Review: Nearly Human, VAULT Festival

This ain’t your regular brass band… Perhaps Contraption’s wonderfully different Nearly Human is a triumph at the VAULT Festival

“We are, each of us, a little universe”

Nine brass band musicians walk into a fringe theatre and what do you get? You will never, in a hundred years, guess. Rather unhelpfully for a reviewer, Perhaps Contraption’s Nearly Human is one of those shows that pretty much defies description. But then, should we expect anything different from a group that describes themselves as “part choir, part chamber orchestra, part avant rock troupe” and influenced by “jazz, punk, art pop and post-minimalism”.

Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go, as I can’t remember feeling as startlingly and strangely exhilarated as I did here. Drawing on the work of cosmologist Carl Sagan, Nearly Human straddles an intersection between performance art, live theatre and music to create its own state of being, which punts concert hall convention way over to the other side of the universe. I mean, even just to watch these musicians play with such physical abandon feels like a treat (call me, Mr Orange Trombone man – swoon).

The narrative through-line follows the life-cycle of an atom and the programme has a handy chart to help you follow its progression but in all honesty, the show is an abstract canvas which you should just experience without worrying about its finer details (which you can always catch up on later). And the progressive compositional style of Perhaps Contraptions’ songs demand your attention in their delicious and bewitching complexity.

There’s such delight in the unexpected richness and diversity of the sonic palette here and again, it just feels so hard to do justice in words – this is music that needs to be felt, experienced. The rhythms from Iain McDonald’s sousaphone and Riccardo Castellani’s drums anchor the sound well to allow strong vocals and close harmony work to flourish among the bold brass sound. And that movement (from movement directors Christa Harris and Lucy Ridley) is brilliantly executed, to really nail that sense of being so wonderfully different. Highly recommended.  

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Rah Petherbridge
Nearly Human is booking at the VAULT Festival until 23rd February

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