The collaborative ensemble Hand to Earth has gained an international reputation as one of Australia’s most distinctive contemporary music ensembles. This ensemble operates at the nexus of ancient songlines – the dreaming pathways memorized for the traveler to know the route to their destination – that guide brothers vocalists Daniel Wilfred and David Wilfred. Daniel Wilfred is the keeper of Yolngu Manikay (songs) from North East Arnhem Land that can be traced back over 40,000 years. Korean vocalist Sunny Kim sings in English and Korean, intoning gestures that invoke raw elemental forces. The ensemble is rounded by the atmospheres created by trumpeter and sound artist, Peter Knight (the former artistic director of the Australian Art Orchestra), and clarinetist Aviva Endean, both draw on the minimalism of Brian Eno and Jon Hassel. Room40 label’s head Lawrence English adds field recordings, and subtle treatments and electronics. The ensemble, under the auspices of the Australian Art Orchestra, released its debut, self-titled album in 2021.
Mokuy (spirit in the Wagiläk language) is a magical call to open and curious ears, and its suggestive and hypnotic music eludes genre, traversing continents, and fusing the ancient and the contemporary. Hand to Earth claims that this propounding unique musical language can only be born in Australia. The music is somewhere between free improvisation and composed music, as it weaves patiently and compassionately threads of different histories, different lives, and different perspectives together, and becomes family.
The raw yet refined vocals of Daniel Wilfred deliver the ancient and most relevant message of Hand to Earth. He sings the meditative Manikay (public songs) in his first language, Wagiläk, the oldest continuously practiced music tradition on the planet. He talks about the raki, the string that is used to make the traditional dilly bag, that exists in the world we can touch, but it is also a metaphysical connecting thread that draws us together to the buŋgul (ceremony, or gathering ground). When Hand to Earth plays music, the raki pulls us all together and we are joined by this invisible thread, and under its guidance, we gather to sing, play, dance, and listen. The raki traverses time and place and connects all of us no matter where we come from. Mokuy takes these ancient songlines, which by essence are always being renewed, and enriches them with new sonic experiences, stories, rituals and traditions, and in an emphatic and effortless rapport. The raki propels our imaginations to soar and intertwine, in a most beautiful and peaceful manner and offers a healing medicine to our ailing globe.
Daniel Wilfred (voice, biḻma), David Wilfred (yiḏaki, voice), Sunny Kim (voice, electronics, timpani), Aviva Endean (clarinets, electronics, harmonic flute), Peter Knight (trumpet, electronics, Revox B77 reel-to-reel, percussion), Lawrence English (atmospheres, treatments, field recordings, electronics)