As with most everything associated with Cryptic, the glasgow-based incubator of outre art events as consistently memorable as they are baffling, Semispecific was an experience that’s hard to put into words. To put it reductively, the event resembled something akin to a highbrow club night condensed into an hour and held in an exhibition space – part performance, part installation and part party. Utilising a twelve speaker surround sound system, searing white strip lights embedded in the walls and ceiling, and five suspended screens onto which abstract images were projected, artists Charlie Knox and Euan McKenzie created an engulfing multisensory experience in which the whole room seemed to come to life in time to the music. While audience members were free to move around the space as the wished, most stayed fixed to the spot, transfixed by the deluge of sensory information pouring in from all sides.
In their programme note, Knox and McKenzie (who go by the name Trudat Sound & Light) explain that Semispecific was inspired by the limits of human perception and the notion that our understanding of the outside world amounts only to an approximation of what’s empirically there, or as they put it, “our brains simply taking their ‘best guess’ at the rest”. Certainly I found myself confronting the deficiencies of my sensory awareness a number of times during the performance, whether it was losing track of which light matched which drum hit, trying to parse the shape-shifting projections above or forgetting how long ago particular segment of the music had started – was it two minutes, or ten? Even so, while it was clear that while Semispecific was intended to unmoor its audience’s sense of time and place, it also cohered into a distinct three act structure, with each section bearing a different audiovisual tone.
Upon entering the performance space, I was met by a deep bassey hum and wind-like effects accompanied by a computer generated loop of a swirling, mustardy gaseous substance. Things took a harsher turn after Knox stepped up to the platform in the centre and began the set in earnest, and the more throbbing intensity of the music and visuals gave the impression of being sucked into a sandstorm.
The beginning of the second section solicited audible surprise from the crowd as lights that had been previously invisible in the darkness appeared around and above us. The bright, more melodic parts of this middle stretch bore an angelic quality that grew more and more hypnotic as the concurrent rhythms phased in and out of one another, the images above transforming from wet monochrome ripples into clouds noise that periodically coalesced into facial features.
For the climax, ghostly swoons of sampled voice introduced a montage of what looked like decidedly innocuous stock photos which whirled past like the wheels of a fruit machine, pausing every so often on a single images – a tree, a clock, someone standing in front a fence – before starting spinning up again. To encounter such plain imagery in the context of a techno oriented performance was refreshing; one can only digest so many showreels of glitched out computer graphics and cyberpunk kitsch. “Isn’t life in the digital age such a strain on the senses?”, such an aesthetic asks. What Knox and McKenzie demonstrated with Semispecifc was that even when we’re not looking at screens, the world is constantly bursting before us in so much detail that we can’t possibly take it all in. That’s the fun of it.
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