Zan Lyons/Quayola with Matthias Kispert and Gregor Riddell

Kings Place, London -  3 December 2012

"With Zan Lyons it's best never to let down your guard"

[Live photo]Today was part of a/vant-garde - a series of events (presented by D-Fuse and the Live Cinema Foundation) exploring various facets of the interface between audio and video. They're natural bed fellows and its surprising that in this age of pervasive multimedia that this nexus of creative expression isn't explored in more depth more often. So this night at the superb Kings Hall venue in London (winner of Best Venue in our 2012 Awards) was a great chance to do that. 

First up were pianist Matthias Kispert and cellist Gregor Riddell who were producing a live score to Quayola's Strata Live - an HD video installation. On stage they were a minimal piano and cello playing over a pre-recorded backing track of electronic soundscapes. This turned out to be the perfect example of the flash point between audio and video. The visuals were stunning. Super-high resolution photographs taken of baroque paintings are then digitised and analysed using software developed specifically for this project. The software captures the visual characteristics of the paintings, and then by manipulating the data generates complex geometric formations. 

As Quayola perfectly puts it: "The result is a series of geometric landscapes built within the very same rules behind the compositions, colour schemes and proportions of the paintings themselves.” The original paintings either suddenly shattering (to the sound of tinkling glass shards) into lower resolution versions of themselves; or gradually distorting into abstract light sculptures. Breathtaking creativity and an astonishing attention to detail. I've never seen anything like it before. The combination of Quayola's visuals with Kispert and Riddell's live accompaniment was unforgettable.

[Live photo]Eraserhead and The Exorcist samples and a fleeting sound of the Esper machine from Blade Runner (that only hardcore film nerds would spot ;-)) were next up with headliner Zan Lyons.  A terrifying soundtrack to a creepy movie. The second track of which reminded me of Alison Maclean's black and white 1989 short film Kitchen Sink. Like other musicians in recent years, former London-based Zan Lyons has relocated to Berlin not least because its more affordable for artists than the English capital these days but no less a creative environment in which to work. So it was good to have the opportunity to see Lyons performing back on his old stomping ground. (Chatting to Lyons beforehand, turns out it also had the fringe benefit for him in that he could catch up with his mum who still lives in the capital!) 

Lyons is an act that I admire as much as like. I don't always manage to tune in perfectly with what he does - and tonight was an example of this. Nothing to do with the quality or imagination behind the work but I found tonight's set to be especially dark, in an unsettling way. I figure that was part of Lyons' objective with this piece - which only goes to endorse what I just said. Utilising an unconventional array of musical equipment, his trademark violin and bank of effects pedals very much in evidence, this came across like a piece commissioned specifically for this programme. Not sure if that is the case, but such was the synergy between the pre-event advertising and his show. 

His dark instrumental compositions worked closely in sync with the equally Stygian visuals, also created by Lyons. The image I have indelibly stamped in my memory from the night is of a woodland filmed at night. Juddering video of dark blue hues against an sinister blackness of the night. The image of a woman, head bowed, wearing only a night dress. Flickering... in and out. And, all the time, an oppressive soundtrack heightening the palpable tension created. So, not an evening out for the faint-hearted, nor a first date gig. I imagine a good number of the audience were familiar with Lyons' work. For those who weren't this was a bit like jumping in at the deep end. For those that were, it confirmed that when it comes to Zan Lyons, it's best never to let down your guard nor presume you know what you're going to get. 8/10

Rob Dyer