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Thursday 17 May 2018

Brighton Festival 2018 Review: Robbie Thompson's XFRMR @ The Spire

My first visit to The Spire. As you may have guessed from the name it was once a church (St Mark's Chapel, in East Brighton). This one has been converted to an arts venue. It still looks very much like a church though, just missing the pews and altar etc and of course, it has a stage… and wonderfully, and at least on this night, a foyer with seating and a bar.

I loved it as soon as I walked in, dark, dirty, throbbing and not horribly crowded (yup, we were a little late and the artist had already started his set).

Robbie Thompson's work was commissioned by Cryptic for Sonica 2016 and was developed at Cove Park.  

Cryptic is award winning and internationally renowned producing arts house, and Sonica, 'sonic arts for the visually minded' is a year round award-winning touring program dedicated to world-class sonic arts with an eleven day biennial festival in Glasgow and a biennial weekend at Kings Place, London.

Robbie Thompson, based in Glasgow, is a Cryptic associate visual artist working in sound, kinetic sculptures and visuals. His Cryptic projects have been presented around the world. 


The idea behind XFRMR is to use a Tesla coil as a direct way to of synthesizing sound with electricity.

The coil becomes a becomes an acoustic instrument that uses the raw organic energy of plasma to create distorted tones and harsh percussive stabs in a fragmented composition of rough edged techo and pulsating waveforms.

Being partial to hardcore electronic music and good visuals I had been looking forward to this.

Walking in to the main hall I immediately felt I had entered into world that drew its main inspiration from Dr Who and Back to the Future. 

On the stage was a huge cage… and then I remembered... of course, the faraday cage, a mesh used to block the electromagnetic signals produced by an electrostatic conductor. 

The electrostatic conductor enclosed by the cage looked like a 60's idea of an alien, a weird metal mushroom and it was emitting bursts of pulsating, twisting static electricity (much like the more famous Van der Graaf Generator does). 

These burst were somehow fed in the audio system so we could hear them within Robbie Thompson's techno soundtrack. 

The initial sight of this thing centre stage, with a diminutive human to the left hunched over a laptop and the light playing over the cage was pretty jaw-dropping. Sadly that was the best bit.

Thompson's soundtrack referenced three artists I have a lot of respect for; Christian Fennez, Hazard and Aphex Twin, but it did not reach their mark. 

Thompson's composition had none of the clever knowingness and intricately designed audio landscape, and little of the technical excellence of his contempories. 

The electrostatic emissions and the light show kept our attention for twenty minutes, but that was it. 

The show only lasted about an hour but to keep one's attention for that long the audio should have been better. 

Still, I enjoyed the spectacle but it might have been better if I'd taken some appropriate drugs!

Brighton Festival 2018 runs until 27th May. CLICK HERE for more info.

by: Simon Turner




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Photo credit: Mario Cruzado

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