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LIVE REPORT: Metamono - Secrets Of Nature
David Stubbs , July 3rd, 2014 09:08

David Stubbs heads down to a knees up at St John The Evangelist church in London, as analogue collective Metamono perform at the Crystal Palace Overground Festival. Photo by Paul Grace

In the years following World War I, there was a spate of short nature documentaries in the UK. Although cobbled together by amateur enthusiasts, these films nonetheless take advantage of the burgeoning motion picture technology, including time lapse photography, to illustrate in unprecedented detail the workings of nature hitherto only disseminated in fusty old text books. These were issued on a DVD collection by the BFI. Which is where Crystal Palace analogue collective Metamono come in. Having played a gig at the Hörbar, a small cinema in Hamburg (a gig at which I happened to be present), the group were taken with the idea of soundtracking silent films. Initially, they considered such works as The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari but having decided that live performance to old movies is becoming a slightly laboured trope, they conceived a twist on this format – writing original pieces for each of these individual documentaries, ranging in length from a couple of minutes to 17 or so, as part of the Crystal Palace Overground Festival, the screening fees to the BFI mercifully covered by Film London.

It's a perfect fit, with the films triggering a range of musical responses that reflect the group's own gamut, from pensively ambient to contagiously jaunty. Issued originally under the banner of British Instructional Films, we see germinating spores, caterpillars constructing tents from leaves, crocuses opening, globular cells, honeycombs, even fast forward footage of mould growing on a piece of cheese, along with explanatory captions. There is a silvery, organic wonder and beauty about these images which is mirrored by Metamono and their own ethos – the ancient marvels of now discarded technology capturing natural, spontaneous processes.

Other films include an astonishing short entitled Acrobatic Flies, which shows the almost circus-like ability of these insects to roll small objects in mid-air using their many legs, as well as The Cuckoo's Secret, an instructive yet hilarious short, which reveals on film for the first time that the cuckoo is truly the most unscrupulous bastard in the bird kingdom. Those poor titlarks. Another short tells the story of a young night owl thwarted by wily mice and evading buckshot from a chap whose sleep is interrupted by her nocturnal sing-song.

Metamono's soundtracks are vivid without being literal, exquisitely responsive to each film rather than simply running through a preset bag of tricks. They've previously performed this at the Horniman museum; tonight it's in the almost cathedral-like setting of the St John The Evangelist church, the dark blue of a midsummer's night blazing from the tall windows. Following an intermission, they're back for a more traditional Metamono rave-up; at this point, you might expect an exodus from some of those present in the capacity of nature enthusiasts but the warm, inviting, infectious tones of their vintage equipment proves irresistible and, with the aid of a well-stocked bar, there hasn't been this much fun in a church since the middle ages.

Metamono will be performing at the Sydenham Festival on July 6 and at the All Saints Centre in Lewes on August 2.

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