Paul Jebanasam and Tarik Barri in Amsterdam

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  • At 8:45 PM on Friday in Amsterdam, the imperceptible fabric of spacetime ruptured. It created a portal on the wall of the Muziekgebouw's Great Hall, a portal that would warp the minds of everyone who had gathered inside this great feat of floating wood and glass and steel engineering. For the preceding 105 minutes (with a short interlude), the crowd were all stoned out of their gourds, riding the highs and lows of a very intense and very potent audiovisual trip. The venue's outstanding acoustics were put to the test over the course of two ostensibly divergent performances—that in fact were not so different after all. Science and religion, the organic and the immaterial, were posited and probed with algorithms and turned into something rapturous. Everyone would leave Muziekgebouw in awe of the power and beauty of technology. Scott Monteith (AKA Deadbeat) and Austrian artist Rainer Kohlberger performed first, collaborating on a piece commissioned by FIBER and Muziekgebouw Monteith played Qawwali Quatsch in its entirety—as it should be heard—while manipulated scenes of Sufi whirling swam in and out of Kohlberger's abstract graphics. Listening to Qawwali Quatsch is like being nestled in a hot-air ballon basket as it gently rises up towards the heavens, and Qawwali music is designed to invoke a similar feeling, a trance-like state that brings you closer to God. Kohlberger's visuals—a heady blend of mesmerising static, optical illusion and excruciating overstimulation—are the computer nerd's equivalent to chasing nirvana. By the performance's neo-classical close, I had drifted off in my own private reverie. Paul Jebanasam and Tarik Barri's Continuum was my live pick of 2016, and I couldn't wait to experience it again. You don't just see and hear Continuum; you feel it in every particle of your being. Jebanasam referred to it as the transformation of ideas into energy, though describing Continuum with words will never do it justice. It's a synergetic piece: the music and visuals work together. It's also an improvised performance, with Barri manipulating forces, time and space within the alternate, computer-generated reality he has created. The visuals the audience sees are "the computer's imagination." There's no prerecorded video, only the impressions of natural elements (earth, wind, water, fire) being digitally brought to life. The music itself is thunderous, flashy and melodramatic, but also deeply poignant. It toys with the pleasure-pain threshold, finding exquisite ecstasy in the extremes. In an interesting twist, the organic sounds in Jebanasam's composition (organs, strings and choirs) are all synthesised, while the digital noise—which forms a striking crescendo towards the end—has been (mostly) written with hardware. At 10:31 PM, the rupture in spacetime was restored, though everyone at Muziekgebouw would feel it for sometime afterwards.