Huddersfield Experimental Laptop Orchestra

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Review of Electrotextur – Experimental Electronica - at Frome Festival

The evening began and ended with two improvised sets by a trio of performers from HELOpg (the postgraduate subdivision of the Huddersfield Experimental Laptop Orchestra). Often this kind of performance tends to suffer from the fact that watching a guy hunched over a laptop doing things that the audience cannot see does not make for a very exciting performance, and tends to leave the audience mystified as to how the sounds are made (how are we to know, for instance, that he hasn’t simply pressed play on iTunes and is now spending the gig playing World of Warcraft?). HELOpg, however, did their best to circumvent this problem by arranging themselves in a circle with laptops facing outwards, and inviting the audience to come up and walk around them, peering over their shoulders to see how they were making their sounds. The set was also made more interesting by the fact that each of the three performers was using a different method of sound production: one was using Supercollider, providing the “knife-edge live coding” promised in the Frome Festival programme; another was using various devices to manipulate a patch in Max/MSP; and the third was using a graphic interface to manipulate sampled sounds on the fly. Their sonic material consisted of a constantly shifting blend of cut-up samples, melodic fragments, and processed noises made into the laptops’ microphones. It worked well as a whole, and there was never a feeling of the performers competing for space; rather a well-balanced and restrained performance, with plenty to hold the interest of both the ears and the eyes.

Second on was Will Angeloro, who used his laptop to present more of a DJ set, with plenty of juicy beats, basslines, and samples drawn from an esoteric range of sources that frequently brought to mind Mr Scruff at his most playful. This was music made primarily to listen to rather than to dance to, however, and there was more than enough stuff thrown into the mix to keep the ears happy, the highlight of which was an extended monologue from Vincent Price on the history of witchcraft in middle England. Immensely entertaining to listen to; his set could have been three times as long and nobody would have minded in the slightest.

The end of Will Angeloro’s set blended seamlessly into the final artist playing, a lone performer going by the name of Ursikin, who performed several extended pieces on guitar and laptop, with some vocals thrown in for good measure. Combining a strong post-rock feel with elements of dub, Ursikin’s unique songwriting style held up well, and not once did his 10-minute-plus compositions feel like they were going on too long. He even managed to sneak in a highly original cover of the Bill Withers classic ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, which the audience loved! Unfortunately, at least once a song his PC’s CPU got overloaded and cut out, forcing him to fall back on his guitar and pedals for several minutes at a time until it had recovered; however, he handled these frequent technical setbacks with consummate professionalism, seamlessly keeping the sound going, and turning it into a new section of the song. Though clearly unplanned, these stripped-back sections worked so well, in fact, that I would advise Ursikin to consider making them a permanent feature of his compositions! He ended his set triumphantly to rapturous applause, and deservedly so. > >So, something for everyone at the Granary; it was a pleasure to see laptops being used in several different ways during the same night, and it’s the kind of thing that needs to happen more often if this sort of music is to find a wider audience. Let’s see more of this kind of thing in future festivals!