On a hot early autumn’s night, 50 feet beneath the teeming surface of London, a place of total calm was sanctified with some remarkable and affecting music. The Thames Tunnel Shaft as a music venue is ideal, a decaying chapel of decrepitude; walking down a light-entangled scaffold structure, the audience enters a beautiful lichen soaked cylinder.
Isnaj Dui (aka Katie English) performed first. Her compositions consisted of flute and softly looping electronics, nearby subterranean tube lines provided peripheral bass rumbles. Her music resonated around the space, filling it with her eerie beautiful loops. Like many Outer Church/Front & Follow aligned artists, English’s work exists outside genre in a liminal envelope of inviting weirdness. She employed a subtlety of gesture and sound, sparse and delicate; the manipulation of an electrified zither contradicted the violence and weight of the chamber it was conjured within. The acoustic properties of the space became its own instrument: the clink of shifting chains and percussive cracks of shuffled audience chairs created a random accompaniment. The aching, yearning, long bass sighs coaxed harmony from the mud, concrete and centuries of decay; a faded entropic journey; a tapping of musical ley lines. A remarkable performance.
Dollboy (aka Olivier Cherer) with a small ensemble of musicians, including English, was on next, performing ‘Ghost Stations/Geisterbahnöfe’ in its entirety, shortly to be reissued by Second Language. In the making of this album the artist travelled beneath London and Berlin to record the ambient sounds of abandoned stations. Cherer commented that the sound of actual trains may “render samples irrelevant” but the opposite turned out to be true, the real and recorded sounds of ghostly transport mingled in evocative fashion. Long sad trumpet calls mourned dead facilities; enhanced by the space and silence around the xylophone, keyboard, woodwind and percussion. Smears of brass washed over cymbals and cyclic piano melodies. The samples functioned in a similar fashion to how Constellation Records artists wrap chamber group compositions around environmental field recordings. The performance was an elegy to lost endeavours: a psycho-geographical chamber ensemble; haunted and haunting. The piano was like an industrial-spelunking Satie, and also often recalled Arvo Pärt, piano notes clustering in ringing pairs and stretching off into silence. Occasionally a Ligeti-like dissonance crept in, a skittering menace stalking the tunnels. Delicate melodic threads, a tracery of musical gestures, evoked the entangled transport lines we sat within. Dollboy created an intensely pleasing feedback loop of sound, concept, and practice; beautifully performed and realised.