Review: Electric Voice Phenomena

jpegHave you ever been to a séance? Have you ever been tempted to try to contact the other side? Have you ever felt the presence of some ethereal being? Or have you always been the sensible, cynical type that thinks all of that is rot? Well, either way, the boundary-pushing, ground-breaking and dimension-rattling cabaret that is Electronic Voice Phenomena will certainly make you question the beliefs you hold most dear.

Electronic Voice Phenomena combines experimental technology, literature, music and performance in a show that focuses, quite bluntly, on death and the afterlife. The project is inspired by the notorious ‘Breakthrough’ experiments conducted by Konstantin Raudive in the 1970s, where he captured voices-from-beyond in electronic noise.

This show is unique. It is not easy, not always clear and certainly not easily comprehensible. But it is fascinating. The wordsmith SJ Fowler acts almost like a compere, being the through line, almost a reference point that keeps the audience anchored into the proceedings. This is very useful, and makes the show nicely coherent. He tells us that he is a conduit the spirits use to contact the living, flipping the perception that it is only the living that tries to contact the dead. He also introduces the idea of a kind of electronic empathy that the living can find with the dead. These are complex concepts that are gradually elaborated on.

The show is shuffled at each performance by guest performances, but there are some regulars. Ross Sutherland is one of the regulars, whose performance uses the idea of synchronicity that psychologist Carl Jung touched on some of his work, where two separate ‘inputs’ come together and we start to see things that chime as more than coincidence. Using a looped clip from the Crystal Maze as ‘input one’ and some tongue-in-cheek and yet highly personal spoken word pieces as ‘input two’ he demonstrates how we start to identify patterns and coincidences in what otherwise would feel like chaos. The piece becomes about hopelessness and loss and yet finding solace in the sense that we are able to make of chaos.

There are other standout performances from the ‘hauntological synth-pop’ music group Outfit, from the haunting Hannah Silva whose performance focuses on séance and possession and human being’s conflicting instincts, and from Honor Gavin who builds a melancholic soundscape delving into the murmurs heard on a dead telephone line. All use technology in new and interesting ways to complement their performances.

The show always comes back to SJ Fowler. He really stands out of the crowd as an extraordinary performer and poet. The climax of his show comes in a mind-blowing, deeply unsettling and ultimately haunting moment when he is overwhelmed by the bottled resentment he has in him and by the voices of the ghosts that are taking over his head.

It must be said that this show is an acquired taste. There are moments when the art is more about the artist than it is about the audience, and this can make it hard to find a way in. That said, the experimentation in this show is amazing to watch, and the way it deals with such a difficult subject in a head on way is commendable. The show makes the audience feel in a way that most theatre doesn’t. It accesses a fundamental, animalistic emotional response to the material that is hard to explain. And this kind of experiential theatre is incredibly rare. If Electronic Voice Phenomena comes to a theatre near you on its tour, don’t miss it.

Electronic Voice Phenomena is touring until 25 May. For more information and tickets, see