Concerts in absolute darkness? A young trio, who calls itself LIGHTS OUT, thought that would be a remarkable experience. In September 2015 they gave such concerts at the Dusseldorf Festival in cooperation with us, the PODIUM Festival (not surprising: our festival director Steven Walter is the Cellist of LIGHTS OUT).
By Lucilla Schmidinger
PODIUM: Since when have you three been doing this together?
Steven Walter: Mathias and Magnus started out in 2011 and I joined in 2012. Since then we’ve regularly performed as a trio in several countries.
PODIUM: How long do you have to practice together and how do you practice for a program?
Walter: It’s a three phase process: after deciding on a program, everyone learns the individual parts and the score. Then we meet for an intense rehearsal period, working out our interpretation and learning to play together by heart. The last step is to transfer all that into total darkness and make the performance “darkness-proof”.
PODIUM: How do you pick the works?
Walter: We sit together and listen to loads of stuff, argue, mud-wrestle and fist-fight. And out comes a beautiful program.
Mathias Halvorsen: First we work on finding a theme or an angle to the program. This is not always as simple as it sounds, and we often do not settle for a time period or a composer. Most of our programs are built full of surprises with twists and turns but sticking to one overall concept. We spend a lot of time figuring out how the pieces fit together to one unit. While programing for the dark we have to spend more time listening carefully to how it’s going to sound for a close audience without scaring people too much. Each of our programs is supposed to be like a novel or a good story: rich and full of different chapters that all built on each other before reaching a satisfying climactic end.
PODIUM: Are there different challenges for modern/contemporary and classical music pieces? What are they?
Halvorsen: Yes. The challenges are definitely different when you have to touch your instrument in a different way. For the strings this might mean more high flageolets, crazy pizzicato/plucking and other unusual things. For the piano you often have to touch inside the piano and move things around in there, and that poses all kinds of dangers. However the patterns you have to memorize in contemporary music are more unusual and therefore also more memorable in a way, compare to baroque and classical repertoire.
PODIUM: What do you do when something goes wrong or someone plays wrong?
Halvorsen: When one musician gets lost in the dark, either by forgetting or messing up, literally anything can happen. Remember nobody has a score and it definitely does not help that nobody can see their instrument. We have had everything that can happen happen, from a minor jump nobody notices to an entire piece crashing in slow motion for 20 minutes (which also nobody appeared to notice). The only thing to our advantage in that respect is that the audience can’t see the fear in our eyes when shit starts going down.
PODIUM: Are there any senses that come into focus more than usually?
Halvorsen: Both the sense of hearing and touch are definitely heightened. In addition many people report a heightened sense of smell, which is why we almost ended up calling our group SmellYourNeighbour.
PODIUM: What are the audience’s reactions?
Halvorsen: The reactions are always powerful; either they love it or they hate it. It’s not uncommon for people to share feedback after a concert like “this was the worst thing I ever experienced!”. We figure it’s going good when people have an experience they never forget, and both love and hate is a good start in that regard. After every show we find that the audience does not want to leave, and often stays for a long time to share their experience with each other.
PODIUM: How do you think it makes a difference for the reception of a composition?
Halvorsen: The perception of sound is definitely very different in the dark and this does of course influence the way we experience music. Colors, timbre and the sound of the room all turn much richer and nuanced in the dark and most people also experience a heightened ability to concentrate and get lost in the music. We also want our concerts to maximize the impression of the pieces by not telling you what is being performed before the show starts and by paying a great deal of consideration to the order and built of our programs. One other aspect of performing in the dark is the extreme degree to which it erodes the distance between musician and audience. It often feels like you are touching people directly with each note, still while at the same time being utterly alone. It’s a truly bizarre and remarkable experience.
LIGHTS OUT is a trio, which plays chamber music for piano (Mathias Halvorsen), Violin (Magnus Boye Hansen) and Cello (Steven Walter). Interested in more? Check out this radio documentary about them: https://soundcloud.com/lights-out-radio-documentary