Raphael Solarsh

A brilliant performance by Matthias Schack-Arnott that brings to life a dark and frenetic urban resonance.

Image: http://matthiasschackarnott.com/

Schack-Arnott’s instrument is a unique creation of his own. He took the unused metal pipes, shards of metal, glass bottles and stone from a construction site and turned them into chimes, xylophones, symbols and more. The result is a cacophonous, yet moving soundscape that brings to life the buildings, roads, café’s and stations that are the hallmarks of urban life.

At times Fluvial sounds like the sad whining of old train line, at other times a violent battle between a skyscraper and storm. It manages to find emotion in the lifeless greys of concrete, steel and glass, and gives you the uncomfortable feeling that the inanimate objects that surround you every day are trying to communicate.


The performance gave me a constant feeling of Déjà vu. Its sounds and rhythms are entirely novel but when deliberately played together the sounds of metal, glass, water and stone feel eerily familiar. They are the sounds that constantly surround the city dweller, but as a result of their ubiquity are tuned out completely. As the performance progressed I felt suddenly woken to all the ambient sounds that I had become totally unaware of and it was confronting. You can’t plug in your earphones and fall into your phone, you have to accept that this is the voice of the built environment. I can’t be sure if it’s a voice I found pleasant, but it was a powerful voice that moved me deeply.

Even during the performances most intense moments Schack-Arnott remains totally in control of his instrument and plays with a deft touch and grace. Those moments are almost violent in their intensity. You feel as if you’ve been dropped into an angry peak hour gridlock while building scream at each other with the pent up frustration of all their occupants. Then, just as you reach breaking point, Schack-Arnott skilfully returns to calm with some long isolated tones of a single chime and you feel actively relieved as if you’ve just stepped into the warm comfort of home.

This show is not about the warm comfort of home though, and it cleverly ends with glass as if you’ve rushed out of the office for a quick drink at a busy bar. I felt energised by the clink of glass and the distortion of metallic sounds with water made for a playful end to a sound journey that has for the most past a melancholy note.

Part urban requiem, part voice-of-the-city, Schack-Arnott has created a transcendent piece of music that wakes you up to the emotions and forgotten sounds of modern living.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
13 – 17 May

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Raphael Solarsh is writer from Melbourne whose work has appeared in The Guardian, on Writer’s Bloc and in a collection of short stories entitled Outliers: Stories of Searching. When not seeing shows, he writes fiction and blogs at raphaelsolarsh.com and tweets @RS_IndiLit.