Matthew Bourne, Franck Vigroux, Antoine Schmitt - Radioland: Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity Live

The Jazz Cafe, London - 6 May 2017

"A Zen-like meditation on the space between the clicks"

Perrirer Jazz award-winning Matthew Bourne is a pianist and composer in his own right. But some years ago he teamed up with sound artist and composer Franck Vigroux and installation artist Antoine Schmitt to interpret Kraftwerk's seminal (and my personal favourite) 1971 album Radio-Activity.

This was an evening in minimalism on just about every front. Where less equals more.

Less music. Less visuals. Less colour. Less time.

Less music because, even by Kraftwerk's already minimal source material, Bourne and co distilled the already spartan original recordings, further reducing them to their constituent parts.

This was immediately apparent on the opening Geiger Counter. Which, given that Kraftwerk's composition is little more than a synthsised noise of the clicks of geiger counter, is quite an achievement! The trick they pull is to extend the original's 1:07 running time out to an astonishing seven minutes. So, whilst the pace of the Kraftwerk track quickly builds in a compressed minute as the repetition of the geiger clicks increases tempo, the Bourne/Vigroux version transforms it into a Zen-like meditation on the space between the clicks, as much as being about the clicks themselves.

Curiously, they choose not to play the tracks in the order in which they appear on Kraftwerk's album. For some reason, they also don't perform Ohm Sweet Ohm - which is a real shame, as not only is it one of the finest compositons on the album, but I'd have thought would lend itself well to the challenge of distillation Bourne and Vigroux apply. Every other song is reduced to the bare minimum elements making some almost unrecognisable. Surprisingly though, it is the track that this show takes its name from, Radioland, that is the least tweaked and most readily recognisable. Are these versions of the originals 'better' than Kraftwerks? No. But that's not the point. Nor, I suspect, the objective. It's a genuine use of the phrase 'reinterpretation' - which is often used in a disingenous way. Whereas here it is entirely appropriate and correct.

Radioland: Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity Live      Radioland: Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity Live        Radioland: Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity Live

Less visuals and less colour compared with what Kraftwerk have been using for some years live. I adore the monochrome aesthetic of the original Radio-Activity album. Therefore, I never did much like the flashing bright red and yellow graphics when the titular song was performed by Kraftwerk on tour. By teamng up with visual artist Antoine Schmitt, what Bourne/Vigroux have cleverly done is to invite Schmitt to join them in their self-imposed, restricted palette. And Schmitt has risen to the challenge admirably. His live mixed visuals restrict themselves to white pixels on a black canvass - echoing that glorious monochrome of the original album artwork.

Thankfully, applying more effort than most, Schmitt uses software akin to Jeff Minter's groundbreaking VLM (Virtual Light Machine) engine. It works by responding to the music but can be further manipulated in real-time by the operator. However, in contrast to Minter's psychedelic VLM pattern bays (where the more colourful the better basically), for Radioland Schmitt sticks to creating white pixels only. Though the psychedelic/trippy feeling is almost as effective.

It's certainly immersive. I found myself staring intently at the white patterns. Driven by the soundtrack, I was steadily being drawn deeper and deeper into the screen and into a trance-like state.

Bourne was on the left-hand side of the stage mainly ustilising a Mini-Moog, MemoryMoog and a Korg MS10. Vigroux was on the right hand side and had more contemporary gear and controllers, providing most of the vocodered vocals. Centre stage, directly below the screen was Schmitt, controlling the visuals via a laptop. There was virtually no recognition of the audience as each member focused on their role and parts throughout.

The 'less time' aspect of my intro relates to the evening as a whole. Whereas Bourne/Vigroux/Schmitt's takes on the individual songs on the album is longer than the originals, there was no suppoort act. The entire performance lasted just less than 45 minutes. There was no 'encore'. That was it. The performance, the experience and the night was over in well under an hour. It made the whole thing more impacting as a consequence.

So, do I prefer Matthew Bourne and Franck Vigroux's re-interpretation of the almighty original Kraftwerk recordings? No. But I know which live version thrills and excites me the most, and it isn't the one performed these days by the four German gentlemen. A remarkable evening. 8/10

Review+ Photos: Rob Dyer