Live Transmission: Joy Division Reworked @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Saturday 28th September 2013

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From the off, it is clear that the evening is going to be unique and an event like no other that I have reviewed. As the title demonstrates it is a reworking of Joy Division’s music by Scanner aka Robin Rimbaud, orchestrated by Tom Trapp, performed by the Heritage Orchestra, with visuals by local artist Matt Watkins; a collaboration commissioned by the Brighton Festival. And as I take my seat, I am still not entirely certain regarding what I am about to experience and, from looking around the auditorium, I don’t believe I am the only one. As the lights are dimmed, the orchestra, consisting of both classical and electric instruments, take to the stage and are enclosed by screens at both the back and front of the performance space. The conductor, Jules Buckley, assumes his central position and the event commences.

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It is difficult to put the experience into words and do justice to the art that is being produced, as it is an assault on both your eyes and ears that drags you into a space irrespective of your own wishes. The music cleverly plays with themes and excerpts from Joy Division’s work whilst maintaining the dark, isolated beauty that the band emanated. The complex patterns and novel instrumentation are controlled admirably by Buckley, a lone shadow whose conducting style has a physical similarity to that of the late Ian Curtis. Meanwhile, the visuals are so engrossing that you feel entirely a part of the performance, whether you are plunging through the layers of a human body or watching the lyrics of Isolation being written and redacted. At times, the images are moving at such a pace it feels that your brain is struggling to fully process all that you are seeing yet this completely enhances the atmosphere being constructed by the music.

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After an emotional adventure, the stage is plunged into darkness and applause erupts only to be quietened by the exquisite beauty of Curtis’ voice singing Love Will Tear Us Apart complemented by sensitive orchestration and delicate imagery. This draws a stunning experience to a close which is genuinely appreciated by all who have been fortunate to be in the audience with a standing ovation directed to everyone who has been involved in such ground-breaking and innovative composition. The one frustrating aspect of the evening was the need for so many of the audience to move around Symphony Hall, as it detracted or obscured the visual element which is so crucial to the experience. Considering the performance lasted no more than 85 minutes, it is unfortunate that people do not have the focus of attention or that the venue insisted that re-entry was restricted to suitable points. However, irrelevant of that minor whinge, this was a truly unique piece that skilfully explored a bulk of work with such reverence and ingenuity that it sincerely paid homage to the legacy of Joy Division.

Review by Toni Woodward

Photos by Andy Watson

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