Ron Arad’s Curtain Call at the Roundhouse: Matthew Herbert mixes naked dancers with sampled snoring

The musical polymath masterminded the first of six concerts inside Arad's giant silicon curtain this August - and it was brilliantly strange

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This year the train engine repair shed turned concert hall known as the Roundhouse turns 50. To celebrate, 5600 silicon rods have been hung from an 18-metre diameter ring to create a huge cylinder that visitors can step inside.

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This silicon curtain is the handiwork of architect/artist/designer Ron Arad who’s invited an eclectic mix of artists to use his installation as a blank canvas, ranging from singer-songwriter Eska to the London Sinfionietta’s BBC Prom.

First up was “contemporary classical and experimental agent provocateur” Matthew Herbert whose back catalogue includes a big band swing album and another made out of manipulated recordings of a pig, chronicling its life all the way to the slaughterhouse. He’s a very clever man. 

His Roundhouse show was based on his new album A Nude (The Perfect Body), which is comprised entirely of recordings of – you’ve guessed it – a naked body in a room for 24 hours. 

“It’s not designed to titillate or shock,” Herbert explained, “but it is designed to be an unflinching meditation on the realities of a body. At a time when politically we are being asked more and more to see each other through our differences, the project hopes to reassert the democratic principle that, fundamentally, we are made of the same materials.”

A short film is projected onto Ron Arad’s silicon curtain; above, the installation from the outside (photos copyright Stuart Leech)

When the audience trickled (a tad warily) through the silicon curtain on Wednesday night, we were greeted by the sound of snoring and giant projections of a serious-looking Herbert sat at a laptop and mixing desk. The snoring was of the reckless drunken variety and underlaid by a slightly ominous thrumming. Titillating, it wasn’t.

Just when I thought I might join in, the projections changed: a naked woman slumped on the floor – asleep? A naked man sat, stretched. Perhaps this was the snorer; he certainly seemed hungover. As Herbert twiddled his unsettling symphony, they started to move, slowly, repetitively, mesmerisingly: washing, shaving, eating an apple.

It was very strange and that was the strangest bit: how weird is it is to see and hear a naked body doing the mundane stuff we all do every day. It’s even weirder when you realise that body is just the other side of a silicon curtain. 

My favourite bit was when the naked dancers got their groove on, their supple writhing projected large while Herbert ramped up the beats. That’s when the silicon curtain really came into its own, rippling in the light as they pulled and shimmied past it. Less uplifting was the toilet track, although I just about managed to refrain from giggling like a six-year-old.


The shows still to come in Ron Arad’s Curtain Call:

Eska

18th August
Critically-acclaimed Eska will present a mix of reggae, jazz, soul, choral and electronica in a performance which brings to a close the incredible journey of her Mercury Music Prize-nominated debut album. Calling her presentation at the Roundhouse the album’s ‘fanfare’ the gig will be an opportunity for audiences to be fully immersed in the music, both in sound with Eska’s band and special guests and in vision, collaborating with the installation.

BBC Proms

20th August
The BBC Proms return to the Roundhouse with the renowned London Sinfonietta, led by conductor Andrew Gourlay, with a programme that takes its lead from Ligeti’s iconic Ramifications. This embracing score, for two groups of spatially positioned strings, is heard alongside music by one of Ligeti’s natural musical heirs, Georg Friedrich Haas, and other new pieces concerned with physical space. The concert will culminate in a major work from David Sawer that reflects the energy and physicality of dance.

Dan Deacon

24th August
Electronic music iconoclast Dan Deacon, world renowned for his live shows, will bring a brand new site-specific composition in which the audience will be the performers. Deacon is set to use the entire venue, both inside and out, as the stage with all audience in attendance contributing to the large scale performance event.

London Contemporary Orchestra

25th August
Bringing the live music performances to a close, the LCO will return to the Roundhouse to showcase two world premiere works – by CHAINES and Mica Levi – commissioned especially for Ron Arad’s installation. The premieres will be performed alongside Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel and John Tavener’s haunting Svyati for solo cello and choir exploring themes of spirituality, space and time.      

Book tickets for Ron Arad’s Curtain Call


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