Royal College of Music, London
By Sam Taylor
If From The Soundhouse sought to meld studio production quality with live performance then it missed a trick. This evening of five experimental electronic music works from Royal College of Music students tended to favour backing tracks and offstage mixing over recreating electronic elements live in front of the audience.
This meant that the thrill and spectacle of live performance were often missing, and the main feature of the concert – electronic music – was relegated to the background. The computer-generated soundscapes of Oliver Buckland’s Acquiescence were overshadowed by mezzo-soprano Emma Pelkiewicz, as well as Buckland’s not-so-subtle lyrics concerning humanity’s increasing dependency on machines. And in Sam Hall’s ‘470,000+’ (referring to the number of people killed in the Syrian war), the subdued electronic elements had little impact.
Still, this haunting piece, with its snaking tripartite harmonies, evoked the horror of life in a country ravaged by conflict. Confidently performed by ensemble Equilateral on their oddly shaped instruments, it had moments of brief but beautiful release, making it the most affecting and accomplished composition of the night.
Not every piece was so successful. Luis Mota’s Triple Transmission, where two players tore and scrunched up newspapers into a microphone for an off-stage producer to distort through filters, pitch-shifters and saturation effects, was visually engaging. However, the concept was more interesting than the actual music, which never developed into a coherent composition: there was real potential for the piece to establish a beat out of the toneless sounds of the mangled newspapers. Considering that the play-off between beat and melody is the crux of electronica, rhythm was strangely absent throughout the evening.
In Berio’s ‘Visage’, manipulated multilingual speech and slices of everyday sounds crackle and glitch as if to simulate an unpleasant bout of tinnitus. The piece felt too protracted and, like the other compositions, would have benefited from surround sound – the two speakers positioned either side of the stage were inadequate to convey the finer intricacies of its production.
Tristan Murail’s ‘Winter Fragments’ ended the concert as it began: dissonant orchestral arrangements complemented by subtle laptop manipulation. Violin glissandos, plucked cello and frenetic woodwinds, like a wind-chime buffeted by a whirling arctic wind, certainly captured the bleakness of an icy winter landscape. Again additional effects were skilled if slightly understated, with a grand piano drenched in reverb and delay underpinning the composition, creating a ghostly, cavernous feel.
For previous editions of ‘From the Soundhouse’, see below