Decibel’s Optical series were among some of the most spectacular shows at the festival – they often featured the more ambient or simply less danceable music. As Christina Vantzou, who did the visuals for Julianna Barwick during this performance and performed on Sunday, saidb “these will get you into that quiet place.” The Optical 2: Ascension showcase featured musicians who used traditional instruments in an innovative manner – vocals, drums, nature, horns, mixed with computers, synths, loop pedals, reverb. While this performance did not perhaps exemplify quietness exactly, with Maria Minerva‘s bouncing beats and energetic demeanor and Anenon‘s rapid and shrill sax notes, it certainly displayed a different energy than what you would find at later hours of the night at Decibel.
I entered the building to a startling sound: a breathy, sparse, and sharp saxophone vibrating the room. Anenon was recording a several minute long sax solo that sounded unlike any I had ever heard. I would possibly go so far as to say I had never heard that instrument make those sounds. After playing for a few minutes, he switched to the computer, looping and weaving the breathy sparks into a deep web of sound. The accompanying visuals might not have been individualized for him, but the images of lava and outer space flowing by behind the decibel logo were beautiful alongside his music.
Julianna Barwick was originally the musician who peaked my interest in this performance: her glowing glistening The Magic Place, released earlier this year, seemed to me the epitome of beauty. Her voice glistens over synths and though she sings there are no words, instead there is a kind of chanting – a language that you cannot decipher. Barwick’s resonant sounds are often described as religious, and if I were to describe them further it would be in visual terms – the shine of a bright light off blue water, the prismatic effect that stained glass has when the sun is directly behind it, light and sparkling. Perhaps the only flaw of the performance was that at the end of each song the audio would cut off rather suddenly. With music as moving as Julianna’s, I had hoped for the quiet fade out that typically accompanies a quiet fade in. Christina Vantzou created the accompanying visuals: nostalgic images of people walking down a winter street, a girl who repeats one action endlessly, water reflecting glittering but cold light.
Finishing off the set was a needed energy boost. Maria Minerva walked her six foot tall self onto the stage and as soon as she turned on her equipment, heads were bobbing. What started as a bedroom lo-fi recording out of boredom and desperation from Estonia has become a still lo-fi production while still being the least boring and desperate thing possible. She sings about love quite often, backed by 70s and 60s dance beats that are warped and winded into the lyrics. And girl has energy, and if her presence wasn’t enough, her bobbing and accented stage conversation was riveting even though she said very little. It’s her first tour here, and it’s really just too bad more people weren’t at the show. Throughout her set, the visuals oscillated from geometric to glowing, from syncopated strobe to swirling lights. For those who were there, seeing these three diverse musicians perform on the same stage was a totally absorbing experience.