Mona Foma 2021: summer festival skimps on shock and awe to thrust Tasmanian music and art into limelight

Pandemic forces the art institution’s annual event to embrace the ‘hyperlocal’

It’s quiet in Launceston after the rain. Fat, furry bumblebees flit between the wildflowers growing along the banks of Kanamaluka (the Tamar River) that winds its way through town. The surface of the river is still. Footsteps echo along the boardwalk by Royal Park in the cool, late-afternoon humidity. Another storm cloud is gathering moodily overhead, but for the moment the valley is calm.

The instruments become audible before the boat becomes visible. At first, it is just the plucking and scraping of strings. The sounds skitter across the water, meeting the cliff faces and steep river banks that mark the entrance to Cataract Gorge, before folding back towards the centre of town – a landscape in conversation with itself. Then: a crack of thunder, followed by a crash of drums. It crescendos as the boat carrying the musicians rounds the bend in the river. A foghorn blasts, and the sound hits the listener with physical force.

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