Is 2014 the year polyphony broke? You better believe it – at this year’s Fringe, polyphonic experimentalists Song of the Goat played shows in Edinburgh’s enormous St Giles Cathedral, while across town the day programme from beloved live art curators Forest Fringe is kicking off with this remarkable show from Verity Standen.
The small audience is greeted by Standen herself, who invites us to sit on the chairs dotted around the room, and to put on a blindfold. Singers then silently enter the room, which suddenly becomes alive with gorgeous, wordless song – in case you don’t know what I’m banging on about, polyphony is basically choral music with multiple melodies, sung simultaneously.
It’s undeniably very beautiful, and if this were the entire show then I’d have been happy, drifting off through inner space while beautiful voices surge from all corners of the room like crystal wellsprings.
But it turns into something else when one of the singers approached me, stood me up, and locked me in an embrace. Simply hugging and feeling the pulse and breath and skin of a stranger whose face you will never knowingly see is a strangely emotional act – a quick clasp of greeting is one thing, but to hold someone for an extended period is quite another, a gesture of intimate surrender that feels thrillingly both familiar and unfamiliar when conducted with an anonymous body.
The real killer, though, is that the woman hugging me was still singing, and the room was still alive with song. To feel somebody’s thorax vibrate as they tackle an elaborate countermelody feels like the most immediate, visceral experience of music as human expression possible, not just hearing the music but feeling it physically coarse through you, your whole body singing like an antenna to heaven.
In some ways writing about ‘Hug’ feels like a violation of ‘Hug’ – it is an intensely personal experience that occurs largely in your head. All I can say is that I was floored, and at the end of its short 20-minute runtime, everyone else seemed as stunned as me. If one show is going to persuade you to make the hike out to Forest Fringe this year, it should be this one.
By Andrzej Lukowski