Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Ecstatic Arc @ Tramway

Following on from Inducer - a Cryptic night collaboration that animated the broken husks of mechanical gods - Robbie Thomson's Ecstatic Arc rescues the tesla coil from scientific scrutiny for a study of the evolution of electricity. Sound-tracked by appropriately alien-sounding electronic music, although the climax features suspiciously old school beats, Thomson rotates a lighting scheme around various metal and electrical sculptures, before finally revealing his magnificent coil, sparking and cracking to life in bolts of purple energy.

Thomson's technique, of crafting suggestive objects from discarded or found materials, lend the performance the atmosphere of a modernist installation. Wires suggested out-dated satellites, the flash of small white lights illuminating patches of what appears to be a factory space. Beginning in darkness, and gradually revealing each of the pieces, Ecstatic Arc follow a clear narrative: a creation myth, as smaller flashes give way to the majestic finale.

Ecstatic Arc describes the development of electrical energy. From the tentative first movements - the tiny lights flickering, the music growling in fragmented menace - to the dramatic unveiling of the huge tesla coil, electricity is manifesting itself as light and sound. The almost timid introduction gives way to more recognisable shapes and more light: suspended from the ceiling, tangles of wires evoke antennae or the remains of a 1970s space programme. Even the coil itself has a certain nostalgia: massive, industrial, it is caged like a dangerous animal, a reminder of how raw electricity is dangerous as well as generous.

By moving from the tamed lights of the introduction towards the wild explosions of the coil, Thomson uncovers the journey of electricity from its brute creation to polite bringer of light and heat. The smell of ozone and the volume of the finale recast electricity, evoking the mad scientist of b-movies, the moment when Frankenstein gives life to his monster. The programme notes express Thomson's worry that electricity has become too distant, that the elegant computer interface hides its source of power, like the packaging of meat disguises the slaughter-house. Ecstatic Arc makes the electric fearsome again.

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