Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts
A windy mid-week evening at a venue attached to a university campus doesn’t seem like the typical setting for ambitious experiments in music. However, Caterina Barbieri and Myriam Bleau each displayed performances that peeled apart sound and exposed its wires — often literally.
A stream of people trickled into the auditorium for another night of ACCA Digital held as part of Brighton Digital Festival’s fortnight of events dedicated to technology, creativity and digital culture. The room dimmed to black for the arrival of Canadian artist Myriam Bleau, and an artist is exactly what the crowd got as she unravelled her tactile AV sequence Ballistics. Motion-sensitive orbs dangled expectantly in the air, before Bleau swept around the stage like a seasoned theatre performer, swinging, grasping and propelling them to create serendipitous collisions of sound. The space punctuated with percussive bursts and stabs of synth; she demonstrated interactivity in its purest form – something others lay claim to but rarely achieve with such intrigue.
Bleau’s performance was physical to the degree that it veered on athleticism. Yet, when Barbieri arrived on stage, the centre of activity shifted from dramatic movements to gripping visualisations and dynamic sound. Drawing from her 2019 LP Ecstatic Computation, Barbieri’s haunting melodies filled and stretched the intimate space to the point that the venue felt several times its actual size.
Much of Barbieri’s sound harnessed the scale and pure emotion of a rave anthem, but she sidestepped the usual room-shattering drops for drawn-out sonic explorations: think arpeggiated melodies, sprawling synths, and gradual crescendos. Barbieri trades in mystery, not predictability.
Multimedia artist Ruben Spini provided the show’s visuals, the likes of which are rarely seen in this kind of context. AV sets tend to favour lasers, intense lighting, and geometric patterns projected on screen. However, Spini whipped up a deliberately haphazard quality with tilted first-person footage of rugged landscapes, leaving ample room for Barbieri to tease complexities through the music. Sight and sound levelled into a complete symbiosis, the handmade images complementing Barbieri’s intricate manoeuvring of her trademark modular setup: a jungle of patch cables threaded beneath her hands like exposed arteries.
As the Italian producer worked her way through the album, she patiently led the crowd through moods and, seemingly, eras. Otherworldly tracks like Closest Approach to Your Orbit and Bow of Perception felt reminiscent of sci-fi from decades past, like a composer’s interpretation of the future. Yet, the music was rooted unmistakably in the present-day as Barbieri pivoted to crushing soundscapes and glitchy rhythms that subverted expectations.
Relief came in holistic bursts of lightness: uplifting harmonies mirrored in Spini’s visualisations of sunlight breaking through clouds, Barbieri herself veiled in God rays. Drawing the evening to a close, she entered into the ethereal Arrows of Time and delivered an unexpected moment of majesty. Enveloped in smoke, her back arched dramatically, she raised a microphone to her mouth and layered the track’s hymnal vocals, as though a full choir was hidden behind her. For all the technical prowess she had demonstrated, Barbieri used the final minutes of the set to remind the crowd that there is undeniably human soul in what she does. And then, disguised by a waterfall of fog, she was gone.