The Manchester Collective is on a mission: to reinvent classical music; mashing up the orchestral with the electric, fusing the traditional with the liturgical.
“That’s all we’ve ever done, played with sound,” admits Alan Keary, multi-instrumentalist on the current LAD tour, which reimagines music from Hildegard von Bingen to Steve Reich for violin, shruti box and bass guitar.
With a fluid line-up, the Manchester Collective made their Prom debut in 2021 and are the current artists in residence at the Southbank Centre. With a tour of North America next year, it’s a treat to see them in Birkenhead.
Likening the set to a tasting menu, musical director and violinist Rakhi Singh delivers three courses, each combining three musical ingredients, which layer and segue seamlessly. The melodious monophony of Hildegard serves as a starter, giving way to the earthier flavours of Bulgarian folk and in the same mouthful we experience both Bach and Reich.
But the main event is contemporary composer Julia Wolfe’s LAD. Written originally for nine bagpipes, it might seem to pose the question, what’s worse than one bagpipe…? Rounding off the musical meal, it’s a nuclear explosion of noise, and it’ll either leave you replete or with a nasty taste in your mouth. Either way, you’ll be shell-shocked.
Nine bagpipes become layer upon layer of violin, with the help of some taped music, creating a visceral, vibrating cocoon of sound. The womblike interior of the excellent Future Yard – dark, intimate, smoky, intense, like a secret underground gig – holds us in its surreal embrace.
Rakhi Singh suggests that the venues have seatbelts and there’s something in that for LAD is reminiscent of nothing so much as a fleet of jumbo jets roaring down the runway. Endlessly. Unable to get airborne. Until they do, when suddenly the soundscape is a tapestry of heather, Highland flings, tossed cabers, underpinned by the air-raid sirening last bellow of the Caledonian mammoth in its death throes. There’s something majestic, if slightly nightmarish, about it.
It’s like nothing else you’ve ever heard, utterly revolutionary. And according to your palate, it may be more curate’s egg than Michelin starred but it does beg the question: what’s next?
Rakhi Singh’s new album, Purnima, is released this Friday. The album is released digitally and on CD on Friday 27 October. Julia Wolfe’s formidable ‘LAD’ sits alongside new music by Emily Hall, Julia Wolfe, Alex Groves, Michael Gordon and Rakhi’s own composition.
The Manchester Collective return to Liverpool on 9 December and Birkenhead on 10 March with two new sets.