SIGNAL AT DUSK
P H O T O :
S T R J B O S E N V A N R J S W J K
S U N S E T S O N G
With arts organisations up and down the country enthusiastically embracing Scotland’s 2020 Year of Coasts and Waters, waterside venues are in high demand. Cryptic, on the other hand, is heading outdoors and putting its star turn on the coast itself, as Carol Main discovers
I rvine beach is the rather unusual setting for Signal at Dusk, described as ‘a captivating, boundary-crossing coastal opera set against the transitioning sunset sky’. The artistic team behind this extraordinary piece of theatre are Dutch duo Strijbos & Van Rijswijk – or Rob and Jeroen as they’re known to their friends. ‘We enjoy making art that is part of real life,’ says Rob, ‘using electronic techniques to make new installations in public spaces where people are surrounded by music and sound.’
Taking their ambitions further, the pair started to develop their work on an even larger scale and explore how they could create a musical landscape in the natural environment. A main challenge – even before thinking about Scottish weather – was how to produce sound in a large outdoor space. ‘We use an instrument of 24 long-throw speakers,’ says Rob, ‘and each speaker is a voice. The sound comes from everywhere, every wind direction. We make a reflective space for people so that they can connect with each other.’ While most operas have a story that the audience can follow, Signal at Dusk, now in its fourth edition, is different. ‘We don’t create a narrative,’ he explains, ‘but we are facilitating the enjoyment of music. The audience create the narrative with every audience member having their own.’ The work is not about making an anecdotal story. ‘It’s more about an aesthetic experience
of the music and the landscape together,’ says Jeroen. ‘There is no text that dictates what you think, but you search for your own stories in your own heads.’
Apart from the recorded and processed beach and harbour sounds – maybe a foghorn, or a church bell – coming from the speakers, which are set up in a grid on high poles, four sopranos also sing live into megaphones. A long stretch of golden sand, fringed by dunes to shelter from the westerly winds, Irvine beach is a popular spot, positioned in the bay looking over to the high peaks of Arran. It’s an environment in which Strijbos & Van Rijswijk are excited to work. ‘The audience will be walking on the beach as a group,’ explains Rob, ‘like a collective, but at the same time, thoughts and feelings will be very individual and very different in their interpretation, depending on how they engage with the piece.’ Agreeing, Jeroen explains that it’s also about the audience being open to personal interpretation. ‘People will find a new way of looking at their landscape,’ he says. ‘We are trying to reach out to everyone, not only those who go to opera.’ For whoever goes, they will be at the first live performance of an opera on a Scottish beach. Fingers crossed the weather is kind.
Signal at Dusk, Irvine Beach Park, postponed to Thu 17–Sun 20 Sep due to COVID-19 virus.
30 THE LIST 1 Apr–31 May 2020