This July, art-rock band The Neutrinos and visual artist Sal Pittman reform their sell-out, critically acclaimed performance of KlangHaus: On Air from 2016. Born-again as KlangHaus: 800 Breaths, the partnership returns to the roof spaces of Royal Festival Hall in a reinvention of the gig-going experience as a site-responsive, promenade performance.
Blending electronica, improvisation and disorientation, this multi-sensory experience gathers sounds and atmospheres from the walls of the building to reveal an unheard auditory and visual world. On this journey, shifting sounds, colour and light are encountered in the form of cinematic installations, and the two forms marry to create a secret home for this totally unique presentation of live music.
Whale song echoes inside the walls of a blue fire escape, and KlangHaus: 800 Breaths begins. Four hosts guide the audience through a maze of ventilation pathways, landing in holes with gauze screens and projectors. Lustrous footage burns through the space, illuminating isometric shapes and song lyrics that blister once bare surfaces. Instruments hide among machinery and supply ducts, and members of The Neutrinos emerge from the depths of the plenums.
A storm crashes and a biplane flies overhead, the sound of its engine rousing string cobwebs and a large stretch of cellophane. Thunder rumbles in reply, and drums sound from the heart of the Southbank Centre. Mouths chatter and teeth grind together as the band journey through their album, ‘Haus’. Melodies leaked into the skin before settling in the chest, and moored the body of the audience at the edges of their chorus.
High pitched, otherworldly noises escaped from human mouths and the band dance at the threshold of worlds to come, and worlds already passed. Lit by naked lampshades, the ensemble played, buzzing from the electronic circuits that amplified their sound. A rose blooms and a steam train rolls at the heels of the spectators as they are escorted from place to place. White tape slithers across the floor and shadows flash across the face of an overexposed television screen, guarding the mouth of a musical cave. Here, strings are played backwards, some mute, slapping thickly against frets as they chase deep sea divers that swim across an ocean on the ceiling.
Technical apparatus and stagehands were visible throughout, drenching the adventure in reds and blues. The eve of every track called for a moment of stillness, and the intimacy of the space provided no respite from the volume of the performers. At times, the voices of the singers tended to become distorted, but these episodes were eclipsed by the advantages of the location. It was able to create a passage for the transmission of sound between separate spaces, an innovation that served well as the piece endured.
The intensity of the amplifiers caused the natural world to be all but blasted from the conscious brain, and so when the guides clambered on to an open roof space, reality rushed back with a sickening vertigo. The eclectic subgenre clung to pedestrians and cars as they crawled across the asphalt, pulling them into a performative state. The London Eye towered over the city landscape, refusing to waver in the breeze that was stealing the final song away. As The Neutrinos became silent, it was then that the wind whispered a careful reminder: “Don’t forget to breathe”.
KlangHaus: 800 Breaths is playing at Southbank Centre until July 23.