Live: Colleen + Slows @ St John on Bethnal Green in London, 09/12/2017

Tonight begins in water. Plunging down beneath the surface, rising to take several frantic breaths, then diving back down again. Slows alternates between the harsh clarity of the air – synthesisers diced into crisp, rattling pellets – and the rumble of ocean pressure. Eventually he stops coming up for air. The more familiar gurgles of the water give way to those surreal illuminations of those deeper-dwelling marinal fauna: the thrusting of seahorse tails, the scanning shadows of passing whales…all muffled and refracted by a thick, body-quivering amalgam of liquid and pressure. During the first half of the set, I only occasionally stop to reflect on the fact that these sounds are emanating from a modular system arranged in a semi-circle on the floor of the church. That’s a curious thing, as the textures themselves – arpeggiated electronic rushes, sustained whirrs – don’t exactly stray far beyond the classic modular palette. It must, therefore, be all in the movement; these synthesisers drift away from thoughts wires and toward visions of alien sea life, and it’s only when the set’s latter portion veers from aquatic analogy to humming circuitry that I return back to the true source of these sounds, with chassis edges and soldered intricacies rising out of the water like a submarine.

Similarly, I perceive the electronics of Colleen as spots of dancing light, arranged into cascades and spiralling like pinwheels, dispersing with the grace of fireworks on mute. Carefully, she changes the shape and hue of these droplets of energy. The notes go from larges bubbles to staccato pips; they go from aquatically muffled to dazzlingly bright; they become lighter, floating upward to fill the church roof. She plays the entirety of A Flame, A Love, A Frequency from start to finish; a record which, on earphones, seems to ricochet through the inside of my head. Live, this music maps out the entire church via a million tiny probes, bouncing against the rafters and the stained glass, illuminating the vast space that hangs above and all around me. I’m grateful that audience remains so quiet throughout. After all, the spectacular clarity of those aural presences resides in their playful courtship with absence – dipping in and out of the dark, generating ecstatic, pattering alternation between feeling and not, over and over again, like standing under a summer shower and contemplating the impact of each raindrop. It’s during the silence that I truly register each splash against my skin. Sensation recedes, and a microsecond of contemplation rushes in to take its place.

But of course, these tiny sounds always constellate to form larger melodic shapes, and it’s Cécile Schott’s voice that brings the grand narrative of the music into focus. Through her  words – drenched in breath and delay – she gathers these individual vibrations into a common emotional hue. I’m amazed at how well her voice works within this sound. She slips in amongst the dots, quietly highlighting the melody at the core without undermining the sense that her music is built from a billion tiny entities. Just how her lyricism extracts profound introspection from incidental happenings in nature, the music itself occupies the scales of the panoramic and the infinitesimal simultaneously. At one point, while pulling a thick woollen jumper over her head, she jokes that the departure of an audience member has made the church much colder. Even her sense of humour pulls from the influence of the individual upon the collective whole.