Making connections, it seems, has never been simpler. Music can be composed in collaborations that bridge continents without the contributors ever having to meet anywhere other than cyberspace. So it goes with The Fragmented Orchestra, artist Jane Grant, composer/musician/physicist John Matthias and BAFTA-winning composer/sound designer Nick Ryan’s winner of the PRS Foundation’s 2008 New Music Award, which forms the crux of this exhibition designed for ‘expanding and re-booting music; hacking and re-wiring into the normal way of listening and performing’.
What this means in actuality is a room full of 24 speakers, each networked to locales ranging from Tramway’s Hidden Garden in Glasgow and The Thainstone Centre in Inverurie, closer to home and at Everton’s football ground Goodison Park in Liverpool, The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, London’s National Portrait Gallery, the Kielder Observatory in Black Fell, Northumberland and other public sites chosen for their sonic particulars. With a wallmap pinpointing where each speaker is plugged in, the desired effect is of an aural global village, where everyday ambience combines to create a kind of anthropological mass. Depending, of course, on what, of anything, happens to be going on. At its peak, one imagines the criss-crossing cacophony might resonate enough to engulf the space. Sometimes, though, it’s quietude that counts for more.
More reflective is Energy Suite, a largescale film-based installation in Gallery 2. Created by video artist Hambi Haralambous, composer Andy McCluskey and designer Peter Saville, Energy Suite cuts to the heart of industrial north-west England by focussing on the architecture, (and morality?), of five electricity generating power facilities.
With one big screen at its centre and three smaller ones angled off, the film is divided into its elemental parts as we move from Coal to Gas, Water, Air and Nuclear. The result is a visual and aural hymn to power at its purest level, as well as to manufactured monuments kept out of view other than their roadside façades.
Led by McCluskey’s melancholic score, there are shades too of a more urban, constructed but equally monolithic Koyaanisqaatsi, Godfrey Reggio’s astonishing film which so mesmerically married a whirlwind of rural and city-scapes to Philip Glass’ dizzying score. Here, however, there’s a desolate, flesh and blood free grandiosity at play, as if each building continued to function unscarred after some future shock apocalypse as imagined by Michelangelo Antonioni.
All three artists significantly cut their creative teeth in the 1980s, Haralambous as front-man of Liverpool band Hambi and the Dance, McCluskey as one half of Scouse electronic romantics OMD, whose most haunting work was a song about Stanlow oil refinery, and Saville of course as Factory Records in-house designer.
Now, as then, classicism looks like the space-age in this lovingly epic homage.
Neil Cooper is a writer and critic