Friday, 20 January 2012

You are not a drone: The Cult of Quatermass

The Cult of Quatermass took over a basement in Hackney last night. Maps of communication networks and an old Periodic Table are tacked up above the wooden control desk, where a reel-to-reel tape is flanked by flickering video images and an oscillator screen with green lines arcing across it. The panels on the walls are a mass of clunky buttons, switches and knobs, delivering an instant nostalgia kick. And you can touch them (yay). Some seem to shift the noise which fills the air; others don’t have any discernible effect.

The creators emerged unannounced and unsmiling. Willing acolytes crowded the stairs as AAS twiddled dials, stopped and started tapes and climbed ladders to produce a sustained performance of droning, pulsating sounds. There was squealing at the upper reaches of the sonic spectrum while low thrums made the walls vibrate. Sometimes a thought-defeating chaos of noise, at other times different signals and voices seemed to make themselves heard and something more defined and rhythmic took shape as sounds meshed mid-air.

AAS were impassive and focused as they operated the controls and picked their way silently through the crowds of receptive listeners. Upstairs, bottles of Red Stripe swam in a barrel among splintering icebergs.

At first, without introduction and with no obvious moment of beginning, it seemed kind of shambolic and inexplicable. Then it gradually exerted a quasi-hypnotic pull so that the restlessness you felt after 1 minute faded away, and after 10 minutes you could have carried on listening more or less indefinitely. Rising and falling with the sound, dipping in and out of thought and pure hearing. There was something compelling about the slightly clumsy, amateur way it was carried out, the unremarkable clothes and the way that they had to push past people which made it quite genuinely odd and intense.

The Cult of Quatermass was commissioned by Pil & Galia Kollectiv for Xero, Kline and Coma and is developed from the earlier AAS project, The Quatermass Code (2006) which took place at BlocSpace in Sheffield.

It is a sculptural installation of a laboratory control room containing video works, an audio work and machines for producing sounds that can be mixed, live, by the audience. The narrative is built around the characters of Professor Quatermass of the British Sonic Research Unit, a drone band called Samekhmem, a cult of people called ‘Receivers’ and the ‘sacred eternal drone’ that is the obsession of Samekhmem, Receivers and Quatermass alike.

‘Silence. Even a vacuum may contain vibrations. Space itself is the dark matter we seek. All of time is compressed into a single vibrating filament, a new form of religion emerging from alphawaves.’

– Journal entry three months ago

The video and audio works draw inspiration from a range of cultural references and practices including: J. G. Ballard, Situationist dérives, audiomancy, William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, and glitching.

The Cult of Quatermass is at xero, kline & coma, 258 Hackney Road, London E2 7SJ, until 21 February 2012 (weekends only, 12.00-18.00).

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