Performance: WILLIAM ORBIT Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
Reading between the lines of the concert programme,William Orbit (ne Wainwright) comes over as a kind of cross between Oscar Wilde and the Mekon. Satisfyingly, it turns out that he actually looks a bit like that too, a centre parting curtaining a cranium of egghead proportions. His record company, WEA, obviously believes there's an equivalent-sized brain lurking inside the mighty carapace, having bank-rolled a deal with his own N-Gram label that involves four separate projects, with an album for each, as well as this richly packaged showcase, collectively titled "In the Realm of the Senses".

Up to 20 musicians, including a string section, a laser light-show, video projections and smoke effects were involved, not to mention a cast of hundreds from among the audience, in which the corporate loomed large, ready to applaud everything that moved, including, at one point, the roadies.

But could William - cult post-rave knob- twiddler, re-mixer to the stars (Prince, Madonna) and producer of non-live music - pull it off? The early signs weren't promising, with the opening section, "The Electric Chamber", comprising reinterpretations of classical themes given the trance treatment, gently cajoling one into, well, a trance.

The second section, featuring Orbit's ambient techno project, "Torch Song", was an improvement but the suspicion still nagged that it was all a Dadaist joke. William Orbit? Dave Chelsea (who designed Orbit's command module)? One began to scan the names in the programme with increasing incredulity. Did Orbit's "neo-rhythms" really "phosphoresce on the cusp between real and surreal", or was he simply taking the piss?

It wasn't until after the interval, and a set from vocalist / cellist Caroline Lavelie, that things really started to, er, take off, with the ambient-folkie "Moorlough Shore", and Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" (such a good song that it couldn't really fail).

The final section, entitled "Strange Cargo", put the final pieces of the jigsaw into a certain shape. Beginning with real acoustic music (with Orbit on classical guitar), it developed into a techno-jam, accompanied by fractal-pattern video projections; people even started dancing in the aisles. It was music, clearly, for CD-Rom, future home entertainment for the computer age, and, of its kind, very, very good. It was also, of course, an update on progressive-rock: indeed, this could be the book that follows Genesis. Clever old WEA.

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