Sonic Explorations

Sinfonietta, Kings Place, London

Most music heard today could be called electro-acoustic, but concerts devoted specifically to exploring the implications of electronic sound are exceedingly rare. Excellent, then, that the London Sinfonietta organised a three-day festival of the stuff – and where better than in the underground wood caverns of London's Kings Place, with acoustics so present and immediate that, with closed eyes, you can imagine yourself to be right inside the instruments on stage.

This kind of sensation is central to much electro-acoustic music. Take James Tenney's For Percussion Perhaps, Or … (night), the last work performed at the series' opening concert. In contrast to the precise scores of his European contemporaries, Tenney asks an unspecified instrument to create "nocturnal music – very soft, very long, very white". The performer – here David Powell, peering over the well-worked brass of his tuba, a wall of silent percussion rising up behind him – played a duet with his amplified and variously reprocessed echo. The result was magical, like being borne aloft on a comfortable cushion of sound to the cry of a distant muezzin.

The sense of flight is also central to Francis Dhomont's Vol d'Arondes, which, with its constantly changing shapes, symphonic textures and fleeting impressions of a village fete far below, feels something like hearing Debussy on acid. Other pieces, particularly from the first concert of canonical works in the genre - such as Ligeti's Artikulation and Nono's ¿Pierre [Boulez] – focus more on giving significant form to purely electronic sounds.

The once-mesmerising strangeness of this repertoire of burbles, plops and clicks seems rather quaint now that anyone can download a library of digital effects. But the music remains as fresh and vibrant as ever.

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