Skip to main content

Mozart vs Machine

Sound Festival @ The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
Saturday November 11th

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart stands in peri-wigged triumph. Towards the end of what's billed as 'an electronic essay collage opera', the shades-sporting eighteenth century composer looks every inch the glam-tastic pop star he was, living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful body of work. For the last hour or so, Mozart has been squaring up to Raymond Scott, one of the great-grand-daddies of twentieth century electronic music, whose experiments with gadgets and gizmos saw him invent what he called the Electronium, which was arguably the world's first self-composing synthesiser. The future would have sounded a lot different without Scott's pioneering work, and Bob Moog,who worked with him prior to inventing the epoch-changing Moog synthesiser, cited his former employer as a major influence.

Here, Scott's inventions open up a wormhole in time that sees Mozart take a leap into a future that allows him to rip off not only Scott, but, as cited during his prosecution, has seemingly poached from the likes of Prince and Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

It's an audacious premise for this wild new piece of music theatre by Dominic Robertson, who, as the artist formerly known as Ergo Phizmiz (now Ergo Phizmiz PLC) has pursued a relentless cut and paste aesthetic in sound and vision. Over the last seventeen years, Robertson has released a mammoth 91 albums for free online. Perhaps oddly, or perhaps not, Robertson has also composed work for comedian and social commentator Frankie Boyle.

All of Robertson / Phizmiz' obsessive tropes are intact in this production by London-based new opera iconoclasts, the Mahogany Opera Group, which played a one-night stand as part of this year's Aberdeen-based Sound festival of new music. Ownership of art and what constitutes plagiarism are serious lines of inquiry, but are made flesh in a melee of noise and colour.

References to Lewis Carroll and radical theatre-maker Antonin Artaud's fantastical take on Jabberwocky conspire to deconstruct, re-make and re-model the history of music as we know it. Perhaps the only surprise in Robertson's irreverent pop-cultural pot pourri is that the machine-age art discussed by Walter Benjamin and championed by Constructivist auteur Vladimir Tatlin's aren't thrown into the mix

The show is introduced by Robertson himself, hamming it up onscreen as a pastiche of seventeenth century mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, Johannes Kepler. The straight-to-camera shtick is like something straight out of the Rocky Horror Show. On a silver-curtained set tatty enough to resemble a low-rent cabaret club, Julien Van Mellaerts's Referee becomes our host for the evening, while increasingly frenetic looped strings usher Rebecca Bottone's Mozart and Bryan Benner's Raymond Scott out of their respective labs.

What follows in Frederic Wake-Walker's production is a madcap mix of game show showbiz shmaltz and courtroom comedy cabaret. As it races through its bite-size low-attention-span imaginings with abandon, Robertson's construction becomes a mash-up of high art classicism and the sort of counter-cultural science-fiction trash beloved of the late Ken Campbell. As with Campbell's notions of synchronicity purloined from Robert Shea and Robert Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy of novels, everything is umbilically linked across time.

The electronic wail of a fire alarm blends seamlessly with Robertson's robotic show-tunes. As the audience is evacuated to the bar, hard-boiled music publisher copyright detectives Boosey and Hawkes catch Mozart posing for selfies with a tin of hot dog sausages in tow.

There is a wonderful extended John Cage gag, which sees Van Mellaerts come on as the trial's 'silent witness' sporting a pink t-shirt emblazoned with the legend, 'Shut Up! I'm John Cage' Those well-versed with Cage's composition, 4'33'' will be able to spot the in-joke that happens next coming a mile off, but if this witness took the Fifth Amendment, he's staying schtumm about what he knows.

Such disruptions are as much fun to watch as the impromptu dance routines by the show's onstage quartet, completed by musical director Katherine Tinker. Towards the end, Tinker conducts a local female choir who have trooped on, and who double up as jurors. All of which makes for a pop art performance riot, which, like its subjects, plunders everything in sight.

Product, November 2017

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…

Futureproof 2017

Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow until February 4th 2018
Four stars

Now in its ninth year, Futureproof's showcase of recent graduate photographers from seven Scottish art schools and universities returns to its spiritual home at Street Level, with nineteen artists embracing photo essays, abstraction and constructed narratives. It is Karlyn Marshall's Willies, Beuys and Me that grabs you first. Tucked in a corner, this depiction of a woman impersonating iconic artist Joseph Beuys says much about gender stereotyping, and recalls Manfred Karge's play, Man to Man, in which a German woman took on her dead husband's identity.

The personal and the political converge throughout. Ben Soedera's Foreign Sands contrasts natural resources and the constructed world. Gareth and Gavin Bragdon's The Bragdon Brothers moves onto the carnivalesque streets of Edinburgh. Kieran Delaney's Moments also looks at the apparently ordinary. Matthew Buick goes further afield, as tourists…

James Ley - Love Song to Lavender Menace

James Ley had never heard of Lavender Menace when he won an LGBT History Month Scotland Cultural Commission award to write a new play. While Edinburgh's pioneering gay book shop that existed between 1982 and 1987 before reinventing itself in new premises as West and Wilde wasn't on Ley's radar, he had vaguely heard of the Gentlemen's Head Quarters, the nickname for the public toilet that existed at the east end of Princes Street outside Register House. He was also half aware of Fire Island, the legendary gay nightclub that existed at the west end of Princes Street in a space that now forms the top floor of Waterstone's book shop.

As he discovered, Fire Island was a central focal point for what was then a still largely underground gay scene in Edinburgh's capital. Alongside the likes of the Laughing Duck pub on Howe Street, Fire Island was one of the few places where HI-NRG music could be heard in what would these days be dubbed a safe space for gay men and wo…