Darkfield Radio: Séance & Flight – Pleasance Dome

Created by David Rosenberg and Glen Neath

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s funny what a bit of darkness does to a sane mind. True darkness that is, different from the kind of the cinema or your bedroom. In this complete eradication of light, our mind does most of the work for two of Darkfield’s immersive experiences at this year’s Festival Fringe. As the company renowned for their intense audio experiences concocts new ways to strike the imagination, they have inadvertently created two of its most fearsome, and technically engaging pieces ever.

The first, and shorter of the two, explores the psychology of a group of people, mostly strangers when they are subjected to an intense and intimate sonic performance which plays on an ancient fear of the dead and our longing to hear from the beyond. In the crippling darkness, Séance makes the fullest of our paranoia. Utilising the simplicity of audio design and limited set dressings to evoke an initial genuine feeling of fear as the amber light flickers out, and the ritual begins.

Tom Lyall’s performance is of the manipulative sort, where they toy with the questions raised against your sense, but our beliefs too. As the heavy breathing of something else emerges in the darkness, Lyall’s bordering arrogance and frustration give way to a genuine sense of concern and pity for what may happen to us. It’s a tight piece, the audio pristine enough to cause listeners to tilt their necks away from the invisible force whispering in their ears. The shaking table in front of them was a minor, but effective touch.

But the real question – was any of this real? Or have the venomous antics of superstition laid waste to the audience’s preconceptions?

A short affair, Séance understand the limitations of its runtime – something Flight could benefit from. At just over half an hour, Darkfield’s other Pleasance Dome piece is perhaps more so immersive with its visual nature, but the weakness in correlating a coherent story lets the craft down.

In another, slightly larger container, we’re boarding a flight – and it must be said, the attention to detail is so accurate one begins to enter airport rage mode. Scrambles for overhead luggage bins fights over armrests and wrestles with seatbelts all begin to set the scene as we’re treated to usual pre-flight ramblings of safety. But something seems off.

There are a few visual snippets which, though minor, one toying with the colour of a curtain, and another a terrifically short burst of violent weather may go unnoticed by most, but catapult Flight for a moment into one of Darkfeild’s finest collaborations. Narratively, Flight never truly takes off, however.

The underlying nature, the quick back and forth of flickering footage as we shift between the various realms of existence, between one in which we survive the crash, another where we perish. It’s a play on the infamous Schrodinger’s Cat, but it is never full fully realised. Too much is emphasised on the screen in front of us, and in moments the scripting comes over as surface level, and even comedic. Audiences are bombarded with sounds and shake to fully appreciate the experience, it’s all a touch too heavy – as if the prospect of an impending plane crash wasn’t enough.

Darkfield remain masters of auditory manipulation, and from their digital seasons are proving time and time again their ability as site-specific projects. Where Séance feels complete with intention and narrative, Flight is a fledging piece – a terrific idea which requires a touch more finesse before taking off.

Masters of auditory manipulation

Information relating to Flight may be obtained here.

Information relating to Séance may be obtained here.

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