Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Ether stands for, in the words of the Southbank Centre’s own press material, ‘an annual music festival of innovation, art, technology and cross-arts experimentation’. The spirit of the latter was most obviously tapped in to by the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble, recreating their electronic studio music on an ambitious, acoustically driven live platform.
With the trio augmented to 10 players, the look and feel was that of a contemporary classical concert, who at times might have been masquerading as Steve Reich and Musicians. Yet this was such an impressively vital stage show, with imagination, daring and virtuosity from each of the ten ensuring that the audience, while going home on the early side, were nowhere near short changed.
The instrumentation bears some explanation, for it gives a clue to how driven and rhythmic the whole experience was. There were two drum kits, a set of timpani and a marimba – ample percussion, then, and that’s before the rhythmic drive supplied by the others is taken in to account. We had a piano, a Moog, a violin and cello, a tuba and trombone, and finally a harp, which managed to bring across the intricacy of a guitar but which was amplified – as were all the other instruments – at just the right level.
The ensemble frequently teased us with their offbeat introductions to each number, waiting as long as was humanly possible before dropping the all too crucial kick drum. This meant tracks became full of pent up energy before cutting loose in a thrilling release of energy, the players smiling with satisfaction as they did so. 606 ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll went the whole hog, starting with the thinnest of violin lines before progressing to full band meltdown.
New for Brandt Brauer Frick was the introduction of a vocalist, Erika Janunger, and she led the ensemble in a number that sounded like the closing titles of a John Murphy film score, laced with horror and resignation. On the final encore Pretend, however, the mood was far more affirmative, though Emika deliberately refrained from courting centre stage, making sure the ensemble took the credits as one.
Despite its early finish, which was a little anticlimactic, this was a hugely uplifting and invigorating evening, proving beyond doubt that dance music, far from being that facile and simple form that critics love to deride, can be made up of intricate and contrasting layers. With the help of the Brandt Brauer Frick live set-up we explored those layers, and came through with adrenalin coursing through our veins – off the beat, of course.