It’s a grim decision. There is no food left following a catastrophic world event, but our remaining lone apocalyptic man has stowed his wife’s body in the freezer according to her last wishes, in case he gets hungry and desperate later on. Will he choose to starve or resort to cannibalism?

Minimalist Australian composer and sonic artist James Hullick, or )-(u||!c|< as he styles himself, specialises in Music Mind and Wellbeing at Melbourne University, bridging music and psychology disciplines, and has a growing reputation for using sound to engage in social issues. Working with JOLT Arts which he founded, and recruiting leading minimialist musicians, he has brought a couple of thought-provoking pieces from Melbourne Festival to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Bruchlandung is a hybrid song cycle and chamber opera using projections and video monitors. Scored for baritone, prepared piano and cello, everything was amplified with additional electronic noise at times. Michael Kieran Harvey used the whole grand piano as a percussion instrument, hitting the metal string frame with a hard wrapped mallet at times, at others picking out low and high single notes, one hand on the key, the other reaching onto the string itself modifying the sound. Judith Hamann played a black cello with much use of C string harmonics and some electronically enhanced bow scrubbing.  

Written for his late friend, baritone Peter Ziethen whose family was involved in developing the work, here Argentinan born, German baritone Guillermo Anzorena was the lost man and absolute centre of our attention. Standing in black in front of music across two stands, he portrayed his desperate situation in a mixture of mostly German, some English, some no language and with grunts and whistles. When we meet him, he is already hungry and has not seen another person in years. Although we can make out some of what he says, he has clearly lost the reason to speak and descends into indecipherable babble from time to time. And somehow compellingly, he takes us on a journey wandering in a landscape where there is a hole in the earth for every skyscraper, and explains about his wife’s ultimate concern for his survival – sustenance to keep him going until better times arrive. He remembers watching home videos of his children playing in the park, visits an empty shopping centre and reflects on consumer society and wonders what has happened to the Food Court Music.

Video snatches of earlier happy times peppered with phrases make up the work's images from the composer with film makers Rachel Thomson and Elile Zile. The man’s children in the playground smile at the camera as they whizz round on play equipment or see-saw, yet even these images become sped up and distorted. At the front of the stage, a long video showed a tank of water slowly filling from a spout, sometimes with a body in it, sometimes with what ominously looked like balls of hair.

While this piece was carefully constructed and executed with minute attention to detail, it raised many more questions than it answered. Bruchlandung is the German word for crash landing and as   )-(u||!c|< explains, we can all reach into the abyss and pull out memories of those who have passed away and breathe love and life into their essence. Our apocalyptic man was certainly haunted by the past, but I am still not sure if he got to eat his wife as the work ended somewhat inconclusively. The video certainly suggested that he might, but it could have been the man imagining the horror.

Total global catastrophe has always attracted writers, particularly since it became a threat following development of nuclear weapons. World events have sharpened the focus at times, but defence bunkers have been decommissioned following the thaw of the cold war, so it was rather strange to have this revisited in 2014. The world is still a vulnerable place, and who knows what might cause an apocalyptic event – a huge meteor, massive global pandemic or whatever.

Bruchlandung certainly conveyed the agonies of the final man remaining, and although his wife thought that better times would come again, )-(u||!c|<’s piece did not share her optimism.