Numbers are a label, but you wouldn't always know that looking at them. THUMP was fortunate enough to spend a weekend in Glasgow recently, absorbing both the city and it's dance scene. We wigged out to king of cosmic disco Prins Thomas, caught a set by legendary Scottish selectors Optimo and spent a night in the infamous Sub Club. But there was one project we witnessed that we haven't been able to get out of our heads since: The Red Bull Music Academy Presents Loops with Numbers.
Scant information had surfaced before the event so even on arrival we were unsure of what was going to greet us at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. Beyond the Numbers seal of approval, the descriptions on offer barely went beyond the words 'sensory' and 'immersive' which could quite easily apply to an Argos head massager. Turning the corner it became apparent that this was a bit better than that. Put simply, Numbers had built a planet.
The crew had been gifted the opportunity to go beyond putting on a night, to go further than the confines of the club. This was a piece that allowed them to access a space that they never thought they'd use. The end product was a large, spherical installation (In collaboration with Studio Remote & Pufferfish) accompanied by a soundtrack from Numbers artists and some of their closest musical friends.
The visuals changed as rapidly as the music. The face of the globe blossomed and spiralled off into countless contortions. As a different soundtracked chapter began, the globe would change in colour and texture - from bright white splinters and harsh soundscapes, to a bubbling orange accompanied by soft dubby rhythms. Whether read as a journey through our planet's core, a tribute to human development, or simply a fucking great lava lamp; the piece held the room. Cross legged and transfixed, shapes and echoes refracting from the ornate gallery ceiling.
Still rubbing our eyes, and immeasurably curious as to how the project had come together, we sat down with a few of those responsible: Neil Morton and Rob Mordue from Numbers, and Adam Rodgers from Studio Remote.
THUMP: I've never seen anything like that. Where does an idea that obscure even start?
Adam Rodgers: We'd been discussing doing some big collaborative art project for a while, then the option came along to work with the Red Bull Music Academy. Their brief was to do something new in a venue we hadn't been in before. That was perfect for us because we are quite nomadic, and love trying new spaces. I'd been thinking about installations, so tried to take some of those ideas to these guys.
Neil Morton: It's always been ongoing though, so the question of where did it start is quite hard to pinpoint. It would go back to why we started in the first place. I think, with Numbers, as much as music it has always been about visuals, from the designs on the records to the posters in the clubs. It's always been something we've been into.
So who came up with the idea of a massive globe?
Adam: The initial seed came from me but then taking it to these guys took it to another level. It was with them that we commissioned all the audio artists and started creating a journey.
How much did you brief the artists who were creating the soundtrack?
Neil: We exchanged ideas, but what they created was completely from them. People did it in different ways.
Adam: We gave them a steer but weren't specific. We gave them some words, some visual aids, and let them do their thing. I guess it is quite a fun thing for them to explore, plus the fact we would be mixing it live on the night.
Did you give them all separate guides to connect to the different visual sections?
Adam: We gave each artists a couple of briefs. There were twelve different ones with recurring motifs. We gave certain things to certain artists based on what we thought would suit them.
Adam: It was then finding a balance, selecting tracks that could create a journey but also create pace. Some were dubby, or ambient...
Neil: ...or harsh. Some were really harsh. It's funny because we hadn't seen it before, so there were points watching it where I was taken aback.
So you had never run it through from start to finish?
Adam: I'd worked with the sound designer on cues but we hadn't ever seen it start to finish. The visuals were sound-reactive and we had controls which allowed us to affect the visuals in real-time. We wanted a live element to the experience. A lot of this was made possible by our sound designer Alex Jurczyk who sequenced the whole thing in Ableton and communicated with the visuals.
Let's get deep and talk meaning boys. Obviously the piece was shaped like a planet and included earthly textures, but many of visuals were also very digital or glitchy. How did you understand the narrative of the piece?
Adam: We intended the journey to start from the centre of earth, through the ocean, out into the clouds into space. We used various references ranging from pop art to glitch art in the later scenes to represent the human element.
Neil: That being said, I enjoy the idea of the narrative being a rough one. The idea that everyone is standing there thinking their own versions is a nice thing.
Did you have any idea how people would respond?
Rob Mordue: We didn't really know how people would react to it and that was part of the excitement. We hadn't really put out what it was going to be. Everyone knew there was this audio-visual installation with these artists, and that it was happening in the GoMA. But those are just words. Nobody knew until they came around the corner, what was on the other side of the wall. So naturally we didn't know how they were going to react. I did love the response we got though.
Where do you go next with something this ambitious?
Neil: Who knows! We always throw a party at Nitsa during Sonar time, and that is a festival where there are always loads of interesting things going on.
Adam: Sonar during the day used to have a lot of installations. I guess this is the sort of thing I would like to see. Music in interesting spaces. It isn't something there is enough of. Electronic music is confined to clubs and it should be celebrated in other places.
Even if 'Loops' is never performed again in this capacity, there will still have been an overwhelming victory in what this group of Glasgow creatives achieved. The project was, naturally, an immediate spectacle and a focus of discussion and reflection. What Numbers crystalised was the prospect that dance music is increasingly an art to be taken seriously, and a genre that deserves to be stretched to its wildest potentials. The scope in ambition, and glorious effect, signifies game-changing perspectives at play.
'Loops' was created by: Studio Remote, Adesse Versions, Anthony Naples, Blawan, Bob Techno, Deadboy, Doc Daneeka, General Ludd, JD Twitch, Line Idle, Lory D, Luma, Kool Clap, Kowton, Midland, Mumdance, Peverelist, Redinho, Sparky, Tersh, Unspecified Enemies, Adam Rodgers, Tomomitsu Kanai, Aleks Jurczyk, Shaun Murphy & Mark Macgregor.
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