Arts – [UNIT], a unique experimental live audio/visual project, hits the Colchester Arts Centre

Colchester Life talks to Bill Vine, one-third of [UNIT], a collaboration between two musicians and a visual artist, with strong Colchester connections. They bring their new show to the Arts Centre on Wednesday, January 18th.

Bill Vine has a PhD in Electroacoustic Music. My immediate reaction upon hearing this (which I’m rather afraid says a lot about me!) is to ask if he uses the title of doctor at every available opportunity, as I undoubtedly would. “Only on official documents,” I’m told. Bill’s modesty is charming – he played his first ever gig at the Colchester Arts Centre when he was a 17-year-old Colchester Grammar School pupil. “Our band was awful’ he admits “but we were very enthusiastic!”

[UNIT] then, will be something of a homecoming for the multi-instrumentalist, and his Little Horkesely-based brother-in-law, and fellow musician Anthony Bailey.  The project arose when the duo got together to write and record some experimental music, combining Anthony’s more traditional background playing with professional orchestras (including the London Mozart Players and the English Chamber Orchestra) with Bill’s experience in designing and building experimental instruments – instruments, he says, that should be seen as compositions in and of themselves.

The “bunch of noises” they made (See? Modest!) started to coalesce and the recordings were sent to the visual artist Dan Tombs, who the pair knew from the experimental music scene in Norwich. Bill describes Dan as the ‘jet-setter’ of the trio, as he often works with established acts such as Jon Hopkins and The Charlatans. His role in [UNIT] (which is both the name of the collaboration and the name of the show) is to transform, by distortion and manipulation, the music Bill and Anthony produce, into moving images, which are shown as constantly evolving projections that surround the players and audience.

In the show itself nothing is pre-recorded. The music combines elements of classical composition with improvisation, traditional instruments with cutting edge electronic technology. By surrounding themselves with a 360-degree surround stage of seven huge screens and octophonic speakers, Bill explains, the artists’ spontaneity and interaction with the audience, who can wander around at will, breaks down the traditional barriers between composer, performer and audience, and allows an experience unlike any other. Because the audience’s movement will also affect both the sound and visuals no two performances will be alike – the audience actually influences the compositional process.

Is that not terrifying for a performer, I ask, allowing others to manipulate your creation? “Nerve-wracking, yes,” Bill concedes, “but the responses to early versions of the show played in Norwich were great.” The Colchester Arts Centre audience, limited to between 40-50 people, due to the logistics of the performance, will be among the first in the country to witness this cross-disciplinary event, and Bill hopes it will appeal to both classical and experimental music fans who like something “a bit different”.

As a special bonus the performance on the 18th will be recorded binaurally to give a 3D sound effect and a download link will be offered free of charge to all audience members. [UNIT] promises an immersive and multi-sensory experience to those lucky enough to be part of it.