Complicite's The Encounter opens in Edinburgh

After 5 years of workshops and experiments Complicite's The Encounter has opened Edinburgh's International Festival. The project has taken me further than most - myself, director/performer Simon McBurney, photographer Chloe Courtney and guide Paul Heritage spent 5 days in Brazil in 2014 staying with a community of Mayorunan's, the tribe who feature in the story of Amazon Beaming, which this show is based around - hearing their stories and travelling into the rainforest to record it's sounds. Several hundred mosquito bites later those recordings form the bed for the show. Since then I've been binaurally recording Cessna aircraft, various mosquito colonies at the London School of Tropical Medicine and leading a merry band of volunteers around Epping Forest - though perversely I got more mosquito bites in Epping Forest than I did in the mosquito colonies.

Photos by Gareth Fry, Chloe Courtney and Simon McBurney

It's all very well having lots of binaural recordings to play in the show but they mean nothing without headphones to listen to them through. Most shows that use binaural sound go down the wireless headphones route, but I didn't feel the quality was up to the needs of this show. Further experiments ensued to develop a wired headphone system that could deliver the sound to over 500 people, one that could do weekly touring with a variety of different auditoria and seats. Custom hardware was manufactured by a team of sound engineers and seamstresses across the country, and the show requires the installation of several kilometres of cable, ably installed and managed by Joshua Robins, Shaun Clark and Andrew KirkbySennheiser have very kindly provided us with HP02-100 headphones to use for the show. 

Photo: Gareth Fry

Photo: Gareth Fry

Photo: Gareth Fry

Photo: Gareth Fry

Whilst the headphone system requires a lot of preparation, The Encounter is also a devised show - the script came out of rehearsals as a process of experimentation and refinement. In fact our press night in Edinburgh marked only the 5th time we'd ever run the show from start to finish. The show is and will remain in constant flux so we can change and refine the story as we go. To do this we have an unusually large sound team. We have Helen Skiera operating microphones and loops - busking with Simon the different voices and microphones he will use and looping them, alongside Simon's onstage looping controls. We have Ella Wahlstrom operating and Pete Malkin, design associate on music and fx, playing in and riding the level of the music, sound effects and voice-overs to the headphones and wireless speakers around the space. Between them they can respond fast to changes in the show, whether pre-arranged or as they happen during performance. One of the large parts of the many weeks we've spent making this show has been about learning how to respond to Simon, to anticipate and to lead with sound, so that together we can act as one, and the division between storytelling and sound design are non-existent. 

Photo: Gareth Fry

Photo: Gareth Fry

For me this show started out in a rehearsal room five years ago with rudimentary technology as we explored the ideas that would form the show. We've harnessed the technology so it becomes invisible - but far from inaudible! - and indivisible from the process of telling the story. 

Photo: Gianmarco Bresadola

Photo: Gianmarco Bresadola

Encounter Reviews

★★★★ Time Out
"jaw-droppingly sophisticated sound design"
"nature, technology and theatre all straining cacophonously at the possibilities of what they can be"

★★★★★ The Daily Telegraph
"What you hear has the intimacy of someone whispering in your ears, as if snuggled up beside you. But, more than that, thanks to an array of sonic gadgetry ... the effect is fully immersive – so that you hear sounds from all sides, conjured with disconcerting pinpoint precision."
"perturbing, polyphonic paradise."
"we too are taken into a synapse-altering space, floating free of modernity’s plastic trappings. Does that sound like a far-fetched claim? Honestly, with this head-turning, spellbinding show, hearing is believing."

★★★★★ The Independent
"A must-see - or perhaps I should say, a must-hear."

★★★★★ Financial Times
"a rich and intricate soundscape ... this one-man show bursts with colour and life, a seamless blend of technology and storytelling."

★★★★★ The Scotsman
"a complex, beautifully-balanced and almost infinitely inventive stream of live and recorded sound, delivered to the audience on headphones,"

★★★★★ The Herald
"sound designer Gareth Fry ... [has] integrated a dazzling technical display into McBurney's journey ... in an astonishing theatrical feat where discovery is all."

★★★★★ Variety
"Gareth Fry’s design piles up layers of sounds — recorded interviews, foley effects, a soundscape of McBurney’s home study. The effect is a soundcloud of a process, in which fact and fiction, past and present, research and production intermingle, spinning a story out of the air."

★★★★★ The Stage
" the performance is transferred from the stage deep into the heads of the audience (literally, or so it feels). ... his whispers move around the inside of your head: the way stories are heard at night by a child on the way to sleep, ... Advanced technology and storytelling are married to take a great yarn deep into its roots"

★★★★★ WhatsOnStage
"This extraordinary show is a sonic blast and a half ... Sometimes you catch yourself turning around in your seat, so convincing is the wrap-around aural babble of voices, insects, crackling fire, rushing rivers."

★★★★★ The British Theatre Guide
"McBurney and his hidden cohorts create some amazing visual and more particularly audio effects ... sounds that initially emanate from his actions begin to reverberate and take on lives of their own."

★★★★★ Edinburgh Guide
"a vividly evocative soundscape with its myriad of voices and music revolving in our mind."

★★★★ The Guardian
" In a solo performance made with many people ... he pulls the thread of a story from out of the noise of contemporary western life and the sounds of the jungle to create a meditation on interconnectedness, perception and time."
"McBurney’s piece is a Chinese whisper of a show from a far-distant world that is delivered straight into the audience’s head using binaural technology and headphones."
"the technology combines with McBurney’s dense, complex storytelling to lure us deeper into the thickets of the imagination where time is not just one dimension, where there are many different kinds of language and where jaguars hunt."

★★★★ The Times
"this revelatory new one-man show from Simon McBurney and his company Complicite, can make you hear the world through new ears".

Find out more at Complicite's website.

Edinburgh International Festival
8 – 23 August
Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne
8 – 12 September
Bristol Old Vic
18 – 20 September
Warwick Arts Centre
8 – 11 October
Barbican, London
12 February – 6 March
HOME, Manchester
17 – 19 March