A Requiem For Edward Snowden

Aug 22 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩     Mourning becomes electronica

Stockbridge Church (Venue 317): Thurs 20 – Sat 22 Aug 2015

A Requiem For Edward Snowden, the ‘digital opera’ at Stockbridge Church, has an eerie contemporaneity, treating political concerns in a way that speaks more of sorrow than of anger.

Matthew Collings, who created the work with Jules Rawlinson, seems to have been convinced that security whistleblower Edward Snowden would be dead by now, possibly at the hands of the forces the extent of whose surveillance he revealed.

A Requiem For Edward Snowden in performance. Photo: facebook.

A Requiem For Edward Snowden in performance. Photo: facebook.

Instead, the audio-visual piece, produced here with Edinburgh-based Magnetic North, is an elegy for all sorts of things – privacy, the innocence and optimism that accompanied the early internet, and trust in the forces of authority.

A trio of live instruments dominates the music, with Collings and Rawlinson’s laptops treating and commenting on the music rather than leading it. Despite Collings occasionally picking up a guitar, there is none of the post-rock noisiness that might have been expected.

Instead, the nearest he gets to violence is the occasionally skronky nod to free jazz, such as when Pete Furniss approaches what Evan Parker might sound like on clarinet. Otherwise, there are repeated motifs led by Julia Lungu’s violin and Clea Friend’s cello.

These melodic cells are reminiscent of Reich and Adams in their insistent, slightly shifting quality. They always seem to be on the point of resolving into slabs of Bartókish folky romanticism, with the recurrence of something that sounds like it should be the first couple of notes of a Scottish country dance tune, but unsurprisingly this never happens.

mournful rather than defiant

There is a clarity and balance to the sound that speaks volumes for the work of sound engineer Sean Williams.

The music has a nagging insistence that defies an attempt to settle into it, but the overall feeling is mournful rather than defiant. It is also never clear why the work is billed as an opera, with the occasional use of Snowden’s voice not really qualifying on this count.

Visually, the impact of the large screens is inconsistent. The themes of surveillance and loss of privacy may well be illustrated by endless shots of security cameras or people on mobiles, but little is added to the discussion as a result. Shots of detached computer data are more effective, while the sudden appearance of the musicians on the screen is an effective comment on covert observation.

The most effective visual sequence is a series of shots of vast banks of computer servers, looking like modern catacombs, accompanied by a prickly, twinkling electronic noise that adds a sepulchral effect.

It may be by accident rather than by design, but the lowering of light levels as the sun ceases filtering through the large windows of the sparsely elegant venue is also extremely effective.

The recent revelations about the security state have impacted surprisingly little on the mainstream media. While there is a great deal of paranoia to be found in American fiction – as evidenced by Granta’s recent Ben Marcus-edited New American Stories – it is slanted more towards the personal than the political. And while the Watergate era produced such classic slices of movie paranoia as The Parallax View, the current Hollywood climate seems more geared to the likes of American Sniper.

So a work like this is entirely welcome. If its nature seems mournful and melancholy, and more confused than furious, this seems an entirely rational response.

Running time: 1 hour
Stockbridge Church (Venue 317), 7b Saxe-Coburg Street, EH3 5BN
Thursday 20 – Saturday 22 August 2015
Daily at 8.00 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/requiem-for-edward-snowden
A Requiem For Edward Snowden is part of the Made in Scotland showcase at the Fringe.


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