Critics from The Irish Timesreview In Real Time and the Bridgewood Ensemble

In Real Time
Project Cube, Dublin

IN AN age of high-speed broadband and shrinking distances, does digital technology provide us with a secure connection?

That's the question behind In Real Time, a multimedia performance from Brokentalkers which, as conceptually simple as it is technologically complex, involves the instantaneous enactment of a long-distance relationship.

The partners are Feidlim Canon - who arrives to a stage sparsely adorned with lighting equipment, video screens and a camera - and the Flemish actress Dolores Bouckaert, whose contributions reach us live from a room in Ghent, via broadband.

What they have to say to each other, in gently opaque exchanges written by the two performers and co-director Gary Keegan, takes second place to how they say it, their performance splintering into the junk culture of music video lifts, film gags and teleconferenced audience addresses.

Here, the medium is the message.

Canon may speak of "that moment in history that sets everything in motion" while Bouckaert nudges steadily at the trustworthiness of their conceit ("This whole thing seems wrong somehow, very fake"), but such ideas are floated without them crystallising into cohesive themes.

Instead, they rely more on the entertaining distractions of sight gags and camera tricks, the performers' impeccably synchronised actions delivered with a breezy but clearly hard-won confidence.

When Bouckaert and Canon speak, though, the divided couple tell inconsequential stories about divided couples, and the schematic feels like a hall of mirrors.

That's partly the point: the piece, paradoxically, is an accomplished illustration of absence.

"You're not watching me," says a distressed Bouckaert at one point, "but an image of me."

Yet it is with her that we forge a connection, drawn into a relationship that we are asked ultimately, and with a surprisingly cruel jolt, to break off.

Though Brokentalkers stray routinely from the confines of the stage, British company Rotozaza now go one better by dispensing with performers entirely. Their show Etiquette asks you and a partner to sit at a quiet cafe table, lined with miniature props, and follow recorded commands issued through headphones.

Fed your stage directions, motivations and dialogue, you find yourself enacting scenes from a Jean-Luc Godard movie, before gazing down, God-like, at miniature figurines that you put through the paces of an Ibsen play.

Positioned in the role of both performer and spectator, you might find your attentions divided - during rapid-fire dialogues, I made for a bad actor, less attentive to my partner than my cue to speak.

One simple pleasure of Etiquette is obedience, the reward of doing what you're told, but the piece works best when it stage manages your imagination, setting scenes in your mind while subtly suggesting the limits of honest communication.

"I want to live without talking," goes one line.

But the success of Etiquette is that, whether piecing it together afterwards (what was it you said?) or appraising your performances, it becomes a stimulating conversation piece.

In Real Time finishes on Saturday; Etiquette runs at KC Peaches, Pearse Street, every 30 minutes from 2pm to 8pm until July 5th

Bridgewood Ensemble
SS Michael John, Dublin
Premieres of new works by members of the Spatial Music Collective

After Beethoven, many composers - even in the 20th century - wrote string quartets with a strong, sometimes even forbidding sense of the giant at their shoulder.

There wasn't the remotest hint of any of this in Thursday night's concert of new music for string quartet by six young composers. Nor did they come across as irreverent or ignorant or iconoclastic or self-consciously part of a great tradition.

Instead, their music was fresh and sincere and, in a way, utilitarian, taking the string quartet as just one more creative vehicle among many.

Beethoven might well have been curious about the Spatial Music Collective whose composers here combined the traditional quartet with a shared interest in electronic music and in the use of speakers for surrounding the audience in sound.

Unsurprisingly, there were stylistic similarities between pieces, suggesting something akin to a "school".

All six were in single-movement form, similar in length (6six-10 minutes), with many common features.

Despite these, however, each piece was distinctive.

The approaching, electronically enhanced high-point of climbing glissandi in Enda Bates's String Quartet No. 1 grows from nothing and takes you by surprise as it intensifies, like the realisation that the crash- landing airplane is headed straight for you. In contrast, glissandi served to corroborate imagery suggested by the title in Brian Bridges's eerie Flatlining.

With percussive sounds and snippets of speech, the taped component in Daniel Jacobson's almost self-explanatory Sleeptime was comparably prominent amidst terse pizzicato dialogues. Pizzicato also featured in Simon Cullen's Triangulayer, with patterns growing from hesitancy over an emerging, rather funky pulse on tape, and in Ian McDonnell's Lluks featuring bright, crackling electronics in a journey away from near-unison and back again.

Liam Grant's Mediation was the most traditional piece, with sad, successive entries of long lyrical lines suggesting an admiration for Shostakovich.

The programme's lone non-quartet piece was Jonathan Nangle's short Vespers for tape, an engrossing surround-sound experience featuring a canny balance between randomness and design.

The young players of the Bridgewood Ensemble gave intense, committed performances in which they weren't much technically stretched but really inhabited the musical vision of the composers.