Julianna Barwick

Julianna Barwick


The Deaf Institute is a more sophisticated place than normal tonight. Decked with four rows of chairs and soundtracked by some choice ambient music between acts, the chatter rarely raises beyond a murmur. There’s certainly no crowd noise during opening act Tiny Leaves. The project of composer Joel Nathaniel Pike, the music has been described as indie classical, but tonight the emphasis is on the latter.

Pike alternates between guitar and keyboard, and is joined throughout by Apollo on violin, who, as Pike acknowledges at one stage, often has to play cello, viola and violin parts with his one instrument. The music, taken from his two released albums and forthcoming third, is sparse and evocative. Several of the tracks start out with a cautious hope and grow confident as they progress, culminating in a warm, delicate peace of mind. It feels like music that comes from a very British tradition, and hopefully Pike will continue to see audiences grow.

Julianna Barwick’s traditions are more ambiguous. Growing up in rural Missouri and now residing in New York City, you imagine that the transition from quiet, open space to hysterical metropolis has informed her approach to music. As she stands alone on The Deaf Institute stage tonight, she offers music that seems to be the antidote to fast city life – a way to re-engage with our innermost thoughts and emotions at a time when attention spans have never been shorter. It is no coincidence that her breakthrough album was called The Magic Place.

She takes us on a tour of her last three albums, including this year’s luscious Will, on which the non-vocal parts of her music take on a greater presence than ever before. Tonight, ‘Nebula’ features a looping, oozing, midnight synth line – hell, you might even call it a beat – that suggests the world’s slowest rave. It is an ideal introduction into her pace of life, and from there we are putty in her hands.

We are soon treated to what Barwick does best – the polyphonic reverie of her voice, reverbed and overdubbed in its own celestial beauty. She makes mountains out of her vocals, with every breath she takes on tracks like ‘Beached’ and ‘The Harbinger’ suggesting a million possible melodies, without ever finally choosing one. The music might come slowly, but it’s still too much to take in. It isn’t usually a good sign for the audience not to applaud for the first 50 minutes of a set, but in this case it isn’t until then that they are drawn out of their spell for even a moment.

When she does break, she is joined on stage by Apollo on violin for his second appearance of the night. The added presence gives the rest of the set a fuller, clearer direction, although these things are relative. Around the room, eyes are still closed, and heads continue to rock slowly. It is a group of people spending 70 minutes inside their own heads, and feeling. That is an all-too-precious commodity these days.

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Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.