Gnome House, Walthamstow, London
By Jonathan Coote
I arrived at Gnome House in Walthamstow wondering whether the experience of Music in the Dark was different from closing your eyes at an ordinary concert.
The event is the brainchild of self-taught guitarist and visual artist Jean-Pierre Mas, who performed his compositions and improvisations as solo guitar pieces and as duets with guitar student Sheetal. Lit mostly with small torches or red mood lighting, the 90-minute concert plunged us into complete darkness only on three occasions. During these moments, as in JP’s enigmatic solo ‘Le Coucher de Sol’ (‘Sunset’) and a duet in the dark which saw Sheetal’s voice break into ethereal and almost disturbing melisma, the fragility of the sounds interacted poignantly with the darkness.
But much of the concert sounded like superficial acoustic guitar backing tracks, vaguely underpinned by traces of Malian, Celtic, Arabic, Spanish and Hungarian music. We were encouraged to think of the programme as a journey, but it was difficult to oblige, given that most of it departed so little from the basic stylistic template: Sheetal serenely repeating a small ostinato or chord pattern (expertly for someone so new to the instrument), whilst his stagefellow writhed around the fretboard in ecstasy, throwing his head back and forth, trying to entice as many notes as possible from the strings. What’s more, JP didn’t leave enough time for the notes to linger and feed off the darkness in the room and, during the dying moments of a song, he would hastily stop the guitar’s resonance and set about retuning, as if he was already thinking about the next item.
In the dark moments, when the sounds appeared out of the shadows and the walls faded in and out of perspective, Music in the Dark came to life, and I felt as though caught between waking and dreaming. Unfortunately there weren’t enough moments like that.