It begins abruptly; a sharp-voiced duet between words in the darkness and a miked-up typewriter, percussion drilling into the text under consideration; sections of the Bible, the Talmud and the Koran that describe the story of Abraham, and the meaning it holds.
Videos section out interviews from different times and different countries, gently and respectfully drawing out music and meaning in their words, as the music, like sacred embroidery or illumination on text, picks out phrases and fragments, surrounds, underlines and delineates.
Drones and field recordings of sacred ambience enlarge the sound space, but nothing is ever cluttered. Stage front, there is also a performance artist repeating research actions in a state of repetitive decay, plunging from Instagramming pretty books to cowering in a cave of shredded study notes via a tangle of broken and dysfunctional technology incontinently spilling articles of other people’s faiths.
Perhaps in sympathy, the third and final act is struck by harsh technical problems, losing audio from the videos. The orchestra carry on in a subject-appropriate spirit of quiet acceptance, but it’s an obvious struggle, like a corps de ballet dancing around a pair of empty shoes. The voices in The Cave are the music – and by the time they return we are desperate to hear them, and they all the more affecting for it, and we sink instantly back into the music of voices of people thinking deeply about what matters to them and to others.
“We are relatives”, one of the interviewees repeats; and in the measured space of the performance, connectedness emerges between different faiths as well an enhanced appreciation of their “little discrepancies”. There is one more chance to see this affecting and beautiful collaboration between video artist Beryl Korot and composer Steve Reich by the Oxford Alternative Orchestra. Don’t miss it.