Aphex Twin at The Barbican

Aphex Twin

The last time I saw Richard D James play live was in a dingy Preston club in 1993. The gig lasted all of 30 seconds, with his assembled mass of analogue gear spewing out an unimaginable noise before overloading & blowing up. Nineteen years on & the Aphex Twin was planning to remote control the Heritage Orchestra & Choir at the Barbican Centre. In the absence of any recent releases, the speed at which tickets sold out showed the level of interest in any new AFX experimentations.

The assembled musicians responded to instructions displayed on a large screen at the back of the stage. Coloured bands represented the different sections within the orchestra and volume bars moved up and down to convey dynamics (from off = mute / turned off, up to fff = LOUD! Beyond that, it was hard to decipher exactly how the notation was derived from the moving coloured strands at the top and bottom of the screen but it was mesmerising watching them dart around as the tonality changed.

A short interlude featuring a remotely played, swinging grand piano nicely set up the final section, Aphex’s “Interactive Tuned Feedback Pendulum Array” a variation on a Steve Reich piece from 1968

Suspended disco balls with attached microphones were swung above speakers on the floor of the stage. When the ball / microphone passed directly above the speaker, it would induce a feedback loop. As the balls were initially swinging quickly, they spent little time over the speakers and so let out short periodic squeals of noise. As they gradually slowed, they would spend longer over the speakers and produce more prolonged moans. If that wasn’t enough, lasers were fired at the disco balls, covering the whole room in dancing lines and dots in time with the sound. As everything gradually decelerated into ultra-slow-motion it felt like we were watching some kind of underwater laser-tag battle.

When the lights came up, a big thumbs up from the man himself showed he had obviously enjoyed the night. Whilst more of an audio-installation than a gig it was utterly brilliant. Let’s hope AFX brings some more of his man / machine audio tinkering back to London soon.

Mike Bamford, String and Tins