The day after the Thurston Moore Band, my ears were ringing quite loudly. However, what with some complications next week, Friday night seemed to be the best time to see LIlting, about which I’d heard on Radio Four. The Pullman seats in screen 3 at Curzon Victoria are indeed rather decadent, with a little platform for your wine and a space beneath that served as an umbrella stand, though may prove to have a different intended purpose. Ben Whishaw was as good as I’d heard, while the actress playing his dead boyfriend’s mother was dignified even as she rapidly shifted between froideur and crossness. The figure of the unexpected translator, more of a UN observer unable to resist intervention, was a nice disturbing force, too.
The next day I saw the last day of Mirror at the Frith Street Gallery. The best thing in that show was the short reading by Samantha Morton of a description written about her by the artist who’d painted her nude, the first time she’d seen the text. After that, to Carroll/Fletcher for Pencil / Line / Eraser. They nearly always have something covering the wall on the right as you enter, and in this case it was a well-executed faux architectural piece by Justin Hibbs. The funniest contributions were by John Wood and Paul Harrison, including the paper trapeze between two fans and the battle between a pencil and an erasing pencil downstairs. While watching the latter, I could hear the operation of the machinery in the adjoining room, chattering away. When I went in there, the plotter, which was laying out patent applications, had stopped, for a rest. I also liked Evan Roth’s outline views of web advertising schematics, another of which was on show at the Project Space, about five minutes’ walk away.
It was a brief trip from there to the Barbican. For the second Saturday afternoon running, I was seeing a film in their “eye popping colour” season. Last week, it had been Written on the Wind, a startling piece of Douglas Sirk hysteria, with the unusual casting of Lauren Bacall. This time it was the uncut version of Enter The Void, which I hadn’t seen at the time of release. One of a couple in the armchairs just outside the screens returned from the bar just before with some wine.
Rather large wine glasses for a small cinema,
commented the recipient.
There were just a few of us for the Sirk, while the screen was nearly full, including what you’d have to call a younger demographic, for Gaspar Noé’s attack, which started abruptly after the Barbican logo with the barrage of titles. It’s hard to think of a more Freudian film, even though it claims to be a hazy realisation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and in some ways a much more sophisticated take on alienation in Tokyo than Lost in Translation. An unsettling combination of Nihilism and life affirmation. For all his frequent revelling in obnoxiousness, you have to admire Noé’s dedication to the disturbed systems he creates.
There was time once that had finished, to contemplate what to do next, while I read more Turgenev. Last year, on a whim one Sunday I’d gone to LSO St. Luke’s to see the Aurora Orchestra. Because I’d enjoyed it, I signed up to their mailing list, and as a result I’d received their message this week saying that if you only saw them once this year, it should be their appearance at the Proms late on Saturday. Given the proximity, I went to the Digital Revolution exhibition again, and was pleased to see that some of the exhibits that weren’t working the first time were doing now. Fearful of complications and queues, I set off nevertheless by bus. Upstairs on the 9, I witnessed a near-tragedy when the occupants of two of the front seats descended. A boy two rows in front of me stood up, hoping to take that prime tourist seat, but a much younger child and his mother were already heading towards that space. The parents of the older boy warned him off, and the young boy gave him a powerful look that combined outrage with dejection at the idea of his triumph having been imperilled. One of the flimsy arguments against attending this Late Night Prom was that it was extremely close to my place of work, but at least the route there was an unusual one. People rushed from the bus towards the Albert Hall, and I wondered whether there’d be a long queue and lots of angst. There was hardly any queue at all, and the man who sold me the £5 ticket was particularly cheery, given how poky was his kiosk. Unlike for my first ever Prom the previous week, the Arena and Gallery weren’t available, so Prom tickets were allocated in the Circle, an arrangement that suited old people like me. I overheard one of the staff explaining how to find their places to people twice as I approached, so I indicated to him that I knew what I was doing, to save him from the extra repetition.
You’ve got the gist, jolly good.
Three rows in front of me were being kept clear, an injunction which some people didn’t seem to recognise, leading to a few awkward ejections.
Unusually the stage didn’t have any chairs or music stands, which made sense when I remembered from the e-mail that the first piece of the night, by Mozart, was to be played from memory, which they did very impressively. It added something to see them moving about more expressively and naturally as they played, without the interference of the score.
Next was a short, rather fragile piece for violin and hurdy-gurdy. The two performers were crammed in by the keyboard of the Hall’s organ.
During the latter piece I had noticed players filing in one by one on the Gallery level above and opposite me. The main part of the evening was to be a premiere of Meld by Benedict Mason. Many claims had been made for this, and by the end of the evening I thought they’d been more than justified. It began with two lines of musicians walking out, one from each side of the space behind the upper organ pipes, above the stage, joined by a small bunch of string players who had already arranged themselves in the Gallery, above and behind me. This set the standard of pleasing unsettlement that was maintained throughout the evening – you were always moving your attention around to hear and see what was going on where. It seemed like conjurer’s tricks of misdirection were being cleverly used. More musicians started playing in one of the lower circle levels, having suddenly appeared while I’d been looking elsewhere, with others singing and clicking their fingers from the open hallways of the level above them.
Eventually a full line of players took up one of those levels, and notes would visibly flow from one end of the horseshoe to the other, from one person to the next. This was a very clever and rather delightful spectacle. I could see people around me smiling in wonder at it all.
Men with rattling bandoliers around their necks walked along the row in front of me, transmitting their signal in sequence, as the full line had done, doing the same with their tubular bells. Later some flautists and woodwind players did the same, and I noticed that they had earpieces, which explained in part how they were all coordinating so well, without an ostensible conductor. Some of them had Go Pro cameras on their heads or on their instruments, which I hope means there will be a video of this performance, in time.
They made good use of the Arena, showing athletic abilities I don’t think are normally asked of an orchestra – running around hitting bells against the wall, forming rotating people rings, gymnasticising and chanting, making a big circle then concentric circles.
There were little teams of musicians in some outposts, who kept playing while the others ranged around the venue, plus a couple of trumpeters on either side above the stage. In fact, there were very few areas throughout the venue where someone didn’t appear at some point and play, including the steps emerging from beneath the Arena.
At the end, most of the players emerged in the Gallery again and the two phalanxes stepped slowly back whence they’d originally appeared, quietly completing the music. In fact, it seems invidious to comment on one aspect of the performance, because it all (the music itself, the performance, the choreography, the visual impact of it all), did seem to resonate together extremely well. I hope the performers had as good as time as I think they did, and as I did.
I loved it, I absolutely loved it,
was one couple’s verdict as they were leaving afterwards.