More than 80 musicians filled the stage at the final night of the residency on Monday. Mills stood stage left, illuminated by a white spotlight and surrounded by drum machines and synthesizers. Spread across three tiers, the audience remained seated throughout, totally spellbound. Though the conductor, Christophe Mangou, had his back to the crowd, he was mesmerising to watch. Eyes were drawn to the grace and elegance of his gestures. Whenever the beat kicked in, his hips and shoulders would groove along subtly.
The cosmic tour began at the Sun and journeyed outwards towards Pluto. Lighting was key in establishing an atmosphere and defining the character of the individual planets. Gentle blues and greens bathed the stage during Earth, while Jupiter was met with a deep red. Saturn was all swathes of bright, flashing gold, as brass players positioned themselves in all four corners of the hall, playing around the crowd in rings.
The orchestra's crescendos and diminuendos were hair-raising. Shrill woodwind, cinematic brass, and punchy staccato strings added fiery drama and suspense. Further out, delicate piccolo, gentle xylophone and wistful violin conveyed the distance from the Sun. Electronic drum beats punctuated the instruments from time to time, though the two never blended. There was a noticeable if perhaps inevitable detachment between instrument and machine.
Each planet was portrayed using classical arrangements, while the section conveying the distance between them was where the synthesisers shone. The lights went down as otherworldly bleeps, ear-splitting white noise and a deep rumbling gave the impression of dark, weightless space travel. By the time we approached the edge of the solar system, I could sense the audience's attention levels waning. But, as a representative from Mills's Axis Records told me afterwards, Pluto is a long way from Neptune, which had to be reflected precisely. The show ended with a standing ovation. As the first claps broke the final bars of silence, the crowd let out a loud exhale.
Photo credit /
Mark Allan / Barbican