Edinburgh festivals part 1
The start of my write-up of my trip to Edinburgh takes me to Sunday night and “Alien Lullabies”. Later instalments may be a while in coming.
Sunday 23 August
Hadrian was an amateur. In 122 AD he spent six years constructing an 80-mile wall in the north of England, heavily fortified and staffed by garrisons, apparently to form an impregnable barrier between the empire and the Scottish rebels. All he really needed was the Highways Department. Closing the main road into Edinburgh was fair enough; closing the diversion as well was pure genius that effectively closed Scotland (or, as the Scottish would say, closed England). The only way through was to follow tiny by-roads that were so cramped that I expected to hear the Mission Impossible theme and end up at an air-conditioning grille. However, by using the time-honoured technique of following someone who looked as if they knew where they were going, I finally arrived after only a seven-hour drive, which Google Maps had assured me would take less than four “without traffic” (a somewhat odd disclaimer that seems to assume that traffic is an unusual thing to find on a road).
This meant that I couldn’t get to any evening shows, but I was still able to turn up for the first thing I was booked for, Alien Lullabies
by Fiona Soe Paing
. I’d booked this on a whim and didn’t actually expect to like it, but I was quite wrong. The show consisted of a nightmarish surrealist animated film by Zennor Alexander set to electronic music by Soe Paing, who also provided live vocals to it, wearing a hat so floppy that I expected it to apologise and suggest we try again in ten minutes. I found it entirely to my taste, and although we ought to be past this, I was also secretly pleased that it had been produced by a woman of Chinese descent (although when she talked to the audience at the end she was clearly as Scottish as anyone needs). There was a time when the only people who had the time, money and sheer bloody-mindedness to spend a year building a machine that goes “zzzzttt” were German men, and the only woman in electronic music was Wendy Carlos, who cheated slightly by starting out as Walter. Those days are long past, and I think we sometimes forget that girls are sitting in their bedrooms geeking out over bleepy software as much as boys. I was also pleased that surrealism still has the power to disturb and unsettle when in the right hands, and hasn’t just been assimilated by advertising. I accepted a free poster from her on the way out, which I then packed so badly I had to recycle it as soon as I got home, and went home pleased that something I’d just taken a punt on had turned to be A-star stuff. I really don’t think I’d seen anything quite like it.
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