I was fortunate to catch Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh yesterday evening.
The show, a collaboration between electronic musician Scanner, the Heritage Orchestra and artist Matt Watkins, reworked musical and visual motifs associated with the group into new sound and film collages.
Bass lines, guitar riffs, synth leads and vocals from Joy Division tracks were deconstructed as building blocks for new compositions. Some followed the originals fairly closely - for example the pulsating interpretation of Transmission that opened the production - while others seemed almost wholly original, with only fleeting references to the source material.
I once read Joy Division's music well described as a night ride of uncertain destination through a fractured urban cityscape, and much of the brilliant imagery evoked that sense of perpetual travel, taking us on blurred journeys through tunnels, underpasses and city streets. One clever visual swooped down into a three dimensional reconstruction of the mountainous landscape on the Unknown Pleasures album cover. Another recurring image was a stylised digital figure reproducing the outlines of Ian Curtis' spasmodic dance moves: an appropriately ghostly evocation of Curtis' spectral presence within the music.
I sometimes found myself wishing the reworked material would just open out into something closer to the originals: I thought the piece referencing Dead Souls lacked the original's primal force, for example, and I wasn't wholly convinced by the gentle orchestral version of Love will tear us apart that closed the show, which would perhaps have been more effective without the overlay of Curtis' vocals, which mapped somewhat uncomfortably onto the new setting.
Quibbles. This was a bold production that reminded me just how good Joy Division's music was and is.