In the Light of Air
Pauline Oliveros, Anna Thorvaldsottir
London Contemporary Orchestra
Spitalfields Music Festival 2017
St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch
8 December 2017
The new-look, or should I say the new-hear Spitalfields Music Festival continued with In the Light of Air, the title of the main piece of the evening, by Anna Thorvaldsottir. It was preceded by a sequence of works by the American founder of ‘Deep Listening’, Pauline Oliveros from her Anthology of Text Scores. The theme was mindfulness and meditative, with the audience encouraged to join in and respond to the music. Most of the pews had been removed, leaving the instrumentalists in the centre of an open space.
The opening piece was a reworking of Oliveros’s Rock Piece as Phone Piece. Rock Piece was originally intended to have performers walking around a space banging stones together to explore the aural response of the space to the random noises. On this occasion, rather than rocks, the sound source was the electronic pulses produced when two mobile phones are placed close together. The audience were invited to phone an unknown fellow audience member, and then walk around until they found their partner, and then to play with the sound the two phones created in a sort of musical Tinder (or, indeed, Grindr/FindHrr). After an initial burst of ” You’ve reached the voicemail of . . ” sounds, came a ten-minute sequence of little electronic sounds. Declining the temptation to be an active participant, it was a mildly amusing spectator sport for the first few minutes.
After an announcement of “I am listening to you”, this segued into A Song for Margrit and Klikitat Ride – “a group vocal meditation” with members of the audience responding to a bizarre sequence of phrases including “make a lost sound found / make a found sound lost . . . make a simple sound complex / make a complex sound simple”. Quite what this group therapy session achieved for those taking part is beyond me, but as a spectator sport it lacked . . . well . . . everything. Even watching people looking rather silly as they crunched aluminium foil or tapped things on the floor lost its appeal after a while.
The Pauline Oliveros pieces were followed by Anna Thorvaldsottir’s In the Light of Air, a 40-minute meditation in four linked movements, Luminance, Serenity, Existence and Remembrance, given its UK premiere. Described as “a flowing texture of sound materials and harmonies . . . with focus on subtle nuances and poetic textures that form lyrical gestures” it was performed by the viola, cello, piano, harp, and percussion of the London Contemporary Orchestra. One movement featured a special installation of metallic ornaments (called Klakabönd in Icelandic, translating as “a bind of ice”), but unfortunately, these were positioned out of sight and, to a large extent, out of sound as well. Premium ticket holders, who had earlier taken part in the Oliveros thing, lay on the floor in what was described as an “immersive experience”. Clearly well thought out and orchestrated by Anna Thorvaldsottir, this atmospheric piece contained much of musical interest, although the meditative element rather wafted over my head. Above the heads of the performers was a “light installation” that dimmed and glowed “according to the players’ breath”.
A filmed performance of In the Light of Air can be seen here.
A planned repeat of the performance starting at 1.15 the following morning was cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances” although, to be honest, I can think of a number of entirely foreseeable circumstances.