Performance review: Mary Lattimore + Eric Avery + Benjamin Skepper, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall

Three musicians whose performances invited an extended moment of peace and transcendent reflection.
Mary Lattimore. A figure with dark, shoulder length blond hair looks to the left side. She is wearing red lipstick and a blue neck scarf. She is standing in a natural environment with ferns in the background.

On 8 December for one night only, Melbourne’s iconic Recital Centre set the scene for a hypnotic performance by contemporary harpist, Mary Lattimore, preceded by a variety of simpatico guests. Though each were melodic and entertaining in their own right, Lattimore’s mesmeric act was unmatched.

All of the musicians billed for the evening could be described as electroacoustic and experimental. At their core, they each had an ambient heart, with nostalgic resonances that would not fail to move audience members. Beginning the billing was Benjamin Skepper, adorned with a peacock-hued feather hat. His light touch on the piano keys were a dainty moment of calm on a hot early summer Melbourne evening. Skepper looped some of the pieces, layering them with sounds like crickets or fire crackling. One piece had the drip-drop delicacy of Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror) by Arvo Pärt. His electronic cello set was rich and moving. 

Following Skepper was Eric Avery (also known as Kabi Marrawuy Mumbulla). His violin was beautifully resonant, especially evident in his collaboration with the guitarist, whose name was not mentioned on the program, but made a beautiful symbiotic accompaniment with his bluegrass-style playing and vocals. Avery, a violinist, singer, dancer and composer from the Ngiyampaa, Yuin and Gumbangirr people of NSW, continued with a piece of music reminiscent of Eastern European origin, blended with synth sampling, showing his incredible virtuosity. The most moving piece, however, was when he sang in his Ngiyaampa language while playing the violin, mournful and exalted at the same time. 

At last, several brightly lit intervals later, Mary Lattimore, the eagerly awaited act, entered the stage with her harp, which she played angelically, layering with her characteristic pedal loop. Lattimore’s songs have creative titles and she explained the unexpected tales behind each one to the audience. He Wraps His Wings Around Me, for example, was about the musician’s experience of meeting Sesame Street’s Big Bird as a child. We Wave From Our Boats, a score equally shimmering with beauty, she told us wryly, had a similarly mundane origin. It simply referred to witnessing the ‘most human of things’ – waving to strangers on leisure boats. Avian and marine themes abound in Lattimore’s creations, which undulate, float and eulogise gentle, flowing movement, as her hands dance across the strings. 

Lattimore’s compositions favour light, high-pitched melodies that shimmer across the resonance of her pedal looping. Her performance, replete with subdued mist amid bright spotlights, was like watching a sparkling brook or multi-mirrored ocean, a deeply relaxing feeling, enhanced by her warm conversation with the audience. 

Read: From the bottom of her harp: contemporary women artists finding their song

Though Lattimore was the lulling, mesmeric highlight of the evening, all three musicians held their own as deeply pensive artists, inviting an extended moment of peace and transcendent reflection in a time when the world may feel troubled and disquiet.

Mary Lattimore + Eric Avery + Benjamin Skepper was performed on 8 December at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish and Celtic heritage. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada by Southerly Journal, LA Review of Books, Honey Literary Journal, Right Now, Delving Into Dance and more.