Arctic Circle Orchestra (Ether 2006)

Hayward Gallery, London - 17 March 2006

"A neat piece of cross promotion"

[Flavin Exhibition flyer]The original reason for being here tonight was the Dan Flavin exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, the South Bank London home to all arty things contemporary. Flavin was a New York artist born in 1933 who died in '96. I'd never heard of him, but since he got a three month retrospective at the Hayward and the show had received rave reviews, seems I was still way short of joining the clerisy. Flavin's art consists of brightly coloured fluorescent tube lights propped against walls in various ways. Sounds simple and in execution it is, but certain combinations of colours in certain sculptural compositions were surprisingly effective, sparking surprisingly entertaining (rather than pretentious) discussions with my pal Tim.

As part of the exhibition the organisers had commissioned a series of six musical works aimed at complementing specific installations. Visitors could download the music to their MP3 player in advance and just turn up; or you could hire suitably minimalist white iPod Nanos with the tracks pre-loaded for an additional cost. (We didn't bother.)

[Arctic Circle event]In a neat piece of cross promotion that the South Bank organisers are so good at, in addition to the Flavin exhibition, this evening provided a collaboration with the annual Ether festival and several artists operating under the Arctic Circle banner were at hand both inside the exhibition space itself and upstairs in the Hayward Pavilion to provide the musical dimension. Inside, The Arctic Circle Orchestra lent a chamber orchestra air to one of the galleries. Their classically-inspired sound softly drifted around the space in dramatic juxtaposition to the Hayward's stark grey concrete walls and the spartan Flavin exhibits. But it worked remarkably well. Strolling around felt something like being an extra in some Gattaca-esque future world. Very cool.

Outside the exhibition space an impromptu bar was set up opposite the ticket counter and a corner of the upstairs pavilion overlooking Waterloo Bridge was given over to the other Arctic Circle collaborators. The Circle is a community of composers, artists and VJs who put on performances that combine all three with an array of instrumentation and technology; from acoustic guitars to laptops and plasma screen visuals. A glance at the running order showed that The High Lamas were on the bill. I'd previously seen them in Japan in 2000 but was largely underwhelmed. Therefore, my friend and I were deep in philosophical discussions in the bar downstairs when they were performing so they provided little more than background noise. Of those early DJs that we did get to hear, whilst some of their choices were appealing, there was a little too much soft-lounge styling for me. Although, I don't deny that the sound worked well in the environment.

As a concept in bringing together the tripartite of the Ether Festival, the Flavin Exhibition and the Arctic Circle artists this was a great success. Just a shame that the music itself wasn't more to my tastes. The exhibition though was really very good.

Rob Dyer

See also:

Ether 2005 (Festival) - Queen Elizabeth Hall, London - 14 March 2005
Granular Synthesis - NMPFT, Bradford - 28 July - 10 September 2000