Floating Points – ‘Reflections – Mojave Desert’ at The Barbican, London

Floating Point’s first short film proves that the arid desert landscape is anything but sparse by marrying space, sound, art and science.

‘Reflections – Mojave Desert’ finds Sam Shepherd and the Floating Points band in a thrilling sonic exploration of the environment under an endless desert sky. The project itself is positioned as spontaneous exploration – a ‘field recording’. Sam explains that the band had headed to a small solar powered shack in the middle of the Californian desert to rehearse new material between tour dates. Upon discovering the unique sound of the desert breeze crashing through rocky peaks, the echos of crows and coyotes, Sam was inspired to take a whole new direction.

He called upon Anna Diaz Ortuño who had previously directed the incredible video for Silhouettes (see below). Between just a handful of under-equipped people, the bipolar weather and kilos of sand, a 30 minute short film was born.

In the most challenging of locations, the combination of Sheperd’s sonic experimentation and the visual direction of Diaz really comes into its own. The audience follows the recording equipment as it is placed at different distances from the sounds source. We see clearly how Sam uses space to modulate this sound. Next he skips and dances around the rocky outcrops with a parabolic microphone, technology more associated with vintage spy movies. His movements reveal a rich tapestry of reverb as synths bounce against the organic structures and dust-filled winds; the variation in sound only matched by the striking biodiversity showcased by the camerawork.

The tracks we hear laid over this desert hiss are pieces that the band had been working on and were rehearsing during their time in the solar powered shack. The compositions are as expansive as their surroundings. What is most noticeable, in the tumbling breakdowns of first track “Silaurian Blue”, is its prog-rock/post-rock afflictions. Having a “band” format has clearly had it’s influence on Shepherd’s sounds, something he admits to in later questioning, referencing Krautrock pioneers Harmonia and their “Live 1974” record.

In the post screening Q&A, the crowd question Shepherd on his intentions and ideas for this project, which in itself is missing the point. This project celebrates discovery at its finest; unplanned, organic and imperfect. In its mission to make the behaviour of sound visible, it has wholeheartedly succeeded.

With talks of follow up projects, including modulating sounds through the movements of a dancer, we wait with anticipation for the next steps from this softly spoken genius. It’s thanks again to the Barbican for continuing to showcase some of the most forward thinking programming in the capital. Here are our picks for the coming months:

Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason: Music for Sólaris / 29 July ’17
Transcender 2017 featuring Midori Takada / 28 September ’17
Wolfgang Voigt aka GAS / 8 October ’17
Dasha Rush + LCC / 18 October ’17
Nils Frahm – All Melody / February ’18

Words by David March.

Find out more and buy tickets here.

Buy Reflections – Mojave Desert (Digital, Vinyl, CD, DVD) here.

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