Alpha-Ville 2012

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  • Electronic music events tend to be more about hedonism than the appreciation of digital art in London. Alpha-ville, though, is an organisation intent on fostering the latter, in all its forms. This year's festival wasn't possible due to reduced funding, but they instead presented a series of screenings, followed by an evening of audio-visual work in the Hackney Empire theatre. The appearance of an artist from the AntiVJ collective—Simon Geilfus—was particularly exciting. AntiVJ are a visual label that uses fringe techniques in light projection to create some extraordinary effects, and his collaboration with Murcof promised to be unique. The two artists were situated in between a series of parallel, semi-transparent screens. These were then illuminated from the back of the theatre by two stereoscopically placed projectors. Geilfus then used this setup to create three-dimensional, monochrome line art around them. Sometimes, it was the design potential of the medium that particularly grabbed your attention. One section, for example, had structures of cubes and sub-cubes that revolved, throbbed and developed. The graphics were often hugely complex, which was the result of programming that made them self-generative and reactive to the music. A series of circles joined by lines multiplied organically into a sprawling cellular network of immense detail as the sounds burst. In other sections, abstract, quasi-cosmic environments were created around the pair, as we drifted through tunnels of geometric space debris and galaxies of stars. Murcof's Cosmos album formed a large part of the audio element, with a few other sections written specifically for the project. The music ranged from ambient textures of glitches and sampled instruments to the occasional passage driven by angular beat collages. Although the visuals were mostly developed around the music, the impression I got was more like the other way round; that the music served to attach abstract emotions to the abstract environments. As a mesh of bars circled around them, a morose soundtrack gave a sense of what being imprisoned in cold algorithms might feel like. At the beginning of the performance, a low hum accompanied something that looked like a throbbing ball of nails that floated in mid-air. Then, an uncanny digital scream rang out as the ball expanded into ribbons of steel. It was always affecting, and sometimes deeply disturbing. Despite its striking innovation, the project displayed a fully developed sense of cool precision. Even more impressive was how continually gripping it was. Axel Willner's ambient set drew from his Loops Of Your Heart alias and the softer areas of his Field catalogue. So there were glowing, gentle textures, slow synth lines, and repetitions over different time frames. There was also, however, a lack of any visual element. With much more arresting performances before and after him, it felt more like an interlude than a showpiece. (Appearing first wasn't possible due to technical considerations for Murcof and Geilfus). His set gave diversity to the night, though, as well as a kind of alternative charm to the way it developed. Byetone's set, on the other hand, was a showstopper. I expected an hour of grainy, distorted grayscale from the Raster-Noton artist. Instead, the label's asceticism came as an assault of sick breakbeat electro driven by massive kick tones. (You don't often see people raving at the back of a theatre). Byetone is the graphic designer that has driven Raster-Noton's aesthetic over the years, and he provided visuals for the show as well. They were a direct analogue of the sound, acting as powerful stimulation for the retina. Grids of black and white minimalism, motifs of primary shapes and rapid motion and repetition were the devices he used to create a distilled intensity.