Hand to Earth is a call to open ears: eluding genre, traversing continents and fusing the ancient with the contemporary. At its heart are Yolŋu manikay, song cycles, an oral tradition from South East Arnhem Land that are more than 40,000 years old. These songs exist to cross vast time and space, to continuously make the continuous – known as raki, the spirit that pulls all together, all performers, all listeners.
Working with the Orchestra, I can share my culture with other musicians, tell them my stories, sing my songs. They learn from me, and I learn from them.
Hand to Earth was developed during an Australia Art Orchestra residency in the remote highlands of Tasmania. Yolŋu songman, Daniel Wilfred, and Korean vocalist, Sunny Kim, formed an effortless rapport that spans continents and cultures and expresses a deeply human commonality. Their vocal approaches are melded into the electronic atmospheres created by trumpeter and composer, Peter Knight, who draws on the minimalism of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell to create a bed for these beautifully contrasting voices.
Daniel Wilfred shares one of the oldest song traditions in the world with us, it’s an extraordinary gift. He has one of those unforgettable voices that feels like it emanates from the earth and changes your body. He has taught us all to listen in new ways.
Daniel Wilfred sings in language and is the keeper of Yolŋu manikay, the oldest continuously practised music tradition in the world. Sunny Kim sings in English and Korean and intones wordless gestures that invoke raw elemental forces.
In our performances, you’re going to experience friendship. And you’ll hear us share ancient ideas and stories, but told in a way that’s quite contemporary.
Hand to Earth expresses something of the here and now in music, and represents contemporary Australia at its best: sophisticated, inclusive, diverse, and forward looking.
When art making crosses cultures, when art making bridges things that usually divide us, what you end up with is the essence of human connection.
Cast & crew
Daniel Wilfred is a Yolŋu song man from Ngukurr, South East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. He is a ceremonial leader for the Wägilak people, singing manikay and playing bilma at ceremonies. His collaboration with the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) goes back a decade, performing and touring internationally with the project ‘Crossing Roper Bar’, as a contributor to projects ‘The Hearkening’ and ‘Seoul Meets Arnhem Land’, and as a faculty member of the AAO’s annual Creative Music Intensive. In 2019, Daniel was the recipient of the NT Arts Fellowship.
Korean vocalist Sunny Kim is a music lecturer at the University of Melbourne. She’s been a frequent collaborator of the Australian Art Orchestra since 2015 and has performed and recorded with many internationally renowned musicians such as Ben Monder, Roswell Rudd, Dave Douglas, Trevor Dunn and Pheeroan Aklaff. Prior to her current position in Melbourne, Sunny held various academic positions in South Korea. Sunny has released four records as a leader and a number of albums in collective projects.
David Yipininy Wilfred is a Ritharru man, and the traditional djunggayi (manager) of the manikay (songs) of the country of Nyilipidgi. He lives in Ngukurr, Northern Territory and teaches song and dance to the children at the Ngukurr School. Together with his family members Daniel and Benjamin Wilfred, he has been playing with the Australian Art Orchestra for almost 15 years, sharing his songs and culture with people around the world. From 2015, David has been a leading faculty member at the Orchestra’s Creative Music Intensive.
Peter Knight is a multidisciplinary musician who has gained wide acclaim for his distinctive approach, which integrates jazz, experimental, and world music traditions. In 2013, he was appointed Artistic Director of the Australian Art Orchestra, which features his compositions on an international stage with recent highlights including Jazzfest Berlin, London Jazz Festival, Jazztopad and Melbourne Festival. Peter also composes for theatre, creates sound installations and has his work regularly featured in other ensemble settings.
Aviva Endean is a clarinetist, composer, improviser, curator, sound artist, performance-maker and collaborator. Aviva regularly works across a range of contexts including experimental and improvised music, new chamber music, creating theatre works which are designed to be listened to, and working on cross- disciplinary collaborations. Aviva is a frequent collaborator of the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) and was the inaugural Associate Artist of the AAO’s Pathfinder – Leadership Music Program in 2018/2019.
The overall impact of all the musicians coming together with their widely different sounds created an almost hypnotic environment, exposing the ear to unique creations, and opening up the mind to infinite possibilities. This collaboration produced stunning music that I’d dearly love to hear more of and attend again. Rating: ★★★★½
Korean jazz vocalist Sunny Kim and Yolngu song-man Daniel Wilfred (keeper of Yolngu manikay from North East Arnhem land) took centre stage in this show, presenting a series of skillfully blended pieces that preserved the distinctness of their rich musical styles. Kim’s compelling presence and versatile singing voice were beautifully complemented by the electronic effects and musical instruments in the show. Her vocal prowess was at its peak in the song Guguk (meaning bird), where she interleaved ethereal bird-like vocals with the singing. Wilfred, who sings in language from the oldest continuously practiced music tradition in the world (traced back over 40,000 years), performed his songs with a unique quality of spirit, strength and skill.Jaya Berged, 'Meeting Point Series: Hand to Earth', 27 February 27 2020
‘Hand to Earth’ offered an extraordinary insight into the ceremonies of our First Nations peoples. Five stars: ★★★★★Suzannah Conway, 'Music review: Hand to Earth, Canberra International Music Festival', Arts Hub Music, 4 May 2021
The achievement of the musicians in bringing all these elements together, so successfully and with such passion, was extraordinary. A blending of cultures, of the oldest on earth with new technologies, of the didgeridoo with clarinets and a trumpet, of a female voice with an Arnhem Land Songman, these were managed with aplomb around a palette of contemporary and traditional music. And the stories, based around a series of traditional manakay (songs) of the land and animals, of wild buffalo looking for fresh water, also included a flower song for the female voice.Suzannah Conway, 'Music review: Hand to Earth, Canberra International Music Festival', Arts Hub Music, 4 May 2021