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Mark Blacklock on Roly Porter at Corsica Studios

Mark Blacklock on Roly Porter at Corsica Studios

Two months ago I saw Roly Porter at Corsica Studios. I first heard Porter’s work when he was recording as one half of Vexd, a duo operating in the noisier, more adrenalized end of the dubstep spectrum, possibly more properly identified as British bass music. In his solo work he has explored the formal sonic qualities of the sounds he manipulates: gone are the call-and-response drops of the dubstep days but ever-present are the bass-scapes that invade the body: truly visceral music; music that vibrates the viscera.

This blog is themed around the topic of “what we’re looking at now”: how can I still be looking at this performance now? Incredibly, I am still seeing it. For this set Porter had collaborated with Marcel Weber, an A/V artist. On entering Corsica Studios, the door staff warned us that the evening’s set would feature strobe lighting; I began to suspect that something non-standard was up when the cloakroom and bar staff repeated this warning. Speaking to Weber before the performance he described the types of strobes he was using as “atomic”. It emerges that Atomic is a brand name, but it’s apt.

Porter’s work has tended thematically towards the cosmic in his last two releases. Anchoring a sonic exploration of the extremes of perceptible sound in an aesthetic that gestures towards the inhuman immensity of space makes sense: the limits of the human form are tested in each, in a sound that vibrates without us, recalling the physical sounds of the earth itself, and in a physical universe that cares not for us. I can’t help but relate this to the theoretical work I’m currently reading for an essay on Dracula: Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet, a book that proposes that horror fictions are a way to think that which is beyond thought, that which is entirely in- and non-human.

Weber’s visual accompaniment for the first 40 minutes of Porter’s performance was hypnotically relentless, a single-focus steadicam shot moving ever towards the horizon of an alien landscape – in fact, shot in Iceland. Weber had inverted the ground so that it served also as ceiling. The viewer was transported onwards and onwards towards an equitably receding vanishing point. The sky was not so much falling in as grounding out. There was deep tension in the room, the primal dread produced by low-frequency sound and visual imprisonment within the extra- (the ultra-?) terrestrial, increased by the nagging thought: when are the strobes coming?

At around 40 minutes a message replaced the lunar perspective on the screen: we were asked to close our eyes and promised we would nevertheless witness the lightshow to follow. Sure enough, through tightly clenched eyelids, the intense flashes of the strobes pulsed vivid, rhythmic orange and red patterns through the thin film of skin as Porter’s sound flared and erupted. The electromagnetic spectrum as well as the vibratory was now exceeding the limits of the body. Not only did sound disregard the fleshy surface of the human, so too did light.

I snuck a glimpse from behind my hands and the assembled audience were gazing as one, faces raised towards the Atomic strobe explosions, eyes wide shut. It was a rapture event, a pre-sentiment of the end, as aesthetically bracing as it was transporting. Not bad for a Wednesday night in May.


by Mark Blacklock, July 2016

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Dr Mark Blacklock

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