Fluorophone is a configuration of light and sound. It is a marrying of percussion and unusual, non-traditional mediums.
Strictly speaking, Fluorophone involves a percussion ensemble (Speak Percussion) performing five original compositions. Each composition is built around its own peculiar medium, material or central concept. “But!” you say, eyes open mouth agape, “Is not all music built around a medium, material or central concept?” Well yes. But how many percussion ensembles have composed works that use matchsticks as its medium? Not to mention giving a whole different meaning to the term “matched grip” complete with rhythmic igniting, scratching, tapping, sizzling and popping!
The Substation has upheld their reputation for programming innovative work with their latest production. This work is captivating from its opening beat: a piece called “Rendition Clinic” – ordered, regimented, structured, mechanical and precise – right up until its final cacophony (a piece called “e”) of disharmonic chaos as static electricity passes through performers into bizarre instruments and out into the ether creating a infinite triangular sonic feedback loop.
These are fugues for the 21st century. But here is where I think Fluorophone gets really interesting: these pieces are not examinations of a short melody or phrase that weaves and develops into multiple contrapuntal parts (as in the two-part fugue, four-part fugue and the illustriously difficult-to-compose six-part fugue). Rather, it seems that what we have here are compositions upon the theme of ‘technological adaptation’. These are not fugues on a melody, but fugues on strobes, bogus tom-toms, switches, auxiliary cables, buttons, matchsticks and static electricity and complex triangular machines made from fluorescent lights, whose foot switches become the percussive element and which lights up and produces varying electronic sounds when played.
It’s quite an experience to hear these (often) bizarre sounds shoot towards you in rapid rhythmic fire while lights defy or deepen what the ears are processing. The whole work plays with and alters our sense of time and space, in a way that only a post-quantum theory ensemble can do.
There was one thing I could not escape, however, as the work unfolded. Namely, our fraught relationship with technology. Ours is an era of rising human redundancy at the hands of our own invention. Super-smart computers now create things we never thought they could, solving problems we never thought to ask, even fashioning music so well-conceived that professionals cannot distinguish between what is human-crafted and machine-made.
I could not escape from these considerations while watching Fluorophone; they floated in a vortex just above the music. The work, whether intentionally or inadvertently, was a profound meditation on the relationship between the acoustic and the electronic, humanity and the machine, primordial rhythms, modern technology and the increasing mechanisation (the plugged-in-ness) of our era.
This is an impeccably crafted amalgamation of light, rhythm, space and sound. A work where we watch theatre, music and visual art bleed together and produce an unconventional work of surprising depth and hypnotic power.