It included audience biometrics dictating the visuals on stage
It’s not every gig that you’re greeted with a 91-page score or an accompanying press sheet that credits the music by one person and emotions by another. The merchandise table is stacked with music from Keaton Henson’s varied catalogue, but there’s also poetry, ink paintings and a battery-powered book retailing at a generous £45, batteries included.
Henson has made no secret of his transactions with anxiety. His debut album of nearly a decade ago was folk-rock soaked in self-pity and romantic sadness. Long before the door had opened on a meaningful conversation about mental health, he had become the poster-boy of isolation for a generation coming-to-terms with the digital age. He had helped to humanise a part of the psyche that people were quick to diagnose but reluctant to discuss.
But despite openly admitting that buying milk in public is enough to test his comforts, there was still an expectation that he’d perform. His last few projects thus have been predictably solitary: curated playlists pre-dating Spotify’s “mood” excursions, classical melancholia (‘Romantic Works’) and daytrips into vocally-distorted electronica-cum-interpretive-dance (‘Behaving’).
Having thousands use his music to examine their own wellbeing is an important part of his new composition, ‘Six Lethargies’, played by Britten Sinfonia. Tonight’s premiere is an experiment into the mechanisms of empathy and self-removal: if music is a tool for communication, is a sad note always a sad note? If emotional experience is shared and can be materially exhibited, can the sketchy lines between physical and mental health be systematically rubbed out?