by Rachel Beaumont

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Bring me the head of the skullcap man: Liminal Rites by Echoshed

Liminal Rites
Echoshed Collective
Unreserved, £5
1 February 2018
Iklectik page

David Denyer Ljóðatal
Dan McBride
Christopher Schlechte-Bond
Michio Mamiya Air from his Cello Sonata
David Denyer
Toru Takemitsu Voice
Anna Clyne Choke
Salvatore Sciarrino La malinconia
Richard Bullen Rite

To what extent is a producer responsible for the environment in which audiences experience the production? How much should the producer try to control that environment? These seem to be questions that intrigue Echoshed. Their grapples with them are not altogether successful.

My experience of Liminal Rites began before I entered Echoshed’s domain. My memory of the concert is bound up with the sensations of discovering Iklectik for the first time on a dark, rainy night, secluded within a hipster business park that seems to have been adapted from a Victorian schoolhouse and which nestles beneath a flyover in the concrete jungle of the backside of Waterloo. To some extent Echoshed controlled this experience by choosing that venue; but it was also an autonomous space.

Naturally, I expected to relinquish some autonomy as I entered the schoolhouse. It was immediately apparent Echoshed expected more. A young man with a skull cap and socked feet greeted us with wafts of tarry smoke from a charred chunk of odiously smouldering something-or-other. Squandered chairs had been denied their true purpose to mark out a needless entrance vestibule in the already constricted space. On the chairs were brown paper bags filled with LEDs.

Whatever. I don’t care. What I do care about is when that curation impedes the actual event. To attend the live performance of a piece of music is an experience in itself. To attend a concert where works by different composers have been placed together is a curation of the individual experiences into a new experience. The producer is obliged to curate further by managing the practicalities of placement, intervals etc. Imaginative responses to these practicalities can work well, as at the London Contemporary Music Festival. But Echoshed was over-ambitious.

The performers stood in a circle, facing in with their backs out. The audience was seated around the performers’ circle. We looked at performers’ backs and audience members’ fronts. Not my preferred position. Skullcap man laboriously picked his way through the audience to waft his cancerous husk until, after half an hour so, someone asked him to stop. He then retired to a corner where he proceeded to play with a light, casting gigantic shadows of his socked foot over the performers and audience members. During the final piece he rustlingly gathered the LED paper bags together and clattered away the squandered chairs. He abandoned this task when the piece stopped happening, freeing him to carry a candle into the performer circle, which he then blew out. A second later his comrade clicked off the light switch, granting the audience permission to clap.

Obviously I found all this extremely distracting and annoying. But Echoshed made an even more injurious decision. Presumably pursuing the rite idea, the programme was performed continuously, with little or no break between pieces. Most of the performers stood throughout. There were no opportunities to tune. The result was that the final piece, Bullen’s Rite for solo viola, was woefully out of tune. Fortunately an excellent recording exists to remind us how the piece actually sounds. But to sit next to the composer, as chairs and paper bags were tidied away under his nose, while his piece was butchered, was deeply embarrassing.

These things aside. I enjoyed Takemitsu’s Voice a lot, superbly performed by flautist Aleksandra Henszel. The Sciarrino was subject to the same tuning issues as the Bullen, and while the cello itself was in tune for the Mamiya the cellist’s intonation held it back. The other pieces on the programme were essentially indistinguishable to me, improvisatory riffing that ambled along amiably enough.

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