LED by the Light: Hear it NOW! 2009 By Orkestra Futura

Date and Venue 28 November @ 8:00 pm | The Cultch, Vancouver

Reviewer Olivia Bevan

Following a multi-million dollar make-over, the Cultch, once an old Methodist Church, has emerged as a real East-side beauty. Elegant balcony railings, polished wooden floors and red velvet seats present an air of elegance and help transform any event from a simple evening out to a delightful experience.

Tonight's inaugural concert of Orkestra Futura (the once named NOW Orchestra) attracted nearly a full house, yet the Cultch still retained an air of intimacy and exclusivity.

Under the passionate conducting of Coat Cooke, the first piece, "Belly of the Beast", started with a note so intense it took me a while to regain anything like steady nerves. The theme of descending madness was illustrated incredibly and effectively by complicated, undulating and, at times, multi-directional waves created by the instruments as they seemed to clash left and right, simulating the cacophony of the internal noise of spiraling madness.

At times the singers’ eerie vocal sounds leapt in to the foreground enabling you to identify words such as, “We travel the mind waves; we travel the space waves,” leaving you slightly unnerved yet curious as what might to come next in this surprising piece.

The composition seemed designed to explore the full capacity of each instrument and musician evoking quite extreme sounds and noises. Images behind the orchestra of troubled, shadowy figures only helped reinforce the intense experience.

The second piece, "Ask the Right Question, Get the Right Answer", continued in a lively, complicated, explorative and improvised manner which, at times, left you wondering whether the musicians would all finish together. Yet Coat Cooke always displayed full control and rounded everything off to rapturous applause.

The second half was the main billing of the night where improvised music met technology. Local composer, Stefan Smulovitz, showcased his Mad Scientist Machine: an electronic piece of wizardry that replaced a regular conductor and instead guided the orchestra using different coloured lights. Each musician had their own light box which acted as a cue to follow, depending on which colour it displayed. For example, red meant melody, orange meant imitate and purple meant loops.

The beauty of this machine was the ability to control it via the internet, allowing four guest conductors to take turns: Paul Cram from Halifax, Lisle Ellis from New York, John Oswald from Toronto, and Pauline Oliveros from Oslo. Having each conducted the orchestra individually, the conductors came together in a grand finale to conduct in unison.

This was an incredibly exciting concept and it was a privilege to be privy to such an event. The music again was modern, excitable and very original. Both musicians and conductors displayed intense concentration and swift reactions to the lights which would, at times, linger, jump, flicker or fade with only split-second timing, having the effect of a swift, almost syncopated response as orchestral members leapt in and out of the piece.

Coat Cooke, now on the saxophone, roared his head back in appreciation of precision, talent and timing and you couldn't help admire the pride he so obviously beamed. This was certainly an exciting maiden voyage for Orkestra Futura which evoked enthusiastic responses from the audience. Like anything original, it wasn’t to all tastes, but if you're looking for adventure, Orkestra Futura won't disappoint.

© 2009 Olivia Bevan