Tuesday, 11 July 2017

REVIEW: KlangHaus 800 Breaths at Southbank Centre


Climbing the backstairs of the Royal Festival Hall, I could feel a pungent smell of chlorine. Walking beside walls painted in white and turquoise, it felt like I was slowly immersing myself into an upside-down swimming pool.

At the top of the stairs, a man in a dark overall was waiting for my group, producing a low vibration with his throat and other sounds with his mouth. He stopped us and measured the heartbeat of one of my companions, before starting to count his own breaths with his hand . . . One. Two. Three. He told us that the we were about to share 800 breaths.

Following him to the top floor of the building, we entered a space where numerous pipes and ducting of the heating and ventilation system intertwine and form a labyrinth. Perching inside a small nook, a woman, also wearing a dark overall, was operating a console with luminous buttons. The deafening sound of the electronic percussions emphasised the flickering images projected all around. In a small space in the corner, another man wearing the same uniform was playing a bass.

When the music stopped, we followed the musicians into another room. In charge of the soundscape, band The Neutrinos, played a live track in every space to which we were invited. Artist Sal Pittman offers a visual counterpart created around the original landscape of the Southbank Centre's boiler room. 

The lack of traditional narrative, dialogues and clearly presented factual elements might break some of the most resistant theatrical conventions, but KlangHaus: 800 Breaths delivers a message through its own unique means and offers the audience a valuable space of interpretation. 

If you ever wondered how it would feel to be sucked into a music video, KlangHaus: 800 Breaths somehow recreates that feeling. Its ever-changing rhythms, sounds, colours, images and special effects seem assembled with a process of live editing. The audience become part of a psychedelic combination of live music, spoken word, overwhelming use of lighting, physical performance and strong smells fused into an artificially devised environment. 

The journey is occasionally claustrophobic, the rooms are dark, the ceilings low and the floor uneven and littered with obstacles. Narrow spaces become easily overcrowded and the lights coming from the screens of a few phone-addicts increase the sense of discomfort produced by an unsettling stream of mixed medias. 

Just before the breaking point, where sound, image and performance entirely lose its meaning and become a nuisance, the music slows down, shifting from electronic to acoustic. We're invited to sit down and take a minute, before climbing the last remaining steps out of this dystopic space. Reaching the rooftop of the Royal Festival Hall, with its huge yellow flags waving in the wind, we can finally take a long, relieving breath of fresh air. The last of 800.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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