A Winged Victory for the Sullen showed that you can serve up maximum intensity with minimal sound, their performance on Tuesday night at Le Poisson Rouge will live long in the memory.
The group consist of two ambient heavweights, Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, who met backstage at a Sparklehorse gig in 2007 (of whom Wiltzie was a member). Their self-titled release from 2011 was a work of beauty, blending neo-classical with ambient and drone. An impatient 3-year wait (from this listener) was rewarded in 2014 with the release of Atomos, an original score to a dance piece choreographed by Wayne McGregor. The hour-long, 11-piece score is simply exquisite and will appeal to a fan of any genre I’ve mentioned above.
Canadian ambient artist Loscil opened, using visuals of ocean waves to embellish his oscillating sounds, the occasional heavy bass notes physically pound my shirt. It’s like a shot of adrenalin whilst swimming in treacle.
I saw A Winged Victory for the Sullen at Joe’s Pub last year and while that was a very good show, this was on another level. You felt the sound, every long note teased through the air and left you hanging for more. Aside from the odd clinking glass from the bar, this was the most politely attended show I think I have ever been to. Every single person seemed appropriately captivated, there was no need to applaud between songs as each piece bled into the next. From the moment the musicians took their place on stage to the final notes of the set, no-one made a sound.
While O’Halloran has a more apparent role in what you see and hear, taking to the piano for the majority of the set, and also layering samples, Wiltzie plays electric guitar which adds subtle textures even further. The duo are joined by a string trio from Belgium, who as you can imaging are integral, two violins and a cello seemingly make the sound of an orchestra. It’s an incredible experience seeing them up close, everybody loves seeing musicians play fast, it’s an obvious talent, but the discipline of holding a note and playing slowly is incredibly underestimated.
Atomos is an emotionally draining piece, movements build to a crescendo before slowly drifting down a precipice. I have not seen the dance to which it was scored, but the music serves as a reminder that life is filled with moments of beauty but also despair. At some point, as with everything, they will end, but pay attention and experience in the ride in the meantime.