The room is aged, as though in some great era it was a performance space for theatre pieces of old. Though the ceilings flora are ornate, they have faded and petals are missing where time has left them heavy enough to drop. Still the room reeks of ethereal charm, large silk sheets which hang around the sinewy wiring of multiple electronics gives an aura of class melded with technology. The somber lit space filled in is centre with the twinkle of receivers and modular synthesizer bulbs. Low lit lamps highlight the sheer ambition of the structure, which includes a forebearing gong and electric marimba.
Serena hasn’t played in New York for just over four years though one wouldn’t know by the sizeable crowd which has amassed in the foyer, spilling into the corners of the dim lit expanse. All are tense yet there is an excited hush drawn over the room and it’s viewers in anticipation of something yet unseen in this country. Somnambulism was created to honor the late Arne Nordheim whose name has become synonymous with the appearance of musical modernism in Norway.
Working as a composer as well as music critic and artist he achieved recognition on a global scale during the 1960s with eccentricity often being an underlying current in his pieces. Arne Nordheim wanted his music and art to transcend barriers, to go further and beyond. Whilst being aided by the latest innovations of music technology, Arne channelled his existential thoughts and child-like awe into his work. Building minimal avant-garde soundscapes which challenged the previously sheltered Norwegian public in the sixties and seventies.
Enter maneesh, though a dissected line up. As an addition to the brainchild of Serena, Emil Nikolaisen we have Larry Mullins, Sufjan Stevens, Kristian Rangnes and Ådne Meisfjord working with a variety of synthesizers and other electronics. Brede Rørstad is conducting a small choir and the pack of musicians are shrouded with the sparing visuals of Joakim Faxvaag, Ingrid Pop and Frode Fjeringstad.
The band are nestled in the center of an instrumental bomb eloquently fanning out towards the audience. Heavy silence is gradually filled with a slow reverberated hum. Delicate noise layers upon itself, building into something more solid, something repetitive and pounding and the audience stills. The chorus mouths hymns into their receivers and the sound is synthesized into a haunting metallic moan as the deep thuds beat outwards into loudness and the room is overcome. The music sweeps upwards and the choir vocals ascend to meet the throb.
A solemn audience edges closer, the fleshy wall of noise still peaking as the choirs arcs of sympathetic vocals surge to marry this haunting wall of artificial tone, falling and rising like breaths in the fear of an unknown darkness. Erratic twinges of bent whining loop themselves around the holy echo of multiple mouths that belong to the choir. Each ahhhhhhing with gospel ridden fervour. The bass, the low whallop of heavy pulsation drops off. Flickering images of darkened rivers flow along the cheekbones and jaw lines of each musician, highlighting their focus. The low pulsations return, only this time the sound multiplies into thousands of individual spits of wiry synthetic clanging which solidifies into a sound somewhat like an echo of delayed bells until they meet in harmony.
Echoing simultaneously they remind me of train tracks. Lonely, daunting, the amplified racket of a train undercar taunting you in your loneliness as you pass through the underground. The sound of fear as it reverberates between you ears in jolts and you fasten your pace on a dark walk home. The percussion slows as the ensemble grow to a hush, somewhat reminiscent of the silence your conscious is met with moments before sleep takes you, only it’s dripping with the sultry hiss of white noise. Soon to be interrupted with cosmic bleeps. Modulated tape recordings winding in and out of the noise, tomita-esque in their astral electronic pangs. Creating a multi-leveled space between the wall of losing yourself white noise and these lonely interstellar journeying beeps and twangs surge together until the room falls into almost complete silence, followed closely by darkness.
Single shot beeps and twangs sound to projections of withered branches. Figures of bark contorted, tendrils of dark water running into the performance is mirrored on layers of silk which mingle effortlessly. The interaction between the sound and the stark and desolate imagery paints a hollow oblivion, rich with symbolism. The symphonic barrier slowly built upon, brick by edifying brick has swallowed itself and the room has fallen with this into obscurity. Issue project room sits in darkness and you can almost hear each witness take their first breath after the performance, after Somnambulism.
You can try to focus on the technical and the sheer ambition and creativity in that respect but I am not so technical a reviewer. As an audience member in what is an expression of art, one can only hope to connect with the performance and leave feeling humbled by the under currents a piece like this, that surge within each of us. Hemmingway once said this great thing about love, sex and death and how we lose fear of death in the throws of good loving. Somnambulism hit not hard but with a steady weight, modestly reforming our understanding of space, sound and where we each stand as humans existing within the orchestrated void Serena Maneesh created for us. I enjoyed being drawn into Somnambulism and to have been coerced into the state they induced in all of us lucky enough to sleepwalk through this Arne Nordheim tribute, with it’s talented creators.