Punters were lost in a dream when Grouper played NGV Friday Nights

Here’s the thing about seeing a show at the National Gallery of Victoria. No matter which way you slice and dice it, it’s not like going to see a band at your local. However, that’s exactly the point. Through their celebrated Friday Nights series, the NGV has created fertile grounds for both art and music to collide. Grouper’s sold-out performance may just be the best example yet of why that is.

After making our way through the brilliant Van Gogh exhibition, we headed back into the Great Hall as Grouper’s sonic brushstrokes floated up to the ceiling. Akin to walking into a cathedral of sound, such impressionistic music is the perfect complement to the art we’ve just experienced. Sounds blurred from one to the next, as gentle washes of colour filled the room. There is an ebb and flow to this music. A push and pull, like the passing of the seasons so elegantly explored by Van Gogh himself.
With a decade-long discography to work with, Grouper (aka Liz Haris) waved her entire creative output together into one immersive set. Looped guitar instrumentals faded in and out before eerie feedback slowly took over, as if the distant echo of a ghost. Harris created a catacomb of sound that moved further underground with each passing moment. She didn’t ask for much – perched cross-legged on the floor in an almost conscious attempt to remove stage presence from the experience – except for one thing: that you join her on this journey and move deeper into her world together.
Mesmerising projections flickered overhead, with the crowd lulled into an almost meditative state. This is music to get lost to, as ethereal vocals sailed atop distant melodies. Like something you once heard in a dream, but can’t quite conjure to the forefront of your mind.
While most of the set remained hushed and intimate, washes of metallic noise bubbled to the surface – punctuating this crystalline dreamscape with purposeful abrasion. Just as Van Gogh explores in his art, there is no summer without winter. We only appreciate the first warm day of December because of the biting frost we feel on our morning commute during June. All great art is light and darkness; peace and disruption.
Whether that art took place under the hand of the world’s most tortured and gifted painters or in 2017 from an act as exciting as this is what makes NGV’s Friday Night series so successful. Art is the longest running conversation humankind will ever know, and events like these remind us exactly why that is.
The set closed with a shot of Harris projected onto the screen overhead. It was the only time we could see her clearly, removed from the music. I think back to the final painting featured in Van Gogh and the Seasons – a haunting self-portrait of the artist himself. If art is the longest running conversation ever told, then long may we talk.
Highlight: Thom Parry purchased a fidget spinner after the gig.
Lowlight: Thom Parry purchased a fidget spinner after the gig.
Crowd Favourite: Judging from the amount of people lying on the floor lost in a dream, the stained-glass roof of the Great Hall.