March 17, 2004
Hailstorms of sound
Ivan Hewett reviews London Sinfonietta with Squarepusher and Jamie Lidell at Festival Hall
It was the kind of audience the London Sinfonietta must dream about: 3,000 people, nearly all under 30, all listening in rapt attention, and, to judge by the whistling and cheering at the end, all mightily pleased with what they heard.
Of course, they hadn't really come for the Sinfonietta. They were there to see two of the major stars of the electronic label Warp Records, Squarepusher and Jamie Lidell, and to hear music by Warp artist Aphex Twin. They were brought together for a joint concert with the Sinfonietta by the Contemporary Music Network and the South Bank Centre's Ether festival.
It seemed an unlikely conjunction. What common ground could there possibly be between the frenetic, wincingly loud hailstorm of beats, growls and shrieks from Jamie Lidell, and the sober focused precision of the Sinfonietta?
Apart from the aesthetic gap, there was the massive superiority of the Warp artists in terms of sheer firepower. You don't just hear Lidell's or Squarepusher's music, you feel it thundering in your rib-cage. It sears the senses and overwhelms the mind's ability to process what it hears.
Add to that the accompanying videos, which assaulted the eyes with images changing at a similar breakneck pace, and you have a recipe for sensory overload.
It was exhilarating in a masochistic kind of way, most of all in Jamie Lidell's astounding solo performance, which combined ecstatically abandoned singing with a lightning-fingered performance on samplers and sequencers, building up polyphonic textures of fearsome violence.
Measured against that, the Sinfonietta might have appeared a bit tame and uncharismatic. But it became clear that their music, though more formalised and less noisy, was also about making a bid for ecstasy.
They reminded us that concentration can be as thrilling as abandon. In George Antheil's Ballet Mecanique, performed alongside Fernand Leger's marvellous surrealist film, the accumulated energy was just as powerful as Squarepusher's because its harmonic resources were richer.
But the virtues of quiet, focused intensity were revealed most clearly in Steve Reich's Six Marimbas, whose slowly evolving patterns held the entire hall in rapt silence.
At the end these two musical worlds came together in a cunningly wrought instrumental arrangement of Aphex Twin's Polygon Window. It was a nice symbolic gesture of mutual esteem, of which the audience clearly approved.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.