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The Virtual Cellist
Matthew Barley makes the virtual a reality at the Queens Hall
Georgina Bolton
Wednesday, 09 February, 2011 | 10:10
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Credit: Nick White

Shuffling apprehensively into the striking duck-egg blue pews of Edinburgh’s transformed church-cum performance space, The Queen’s hall is a disappointingly non-student audience. The music-hungry congregation is anticipating the ‘celebration of the marriage of art and technology’, ambitiously orchestrated by cellist Matthew Barley and his talented VJ Nick Hillel. The talented duo manage not only to achieve their claim, but transcend and immortalise it through their ground breaking audio-visual melange.

Barley enters the stage with a humble yet mischievous grin, introducing the so-called ‘virtual’ performer who invites us into his sensuous world for just two precious hours. Barley’s MacBook elegantly balances on a low level tabletop, this cutting edge side-kick used to loop live riffs and play pre-recorded samples. By visually blending the slick aluminium aesthetic with the cello’s organic maple composition, the techno-apple successfully rivals the cello as a mesmerisingly modern sculptural object in itself.

Opening with a hypnotic rendition of John Metcalfe’s ‘Lonely Bay’, Barley’s swift transition into tantalising improvisation, followed by Bach’s Prelude no.1 in G substantiates, through a masterly command of his instrument, his reputation as a world famous experimental cellist. Spending the first half teasing the audience into a relaxingly spiritual surrender, it was in the second half that Barley and Hillel’s organic fusion of music and video projection proved how in Hillel’s words, "stage and screen can be united as one".

Hillel’s visuals invite a hauntingly haptic engagement with the screen, as abstract ballet dancers move majestically across a grey-scaled live feed of Matthew’s performance as if lifted straight from a Degas sketch. Flashes of a South American shaman, engulfed in swirling smoke, inaugurate the poetics of the melting of screen-into space-into audience mediation, creating an all-engulfing entropic experience.

Here it is not the traditional case of classical versus modern but classical becoming modern. In the Queen’s Hall this blustery Edinburgh evening, the virtual has very much become an un-missable, albeit ephemeral, reality.

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