2nd November – Tramway
Compositions for Involuntary Strings is a bit of an odd fish. The piece, put together by Michaela Davies and brought to Tramway as part of the Sonica festival by Cryptic, doesn’t present itself as a piece of theatre, at least, not in the conventional sense. After a brief demonstration of what was to encapsulate the rest of the performance, Michaela Davies and co. quickly explain what exactly they are doing. Using custom built electronic muscle stimulation devices the performers are being made to play their instruments: blunt and to the point.
There seemed to be a clinical feel to the proceedings, regimented and orchestrated. This feeling was only deepened by the knowledge that Davies has a doctorate in psychology and involved a professor of neurobiology as a key speaker at the post-show discussion. Davies herself spoke of her interest in cyborgs (in a theatrical sense the mixture of the organic and the technological – no Robocop, sadly). This meant that at times the piece felt like more of a scientific demonstration than either a piece of theatre or a concert. However, there did seem to be certain aspects that were almost impossible not to call theatrical: the arrangement of the cables for the EMS devices clearly arranged above the performers like marionette strings; the forcing of the performers to perform. It was also impossible to not register the reactions of the individual performers to this procedure – winces, grimaces, gasps and a general sense of all things not being well (resulting in a rather comedic mass migraine on the behalf of the performers at one point). A nice contrast considering that build-up of discordant spasms slowly building to crescendos of rigid precision.
Suffice it to say the piece sounded phenomenal. The sounds and movement were jarring and at times genuinely discomforting and the whole process became both more fascinating and disturbing when it was revealed that at least one of the performers had, prior to the piece, never touched a violin before. The piece could perhaps be criticised as being somewhat narrow in its focus but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t simply hypnotic to both hear and see this “electric” deconstruction of what it means to be a virtuoso musician.