FLORA (Varg & AnnaMelina) at MONOM

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  • The heart of Berlin venue MONOM is its 4DSOUND system, a cross-grid of 48 omnidirectional speakers and nine underfloor subs, intentionally staged in a dark, featureless room. The MONOM concept is demanding of both audience and performer, and its artist residency programme sounds like an intimidating prospect. Once an artist is commissioned for a piece, they are given a week in Berlin to tweak the music and rehearse, all the while trying to get to grips with a complex hybrid soundsystem-instrument. FLORA, the sensually robotic, mournfully human pairing of Varg and AnnaMelina, delivered one of my favourite live performances of 2017. That show, at Norway's Insomnia Festival, is difficult to imagine divorced from its focused staging and song delivery, so I was curious to see how it would adapt to MONOM. I got there during the night's support act, Oli XL. Some people sat and lay in the centre of the floor, while others weaved slowly around the network of speaker towers. The Swede's skeletal drum & bass showcased the height and breadth of the space, with scattershot drum patterns and vocal samples layered over hypnotic bass tones. After a brief intermission, I was ushered back in for FLORA. The smart thing to do seemed to be to stake out some reclinable floor space, but it wasn't to be. Everyone's attention was immediately drawn towards the centre of the room, where Varg and AnnaMelina, invisible in the fog, were speaking. They explained that part way through their residency, they realised that they needed to change their approach. Instead of a live performance, they decided to compose a spatial soundtrack based on their dreams. Tonight's performance would be the first time anyone—including Varg and AnnaMelina—had heard the completed work in full. Their final request—that we stand, move around and interact with all the coordinates of the room—was granted. The sense of living immersion this created was particularly effective with the bookended introduction and coda, which featured a hyper-realistic tropical soundscape. The cinematic and episodic composition in between examined the tension of the dream state, at times freakishly familiar then instantly disorientating. Layered snatches of gothic-sounding dialogue—observations of death, the vision of a woman in peril, the grim inevitability of an cataclysmic event—ended each musical chapter of piano and lush synthesiser sweeps. A passage at the midpoint played with contrasts, interspersing a repeated melody with a thudding sound that punched upwards from under our feet. The penultimate movement felt more calculated, with a shrieking intersection seemingly designed to push all the system's outputs to the extreme. Although I personally missed some of FLORA's icy ennui, the extended applause at the end confirmed that the audience enjoyed the combination of explicit narrative concept and MONOM's unparalleled attention to sonic detail. Photo credit / Becca Crawford