Unsound Dislocation / Barbican

Unsound Dislocation brought together the music of The Caretaker and NIVHEK (Liz Harris / Grouper). Renowned for its promotion of high quality experimental music, the festival also contained artwork and dance, the former represented by audio-visuals which were draped across a huge screen, and the latter by musician and producer felicita’s Soft Power, who opened with an ambient / electronica set and a team of stunning, tireless dancers from Poland’s Slqsk Song And Dance Ensemble. Unsound is one of the most important experimental music festivals in the world, and the whole Dislocation theme is part of an ongoing wider project. Before shifting to London’s Barbican for one night, Unsound was asked by the Goethe-Institut to produce a series of events over three years and across eleven cities in the former USSR. The concept of dislocation was also a theme at Unsound’s 2016 festival in Krakow, Poland.

‘More generally, the project explores the idea of periphery and centre. I felt it was important not to confine things to Eastern Europe and the surrounding region, but also connect Dislocation to bigger cities to the west where Unsound had taken place before. Unsound Dislocation: London also allows us to present works commissioned within the framework of the project in a very different context’ – Mat Schulz, Artistic Director.

The Caretaker’s music is a haunted, decaying world of endless dances ensconced in a slipping mind. Smoke rose like a prelude to a foggy premonition. On the stage, two comatose men sat in old leathery armchairs, non-responsive apart from an odd conversation and a drink of whiskey. Haunted by its past while occupying a sizeable vacancy inside the mind, the music was like a camera roll screening happier times and happier events; the inner life was a cocoon and a prison.

Leyland Kirby’s music went hand-in-hand with visuals from Weirdcore and painter Ivan Seal, providing eerie, musky images dashed with the decaying scent of rotting perfume. Ballroom dancers appeared in an endless cycle, twirling around in circles as the old band cobbled together another tune. Crackles added to the sense of dislocation, which was pervasive and incredibly strong, highlighting Kirby’s effective examination of dementia and memory. Music from his current series, Everywhere At The End Of Time, bled into fragments from An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, playing in a long, dark mix.

A nightmarish moving mannequin like that of Fred Astaire appeared from a foggy fugue, creating inescapable mental caverns without sunshine. Darker sections, full of a cloying static and permeated by a deep rumbling, provided no kind of clarity whatsoever…echoes in a lost mind. Vague reminiscences crept through, and as the visuals skittered and advanced, some rooms and corridors appeared over and over again…it felt like we’d already been down some of these, mirroring the recurring questions and looping conversations of an ill mind, locked inside a decaying house that was crumbling from the inside. Slow motion dancers had their faces erased and blocked out, mirroring the terrifying nature of memory loss.

Absence conjoined with presence. Density and yet emptiness.

Although the images moved slowly, prowling around inside the dark halls of the mind, they provided a sharp contrast to the corpse-like, slumped statues. But occasionally a song would burst out from the lips, a song of past love and present loneliness sung into an old microphone, before returning to the comfort of the armchair…the chair itself representing a slip into a deadened mind. Hauntology isn’t just the notion of nostalgia or the examination of memory. The Caretaker explored it all with the respect the theme deserved. The cruelty of suffering and a sense of seriousness pervaded the set, but there were glimpses of happiness in that inner world, too…the singing, the reminiscences, having a drink with an old friend. They may be happier in that old world, oblivious to the horrors of life in the outer world.

NIVHEK’s music had a colder clarity. This time, dislocation was present in distance and snowy isolation, a removal from what we call home. Her audio-visual project, After its own death, was created by Harris and Berlin-based visual artist MFO (Marcel Weber) through a residency in the Russian Arctic city of Murmansk.

It was a cold ambient sound, and the sub-zero tones brought out shivers on the skin. Sparse chimes and images of Murmansk brought the listener into its stark and snowy surroundings as the audience met the people of the city and became entrenched in its way of life.

Deep snow lying on top of a car; a bus driver on a cigarette break, windshield wipers moving in non-stop motion; smoke rising from a factory; children playing on ice and then sledding down a hill.

The region is a far cry from the United States – both in distance and in culture – but her geographically isolated music still managed to convey a sleepy ambient warmth, of planes silently gliding along in the purple air of dawn. It also brought a level of realism – the extreme temperature was a normal, daily occurrence – but fans of Grouper will know that her soft voice can melt ice. After forty-five minutes, the dislocation was complete.


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