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Live Transmission: Scanner and Heritage Orchestra rework Joy Division, Dome, Brighton

  • @FionaSturges

Finally! Thirty-two years to the day that the Joy Division singer Ian Curtis hanged himself in his kitchen comes an event celebrating his musical legacy rather than wallowing in the myth and melodrama of his demise.

A one-off commission for this year’s Brighton Festival, Live Transmission is a collaboration between the Heritage Orchestra, experts in the field of forward-thinking pop-classical fusion, and long-serving conceptual artist and electronic musician Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner.

This is no slavish replication of Joy Division songs, rather a series of miniature symphonies loosely inspired by the band’s music and which, incorporating classical music, rock and electronica, veer between quietly hypnotising and dense and furious. Oh, and very, very loud.

The musicians take their places inside a vast cube wrapped in black gauze and upon which moving images are projected courtesy of video artist Matt Watkins. There are grimy northern tenement blocks, wide-angle and beautiful in black and white, pulsing red organisms in glistening close-up and the kind of kaleidoscopic patterns that are best enjoyed under the influence of something illegal.

Elsewhere Peter Saville’s white-on-black pulsar-inspired cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album is shown in close-up before coming to life, turning itself inside out and upside down until the lines begin to look like monochrome Georgia O’Keeffe compositions.

This dismantling of Joy Division imagery is reflected in the music that strips down the band’s sound to its component parts  - the menacing bass, the mesmerising drum patterns - and reassembles it into new shapes and rhythms, to the point that it is no longer recognisable as Joy Division. If Curtis hadn’t died and his band had had the opportunity to grow up and evolve, you can’t help but wonder if this the kind of thing they would be doing today.

The most direct reference to Curtis arrives in the scrawled hand-written lyrics of “Isolation” (“Mother I tried, please believe me, I’m doing the best that I can”) that cleverly wrap themselves around the cube’s four walls, complete with corrections, as if being written by an invisible hand. Then there is the finale, a slowed-down symphonic version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. It’s the only moment of poignancy in an innovative show that draws on the past to look boldly into the future.