Sound Cloud 1988

Whilst many readers may have found the recent April Fool post ‘Sydney Harbour Verdi Requiem’ too improbable to possibly be true, for some older singers with the Grads it actually brought back memories of an all-too-real floating chorale.

The occasion was ‘Sound Cloud over Sydney’, a lavish extravaganza staged in 1988 in the Botanical Gardens, Farm Cove, at a cost of $3.5 million as part of Japan’s Bicentennial gift to Australia.

Sydney was agog with excitement at the prospect. It was the brainchild of Japanese composer Mr Isao Tomita, who was to direct operations from within a Perspex pyramid suspended from a crane 10 metres above the water. Within the pyramid were banks of synthesizers for the production of assorted sounds, and five towers placed around the gardens were packed with lasers and loudspeakers. On the water, various barges and boats would contribute to the spectacle. The ‘Lady Waratah’ would move around the harbour carrying six Skytrackers—intense beams of light which ‘each generate the power of one billion candles’ no less. There would be a ‘water curtain’ and the main stage would feature a wall of fireworks.

The theme of the whole affair was to be a ‘Hymn to Mankind’, based on an Aboriginal story of how fire was introduced to man from two distant stars. At the climax of the performance a UFO would emerge from the night sky signifying the bringing of fire. (It was in fact a Chinook helicopter borrowed from the RAAF with a heavy load of generators, lights, fireworks, and speakers.) At this point Mr Tomita would incorporate radiowave signals from pulsars specially recorded by CSIRO.

Three barges carried the live entertainment: two moved across the water from the Opera House (just as the sopranos and altos will arrive for Verdi) bearing Kodo drummers and a troupe of Kabuki actors. The third barge forming the main stage was anchored opposite the levitating pyramid carrying a motley collection of musicians including a 200-voice choir from Sydney University (both SUMS and Grads), and the Gondwanaland band with a didgeridoo.

It would be, as one reviewer wrote, ‘a sound and light spectacle that defies description’, or in the words of another ‘the biggest, most spectacular and unique artistic undertaking ever seen in Australia’.

Wow—but what was it really like? Those who were there speak of a cold windy night, but that didn’t affect their performance which had been pre-recorded! (Worth remembering that when we come to do our Verdi.)

‘Sing On’ is strangely silent about the event except for a brief mention in the Chairman’s (Denis Foster) Annual Report for 1988:

‘5th November saw some intrepid choir members involved in Isao Tomita’s  production of Sound Cloud over Sydney on a barge in Farm Cove. This provided some with excellent seats for the fireworks etc., but was probably best viewed by TV audiences in Japan.’

Oh dear. But at least we were paid $350 dollars for our pains.

 Derek Harrison, Archivist

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One Response to Sound Cloud 1988

  1. joyce jones says:

    It was sooo… cold many of us had XXXL size Sound Cloud t-shirts with at least 2 jumpers underneath.
    I suspect it was more geared to a TV audience than a live one.
    Our conductor had an electronic beat having to sync our singing for the cameras and the pre-recorded sound…. as a lot of the time, the helicopter sound made it more like Apocalypse Now
    than the music we were singing… It’s a pity as I understand that the TV recording was only broadcast to Japan..

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