A special evening hosted by AVA Festival...

Belfast hasn’t had much to shout about in recent months. A mutual lack of dopamine from the ‘no dancing’ restrictions has been felt with the rest of the United Kingdom but, unlike its neighbouring countries, Northern Ireland has experienced a complete blanket ban on live music since the end of September. While events such as The Trinity Centre’s socially distanced, sit-down listening experience with Hodge and Danielle in Bristol have shown how events can still progressively be held – even amidst dire circumstances – Belfast’s politicians feel it more appropriate to deny its people the experience completely.

Given this information; you can imagine how excited a handful of crew deeply involved in the Belfast scene were when AVA Festival invited them to watch the live recording of Max Cooper’s audio-visual show in partnership with Red Bull and support for AVA by the Arts Council NI, ahead of the stream this Wednesday.

“I’ve dreamed of doing something in this building for years now, so I’m super excited that it’s finally happening tonight,” says festival founder Sarah McBriar as we take our socially distanced seats. It’s easy to see why; the Carlisle Memorial Church was built in 1875, designed by WH Lynn, the man responsible for much of Belfast’s architectural heritage. Its ceilings seem to stretch all the way to heaven itself, while its rose windows cast a gargoyle, gothic aesthetic in the early evening moonlight.

Standing before us is a giant translucent screen (aided in set up by Visual Spectrum and The Hype Factory) and, just behind it, stands Max; just visible as the elderly walls of this grand space tower above him at either side. A short workshop took place just before we sat down to begin watching the show, and here Max explained how fascinated he is with projecting images onto the walls of different buildings; programming the visuals to dance and unravel in response to the structure, much like Turkish artist Memo Atken’s work, which also features in the show.

Created around the idea of infinity; there have been a number of different inspirations in Max’s latest show. As humans we are always striving for more, it’s never-ending. We act in the cycle of life that goes on endlessly, curiously unaware of how small we are in such a vast universe.

The show begins with a glitched-out, alien symphony as a circle slowly appears on screen. An emergence of cities and landscapes begin to form in a seemingly endless flurry of shapeshifting art; scenes of Hong Kong and Mexico City multiply in an Inception style manner, the vanishing points stretching on forever.

The scene envelopes from the inside as the concept of Pi takes centre stage, and with it the thought of the many mathematicians who it has condemned to insanity. Lines cross and divide at random, while a controlled chaos of rhythms rings out as the score evolves from experimental and ambient drones to the first evidence of a danceable beat, that causes much excited confusion as we remain seated, desperate to rise and move.

Max looks over his shoulder to check on the spiralling black cloud that is now moving from pillar to pillar in the church; a sight so otherworldly that those worshipping here years ago would have surely thought this the return of Satan. Moving mountains, which turn to waves, and then to sweeping sandscapes cast a significant remembrance on the lack of infinity that our planet possesses, casting the fragility of the earth into the frame.

There are clear references to the artists scientific background, as multi-coloured cells join to create the forms of jellyfish which, on the giant screen in front of us, look like they’re in some sort of massive aquarium. The score again twists and turns, Max dictating the pace, as ancestral post-club jungle and emo-breakbeat soundtrack gulls flying across a multiverse where the sea is green and the sky forever black.

As the show draws to an end, we are left not only amazed at what we have just seen, but with a feeling of just how essential art is within the current climate. We all left with a feeling inspiration, a sense of ownership and a feeling of belonging.

It begs the question: why the blanket ban on music in Northern Ireland? Obviously, we are not asking for gatherings on a massive scale, and shows like this cannot be afforded by the average promoter, but shouldn’t we be allowed to explore the post-club environment that has been thrust upon us? If not clubs, shouldn’t we be allowed to transform old and unused spaces into new and exciting venues, where socially distanced events can be given a chance? There’s enough of them lying dormant in Belfast.

Despite not being able to host the festival earlier in the year, AVA have shown that they still have their finger on the pulse of audio-visual experiences that inspire, unite and astound.

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AVA Festival will be hosting the live steam of Max Cooper’s A/V Show on Wednesday (November 18th) at 8pm from their Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Words: Andrew Moore
Photo: The Hype Factory

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