The remote control in question involved MIDI, translated into visual and audio cues for the performers. On a large screen were volume faders and lines on a frequency spectrum, in different colours for different sections. Tones in the players' headphones and a manuscript of arcane symbols invisible to the audience provided additional cues. What we heard in the end was a dissonant drone, whose characteristics shifted—sometimes slowly, sometimes wildly. In the second piece, a plaintive, repeated motif was played (again, remotely) on a piano placed on a swinging platform. Entitled Interactive Tuned Feedback Pendulum Array, it seemed like James was controlling the levels of the mics, which were also attached to glitter balls and bounced green lasers around the room in a spectacular manner, scattering the light with the same randomness as the skronking sounds.
Photo credit: Mark Allen
The whole thing was much more aligned with contemporary classical than almost anything else he's done previously. His signature was, nevertheless, still all over it. It had a strong technological presence, and of course, that playful Aphex element: the feeling that it started with the thought, "I know what would be fun…" More academically, it was three pieces of process music, exploring what you can and can't control as a musician. In the remote orchestra performance, for example, there was an audible delay before the players arrived at the prescribed pitch. And the strings slid there, while the choir changed suddenly. The levels of the faders and the levels of the sections, relatively speaking, were sometimes different things entirely, probably because they were all wearing headphones. The swinging of the piano introduced random elements, making it warble gently, a familiar sound to owners of Drukqs. You could even hear the loud cranking of the mechanisms. The Pendulum Array, meanwhile, may have been interactive, but it was mostly controlled by physics.
From all of this physically generated sound came particular sonic characteristics outside of the usual melody, harmony, rhythm. The remote orchestra performance, for example, was much more concerned with things like motion, dynamics, and microtonal consonance and dissonance. But while James may be someone who can listen to two drones beating off each other for hours on end, most can't and the applause after the first section was decidedly hesitant.
It was clear that most felt that the night was the sound of an electronic music producer finding his feet as a modern classical composer. Hopefully, it's a path he'll continue to go down. Given enough time and thought, it's likely going to lead to something wonderful that we've never heard before.