SKALAR Live in Amsterdam

  • Kangding Ray and Christopher Bauder dazzle thousands at Gashouder with their spectacle of light and sound.
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  • SKALAR, the collaborative project from the installation artist Christopher Bauder and the architect-turned-techno musician David Letellier (AKA Kangding Ray), is designed to provoke instinctive emotional responses through light, motion and sound. It's not supposed to be intellectualised too much, only felt. Bauder and Letellier's tools were a swarm of kinetic mirrored discs hovering from the ceiling, a mutating spectrum of coloured lights and a granulated soundtrack (by Lettelier) cascading across a state-of-the-art, multi-channel soundsystem. The venue was the monumental Gashouder in Amsterdam's hip Westergas complex. Friday's hour-long performance promised an expanded version of the duo's light and sound choreography, orchestrated by the creators themselves in real time. We were officially told to stand—3,500 people sprawled across the concrete floor was a potential fire hazard. This was largely ignored by those directly beneath the unblinking mirror swarm. These rebels came armed with blankets, and there was the distinct smell of illicit weed smoke in the air. Impatient clapping morphed into excited wolf whistles as Bauder, after a 15-minute delay, took the mic to announce the start. White beams of light slashed through the crowd as electronic pulses rolled from left to right around the speaker stacks, hemming us into the piece, like an invisible cage. Then the mirror swarm began its dance, flashing red to blue to green, deflecting beams of light into the crowd and around Gashouder's gorgeous, industrial interior. The key to SKALAR is this interaction between installation and environment. The shadow play from the mirrored disks across the walls was just as worthy as the flashy "light sculptures" and mechanical trickery. There's also the audio, which might have had more of an impact in isolation. There were times when the UFO spectacle was a bit on the nose—some parts looked like scenes from a 1950s sci-fi B-movie. After 45 minutes, Letellier let rip into full-throttle techno. Paired with just strobing blue lights, I felt like I was back at Awakenings, the world-class techno event that's called Gashouder home since 1997. The orange, sun-evoking finale did procure a gasp from the crowd. My highlight, though, was when the houselights came on unprompted after 15 minutes. I thought it was part of the show, until Letellier stopped the music and Bauder confirmed there was a problem. This messy moment amid an otherwise slick display of tech-wizardry was a stark reminder that while emotions can be triggered, they can't always, if ever, be controlled. Photo credit / Kirsten van Santen