Review: 'A Whispered Shout' (or Beer, Sandwiches & Experimental Music)

Last weekend (3 August) I had the pleasure of experiencing A Whispered Shout, described by its organiser as ‘an afternoon of contemporary and experimental music featuring a wide variety of different sounds and approaches’. Indeed! Part of my motivation for going was to catch-up with old friends and, I hoped, to meet some musicians in the flesh that I’d only had the chance to meet online in the past. Thankfully the whole day was a huge success on all fronts, especially when it came to the musical stimulation it offered, both aurally and… well, orally.

A B(l)ack Room in South London

I should begin by saying something about the venue. Matthew’sYard is a calm, airy, cafĂ©-type space in the heart of Croydon built in the converted lower floor of a conference centre (at least that’s what I think it is). Away from the main area there’s a smaller, windowless room painted in black with a low stage running across the width of the space. There are a few stage lights scattered about, there’s a pokey sound engineer’s box and the leaning-post-of-choice was a wooden counter obviously designed to function as a bar should the need arise. It felt like the kind of place you’d go to watch your friend’s band play. You certainly wouldn’t pick it out as somewhere to hear anything ‘classical’. Which brings me to the first major success of the event: artistic neutrality. I mean that in the best way possible. So many experimental music concerts take place in non-standard spaces, or else take their cue from the traditional classical set-up hoping, I imagine, that the audience is more likely to revere the experimentalism if they’re coerced into watching it like a Beethoven performance. A Whispered Shout had no such baggage. Individual seats were set-out across the room, in vague rows but easily moved. There were no programmes or other such formalities. The room was spacious enough for a decent sound, but intimate enough to feel like you were really involved in every performance. And the space wasn’t so obviously wacky that it screamed ‘EXPERIMENTALISM’ like an obnoxious market seller desperately trying to flog his wares. Granted, it’s certainly the kind of space in which you might expect to hear laptop performances, and four artists on the billing were using laptops. That said, two of them sat to one side of the room, away from the stage entirely. In a really non-obvious way, everyone involved managed to subvert the loaded connotations of the most common performance set-ups, which (to my mind at least) helped the audience to relax and enter a neutral interpretative space. By being so comfortable – beers in-hand and sandwiches appearing from all directions – we were able to properly appreciate the artistic statements that were being shared. In short, I can’t think of a more perfect setting.