To understand the curtain, you need to walk through it.
The London Contemporary Orchestra’s (LCO) return to the Curtain Call was a sellout – following previous collaboration efforts with the likes of Actress and William Basinski, this was unsurprising. That said, the usual suffocation and breathlessness associated with a sold out show’s preamble didn’t ever materialise. Walking into The Roundhouse’s iconic circular space you’re instead greeted with Ron Arad’s Curtain Call: The Israeli designer’s 360-degree installation made of 5600 floor-to-ceiling silicon rods that freely cascade from an 18-meter diameter ring. The Curtain called Camden home this summer and has already hosted the likes of Matthew Hebert and recent Warp signee GAIKA.
Concealing audience and several stages, the looming structure feels fully submerged in the iconic Main Space and commands a certain tranquility through the refraction of light on rods. As the show progressed, people reshuffled, acknowledging the curtain’s 720-degree properties, instead choosing to experience sound and visuals from alternative interior and exterior angles. While tantalising in its own right, the construction serves only as a canvas for a set of accompanying visuals. Arad’s vision is an immersive one, encouraging audiences to envelop themselves in the suspension while listening:
“Walk in, penetrate, cross the moving images to get inside the cylinder. You’ll be engulfed by images –a captive, but also a creator.”
This innovative approach to artistic consumption seems apt on this occasion with the LCO enlisting Yoko Ono, CHAINES, John Tavener and Morton Feldman to exhibit work. Also on the bill is classically trained experimentalist, Mica Levi. The east London-based musician has a multi-faceted sleight of hand, having already released three studio records with The Shapes, a live album with the London Sinfonetta Orchestra and a film score for Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’. A string quartet begins to play as Levi remains in the audience. The arrangement, delivered in parts and complemented with a curtain full of flickering layers of the female form, is both commanding and sullen. While its trill strings, tensely ascending microtones and sensual imagery align the eroticism evoked in ‘Under the Skin’, this is not its hallmark. The phrases played by each member seemingly chase one another and at times respond sporadically and unknowingly. This, coupled with intervals of silence interspersed throughout creates a strong feeling of intimacy, that, at times, sounded as if it was too sentimental for an audience, like something you might accidentally overhear.
Performance is easily, and probably lazily, thought of as something quite binary; offered by one and consumed by another, and wasted if not taken in the right way. This is exemplified in dance music by architecture and brand, with towering DJ booths, festival stages and the like severing act from audience. Standing in the womb of Ron Arad’s curtain, this claim becomes mute.
With an audience that’s permitted the freedom to move through, within and outside the designer’s un-worldly depths, a new closeness is fostered. Witnessing Levi’s piece begin – transitioning from dancing string trills to sombre cello-led phrases – is captivating in itself, but the spectacle becomes all the more human with a grazing audience that comes and goes as it pleases.
Words: Nick Moore