Review by Jake May
I must confess, as a click-beep freak inclined to indulge my electronica fetish behind the sanctuary of closed doors, the prospect of spending an evening listening to interpretations of pieces by Warp artists Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Boards of Canada at a venue with the spaciousness of Royal Festival Hall was slightly disturbing. In addition, the works were to be played by the London Sinfonietta - with barely a knob or a fader between them - and even more daunting, they would be giving equal measure to the music avant-garde However, all doubts subsided as the orchestra launched themselves into a captivating celebration of contemporary composers.
For the uninitiated, electronica and avant-garde represent the impenetrable extremes of modern music, yet tonight's performance not only demonstrated that these genres are inextricably intertwined but that both are pioneering explorers of the relationship between the visual and the acoustic. Right from the start this was made apparent; as the crowds filed in, Ligeti's apparently asynchronous Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes played to the accompaniment of Flat-e and Bluespoon's hypnotic animation of monochrome radii, subtly exposing the pieces' hidden rhythms.
With the audience suitably entranced, the accomplished London Sinfonietta dished out equal justice to both the avant-garde stable of Cage, Stockhausen, Nancarrow and Ives and their innovative interpretations of the aforementioned Warp artists, arranged by David Horne and Morgan Hayes. Of particular note was the eerily beautiful world premiere of Nunu by Mira Calix, a piece composed entirely of insect noises. On the screen morphing montages of giant locusts and cockroaches drew you ever deeper into this alien, invertebrate symphony. I can only hope that Warp Records are able to release all these stunning works together so that a wider audience can appreciate them.
There was an intermission of sorts, yet the audience seemed reluctant to leave their seats as the organisers had decided to use this break as an opportunity to exhibit Warp video works. Once again, the artist's dedication to the audio-visual experience was notable, exemplified, in particular by the astounding Grantz Graf (music by Autechre, graphics Alex Rutherford), where the induced optical and aural synaesthesia unlocked the cryptic complexity that enshrouds either element when experienced separately.
After the performance, the kind people at the RFH had graciously pandered to the mores of the predominantly young attendees by opening up the foyer for an hour or so of DJ's, decks and drinking. There was an uplifting vibe emanating from the crowd - you got the impression that this was an event that had expanded their musical horizons. At the beginning of the evening, the compere commented that if an event like this had occurred somewhere like New York it would have "fallen flat on its face" - it was only in a city like London that it can succeed. Lets hope this remains so.
The Ether 2003 festival continues until Friday 14th at the South Bank Centre. For more information visit them at http://www.rfh.org.uk