Jeff Mills – Barbican Residency’s review


Recently, Jeff Mills embarked Londoners upon a journey into his fascinating world of science-fiction and live music. From June 8th to 12th, Jeff Mills took residence at London’s Barbican Centre, where he presented From Here to There, four innovative conceptualized events which marry electronic music with symphonic sounds and other art forms. The series took its inspiration
from the human desire to travel and explore, both physically and metaphorically: from the solar system, to the concept of the afterlife and architecture of our anatomy, in search for answers, the meaning of life, and our place in the universe. Testimony.

Life To Death And back

« From Here to There » residency began in a full Milton Court Concert Hall on Thursday 8th of June, for the UK premiere of Life To Death And Back, which combines a conceptual film about Egyptian mythology, a live electronic score and a contemporary dance, choregraphed by Michel Abdoul.

First surprise for us was the presence of Jeff Mills, not onstage, but in the back of the room. This actually helped us to fully focus our attention onscreen and travel into the mystery of ancient Egyptian beliefs. Indeed, for the first 45 minutes the public discovered a movie directed by Jeff Mills, shot in the Louvre Museum in Paris in 2015. It’s the very first time Louvre allowed a third party to shoot the video inside the Egyptian exhibition. With his movie, Jeff gives us an insight into the mystical processes of reincarnation in ancient Egypt, describing the journey of life and death of the Gods, and Pharaos. In the shadow and the presence of the ancient god Osiris, it evokes the return to Earth, from Orion, of three symbolic divine figures embodied in the physical form of human DNA. While they slowly descend the staircases of the Louvre Museum they embark us into the department of Egyptian Antiquities, scurrying a succession of galleries symbolizing the flow of their emotions.

Indeed, the film depicts a walk through life to death but inserted are 3 supplemental short performance segments in other parts of the Museum: First, The Colonnade, which represents the aspect of how Egypt was plundered and colonized by Arabs and Europeans over time. The dance choreography depicts how a European view of Egypt shaped all that we, the West, mostly know about its history and Culture. Second, The Bedroom, which represents all the untold secrets that existed within the Egyptian Race – the differences between the roles of male/female, rich/poor, right/wrong etc. The dilemma of never being worthy of their God’s acceptance, while living each day on the premises that life and death is more about circumstance than it is a human right. In the end, The Mummy /Tomb area, which represents the individuality of Egyptians and what they strived to be – the psychological inner workings of the mind and how it played a role in shaping the structure of their society.

Suddenly and slowly, the three creatures appeared upon us, for real, in Milton Court Hall. Holding the sunlight in their hands, two men, Shush Tenin and Derwinn Green, descended the stairs of the room, while the female figure, Balkis Moutashar, arrived directly on stage. Followed a 20 minute dance of these three astonishing and charismatic dancers, while Jeff Mills is still mixing conceptual music, loops, and samples, along with their body movements, mirroring their own images on the screen.

Fantastic Voyage

On Friday 9th of June, Jeff Mills gave us an appointment in Barbican Cinema 1 for an immersive and breathtaking screening of Richard Fleischer’s 1966 epic sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage.

A group of doctor and scientists are shrunk to go on a journey into the body of a key scientist, trying to treat his brain injury and to save his life. The story occurrs during the Cold War, while the US and the Soviet Union developed technology to miniaturize objects or people for temporary periods of time.

For us, the immersion started at the very beginning of our arrival. Openers were dressed in lab coats, and as we sat we could already notice the very original and special set design. Jeff Mills’ DJ booth was a stretcher with medical and science kits among the DJ equipments. Jeff came out in a white jumpsuit, exactly as the voyage crew in the film. A bunch of inactive wind fans were directed straight to the crowd, strangely… But at some point in the movie during a windy scene, all the fans in the room went on, creating an awesome blow to our faces.

Light From The Outside World

Following his sold-out premiere in October 2015, Jeff Mills brought back to Barbican the much awaited visionary orchestral concert, Light From The Outside World : another sold-out show. We had the chance to (re)discover fourteen of Jeff Mills’ most notable compositions from his catalog – reworked for a symphonic orchestra – this time performed by Britten Sinfonia.
Just after the second track, Jeff took the mic for a speech starting as « Good evening. Welcome to Light From The Outside World. This isn’t the first time that this performance had been here in London and at the Barbican Center. The conductor (Christophe Mangou) and I still talk about the first experience and it remains a high point, not just for the show, but in our careers as well.

There was one other instance that came close – in Melbourne Australia a few years ago, but so far, London still takes the top prize. “ After he presented his work partners, the orchestra, Christophe Mangou the conductor, and the arranger Thomas Roussel, he explained us a bit more about the project. « That Light From The Outside World speaks to the idea that our reality isn’t exactly what we think it is. That (perhaps), everything we see around us and recognize as Life could be a reflection or echo from somewhere else. That our reality is written by the consequences happening in another part of the cosmos.“ Concluding by : “And if this was true, then we should consider our time here on this planet as sensitive as it could be only temporary. That conditions could change at anytime. So, maybe we should try to begin to care for each other a bit more, to be more understanding. United and touched by his speech, that’s when the crowd went crazy. All this magical emotion kept going throughout the whole show. Memorable. The two main highlights of the performance were the new composition, entitled Utopia, and the famous Amazon where Jeff Mills offered us an epic TR-909 solo accompanied in the end by all the drums of the Orchestra.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Mills’ approach as a simple transcription of techno compositions byclassical musicians. Far more, it’s a cross-fostering of approaches and ideas that is a two-way street –treeing dance music of its machines, and freeing classical music of its too-serious and annoying cliché. Young ravers and old classical music fans do the same line to see the same show. In the end, this techno-symphony brings the audience to its feet and the whole public screams and applauds and it feels like we just moved over to another universe and back home. Beyond the cultural shockwave, a musical and human experiment like this scarcely happens ; it feels so good to let ourselves go with such a fascinating experience.

Planets

Jeff Mills’ final Barbican concert was the UK premiere of Planets, performed by Britten Sinfonia and conductor Christophe Mangou on Monday 12th June.
This live performance describes the nine planets of our Solar System, inspired by the 1918 classical score of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” in which Jeff Mills used this tutorial context to create a more modern and up-to-date version of this cosmic journey.

Once everybody was seated we heard Christophe Mangou’s voice, the conductor, explaining the spiritual journey we were about to live, asking us to respect total silence during the performance. And so did we, which was much welcome, knowing the special, lively Londonian audience. He invited us to experience an interplanetary sonic journey, making us fly through and around the planets. Everything starts from the over-flowing thrust of the power of the Sun. Arriving at Mercury, this small planet so close to the sun, we can still feel the burning light of the Sun but also the lightness and playfulness of this new step. After a short loop transit, we approach Venus, land of acid rains and seductiveness, giving us the feeling that we may never depart again. But our homeland awaits and Earth is nevertheless welcoming, and its complexity mirrors its astonishing beauty and fullness.

The red planet Mars is the last step before a huge gap in planetary space. It felt like the last fuel we can get before the great jump into outer space. Is it dead or still alive? Are we safe there? Across the belt of asteroids stands Jupiter, the mightiest of all, generously allowing us to drift into its waves of gas and oceans of storms without a single worry, shining from within. However, after an even longer travel, Saturn attracts us with its rings, so we feel hypnotized and somewhat captive of an old and angry voice. It is a strange and dangerous place to be. Overcoming the perils of the void, Uranus surely gives us the craziest feel of the solar system. Here, the sun may be forgotten for ever. And again we travel further into the depths of the system – of the Universe ? Neptune has us transformed into almost nothingness, forgetfulness of our past lives and fully unconscious minds.

Eventually, this journey has led us to nowhere. Pluto is seemingly dead, but rich of its loneliness as its oval shaped orbit goes in and out of the perimeter our the Solar System. For it is the grim and dark gate of a hellish and desolate part of our system. It is the only place left to remember Earth. And the Sun. Standing ovation.


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