Laraaji is a name used by musician Edward Larry Gordon, being a play on words of Larry G and as the audience slowly filters into the environs of Elder Hall in the final hours of the 2019 Adelaide Fringe, Laraaji is already on stage tinkering with his set up in preparation for the performance to follow. Behind a table draped in a decorative red tie-dyed sheet, he is dressed entirely in red also, from a red flat cap to red sneakers (and the ensemble even includes a red handkerchief that he reveals late in the set).
The sign outside that states no latecomers will be admitted is entirely appropriate as for the nearly the next two hours Laraaji performs an unbroken series of seemingly improvised pieces. He commences with some Tibetan cymbal bells before gently strumming the strings on his go to instrument of choice the zither. With his equipment set up partly obscured by the angle of view from the audience, he appears like a Buddhist DJ reaching across the table to play with effects pedal knobs to process a sound that is anathema to the coarse sound of EDM. There is an added background recording of nature sounds (water, birds) and all the while the audible hum of an air conditioner somehow actively starts to fit into the improvised composition. His eyes are closed and they remain so for much of his time on stage and it feels like there is more to be gained by closing your eyes than watching Laraaji lost in his own process. He could be doing this on his own even without an audience (and probably has many times before).
He starts to use a musical bow on the zither and produces a shimmering bass hum. He recites poetry over the music then laughs. It is seems like it is a vocal sample taken from somewhere and I realise what he is doing is producing live and acoustically what other artists would use samples to do.
He pulls out a microphone from behind the table and I notice that it has a red foam cover like a large red clown nose. He sings in an eastern sounding language, the reverbed vocal sounding like it is being broadcast from inside a mosque and the left and right PA speakers play vocal loops deliberately out of phase. Before this piece of music is over he has started to play his kalimba (African thumb piano) which he loops via one of his effects pedals then comes out from behind his table. As one part of his composition fades into the next, he approaches the gong to the right of the table set up and like a doctor he crouches forward and listens to the gong, circling the gong with the red-nosed microphone (to find the sweet spot?) then scrapes what appears at first to be a large green lollipop across the gong. He sings and subsequently loops the high-pitched choirboy vocal then adds some self-sampled laughter. He continues with a variety of gong mallets including utilising the handles, before playing some wind chimes to bring this portion of his composition into the next.
He plays the Tibetan cymbal bells again and repeatedly voices, “I walked in the … garden” returning to the zither, this time to play it with brushes and it sounds like strummed guitar playing an acoustic version of the keyboard riff from the Stevie Wonder song Superstition. A flange effect is added and the piece becomes slightly sinister before he starts to play the zither with an Ebow. The lyrics “shine, shine, shine” and “illumination” cue a simple light display that detracts from the performance as it illuminates the PA speakers on either side of the stage. Laraaji voices, “I am consciousness” and continues into a high pitched vocalese before he brings the composition to a close the way everything started, with a single chime of the Tibetan cymbal bells.
He holds his hand to his chest, comes to the edge of the stage and nods once to thank the audience for their attentiveness (although I had noted at least one man in my row occasionally nodding forward into unconsciousness during the performance). The encore becomes a mini workshop as he asks the audience to hold a hand to their chests, hold a tone and breathe out then laugh. This closing interaction with the audience makes perfect sense later when during my reading about Laraaji I learn that he conducts therapeutic laughter workshops as an introduction into relaxation and deep meditation.
This was an interesting performance in that it wasn’t something that you could simply enjoy on an aesthetic level as you would a normal performance. As one would expect, it had all the tropes of spiritualism so it would be something that the individual audience member could take from it what they wanted, either the experience of a performance or something else other than the visual or the auditory and being such, some would have taken more from this than others.
Adelaide Fringe Review by Jason Leigh