sat 13/04/2024

Modulus Quartet, Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe | reviews, news & interviews

Modulus Quartet, Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe

Modulus Quartet, Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe

From the human to the cosmic, new works for strings in an atmospheric setting

Quartet for the underground: the Modulus four in the Thames Tunnel shaftSusi Arnott

"Total immersion", the term used for the BBC Symphony's one-composer days, takes on a whole new meaning in the Thames Tunnel Shaft now transformed – but fortunately not subject to makeover – under the mantle of Rotherhithe's Brunel Museum.

All the more so with the pioneering Modulus Quartet, who presented the mostly consonant music of six collaborative composers with the main lights out, shifting colours on the performing space and films either to accompany three of the works or to let the creators speak in short, unpretentious introductions.

The ambitious peripherals weren't perfect; technical rehearsal had been curtailed. We lost the speakers' words at times, and the light changes from blue to purple and green didn't have much correspondence with the music. I'm still not sure that the senses can take in both serious sound and attention-grabbing vision; the receptors needed for each are quite different. If anything Tom Brown's play of shapes was more dynamic than the new-ageism it accompanied, Eliot Lloyd Short's The Golden Road Suite, too close to stone-age Minimalism for my taste.

Yet that was the only work which didn't challenge or shift with sufficient interest. Terry Davies, in transforming three movements from his music for Matthew Bourne's company as Without Quartet, was one of two composers on the programme to use the different voices of the string quartet and their interplay most beguilingly, with special attention going to the rich, resonant sound – helped unquestionably by the curved wall behind – of Mircea Belei 's viola. I was amazed to learn that the only amplification was for the two pieces with soundtrack/loop.

Modulus Quartet in Brunel MuseumDavies' work was perfectly proportioned, not a minute too long. That was also true of Ash Madni's Clarity from fragmented memories, fusing western quartet techniques with stylised ragas and imitations of the sarod and sitar in what came over as a dance suite with reflective interludes and a peaceful epilogue. It made for a fine twinning with Richard Norris's Bombay Nights, more complex in its evocative pre-recorded city soundscape than in the quartet's input, but a fascinating dialogue, all the same. The film this time was placed to the side, wise because its limited run on a loop wasn't synchronised with the music.

The Modulus four's visceral drive gave way to more sustained concentration in Finnish composer Veera Lummi's 12 Seconds of Light, a piece which sounded as if it was going to be stuck in a high mesh of familiar quartet atmosphere but which evolved hauntingly to descend to a middle-range confrontation of resonant sounds before climbing back up to where it started.

Lummi's work, too, formed the first part of another good pair, this time of "becomings", with the fascinating experiment to end the programme, Matthew Slater's Memoria Technica. This was another trio of movements which like Davies' knew exactly where it was heading – in this case, surprisingly, towards the players' physical desertion of their posts as their looped selves faded into infinity like the women's chorus at the end of Holst's The Planets. And those apocalyptic rumbles from the Overground Line trains in the tunnel beyond were there to the last to add evocative commentary.

Apocalyptic rumbles from the trains in the tunnel beyond added evocative commentary


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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