Rie Nakajima, Aki Onda and David Toop – Purcell Room – Queen Elizabeth Hall – Thursday 9 April 2015
The stage of the Purcell Room is a landscape of lanterns, cooking utensils, electronics and other assorted paraphernalia. The performers have set up camp and are busy fine tuning their base as the audience settle themselves; talking, bustling, taking off coats, fixing seats.. An indefinable atmospheric shift silences the crowd and an instant hush comes over the auditorium. A signal has been interpreted and the focus is now on the stage. The performers appear to giggle -as if the signal was inadvertent -and yet the event begins.
Nakajima starts by rearranging the camp; moving some of the lanterns that hang on wooden tripods to various new positions around the room and then systematically ‘setting them off’, a procedure that involves placing her signature tiny motors inside various assemblages and releasing them so they play in mechanical tension with whatever surface they are in contact with, in this instance the rustling paper of the lantern. Her understated calm walk seems to be as much part of defining the space as the whispering sonic loops that start to punctuate it.
This is post-digital. There are no computers in sight. Riffs are made not with software or loop stations but with mechanical motors, sculptural assemblages and later bouncing balls on upturned drum cymbals. Nakajima’s loops are punctuated by Onda’s whistles and metal clashes as he flings the cymbals to the ground, aswell as feedback from a small portable amplifier that he carries around the space and rubber-sole-squeaks as he moves across the polished wood floor with deliberate accentuation, at one point with bells attached to his shoes Morris-dancer-like.
Throughout, Toop adds texture with electronics and finally a woodwind pipe, emphasising the folkish elements of this ritual. All the sounds are small but build with determination, opening up like a night around a campfire, ultimately conjuring a jungle storm as if we are within a dense habitat of very small wildlife that becomes louder to the ear the deeper into the night (and the jungle) we are taken. Perhaps it is not incidental that Nakajima’s tiny motors are spiderlike and seem to multiply infinitely at her command.
Ritualistic without overperforming the idea of ritualism, this performance was understated in all its parts but cumulatively somehow dramatic….. I am still not sure if I enjoyed it but I did feel like I had been taken on a journey and it is always good to start in one place and end up elsewhere. This journey was at times rough as I was dragged through some kind of jungle nightmare, and at times anxious as I was left to linger in the dark while the leaders made their plans, but eventually, as if the post-performance calm managed to retro actively ignite confidence into the sonic precariousness that preceded it, we reached a safe and contemplative dawn.