- Miles Hedley
ARRAY FESTIVAL moved online from the Albany
Covid-19 scuppered any hope that Array, a two-night festival of immersive ambisonic sound and colour, would be staged at the Albany. Instead, the organisers were forced to air it online and hope it managed to retain at least some of the power and impact it would have generated in front of a live audience.
There’s no question that, despite dazzling 360° technology, all the works involved lost something in their on-screen incarnations, not least the unquantifiable pleasure of sharing the experience of unexpected and gorgeous soundscapes and visual effects with a crowd, especially in the big-top shape of the Albany stage where the audience would have been completely subsumed in the glorious palette of the ever-moving video show.
Yet it is a measure of the artistry of Array’s musicians and the inspirational vision of its creatives, led by design co-leads Hannah Mason and Struan Leslie, that the festival succeeded in casting a spell even though most of us who saw the two gigs were watching alone at home with only a small screen and a pair of headphones.
The first night was divided evenly into sets by Dan Samsa, Luke David Harris and Kamikaze Space Programme, who had wowed Albany audiences a year ago at a sensational Neoclassical event gig. This time they were just as amazing, their uncompromising electronica pulsing with cosmic energy as the exquisitely vibrant visuals created a sense of being inside a chameleon’s restless eye.
The second night was, for the most part, more traditionally melodic, Hejira’s breathily lovely voice accompanied by mellow electric piano and ambient sounds of Ethiopian street life, David Omuku creating a hypnotic groove with repeating guitar riffs and Imogen Williams using piano, drums and guitar as well as orchestral and choral electronics to counterpoint the delicacy of her voice.
Only Atau Tanaka and Uta Kögelsberger broke the mood, using an awesome range of sonics to summon up a soundscape of otherworldly force.
Their set was wonderfully illustrated with a free-floating, shapeshifting monochrome boulder, while the others were accompanied by equally stunning visuals that began as a narrow band of colour in the blackness and slowly opened out into a kaleidoscope of ravishing colour, from blood red and rain-forest green to deep-sea blue, before shrinking back into darkness as the work finished.
It was brilliantly effective, especially in the festival finale as Williams, her voice plaintively beautiful, sang: “We’ve got to make it back some day.” That could be a motto for our time.