Attending Alon Ilsar’s performance this time was ever more like peeking around the corner of the time-space continuum and glimpsing the future. It was there in the technology and its use, the presentation and, to a lesser extent, the music itself.
The interrelationship between process and product is eternally fascinating. At what hours does the novelist write? Does the artist paint one picture at a time, or several? Ilsar, a drummer, composer and improviser, plays AirSticks, an instrument he devised with Mark Havryliv. Using two regular gaming controllers, he interacts with computer-generated sound by moving the controllers through space and manipulating their buttons. While having a primitive ancestor in the Theremin, AirSticks are more drumming oriented, and fly close to the technological cutting edge of our fast-moving century.
His performances generate the same mystified engagement as watching a magician: you try to guess how it’s done, even while being captivated. Here he operated behind a scrim on which Matthew Hughes’ computer-generated projections interacted with the music, to striking effect. The sheer theatre of it all was often more engrossing than the music, itself, however, which tended to be at its most beguiling when less dense and more eerie. But these may still be early days in Ilsar’s discovering his own monster’s full potential.
The contrast with the opening set by Hinterlandt could not have been greater: an acoustic quartet illuminated only by music-stand lights, performing two extended works by Jochen Gutsch (guitar, trumpet, glockenspiel), Umgangswelt and Sollbruchstelle. These idiomatically eccentric pieces variously carried misty echoes Erik Satie, progressive rock, fairground innocence and folk melodies, with phases dedicated to establishing and sustaining rather autumnal moods punctuated by rhythmic and textural surprises. Like a painter working with shades of the same colour, the palette did not shift radically: no starbursts of energy, although there were flashes of elfin lyricism, notably in Sollbruchstelle. Sometimes the music, capably realised by cellist Simeon Johnson and violinists Monique Mezzatesta and Jara Stinson, could sound like the elaborate accompaniment for an absent soloist.