Oxygen – Anne-Liis Poll and Anto Pett, Review

Edinburgh Festival review
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Anne-Liis Poll and Anto Pett

Timing, in improvised music, is all-important. This fact couldn’t help but register with me as I sat in a cavernous theatre within Paterson’s Land at 11.30am waiting for this morning’s performance to begin. Free improvisation is always going to be a tough sell. On a weekday morning, even in the depths of Edinburgh’s August, it’s going to be near impossible to entice people in.

And so, in the darkened space which could easily hold 200, I find myself with just three other audience members (four, if you count the usher). Which is a shame, as these performances by visiting professors Poll and Pett from the Tallinn Conservatory in Estonia deserved a bit more in the way of respectful promotion. One can’t help feeling they should be on in the esteemed EIF programme as opposed to being drowned out in the Fringe.

Poll and Pett collaborate here with three musicians and alumni from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland making up an ensemble of two grand pianos, violin, voice and various percussive objects (including empty plastic water bottle), all at various points over this hour being subjected to laptop trickery and jiggery-pokery.

Poll in particular is a mesmerising performer, manipulating her vocal chords with dextrous ease to emit a flowing stream of birdlike chirrups, whirs, squawks and clicks. Pett, meanwhile, keeps his head down over his piano keys while interacting intuitively with the other musicians onstage. No one performer dominates, however, as the whole group’s sheer infectious enthusiasm in playing is evident, their individualities subsumed into a tropical sound forest mesh.

While the eight improvisations can sometimes become over-cluttered, and the film made by Royal Conservatoire students projected during one piece is a tedious muddle of weary shadowplay, to be in this space this morning with these five exemplary musicians is a real tonic. It’s just a shame that not many other people were there to experience it. Timing really is all.

Final performance 11.30am on Saturday 24 August at Paterson's Land.