Oh So Quietby Safeeyah Kharsany / 08.10.2010
A ribbon of red spills across a wooden stage introducing a ballet dancer. Then the ribbon coils around the waist of an Indian dancer. Wraps around her hips. Her feet raise dust. Mirrors on her dress. Spun together by the ribbon they dance in unison. Out of my daydream, before me are Jann Krynauw and Ronan Skillen. Ronan on rattles, cymbals, tabla. Specially modified Didgeridoo no less.
Jann manipulates sounds on his Apple. He studied classical music in his hometown, Piet Retief. Ronan was only 10 when he began French horn lessons in Germany. Then learned the tabla in India. They met at Didgeridoo lessons. Ronan and Jann tease, test and provoke each other. They create harmony. Each sound generated by instruments starkly different in history falls seamlessly in-sync.
Audience members wear wireless headphones. The headphones give the duo Tonik’s performances their trademark title – Silent Gigs. It’s a welcome empowering change for a Joburger: the public private show. Your own singular relation for once. Your own thing. Liberating in a big city.
Tonight, at The Bioscope, I can switch on or off, radical choice, I can drown out or let in the downtown ambience by regulating the volume on my headset. It’s great. Ronan challenges us to remove the headset. But I don’t want to.
An American called Tim is swaying his arms and practically dancing in the darkened cinema. “I’m a big fan of live music,” he says, “but this is totally new!” Ronan welcomes audiences to do whatever they want.
One of their first venues was a forest in Cape Town. They tried the beach but that didn’t work. The sand. Rain misted up their instruments outdoors. But they’re ever open to new sites.
They’re so relaxed live. Blue jeans and All Stars. An Amstel in hand. Boyish smiles. Then there’s the down to earth quality. How they let slip how a song called “Hello” happened after a phone rang during practice. How “The Chicken and The Piano” came to mind while cleaning up after a party with a piano in the garden and chickens running around. It feels like friends just hanging out. Their album, which won the Best Instrumental SAMA last year, is aptly called “Visitor’s Book”.
Tonik stroll from high to low, from tabla to piano. Each melody flows. They’re inspired by Swedish Jazz trios and Norwegian electric pianists and Johann Sebastian Bach. But Bach never rocked these visuals. Abstract animated images. Video clips of green luminescence. A moth and a candle, a forest, hurtling along a winding road in the country.
The dancers are gymnasts by now. A whirl. Belly-diving, spinning and contorting. The crescendo sees a triple jump. And ting. Cymbal tap. We wait for the lingering note to fade. That’s, as the Jam once put it, entertainment!
*All images © Safeeyah Kharsanye.