Monday 16 February 2015

Ambient minimalism: A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Adam Wiltzie (left) and Dustin O'Halloran
Adam Wiltzie (left) and Dustin O'Halloran
A Winged Victory of the Sullen; Kings Place
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Feb 6 2015
Relaxing meditation - ambient minimalism

A Winged Victory for the Sullen took to the main stage at Kings Place as part of their Minimalism Unwrapped series. The duo Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie were joined by a trio of strings, to produce a short but mesmerising musical interlude.

In his 1978 album 'Ambient 1: Music For Airports' Brian Eno, who seems to have coined the term, described ambient music thus "Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to `brighten' the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think."

Often associated with new ageism or post-party chillout rooms, ambient music has a rich history, growing out of the drones and repetition of the early minimalists such as La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich. However it also references 19th century classical avant-garde such as Erik Satie's furniture music – background music to be performed while people were talking, and yet reaches forward with new technologies as they were/are being developed – embracing the synthesiser yet still incorporating human elements even if they too become part of the synthesised sound.
Self-effacing and suffering from being on tour, so much so that Wiltzie eventually had a lie down behind the monitors towards the end of the concert, A Winged Victory for the Sullen played for just over an hour without stopping. Recreating their album Atomos, the music ran from one piece directly into another, to provide a seamless whole. New ideas and tonal patterns emerged and then drifted away on a sea of sound.

Featuring drones and sampled strings, along with the synthesisers accessed via keyboards and guitar, plus melody and support from the live strings, Atomos was a relaxing meditation. The loudness/insistency of the music was matched by a light display, providing the visual aspect of the concert experience, while the musicians themselves were in near darkness or partially hidden behind banks of equipment.

'Atomos' was a collaboration between A Winged Victory for the Sullen and the choreographer Wayne McGregor resulting in the work premiered by Random Dance in 2013 and which has been nominated for the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance.

There were some technical problems and feedback especially with certain of the synthesised sounds, which slightly marred the experience, and a loud feedback retort happened just as they had got to the end, or at that point they gave up, which startled those who had peacefully drifted. But this style is hard to pull off in a concert hall venue – there are too many variables to ensure that the synthesisers behave consistently – so full marks need to go the sound guy who kept everything together as well as the intrepid duo and the musicians.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen are continuing with their tour and the Minimalism Unwrapped series at Kings Place is on all year investigating different aspects of minimalism from well known to the more obscure and experimental.
 Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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