Music and Space Reflect

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1 mai 2007, 18h32m

Sat 28 Apr – Music Space Reflection - Manchester

The jutting, dark, fragmented architecture of Daniel Libeskind's Imperial War Museum North has garnered critical acclaim and as he collects a portfolio of dark masterpieces from Berlin to Copenhagen to New York it seems the IWM North's slogan 'War Shapes Lives' certainly applies to him - and born in Poland in 1946 not only through his architectural work.

The main exhibition space of the museum is open-plan, divided by large columns that sheer up from the ground like icebergs. The minimalist design results in an empty feeling, avoiding any grotesque glorification of war. At the centre of the hall for example there stands a gleaming, red battlefield fire engine. Though not large, its blood-coloured body is striking, but the small label and the way it is spot lit in the dim hall is eerily understated. So it is for all the monstrous exhibits - a test A-bomb, an old fighter jet, a SCUD missile. The respect shown for the human loss that war entails is also impressive. One of the columns contains a room in which the walls are decorated as giant filing cabinets stretching up to the high ceiling. Some of the drawers pull out to reveal an individual's life.

This was the poignant setting for the world premiere of Simon Bainbridge's Music Space Reflection. Commissioned by the IWM and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, it is a 25 minute work for orchestra and electronics (executed by Sound Intermedia), which aims to work with the spatial aspects of the building (obviously composed with this particularly interesting space in mind). The orchestra is by no means the traditional hierarchy of instruments, they are divided into 4 antiphonal groups of mostly equal instrumentation and play essentially as individual units, though all conducted by Diego Masson.

The importance of the spatial aspects and non-concert hall setting of the music meant that the audience were encouraged to move around the hall during the performance and, sensibly, the work was performed twice (the second after a discussion between Simon Bainbridge and Richard Steinitz and an interval). Antiphony and spatialization are techniques used since possibly the very beginning of music (a notable early example can be found in Monteverdi's Vespers) and has been explored extensively by electroacoustic composers in the latter part of the 20th Century such as Francis Dhomont and Jonty Harrison. However, most often the concept has been to see the listener as a fixed point around which sound is manipulated rather than a wandering observer, free to decide what angle they wish to receive the music from. The listener almost becomes an improviser, playing an active role in the creation of their musical experience. To allow a certain amount of educated 'improvisation' then, the second listening was vital.

The nature of the performance allowed the listener, if they wished to, to hide in a far corner, sheltered from view and allow the music to emerge in the distance; or - an even rarer and more terrifying experience - the ability to hear the music coming from behind you. The pillars of sound that make up Music Space Reflection appear out of nowhere like stabs to the back when appreciated in this way. The lack of visual stimulus also improves the work. While watching the conductor it became obvious when the next sound would appear from the silence, removing any sense of drama from the work, in short ruining it.

One thing you realise when trying to appreciate the differing aspects of each listening point is how slow the ear is at appreciating a space. Whether through lack of training or inability, the ear takes several minutes (a long period in terms of musical activity) to fully comprehend the nature of the resonances, reverberations and echo patterns engendered by listening from that particular point in the space. This means that to fully appreciate the music through the prism of the whole space would require hours of repeated listening. Nonetheless, the single, unique experience drawn by your trajectory through the hall has its own value and brings to the concert goer a fascinating new way of looking at sound.

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