Julianna Barwick - Manchester RNCM
Julianna Barwick - having graduated from her relatively esoteric appeal to a lofty ‘Best New Music’ stamp of approval from Pitchfork - opens for Tim Hecker’s nightmare palace of noise to a full and reverent RNCM. Being so inherently soporific, it’s certainly not music that lends itself obviously to performance. The sort of pleasant drone that prompts words like “ethereal” - though it is so much more than that - with a subtlety and nuance that sees scuttling-in late-comers led to their chairs by torchlight and chastised by ushers like naughty children.
Albums named Nepenthe and Sanguine, songs called ‘Crystal Lake’ and ‘Sunlight Heaven’ leave little doubt as to the earthy, medievalist folk tradition her compositions are somewhat in thrall to; invoking the sky and sea in lapping, stratified layers of sound, in the spacey, meandering and yet tightly cyclical structuring. Time is indeed a flat circle. Texture forms an important tenet of the arrangements, the ribbon-y melodies and graceful rhythms, the orca cry of the vocals, matched with a slowly rotating, bleeding pink moon, that comprises the performance’s visuals. So delicate is Barwick’s touch, a tapped toe providing her compositions’ only ‘percussion’ – yet it cracks like a whip.
Some of the songs ostensibly have words, though they’re better without; who needs another tired paean to, say, the moon in lieu of beatific walls of hymnal sound; offering something beyond cliché; more appropriate to work inspired by and evoking of abstract, cosmic form and oblivion. Less a performance and more a weird sort of sensory experience; like staring at the inside of your eyelids on a really hot day; a synaesthetic blurring of the senses.