Dressed in head-to-toe white, London-based artist Matthew Stone took the stage at Soho Studios in Miami on Saturday night to introduce what he promised would be “a momentary pause within ordinary life” – a new audiovisual installation, Other Worlds, featuring music by Dev Hynes.
Some of those lured to the warehouse space by East Village gallery The Hole with the promise of free Ketel One might’ve been expecting a Blood Orange show on this party-packed evening; if so, they were in for a surprise. Stone told the 100 or so people seated on folding chairs in front of an ominous black tarp that the room would soon go dark, and those needing to leave should “take extreme care” while heading for the exit. Not that they should worry: his introduction was intended to “lead your body through this experience and to give you assurance on how to enter into the performance easily, safely and without fear.”
“Do not be afraid,” he said. “I seek beauty, not power.”
As the arpeggios continued, plodding industrial noises began underscoring them while the audience wondered what was going to happen with the mountainous LED tarp in front of them. Then came a section of muscular chords that seemed to be leading into techno territory, but instead of heading anywhere familiar, they were gradually overtaken by a growing, ominous static and loud recurring pulses that evoked the murderous stride of helldogs (or maybe that was just me). About 10 minutes in, any semblance of conventional music disappeared and the audience was subjected to a good 10 minutes of an oscillating bass drone that rattled the eardrums and the warehouse space’s wooden rafters. Then, finally, as Hynes’s composition took over, the LED screen brightened and a handful of dancers emerged from behind it; they tussled and fell to the ground, except for two who remained standing in a sort of exhausted post-coital embrace.
After the performance, Stone asked a publicist, “How many people walked out, honestly?”
She estimated 15 to 20 and he accused her of sugarcoating it. When a longer, more visually oriented version of the piece occurred in the basement of The Hole during the Performa festival in 2011, half the room apparently walked out.
The piece has had several incarnations. In 2012, when Stone presented it at the Marrakech Biennale in collaboration with Phoebe Collings-James, it occurred in a traditional hamam, meaning there were separate performances for men and women. Another version incorporated a band playing baroque instruments.
A couple of years ago, Hynes actually played cello during one performance – though, funny enough, both he and Stone had forgotten they had collaborated before when Stone came to him this year with a mandate to create what Hynes described as a “refreshing stepping-out-from-behind-the-curtain kind of moment” following (Stone’s words) a “30 minute drone designed to put audience into trance.”
The piece was influenced by a brand of “core” shamanism popularized in the ‘60s – but also by watching Einstürzende Neubauten perform an encore, Stone said. “Unfortunately we can only do one song for you,” Stone remembers Blixa Bargeld saying. “But fortunately it is 35 minutes long.”
“And they played this thing and these big chord waves came in, and with each wave I felt a different part of my body disappear,” Stone recalled. “I could feel that I wasn’t in my body anymore.”
Stone hoped his piece would provoke a similar experience, though mileage varies. “Some people have told me they found it intensely relaxing and they’ve found it really comforting and some people have said it gave them anxiety the whole way through but they enjoyed the challenge and that by crossing through it, that represented an achievement.”
Not that I was hallucinating, but during Saturday’s performance I felt like the black tarp might have been subtly moving, or melting. Others have had similar reactions. “I did it in Denmark in a room filled with life-size marble statues,” Stone said, “and people were asking me if we put anamtronic marbles in there because they saw them move.”
Hynes, who visualizes sound thanks to a phenomenon known as synethesia, had a unique reaction. “I was imaging throbbing black and browns were happening and then it was like escaping mentally,” he said.
That’s just the kind of response Stone is looking for. “I believe it’s really exciting to experience art on an intuitive level,” he said. “People have to trust their instincts on things rather than feel intimidated by things a lot of the time… There’s still room for a deep visceral experience.”
For Hynes’s part, he’ll be doing more of these types of pieces in the future. “What I’ve been really into lately is the idea of making music that its purpose is existing live,” he told us. “That’s exciting to me – the idea that this piece of music will never be heard, maybe, in this live setting ever again.”