Review: Midori Takada and Visible Cloaks at the Barbican Centre

“Unnerving and comforting, minimal and maximal in equal measures and in no particular order.”

From the outset, it was clear that this evening at the Barbican’s Milton Hall wasn’t going to be easy on the brain. An audio visual performance by Portland duo Visible Cloaks begins with jarring chaotic wobbles of sound whilst the towering screen above blasts cycles of primary colours. If anyone was sleepy arriving this Thursday evening, they weren’t anymore. Slowly the clutter of clicks, whistles and chimes smooths out into blissful, woozy rhythms. These organic sounds take on synthetic properties, vocals digitised beyond recognition, it’s like we have entered a rudimentary matrix. The visuals match this hypothesis perfectly, hypnotising geometrics in technicolour, like Minecraft on mescaline. Our brain cavities are left suitably open for the upcoming main attraction.

In the world of 80’s minimalism and ambient music, filled with western male artists (Eno, Reich, Glass), Takada was a Japanese female composer with a penchant for Asian and African percussion. Her solo album Through The Looking Glass (1983) was heralded as a minimal masterpiece and has since gained such a cult following, that a copy of the original vinyl is worth its weight in gold. Takada recorded this album in just two days; she explored all wonders of instruments, layering them over and over. Interweaving rolling wooden percussion with ethereal recorders, cowbells and bird calls, she painted an enveloping universe of serenity and drama. While many in attendance may have discovered her through this album, tonight was by no means a rendition. Instead we were treated to a head-first trip into Takada’s world, part percussion, part theatre.

Takada’s performance begins with the use of silence to commanding effect before manipulating a gong to emulate the sounds of icy winds and the howls of night creatures. Her greatest abilities shine when she takes to the marimba; playing hypnotic, swirling melodies that captivate the entire audience. Things end on a more abstract note. Cymbals illuminated by spotlights are dotted across the stage forming a constellation that Takada dances between, bouncing delicate crashes on each disc as she paces across the stage uttering an unknown incantation. The show is unnerving and comforting, minimal and maximal in equal measures and in no particular order. While it may not be the progressive journey of “Through the Looking Glass”, it’s certainly an experience I won’t forget.

Words by David March

Read our run down of the Barbican’s 2017/18 winter shows here.

Find the full Autumn/Winter calendar of contemporary music at the Barbican here.

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