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Rhodri Davies’ improvised Transversal Time gently plucked at the chords of Emma Geliot’s memory as part of Experimentica 2018

I had no preconceptions of what to expect when I sat down in Chapter’s theatre for a performance conceived by one of Chapter’s Peilot programme mentees, Rhodri Davies, and performed by Davies with an eight strong ensemble. The theatre was dark, the performers lit by small spotlights, which pulsed on and off as they joined in a complex improvisation. Although we were there to hear the music, the piece was visually engaging, particularly as the harp, cello, bassoon and contrabass recorder, when lit, became characters in their own right. And Transversal Time  was unexpectedly moving too.

The concept behind the work and its starting point was Time – not time as chronology, but simultaneously “archival and emotional”. The latter, when read in the programme notes, was harder to conceptualise before the event, but incredibly powerful during it. Imagine the old panel game, Name That Tune, where the panellists had to try and guess a tune from a few notes. I’m not suggesting that this improvisation was a riff on that, nor a medley of catchy intros, but momentarily a sound, or a note, or a squeak would catch at the coattails of personal memory, and I certainly felt propelled back to a place and time that I could almost smell. So the improvisation extended far beyond the nine performers to each and every member of the audience, drawing on their own very particular memory banks of sounds.

There were none of the expected ‘featured solos’, although Sofia Jernberg’s extraordinary vocal stuttering squeaks and swallowed shrieks made a cat’s cradle of some mysterious inner tubing, which I don’t have the biologist’s lexicon to label, and Pia Palme, embracing and patting at a contrabass recorder, so big that she had to stand on a box to hit the top notes, was visually riveting. All of the performers were rapt in concentration; their sometimes-illuminated faces became temporary focuses, before the lights shifted elsewhere and the eye turned back inwards to the mind’s projection room.

As you'll have guessed, I'm not a musician – in fact there are probably still some active restraining orders to prevent me from making any kind of musical sound in public – but, like most people, I can appreciate technique and skill, along with the more gut response to music. I could, however, spot that the audience was studded with musicians and composers who really know their stuff. A good indication that Rhodri Davies is someone worth listening to.

And he was/is. This felt like music that was crossing boundaries into sonic art and some kind of complicated psychological experiment. It lasted 45 minutes, but I could have listened for much longer without flagging. It took a very short space of time to get over any expectation of the piece being separated into movements or sections; of any idea that there’d be a build up or a slow down, although there were fragments of this, momentary changes of pace, but each performer grasped the mood, the trajectory of travel, guiding the audience along and, without the overt emotionally manipulative key change or minor chord, transporting them to other times and places. 

Performed by: Ryoko Akama (Electronics); Rhodri Davies (Harp); Sarah Hughes (Zither); Sofia Jernberg (Vocals); Pia Palme (Contrabass recorder); Lucy Railton (Cello); Pat Thomas (Piano, electronics); Dafne Vicente-Sandoval (Bassoon); Adam Parkinson (Programming)

Transversal Time premiered in Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and was a co-commission between that festival, Counterflows Glasgow and Chapter. It was performed at Chapter, Cardiff, as part of Experimentica 2018 on 13 April.

Image Credit: Rhodri Davies: Transversal Time Experimentica 2018, Chapter, Cardiff (Rhodri Davies, Harp and Lucy Railton, Cello. Photo: Warren Orchard