Peloton: Helsinki, Finland, January 8, 2012

Anthony Shaw BY

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The Cable Factory
Helsinki, Finland
November 2011—January 2012
January 8, 2012
Many a gigging musician has spent lengthy formative hours in an opera house pit, a symphony orchestra stand or, in this case, under the modern equivalent of a big top. With contemporary circus entertainment more compact—even low key at times—venues are typically former industrial project buildings rather than a portable canvas canopy, but other than the acoustics it's the same for the musician: regular work, but with the spice of live performance.
The Peloton Quartet is certainly no stranger to the circus world, with Funeral, Circus and Other Music (Lilith, 2009) and most performances in recent years being alongside dance and performance artists. During the winter season 2011 to 2012, the band provided music for contemporary circus company Hurjaruuth, performing in a converted basement boiler room in the arts and performance complex known as Nokia's former Cable Factory, on the western edge of central Helsinki. While previous tenants moved on to more profitable activity connecting people with their cell phones, the art of circus entertainment also dropped the traditional touring troupe style in favor of temporarily assembled youthful acts, this time drawn mainly from the four corners of Europe for a two-month seasonal show.
Just as the big top traditionally boasted a gaggle of live players and a red-coated conductor, live circus today also reaps the reward of spontaneous musical performance playing a vital role in the show. With all four members adorned in Dada-esque pointy hats and leotards, and their multiple instruments squeezed onto a small balcony overlooking the stage, the band offered a spectacle as intriguing to the adults as the clowns and jugglers were to the children. Between Pentii Luomakangas, Affe Forsman, Eero Savela and Tapani Varis, over a dozen separate instruments were plucked, blown or beaten, without once resorting to a synthesizer to boost the palette. The two sets each lasted almost an hour and the musicians left their perch as sweaty as some performers. Indeed the music had to be played with constant intensity every night, following the rhythm of the performance at every moment in case of improvisation or accident.

While many of the tricks of the trade are solidly traditional, modern circus is more ethnocentric than ever before—and maybe more spontaneous. The same was true for this show's musical score, featuring frequent variation of tempo, the building up and release of tension, collective celebration of individual physical prowess, and more. Peloton's music covers many genres, maybe generally classifiable as cosmopolitan, generally with one solo instrument leading and sung choruses in fake English or Russian. All except drummer Forsman contributed compositions, which ranged from ethereal flute accompaniment of the solo female acrobat and stirring choruses to support the bouts of strongman prowess to roistering oom-pahs of frequent carnival parades. While the majority of the audience was certainly underage, conversation on departure amongst many of the accompanying adults focused on the music as important a contributor to the pleasurable suspension of disbelief as the glamour and glitter in the ring.

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