Sight and Sound at South London Gallery

Phil Coy
Test Signal
Hannah Rickards/David Murphy

New London Chamber Choir
James Wood

Thunder Ensemble
Jason Lai

0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 23 March, 2006
Venue: South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, London SE5

Situated on the border between Peckham and Camberwell, South London Gallery is steadily emerging as a notable venue for contemporary art exhibitions and live performance. This event consisted of two brief but distinctive pieces – both employing live music and new technology, and both utilising different facets of the gallery’s resonant main hall as an atmospheric setting for the performances.

Test Signal found Phil Coy juxtaposing a screen of differently coloured geometric blocks and columns, such as will have brought a smile to the faces of those who recall the ITV test card from the days before saturation television, with a slow-moving but never unvaried score for female voices. The connection between the two is inevitably a subjective one – but, in as much as the gradual coming into focus of independent vocal lines was paralleled by the relative definition of the image, the analogy was there to be made. Moreover, the musical component was as scrupulously realised as one would expect from the New London Chamber Choir and the redoubtable James Wood, who had clearly taken time to get the correlation between what was seen and what was heard absolutely in accord.

Thunder is the unlikely but impressive outcome of a collaboration between artist Hannah Rickards and composer David Murphy, in which a seven-second thunder clap was slowed down to seven minutes and the resulting ‘elongation’ transcribed for instrumental ensemble. Not a transcription that could ever have been remotely literal – and, indeed, Murphy’s piece is a freely-unfolding fantasia on the very dynamic and timbral qualities of what is itself an arrangement: one evincing the rhythmic velocity and harmonic focus that made Bavardage for recorder quartet such a pleasure to encounter at the South Bank three years ago. Problems of balance and co-ordination were confidently surmounted in this assured account directed by Jason Lai, making for a performance as succinct as it was memorable.

A short but distinctive overall event, then, which could have been made more so by having the pieces played a second time, or by having the composers and/or artists taking part in a discussion with the spectators following the performances. Something that the organisers of the SLG’s live programme might care to address: in the meantime, forthcoming events of this kind are much to be anticipated, and a visit to South London Gallery much to be encouraged.

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