, the cubic space (slightly tilted to optimize acoustics) is very strict, like the desert itself. In the four corners of the ceiling, sunlight streams in through Russian blue-glazed windows painted by local Aboriginal artist Sharron Ohlsen, who also uses brushstrokes in his work. And, over the course of each day, an ellipse of light passes through the concrete floors and walls, is cast in corrugated iron formwork and acts as the sound diffuser. Music bursts from a speaker in each wall, says Miller, enveloping listeners, as if they were “moving through a cosmic nebula or swimming in a school of deep-sea jellyfish.”

And so, more than a century after arriving in town, Silver Tank promises to put Cobar on the cultural map, especially since the chapel will host its annual string quartet festival sponsored by Manuka Resources , a local mine – once again providing something essential. For anyone spending time inside, it provides a sanctuary to reflect on the existential questions that, especially in times of pandemic, haunt us so deeply. And while the track may not provide the answer, it is also a comforting reminder that, even in a vast, seemingly empty land, there can still be music. In the Australian outback, the Cobar Sound chapel quenches the soul

Fry Electronics Team

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