Entering the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, I was greeted by an ethereal, otherworldly droning; an atonal hum, mixing with the whisper of the assembled crowd. It put me in mind of the static between radio stations, and created an appropriately technological feeling of expectancy before this highly anticipated event.
The music itself began with long, high notes on the strings which hung in the air, hovering between harmony and dissonance. Next, the addition of xylophone, percussion and playful woodwind created a swift, mischievous sense of movement. The music was accompanied by a visual presentation that challenged the audience to think about the links between our world and the world of the past by examining the similarities between the design of the space shuttle and the horse and cart. And this is what was unique about Worldscape. Ambitious, bold and conceptually daring, it represented a fusion of the old and the new, the centuries-old craft of instrument building and the latest in audio-visual technology, and brought the two together in a rigorous synthesis that set out to examine the underlying concepts and assumptions that govern how we live our lives.
Musically, Worldscape utilised everything from traditional orchestral arrangements through unfamiliar Eastern instruments such as the fascinating Gamelan Orchestra, to objects that we would typically reject as rubbish. There were musical interpretations of weather reports, time and environmentalism, as well as a piece that examined war through heavy percussion and chanted propaganda slogans. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes unashamedly aggressive and unsettling, Worldscape was simultaneously affecting and enthralling, but it was never less than thought-provoking. The centrepiece of the evening was undoubtedly the laptop orchestra; fifty students interacting with Apple MacBooks via specially designed programmes that translated their hand movements into sound. This sometimes resulted in a musical experience I would have expected to hear when sitting in the sonar room of a nuclear submarine, as the musicians chased dots across a visual representation of the Earth. It culminated in an experimental piece in which trumpeter Matthew Postle soloed wildly over the dense, rhythmic soundscape created by the movements of the laptop musicians. Physically deconstructing his trumpet as the piece progressed, Worldscape ended with simple, deeply animalistic, ragged sounds emanating from the bare skeleton of his instrument.
All in all, a courageous, intelligent, beautifully executed event and something which York’s musicians can be extremely proud of.