If it’s art it’s going to make me think. That’s my present rule of thumb. And art, I’m reminded this evening, extends beyond the stage. It’s often to be found in the experience that surrounds a concert.
Manchester Collective’s mixed programme of contemporary, commissioned and new works was arresting, compelling and visceral. Less concert more live performance playlist, there were moments in the first half when the enthusiastic and appreciative applause from the near-capacity audience interrupted my train of thought.
Textures, looping melodic cells, three dimensional sound, and live sound production pushed me in directions I wasn’t expecting to go. I felt at one with the art – something new to explore that connected with my emotions in a refreshingly immediate way. I was in an imaginary world created just for me. Mild sensory deprivation caused by the black curtains and focussed lighting – we might well have been in a TV studio. When unusual sounds swirl all around you it doesn’t take much to get into flow and immerse yourself in the experience.
At the same time I felt like an imposter.
This may in part be down to some pre-concert conversations I engaged in, one in particular about how I reckoned that people like me (who emote unabashed about things they respond to) are at odds with the edgier spaces where contemporary music authentically resides. It’s not ‘cool’ to wax lyrical I told myself. An odd thought to grapple with given that I felt welcomed, was enjoying the experience of hearing such a carefully chosen selection of sounds, and left eager to hear more.
There is a vibe to the good kind of contemporary music concerts – a self-assuredness – which is completely at odds with the nervous hand-wringing I detect in the conventional ‘classical’ world. This apparent self-confidence shifts my perspective. Contemporary musicians know their audience well, and the connections they make and the conversations had reflect this. There’s no need to cajole in the contemporary music world. Unbridled imaginations make the product a tantalising prospect amongst a niche and committed audience. Marketing isn’t something that is brought in to reflect the product; the product markets itself from inception.
There was a meditative quality to the entire programme. Total immersion meant that any interruption to my music-infused introspection – say, like applause – felt like an imposition. That speaks volumes to the programming. What I want next is to experience that same programme in a physical space that enhances the sound-world the music creates – Peckham’s invigorating rawness makes South East London a must-visit destination for the Manchester Collective. Alexandra Palace, Wilton’s Music Hall (maybe), or even a disused underground station (I’ve no idea whether that’s practicable), would create an even more intense sensory experience.
Jonathan Harvey’s Ricecare absorbing, Reich’s Violin Phase electric, and Vessel’s The Birth of the Queen utterly enthralling. What I heard of Daniel Elms’ 100 Demons had a Reich-feel to it. All of it the kind of thing you didn’t realise you needed to experience. Especially appreciated the austere post-war labarotory-style lighting – gave proceedings a warehousy feel. I wonder whether there’s scope to present the programme without a break.