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Music review: Tim Exile and the Heritage Orchestra, Village Underground, London


“I’ve seen things you people wouldn't believe,” maintains Rutger Hauer’s expiring replicant in Blade Runner. This extraordinarily bold experience, involving The Heritage Orchestra, famed for their moving interpretation of Vangelis’s “Blade Runner” soundtrack and for working with electronic artists, is somewhat unbelievable, too.

The second-half of the concert is the brainchild of the electronica pioneer Tim Exile, a classically trained violinist who switched to DJing and sampling. Here the well-spoken knob-twiddler from Cheltenham live edits, using his custom-built instrument/box, the Heritage Orchestra in a performance of his work Bardo EP. He fastidiously and deftly samples, loops and re-arranges their orchestrations.

Beforehand Exile, an artist for Warp Records, promised that “the night will go strange, challenging your preconceptions, before going mental at the end”. He’s right. Frankly, this “club-style night” felt mental from the start, with the 30-strong outfit becoming the first full classical orchestra to appear in the cramped environs of the Village Underground. They don't look comfortable but their bouncy conductor, Chris Wheeler, seems game.

Firstly, we're treated to a lively DJ set from Plaid before the Heritage Orchestra take to the tiny stage and perform Arvo Part’s evocative meditation on death, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten. It starts with a tubular bell being struck three times before building through violas and violins, on a descending A minor scale, to a cinematic climax. It’s a perfectly acceptable six-and-a-half-minutes, apart from the venue's bar sounds - the loosening of bottle tops, opening of cans and the ditching of bottles and cans in bins. There are plenty of shushes and tuts. It heightens the anxious mood.

The Orchestra are then joined by the concert pianist Will Dutta in a world premiere performance of Max de Wardener’s Piano Concerto – which is semi-improvised and slightly more challenging and jarring than Part.

After a desperately long lull, Exile appears with the Orchestra and the mash-up mayhem begins. It turns out, frustratingly, to be an experiment full of sound and a furious amount of bleeps, beeps and beats, signifying nothing, or very little. The energy is faultless, it's highly charged and, occasionally, pulse quickening, but the actual orchestra is too often drowned out by Exile and many of the musicians remain superfluous for vast swathes of time. Pockets of the sparse crowd occasionally whoop, while others make an early exit.

It's a relief when this disorientating and dispiriting experience, with its headache-inducing strobe lighting and flashing lights, finally comes to an end.