By Susanna Mulvihill
After ringing a buzzer to get into Venue 40 on Shandwick Place then climbing three flights of stairs to the sounds of Hitler shouting for Goebbels it feels disarming to enter a small room half filled with instruments. A violin, cello, bouzouki, banjo, dulcimer and guitar hang from stands, a digital piano, toy piano, stylophone, bells and a glockenspiel are carefully arranged next to each other and the floor is littered with an array of effect pedals, loopers and a foot piano, with an autoharp hidden away in the corner. There is also a kind of home made wine box snare drum upon which sits a selection of musical water glasses (the Crystal Sisters) not to mention a theramin. You would be forgiven for assuming that this could perhaps be a bit of a gimmick, that no two people could possibly play all these instruments will a high level of skill on each, let alone manoeuvre around them, but you would be wrong.
Lit solely by a handful of birdies and with candles lining the mantlepiece behind him, Nick Pynn greets his audience with a warm smile. He begins this performance with an instrumental piece on the dulcimer that is wholly palindromic. With a looper and reverse delay he immediately creates a piece that is both beautiful and mathematically intriguing at the same time. The intelligence and compelling nature of the music throughout the entire set is abundantly apparent, yet all the sounds we are treated to, despite being so carefully placed, are magical. Life is not lived in a vacuum and there are so many influences that come through in this show, from classical to folk, songwriting to cicadas, yet it never feels cluttered or confused.
Predominantly an instrumental gig, the few songs performed are sung in a sweetly understated way by Pynn and Grant. Pynn’s introductions to each piece indicate that he almost sees life in musical terms, being influenced by his surroundings, and the results are immensely evocative. A good example of this is “Heriot Row”, written during his first outing to the Edinburgh Fringe, which paints a brilliant picture of both the austere architecture of the city in grey, dour weather before celebrating its beauty in the sunlight. “Here Comes Everybody” inspired by James Joyce builds an array of instruments to such a crescendo that you really feel that Everybody imaginable is arriving.
The manner in which Pynn and Grant address the audience is friendly and relaxed and the surroundings make you feel like you are in their living room, which Pynn alludes to at one point. The music is in turns playful, joyful, emotive and curious; it would not be out of place in a film score. The skill required to play such complex music is overwhelming: a single finger out of place would ruin a piece. However the virtuosity on display ensures that this is unlikely ever to happen. The hour is over far too soon. These are truly two of the finest, creative and outstanding musicians around and this is a show definitely not to be missed. It must be mentioned that, while Grant is accompanying Pynn in this line-up, he accompanies her material in an earlier gig in the same venue at 20:15. It would be a fair guess, judging from this, that that would also be well worth a listen.