A musical exploration of Women in the history of Science and Technology, Free Radicals is held together by the narration of Dr Erin Harrington of the University of Canterbury’s English and Cultural studies department. It is through Dr Harrington’s engaging presence that the stories and inspiration behind the diverse music presented are illuminated, and the ostensibly disparate threads of sound and performance are tied together. The song cycle moves deftly from melody to dissonance, with instrumentation from traditional Māori instruments through to prepared piano, digital synthesisers and computers.
The show begins at the melodic end of the musical spectrum on display, with the taonga pūoro or traditional Maori instruments of Ariana Tikao’s Behind the Black opening the musical proceedings before the exquisite vocal harmonies of The Swan Sisters. Through discussion of Rosalind Franklyn’s crucial, but systematically under-appreciated and overlooked contribution to the understanding of the double-helix structure of DNA, the ideas and tension that influence the performance begin to be unpacked.
From delicate beginnings, the concert moves deftly through Jazz influenced sounds towards contemporary composition from Glenda Kean and electronica from Misfit Mod. There is joy and beauty here for the audience, alongside challenging sounds and music, contemplation and experimentation. Melody and dissonance seem to be in constant tension throughout the song cycle, and this is evocative of the purposes of the concert as a whole. The stories here of the women who have contributed to our understanding of the universe are a celebration of their achievements, while New Radicals also seeks constantly to illuminate the extraordinary misogyny which these women have had to contend with, and the unending nature of that struggle against the short-sighted and oppressive behaviour of the men who have acted as gatekeepers to knowledge.
The show’s finale, In Femenia Forma by Rosa Elliott was performed by a number of vocal performers joining together in a choral circle, some facing the audience and some with their backs to us, all facing each-other. The final song in the cycle moves between beauty and chaos, and draws the range of ideas and feelings evoked by the diverse parts of the concert together into one piece. The performers showed the singularity of purpose in-spite of opression which those whose stories are told here have had, while showing solidarity and strength through their communality and identity as Women.
A limited number of tickets are still available for the repeat performance of the show tonight on the 30th of August.
Reviewed by Brett Johansen on behalf of Booksellers NZ