Various Artists - Faster Than Sound Festival, Bentwaters Airbase

When I arrived at Faster Than Sound, I really didn’t know what to make of things. The section of Bentwaters Airbase being used was, essentially, split into two halves -- the first consisting of a small Eden Project-esque dome structure and a large aircraft hanger (the Lightning Hanger); the second of a larger dome and a concrete bunker-type building (the Star Wars building).

As it was fairly near the entrance, I headed over to the small dome first. Inside, I found Cynthia Millar quietly playing the Ondes Martenot to a crowd of people very diverse in appearance, but united in their awkwardness. It was a floaty Debussy piece, ethereal and haunting -- brilliant in the right circumstances, but, after listening for a few minutes, I began to feel the awkwardness of being in such a tiny audience creeping up on me as well, and decided to investigate some of the other areas of the venue.

The Lightning Hanger was, for most of the night, host to an intriguing interactive sound/art installation. A ball, probably about five metres in diameter, had been constructed from what appeared to be aluminium rods, and touch-sensitive triggers had been attached to each joint. When triggered, by touching the ground, they transmitted a signal to a central computer at the end of the hanger, which, in turn, produced a sound. People were encouraged to climb inside the ball’s skeleton-like frame and run around hamster-style, creating weird echoing soundscapes as they went.

The two halves of the venue were reasonably far apart, presumably to stop noise interference, but the path which joined them was interesting in itself. Flanked on either side by a set of about eight speakers, it was turned into a sound environment which, due to some clever audio trickery, changed disconcertingly as you walked through it. The weirdness reached its peak as the sun went down and the speakers became less visible, creating the feeling of walking through some sort of alien wormhole.

Before Luke Vibert took the stage, the crowd in the large dome was, to be honest, a bit sparse. Mira Calix had kicked things off with some atmospheric beat-driven stuff, and David Alberman had done a great performance of Salvatore Sciarriono’s Sei Capricci on violin, but they hadn’t drawn great numbers. Vibert’s set, however, rang out like a siren, and the dome was soon filled with toe-tappin’, head-noddin’ folk of all varieties. Resplendent in a bright orange Atari t-shirt, he danced around, tweaked various pieces of equipment, and mouthed along with his vocal samples in what was one of the most enjoyable sets of the evening.

Following Vibert in the large dome was Canada’s Venetian Snares. A characteristic orchestral stringsy intro actually attracted a few people from the more classical crowd, although I noticed at least one woman holding her ears and rushing out of the dome as his abrasive beats kicked in.

The Star Wars building, with its very functional interior and low ceilings, had an altogether different atmosphere than the large, open domes. Tim Exile’s performance with Bela Emerson really benefited from this more intimate feel, with Exile using his laptop to take samples from Emerson’s cello and turn them into a non-stop, pulsating wall of electronic glitchiness. Well, at least it would have been non-stop if the cello hadn’t suffered a horrific malfunction about half-way through. Luckily, Exile filled in admirably with some laptop improv while the cello was undergoing a few quick repairs, and the performance was soon back on track, leading up to a beautiful, coordinated ending.

In all honesty, the organisers of Faster Than Sound pulled off the classical/electronic fusion idea better than I’d expected -- a great night for music fans from either background.

Last updated: 19/04/2018 05:08:39

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