Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

A Nightmare-Like Labyrinth: ‘Kid A Mnesia Exhibition’

Radiohead’s first idea to celebrate two decades of their landmark albums Kind A and Amnesiac was to crash a brutalist spacecraft into the Victoria and Albert Museum, “inserted into the urban fabric of London like an ice pick in Trotsky”. It would be made from shipping containers and would tour the world. But the V&A did not want to give permission; nor the Royal Albert Hall. Eventually, Covid-19 completely thwarted the plan, so the group decided on an alternative plan – an “interactive exhibit” released last week, which plays like a video game, an event for fans and newcomers to take a psychedelic walk through two seminal rock albums.

The group has always been interested in using new technologies to release their work, from the early adoption of streaming for Kind A‘s release in 2000 to In Rainbows, made available in 2007 as a pay-what-you-want digital purchase. For this year’s reissue of Kind A and Amnesiac, the group joined TikTok with a series of surreal videos. In this context, a game feels like a fitting new experiment, especially one that celebrates Kind A, which was released at the beginning of music’s digital age and marks a transformation for the group, featuring the guitar riffs and vocals of OK Computer for oblique song structures and an extensive sonic palette of string sections, synthesizers, and drum machines.

Although it is called an exhibition and plays like a musical loop simulator, the experience of Kid A Mnesia Exhibition is much more ambitious than walking through digital corridors and looking at virtual art. The player wanders through a nightmare-like labyrinth full of moments of calm and beauty, in tune with the tone of anger, anxiety and millennium-changing paranoia evoked by these albums.

The exhibition features ghostly landscapes. . .

. . . and disturbing creatures

The exhibition, developed over two years with game studios namethemachine and Arbitrarily Good Productions, includes the player in the rich visual world created by lead singer Thom Yorke and longtime artist collaborator Stanley Donwood. Their striking imagery deserves wider attention: two books of their artwork have been published along with the reissue albums and interactive exhibition.

Donwood and Yorke’s album art conjured up a solitary world that thoughtfully expanded into interactive 3D space. The landscapes are plagued by anxiety about politics and climate change, the colors often sickening. As you wander through the maze of tunnels, disturbing creatures appear – spidery figures with grinning faces, white monsters made of papier-mâché and minotaurs, lost and doomed in labyrinths of their own making. In an interview, Yorke described them as “personifications of the mood of the time, flowing in and out of the songs and writing. The faceless terrorists; the self-serving politicians; corporate big-headed hugs.”

In addition to the artwork, on digital walls and 3D versions of Radiohead’s bestiary, there are dramatic set pieces in certain rooms that sound track specific songs: a hurricane of swirling paper on the tumbling guitar of “In Limbo”, a blood-red uterine-like chamber that together pulse. to the heavy-hearted piano of “Pyramid Song” and a spectacular cube of light that pulses to the shaky percussion of “Packt Like Sardines In a Crushd Tin Box”.

Thom Yorke described the figures appearing in the exhibition as ‘personifications of the mood of the time’.

The group’s longtime producer Nigel Godrich took each song apart using the original multitrack recordings and restructured its elements to be activated at key moments in the experience. As a Radiohead fan, I was delighted when I entered a hallway and was swallowed up by the syrupy sinths of “Everything in Its Right Place” and discovered an amber blob that, when it entered, the furious bassline of “The National Anthem “caused it to erupt. of the speakers. Because each song is rearranged by your movements, the experience is often similar to hearing these tracks for the first time – and they still sound fresh today.

Musicians start today wake up to the marketing potential of the playground, but little – Björk aside – explored the artistic possibilities of games. It’s refreshing to have an experience that draws us deeper to fully engage with these songs. Perhaps such music games linked to new releases will one day be just as common as music videos today. The groundbreaking idea of ​​MTV was that music was not just about listening, it was about watching. The Kid A Mnesia Exhibition argues that the next evolution of music game may be.

‘Kid A Mnesia Exhibition’ is now available for free on PS5, PC and Mac

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