Gig review: Red Note Ensemble, Edinburgh Jam House

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With its array of massed laptops, miles of cabling, hi-tech headsets and glowing touch-sensitive globes, this was never going to be an ordinary evening – not even for the crack players of Scottish contemporary music Red Note.

The group joined forces with the Edinburgh-based Inventor Composer Coaction for seven new pieces combining instrumental sounds and live electronic manipulations of those sounds in some startlingly original ways.

The ever-changing textures of Jessica Aslan’s likeable Cache, for example, triggered sampled noises from Diemo Schwarz’s CataRT software to conjure a ghostly mirror ensemble, heard but never seen. The Red Note players donned sensors that looked worryingly like offenders’ tags for Shiori Usui’s aptly titled Into the Flesh, which they performed as much with their muscle movements as with their instruments.

Admittedly, the technology outshone the musical content in some pieces, and the raucous improvisations of Christos Michalakos’s concluding Death Ground (Approximately) seemed a little out of place.

But Stuart MacRae’s masterful Shadow Study showed that less can be so much more, its quiet unisons gradually gathering a halo of subtle electronic effects as the piece developed.

The high point of the evening, though, was Harry Whalley’s Clasp Together (beta), which required Red Note clarinettist Peter Furniss to don a headband in order to control the piece’s electronics with his brainwaves. The score includes thought commands for the performer, the programme notes informed us, and watching Furniss close his eyes and relax his mind to take the piece to its quiet conclusion was unforgettable.

Rating: ****