LIVE REPORT: Sounds & Visions at The Barbican

Max Richter, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Jlin open a weekend of connections, experiments and politics

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Every gig at Sounds & Visions, a weekend curated by prolific contemporary classical composer Richter and creative director Yulia Mahr, has been created to show how (in the words of Richter and Mahr) “creativity exists as a social project that can illuminate the lives of individuals and society… art exists beyond all boundaries”. None of the three performances tonight wears its socially rooted inspirations on its sleeve but as the visuals, dance, light and music weave together and make their connections with the wider world, they all remind us that art never exists in a vacuum.

First up is Indiana footwork visionary Jlin, whose newly composed incendiary compositions tonight soundtrack the contemporary dance of Lilian Grace Steiner and visual projections from Theresa Baumgartner. The piece opens out from a dense cloud of smoke with complex, razor-sharp rhythms and disquieting vocal samples. Steiner’s movements, by contrast, are defined by their fluidity. At once loose and precise, the mercurial interplay between the music and dance is embellished by Baumgartner’s frosty, minimal visuals. Spotlights stab through the fog, the lightning to Jlin’s sonic thunder.

Max Richter and the 12 Ensemble

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith follows with a transcendent play-through of 2017’s remarkable The Kid. The LA-based composer and synthesist creates hypnotic, cascading sounds using the Buchla, a series of effects pedals and her altered vocals, and it is enthralling. The album looks at our journey from birth to death, and is perhaps a more introspective affair than the other performances tonight, but Smith conveys a powerful sense of universality and unity, as vivid colours swell and weave together on a cosmic backdrop.

Max Richter is joined by the 12 Ensemble for a rendition of 2010 work Infra. Originally composed as a meditation of sorts on the London bombings in July 2005, the piece was choreographed as a ballet by Wayne McGregor. Tonight the melancholic, beautiful composition for piano, strings and electronics is embellished by a simple visual backdrop, with silhouette figures walking across the screen throughout. Something about the mundane imagery being coupled with such poignant composition is extremely affecting. The piece, as with the other performances tonight, speaks to the influence of social and political tensions on art – sometimes subtle but always there.

Lilian Grace Steiner. Thanks to Mark Allan and the Barbican for the photos

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