Live: Russell Haswell + Marc Hurtado + Jim O’Rourke @ South London Gallery, 29/11/12

Deliberate or not, the efforts of tonight’s three artists appear to find unity in their links to the visual, be it in the form of projected imagery, the presence of a performer or the absence of visible sound sources. It comes a week after my visit to Corsica studios to experience a Francisco Lopez performance, during which the audience were issued blindfolds as a means of optimising the focus on sound; one cannot simply ignore the visual and present their work for the exclusive attention of the ears, and as proved by Francisco, even attempting to remove emphasis from the image paradoxically grants it prominence in its consciously administered absence.

Such a theme manifests in the fact that Jim O’Rourke is nowhere to be seen in this presentation of a brand new piece for tapes and electronics. As well as providing rows chairs on which to sit and face squarely forward, the gallery have also scattered beanbags around the remaining floor space, making it comfortable to disregard the empty stage space and lie back, closing one’s eyes or staring blissfully into the motorised disco ball on the ceiling. With no performer present, the source instrumentation gets forgotten and thus the listener is free to imagine form the sound origin may take: one hears the electronic equivalent of a broken wheelbarrow being hauled across concrete (subsequently turning into an avalanche of low frequency down a mountainside), astral air raid sirens, chirps of birdsong, an orchestral suite played on instruments made of syrup, a corridor dotted with the murky lights of alien eyes. No forewarning accompanied the piece’s dip into silence around the halfway mark – which unfortunately sparked premature applause and then idle chatter – and there’s little doubt that the audience would have been transfixed throughout were they made aware of the piece’s momentary fade and resurgence.

What follows is a screening of Marc Hurtado’s 1994 film “Bleu”: a hand reaching outwards to grasp the ground, the sky, the sea – fingers crushing clumps of dirt, a penis blotting out the sun – while images of nature (water flow and spray, sun glare, silhouetted horizons, horses in barren fields) are overlaid and set into dizzying spirals. It’s a disorientating see-saw of power between landscape and the figure interacting with it; the subject thrusts his hand (literally) into sensory experience and helplessly tries to seize control of the very surroundings that overwhelm him. The accompanying audio reflects this idea of nature and sensory experience as an oppressive force – whispers are distorted into eagle screeches or perhaps human screams, while rushing water tumbles over a rabble of bells and dissonant hums of brass drone. Such slow-burning intensity is immediately juxtaposed with a brash, 10-minute live performance by Hurtado himself, which resembles a sort of disturbingly dispassionate Power Electronics. He activates a noise loop (a relentless throb, like a ginormous hydraulic machine) and strides out into the crowd, thumping his chest and screaming over the din without a microphone. At one point he spins the mic cable above his head and launched the stand across the stage area. At another, he rugby tackles two women in the front row (who were already sat down – no injuries incurred) before picking one of them up one-handed, screaming wordlessly all the while. It’s an absolute anti-catharsis – completely detached from emotional release, the body possessed as a soulless vessel through which to channel Hurtado’s domineering noise.

Sitting between O’Rourke’s absence of performer and Hurtado’s transposition (and embodiment) of sound, Haswell feeds his improvised electronics through phase scope projections on the gallery’s gigantic screen. The entire audience is gifted the power of synaesthesia, if only for 40 minutes – pink lines convulse and flicker in direct synchronisation with his brash electronic noise, which zips briskly between cleansing blasts of pure tone (steady, beautifully formed circles) and techno synthesisers writhing out of control (scribbles shivering frantically between expansion and contraction). The pace of the transformations – coupled with the music’s unrelenting high volume – emphasises sound as a momentary flash of being, here and instantly gone. Sound and image? No: sound as image, merging two senses into something far beyond mere mutual complement – an inseparable co-dependency, hallucinatory in the most astonishing, indescribable way.