One of the more intriguing parts to Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival programme was the three late-night performances in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer of Liminal, a new collaborative ambient piece by Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi, visual artist/musician Alex Somers and sound designer Paul Corley. As we enter the foyer it becomes clear this won’t be a regular gig. Everyone is invited to lie on a foam mat on the ground, around which candles are positioned throughout the space. There is plentiful dry ice, so much so that its only possible to make out vague outlines of the artists behind a sound desk. As atmospheres go it’s all rather mellow and sedate. The music begins slowly, all low-end, rumbling bass and we begin our drift towards Another Place.
A mixtape shared prior to the event collected pieces by all three artists and also featured a track by Northumbrian sound artist Chris Watson. This is especially interesting and appropriate given that much of Liminal’s music sounds like the sort of material that could have been released on Touch, a label that has become one of the premier sources of dark ambient/experimental instrumental music in recent years.
Just as we’re getting used to this musical late night foray through darkened forests – some of us more than others, with a semi-seen form reclined to our left merrily snoring away – Jónsi’s vocal emerges like a beam of white light through the dense fog. There’s swathes of organ, a gentle ringing of bells, bass tremors. Yet, the main take-out is the reminder we get of the remarkable powers of Jónsi’s swooping voice, which ascends to lofty pinnacles, unearthing forgotten ecstasies along the way. It’s like listening to Sigur Rós at 37,000 feet, immersed among the clouds.
As the slowly shifting soundscapes continue to unfurl, three figures in semi-transparent robes holding candles walk among the audience, as if in some sort of dream-like ceremony. The asceticism of these unanticipated visual forms is an apt match to the purity of the music. Jónsi’s vocals continue to filter in and out, helping repair damaged souls along the way. We can’t help but lie back and think of Iceland.
After an hour the music ends, the silhouettes of the performers disappear and we awake from our semi-sleep. Part sound installation, part art piece, part musical experiment, Liminal offered a promising glimpse into interesting possible future directions for all artists involved.