Forge – The Vaults
Reviewed – 18th February 2020
“a passionate, unique live experience that has the bulk of the audience on their side”
“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”. The words of Carl Sagan, the American astronomer, cosmologist and scientist who coined other phrases that orbit the fringes of the human mind. “We, are each of us, a little universe”. Sagan’s sound bites inform the bulk of the sporadic dialogue that cuts in on what is essentially a music gig. “Nearly Human”, running at VAULT Festival, is the brainchild of the award-winning, nine-piece, progressive brass band, ‘Perhaps Contraption’. Part choir, part chamber orchestra, part avant garde rock troupe, their music mixes pop, punk and free jazz.
By their own admission, this show is ‘niche’, and the lack of form to the music will not be to everybody’s taste. But it is quite a passionate, unique live experience that has the bulk of the audience on their side. It does occasionally have the feel of a rather long jam session, with a cosmology lecture thrown in for added pretentiousness. Life, the universe and evolution is trial and error and so is “Nearly Human” as its nearly harmonies battle for survival against the chaotic waves of brass and percussion. The result is chaotic and psychedelic; manic and meandering and nearly melodic.
Yet even if you are slightly baffled by the whole experience, there is something beguiling about the troupe that has the dynamic eccentricity of a travelling circus and the curiosity of a science symposium. While the musicians distort their scales and arpeggios, the spoken word is equally mind-twisting; and the inner-nerd in all of us is fully roused. The intermittent voice-overs appear random, and inconsequential, but so are we, we are led to believe. “The person you love is seventy-eight percent water”. Our make-up isn’t unique at all. The atoms that comprise us are as old as the universe itself and have probably lived within a million people before us. But is there an underlying structure? Is the Universe a sentient creature? Are we all just brain cells in a larger creature, on an inconceivably large scale, that has yet to become self-aware? How would we know? How could we test this?
“Nearly Human” explores the overwhelming unlikelihood of our own existence from the point of view of one atom. We learn that an atom is almost entirely empty space. If we were to remove all the empty space from atoms, the entire human race would fit into the size of a sugar cube. If we were able to remove some of the long interludes between these snippets of fascinating information, this show would make for a shorter, more concentrated and more enjoyable evening.
The show ends with another of Carl Sagan’s tag lines: “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception”. I do hope that this production proves to be an exception. It certainly deserves it and it definitely has the energy and inventiveness to evolve and survive. Maybe not for eternity, but for as long as is, nearly, humanly possible.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans