Barbican Centre, London
Experimental music festival Unsound’s event at the Barbican in London explores the theme of dislocation with three commissions by NIVHEK (Grouper’s Liz Harris) & MFO, The Caretaker (Leyand Kirby) and Soft Power, a London-based electronic musician working with traditional Polish dancers. Each performance explored a different aspect of the theme, with Harris presenting ‘After its own death’, an ambient dreamscape about a town in the Russian Arctic, and Kirby citing dislocation as an alienation from the self by drawing on a collection of concepts that reference dementia, memory loss and time.
Dedicated to Mark Fisher, the late cultural theorist, Kirby’s set was characterised by vintage analogue synthesisers and bygone waltzes, akin to the haunted ballroom scene in the 1980 film The Shining from which the name ‘The Caretaker’ was taken. Visualised through images projected onto a screen by Aphex Twin collaborator, Weirdcore, of dancing couples blurred to appear like ghosts, the post-classical tones of renditions of the albums Selected Memories From the Haunted Ballroom and An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.
In the 2011 album An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, Kirby spoke of how his music was inspired by Alzheimer’s patients, the recollection of memories and their connection to people and places. During the set, this was achieved through a combination of old ballroom samples slowed down to 78rpm and distorted vinyl jazz records that, combined with sounds of static and looping, convey the illusion of familiar distance in the listener.
It is the inherently repetitive nature of looping that plays a part in the familiarity of Kirby’s sound, which plays heavily into Fisher’s theory of hauntology, which he once described as a “nostalgia for lost futures”. In the current context of dislocation – Brexit, for example, has changed the course of ‘British identity’ – Kirby’s performance is representative of collective British mourning for a future that will inevitably be different to the one we envisioned.
The second performance by NIVHEK & MFO, in contrast, looked at dislocation through the lens of landscape and isolation. Commissioned by Unsound, the Barbican and Goethe-Institut, the pair used minimalist compositions in parallel with moving images of snowy landscapes and individuals – appearing as both dreamlike and harsh.
By exploring the nuances of dislocation, Unsound Dislocation revealed layers of identity, loneliness and alienation through the medium of experimental music. The festival, which started in Krakow in 2003, has expanded to many different locations in the past few years and highlights the interconnectivity of artists from around the world, despite what can be seen as a shifting and troubling climate.