Ambika P3 – April 15th

Turntables and timpani. Sheet metal and scherzos. Now here was a night that promised much. Apocalyptically dubbed ‘The Rise of the Machines’ it was billed as offering the ‘cutting edge’ of a movement blurring the lines between ‘classical and electronic music culture’. Sadly, it never fully delivered on its promises. But it did certainly hint that something greater is definitely out there… and for that victory alone, it was a success.

At heart, Friday night was always closer to the concert hall than the club dancefloor; the crowd, however young, was largely seated for God’s sake. And the soundsystem was minuscule rather than a rig capable of filling the cavernous underground hangar of Ambika P3 at the University of Westminster in Marylebone.

But the Nonclassical crew should rightly get credit for ploughing a burgeoning furrow of musical investigation. Following the likes of the Ibiza Proms, Aphex Twin’s Remote Orchestra and Jeff Mills’ recent sold out Barbican gig Light From the Outside World the opportunity is clearly tangible. Nonclassical label boss Gabriel Prokofiev recently even took a turn on the Boiler Room to deliver their first-ever classical set.

However this was a night that just never got started. That said, any grumbles should not detract from the performance of the Southbank Sinfonia. They were superb at times and fully grasped the spiky mettle of Alexander Mosolov’s The Iron Foundry. The 1927 composition could easily serve as the blueprint for early Detroit industrial techno and was dispatched with necessary bombast.

The young ensemble also turned out an impressive second movement of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. That’s no mean feat. But straying further out of their comfort zone found them completely undone by two Aphex Twin tunes – Blue Calx and Cock/Ver 10 – as they struggled to re-create the Cornish oddball’s atmospheric intensity. They fell flat.

The final set of the night was reserved for Nonclassical’s founder Prokofiev (yes, the grandson of that Prokofiev) and the UK premiere of his Concerto for Trumpet, Percussion, Turntables and Orchestra. It was fun enough – but it was hard to see how the rather formulaic role of the turntablist was pushing the boundaries of the rather staid music. Let’s just say Grandmaster Flash’s legacy is untroubled.

The night was also punctuated by the sideshow of Klavikon’s prepared piano ructions booming out from his upper lever perch between Sinfonia sets – which even featured a mouse in a plastic ball rolling over all of the piano’s exposed strings. A good gag and the processed piano hijinxs were at least unpredictable and thought-provoking.

But in many ways the rodent stunt summed up a night of missed opportunities. With a lot more volume, fewer chairs to set the crowd free and a lot fewer classical concert hall trappings (such as the stilted introductions between pieces and lack of audience interplay…) the night could have been more like the big beast ruling the musical jungle rather than going out with a tiny squeak of a common dormouse.

@eskimopog