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Watch Four Tet's Sumptuous Live Performance in Sydney

 (Sydney Opera House)closemore
(Sydney Opera House)

How well can electronic music work in a traditional concert hall? That's the core question at the heart of a newly released performance from the producer and DJ Four Tet that was filmed in January at Sydney's famed Opera House. Four Tet's answer was to surround his beats with fields of dazzling lights, and to amp up the emotional drama of his music.

In north Indian classical music theory, there's an idea that certain ragas, or melodic scales, are meant to be heard at specific times of day, or night, or year. Each of those ragas elicits a particular rasa — literally, "juice," but used in an artistic context, "mood." Four Tet (a.k.a. Kieran Hebden, whose mother is a South African of Indian heritage) seems to tip to that idea of rasa on his most recent album, last summer's Morning/Evening, made in the wake of his Indian grandmother's death. The vocalist he samples is one of the queens of Bollywood, Lata Mangeshkar, who sings a number from 1983, the melancholy "Main Teri Chhoti Behana Hoon."

The first side of that album, Morning Side, is what we're hearing, and seeing, in this video — and it's the selection with which Four Tet chose to close his Sydney Opera House show. (Maybe because the time was slipping into the wee hours?) Four Tet's recorded version tips to a fully blissed-out rasa, with Mangeshkar's voice haloed in dreamy sound. By contrast, in this live performance, he slips a much heavier percussive and electronically generated section into the middle, flipping the song's atmosphere into another plane entirely.

That mixed emotional message seems fitting for this palatial live-show setting, as the artist is framed with what seems like thousands of glittering LED lights. Should the audience be dancing in the aisles, or sitting back meditatively? There's no clear directive at hand, which some Australian critics perceived negatively in their reviews of the live performance, though that ambiguity also frees the listener to absorb just as she or he chooses. As a video, though, Morning Side definitely draws you in — and inward.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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