Swansea Fringe Festival highlight review – Swansea Laptop Orchestra

By Tom Emlyn

September’s Swansea Fringe Festival was a remarkable affair – a 3-day extravaganza that filled the High Street with music, poetry and comedy. A definite highlight for me was the unique Swansea Laptop Orchestra, who played a set in the Techhub café, hidden away in a basement behind the Hyst pub.

Although there are apparently up to 6 members of the group, the ‘Weird and Wild’ Swansea Fringe set was performed by just two members, who conjured up a swarm of electronic textures and sounds seemingly from thin air, each tugging on a pair of strings connected to a bank of synthesisers and sequencers via a controller that, I’m told, was originally a motion controller for video games. The band write their own software, which as far as I could tell uses the motion sensors to trigger and manipulate a variety of electronic samples.

Watching them perform was spellbinding. Initially, it’s hard to tell what’s going on – the unique use of technology is almost like a conjuring trick; there is a magical aspect that leaves the audience transfixed. The music itself moves through a variety of moods, from ambience to dance, soundscapes, industrial, music concrete, quasi-dubstep and spoken word. Some sections are more synthetic-sounding, and some feel more organic. There’s a real playfulness and an absurd sense of humour – the interplay between the two members was genuinely hilarious as they exchanged fragmented, surreal scraps of dialogue in-between the frenetic waves of textured sound. This sense of humour keeps the performance down-to-earth and adds another level of enjoyment.

A highlight of the set was ‘The Alphabet Song’, which sounds something like apes developing language for the first time whilst furiously disagreeing about what sounds to use for the words they’re inventing. There’s also an element of mime and interpretive dance to their movements, which is an absorbing combination; especially as the music is itself controlled by their bodies, rather than their bodies reacting to the music.

If you think that it sounds like there’s a lot going on here, that’s because there is – they combine movement, music, comedy, and the limitless possibilities of technology in a totally unique way and that’s what makes them one of the most intriguing performers in Swansea at the moment. It’s quite an achievement to present such experimental, eccentric work in a way that’s so warm, engaging, and most impressively, funny. Their art is simultaneously human and robotic, raw and complex, forward-thinking, explorative, boundary-crossing, and well worth exploring. They’ve also just released their debut album, which is really worth a listen! It’s called ‘Loadbang’ and is available on Bandcamp or on their website swansealaptoporchestra.com.

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