The Audience

*Image: Elissa leads the audience in conversation in the Gene Tree Project workshop #1 in Carlton Connect Lab14 artistic research residency (September 2016), image – Tess Hutson

So far we have met from the Gene Tree Project: our Composer/Musician Elissa Goodrich, our Evolutionary Biologist Dr Anna Syme and our Dramaturge Nadja Kostich. In our next article we’ll be meeting our Musicians Adam Simmons and Gideon Brazil.

This week we’re meeting an unexpected member of the Gene Tree Project; the Audience. Yes that’s right, the audience of the Gene Tree Project plays a role in the creation, appreciation and life of the work.

That is because connection and dialogue is at the heart of the Gene Tree Project. As an audience member you are invited to join the conversation with the artists, with yourself and with each other.

As we revealed in the last article, the team were inspired by the interrelatedness of everything. That’s an expansive concept that encompasses the biological patterns created over millennia, the role of each organism in an ecosystem, how the world responds to and influences climate change, and it comes right down to our personal stories and the impact of the decisions that we make everyday. For the artists, it also became about the culmination of their musical choices.

In the studio, the team engaged in honest dialogue to explore and interweave the artistic and scientific experience. Each one brought their separate knowledge. But together they observed, listened and asked questions. And together they became like one organism.

Then it was time to welcome an audience into the process. In September 2016 there were two workshops that invited small groups into the studio.

That’s when I became a Gene Tree Project audience member for the first time. It was not like any other performance I’d attended. Unlike a traditional concert, where the audience sits quietly and claps in the appropriate places, this workshop was more like a creative conversation.

The audience moved through the space as we read the artists’ and scientists’ notes displayed on the walls and the floor. We sat amongst the performers. We participated in the music making. We contributed thoughts and we performed. We observed, listened and asked questions. We became part of the organism.

Then in November 2016 I had another opportunity to become an audience member at a Gene Tree Project concert.

At first glance, this may have looked more like your traditional performance where the audience sits quiet, still and separated from the artists, I now knew better. This was another occasion to exchange, respond and connect through musical performance.

The connection occurs on a biological level. Sound is a vibration. It’s a physical experience that only exists once the sound waves are received by our bodies. Our warm, spongy bodies also absorb sound to soften the hard reverberation of a concrete performance space. During a performance we engage all of our senses; our sight, our hearing, our touch, our smell, our balance and our awareness of time.

The connection occurs on an intellectual level. As we listen to the music and the stories we ask ourselves questions and draw upon our knowledge. We let our imaginations wander, remember and become inspired.

The connection occurs on an emotional level. We allow ourselves to feel wordless and transported. We share an experience with our fellow audience members, friends and strangers alike.

All of these connections happen simultaneously, and sometimes unconsciously. Our breath changes in response to our thoughts and emotions. We get goose bumps. We smile in pleasure or frown in concentration. We shift in our chair and stifle our coughs.

As an audience member, your presence changes the resonance and mood of the space, and ultimately the work. Your thoughts, your body, and your senses change your perception of the work.

The artists respond to the audience’s experience. You might not be aware of it, but you are in constant conversation with the performers, with yourself and with your fellow audience. And together we share that resonant, golden silence between the musicians’ last note and the crack of applause.

We are all part of the work.

It’s a detailed, subtle and complex conversation that takes time to absorb and understand. It’s a conversation that searches for answers and embraces the experience. And it’s a conversation that sends out tendrils to connect you gently to the music, the science and the world around you.


Written by Cressida Bradley with Elissa Goodrich and Nadja Kostich.

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