Selfless Orchestra: Great Barrier @ Girls School

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


An immersive live music and multimedia extravaganza, specially designed to inspire social and environmental awareness and justice. Post-rock ensemble Selfless Orchestra’s Fringe World performance Great Barrier, held at the historic Girls School building, was a thrilling, thought-provoking, hour-long journey into the dark heart of our wilfully destructive nature when dealing with the environment.

An 11-strong musical armada uniting a group of established players from a variety of disciplines including the Perth Symphony Orchestra and local bands Injured Ninja, Last Quokka, Karnivool, Mile End and more on guitar, piano, strings, drums, vocals and various exotic percussive and indigenous instruments, Selfless Orchestra create epic, long-form instrumental symphonies similar to the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai and Sigur Ros. “Live scoring a cinematic journey exhibited upon multiple screens and surfaces in an intimate setting,” as their press release states. A novel idea brought to stirring fruition thanks to the wholly impressive musicianship of the assembled local musicians, steered by bandleader, guitarist and producer Steven Alyian. 

Featuring footage from award winning film-makers, Great Barrier is a sensory loaded performance dedicated to exploring the awe-inspiring, natural wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef, its rich history and our troubled relationship with it that has led to its current threat of extinction – the bleached corals, harmful impact of tourism and establishment of coal mine ports that threaten its existence.

Where there is despair, there is also hope and along with the gradual destruction of the reef, through the visuals – projected on the gothic-looking, sandstone walls of the Girls School auditorium for full immersive and psychedelic effect – we also got to see the brave and dedicated human resistance and restoration efforts being done to preserve the reef, all soundtracked live in rousing, stretched-out fashion by the talented experimental musical troupe.

As an emotive, musical call to arms, Great Barrier ticks most of the required boxes. The uncompromising use of light, visuals and sound – atmospheric whale sounds almost always hit the spot, especially when set to a nautical theme – throughout the show made for an emotional, enjoyable experience, a voyage that both entertained and made you contemplate the bigger, more serious issues at hand in a tasteful, non-preachy manner. The way the narrative was laid out by the band, the audience were left to their own conclusions with nothing in the way of finger-pointing or blame-assigning which was exactly the way the Orchestra’s intended “poetic statement on the future of the natural wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef” should’ve been handled.

The visuals were mainly stunning, showing the reef in all its splendour back in the old days, its gradual degradation right up to the tipping point where we find ourselves now, the reef’s future uncertain but with a degree of hope hanging in the balance. 

Viewed in tandem with its live soundtrack, distinctively and meticulously constructed from a variety of instruments – frequently all playing in unison – the experience felt ethereal and captivating but not in an aggressive or confrontational sense. Truth be told, more volume could have made the show even more contemplative and immersive and that’s my only quibble right there. Had they come across with My Bloody Valentine levels of noise befitting the ear plugs that they were handing out at the start of the show, the effect would have been truly mind (and eardrum) blowing.

As an ambitious aural and visual presentation, Great Barrier was, by and large, a real delight to behold, an explorative journey of education, entertainment, sight and sound that made for an evening of wonderment and transportation. Turn up, tune in and get enlightened.


Photos by Linda Dunjey








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