If there was ever a way to see to the beginning of the end of Decibel Festival, it was at OPTICAL 5: Undercurrent at the Triple Door on Sunday night. Not only was a worn-out but happy audience treated to the ambient wanderings of Loscil, composer Christina Vantzou, and the prolific Windy & Carl, but to a farewell and thank you by the whole fantastic group of Decibel Orchestrators. It was a long and beautiful five days, so thank you, everyone who created and helped run this festival.
Loscil played several pieces on grand piano, augmented with atmospheric washes of electronic sounds. The music was sparse, elegiac, and dark, seeming like a soundtrack for exploratory probes orbiting distant planets. The accompanying visuals were perhaps more down to earth but equally ambient: fast-swirling clouds, abstract light patterns, as spacious and atmospheric as the music. Together, they set the very moody stage for the rest of the evening.
Christina Vantzou is a composer who lives in Brussels, as she told us, and who I only know about because of my research as I was writing previews. She came up first as a visual artist, but I quickly learned about her compositions - just about a year ago, she released Nº1 on Kranky, which is Windy and Carl’s label. This presentation of the piece was as she intended it: with the carefully created visuals accompanying the performance.
While the performance was beautiful it was - and it played with the idea of - opaque and often befuddling. During one song, an airplane flew through the sky, blurred and seemingly barely moving to the sound of bells, or are they bells? A few songs later the screen read something about a business man, whom I immediately placed inside the plane. Imagines of intense nostalgia were broken by images of obstructed vision: a mountain hidden behind a blurred geometric abstraction. Each part was a “chapter” lending me the desire to interpret each part of the performance the way one would a book. At the end came vintage film of audiences, and I had the uneasy feeling of myself being watched while watching. The performance was not the easy experience of simple emotion, it was instead at times uncomfortable, at times jarring in Vantzou’s own quiet way. Vantzou herself moved between orchestrating, with a hand raised and a look of meditation on her face, and standing off to the side watching, or standing at her computer pulling electronic sounds from seemingly nowhere. To start the whole performance off she recorded us, the audience, singing a single note - she is compiling notes from audiences everywhere for her next piece. Needless to say, I’m excited.
To close the night, Optical brought out the infamous Windy & Carl, who basically created the scene around ambient music back in the 90s and are currently running their record label Kranky and releasing the likes of Christina. Their performance was a humble one. Most of the time they were barely visible in the darkness of the front of the stage. Windy’s vocals spun and were drowned and soared above and did everything in between - not in the pop way, in the ambient indistinguishable but arresting way. After the thought provoking performance by Vantzou and her group, Windy & Carl were a welcome dive into fresh cold ambient bliss.
Thanks again to everyone who put on this fantastic festival.