Sonica 2012: Adventures in Sound
Cryptic have long entertained Glasgow in the CCA with their series of Nights, evening events with an open submission policy that present work focussing on the innovative, the emerging, and the multimedia. Now they've created a new format, inspired by the sheer number of submissions they were receiving for Cryptic performances that fell under the banner of sonic art.
It can be a contentious subject, sonic art – what separates it from music? And is an acceptance of it as an entity a generational one? Just a few years ago, 'sonic art' still seemed to reside in the realms of the ludicrously conceptual. Now it seems to be a perfectly reasonable part of the cultural landscape. It's not simply music, no – its site specific nature makes it largely dependent on performance, an experiential art form. As Sonica's Creative Director, Cathie Boyd puts it, “You have to be there to experience it. It’s what it does to you physically as well as acoustically.”
She continues, “I think there’s a huge growing element within the visual arts scene to use sound – if you look at Susan Phillpsz who won the Turner, or Luke Fowler who’s now shortlisted. Sound has always been a huge part of his work. I think there’s always been that crossover between sound and visual art and I guess what we’re doing within Sonica is a lot of the music we’re presenting, whether you call it music or sonic art, it’s all about how it’s presented visually. It’s not just about the listening. I also think that a younger generation are more interested in Sonic Art. It’s more specific to them than if you just say ‘music.’”
Boyd's vision for Sonica is inspiring. A producer, director and curator with a wealth of experience ranging from the traditional high artform of opera to the bleeding edge of conceptual performance, she describes a programme with an inclusive approach, a passion for the emergent, and a desire to both foster the development of new work and shine a light on existing international art that hasn't had the attention it deserves in Scotland. Working with co-curators Graham McKenzie and Patrick Dickie, they have developed a festival (for want of a better term – Boyd is keen to avoid calling it that, on which more later) which should offer a series of unmissable events; rare opportunities to be introduced to the cream of international sonic, kinetic and visual arts. Crucially, they all have contrasting opinions. “We all have completely different tastes. It’s interesting when it’s three people – it’s not just one person saying 'I want I want I want;' it really is discussing the work.”
Sonica brings together highlights from across the globe. It opens with a public engagement programme, launching on 18 October with Piano Migrations, a kinetic artwork by Kathy Hinde that will be residing in the Scottish Music Centre for a month. Using an old piano, the artist has created a work which deals with nature through electronic means, with video of little birds landing projected onto the strings, triggering a series of small machines to twitch and throb the piano's strings. The work will also be projected in the window to entice passers-by into the space.
Lithuanian composer Juste Janulyte presents the Scottish premiere of her work Sandglasses (8 & 9 Nov, Tramway), an entrancing three dimensional performance work featuring four cellists playing in transparent columns, with lights mimicking grains of sand flitting across the tubes, visuals building in intensity along with the rising power of the music.
Collective 33 1/3 bring their production of Bartok's opera Bluebeard (14-18 Nov, Tramway). Artists Douwe Dijkstra, Jules van Hulst and Coen Huisman have ripped apart the traditions of opera to create a contemporary vision using state of the art technology. Says Boyd, “Opera has become quite a staid artform, which for me is a real shame because opera is multimedia – it was the first multimedia work. It’s visual art, choreography and music – beautiful... This is opera for the next generation. This is opera for young people who play a lot of games, who’re used to amazing virtual reality and fantastic visual.”
Glasgow-based artist Sven Werner is showing Tales of Magical Realism Part 2 (14-18 Nov, Tramway), a follow up to Part 1 which debuted at Cryptic Nights. A filmmaker by training, Werner has been increasingly working in multimedia installation, creating immersive works that seek to replicate physically the world of a film he and a partner have scripted, Oculista, which currently languishes in development. He says of the Sonica event, “The aim is to create very immersive experiences. I try to take people into these worlds of magical realism. [Tales of Magical Realism] is creating a new experience of being inside, of experiencing the film from the inside out.
“The piece starts in a Kafka-inspired waiting room in which things are happening, performances and live music. You find yourself in this timeless space. Then at certain intervals, every 6 minutes, numbers are being called, and people are individually led through into another space where another experience is waiting, this installation. I don’t want to give too much away, but basically [the audience will be] entering this filmic story by peeping into these scenes and becoming part of this scene as you peep into the story.” The aesthetic has been described as steampunk, with a Victoriana sensibility reflected in the inclusion of penny farthings in the installation space, generating part of the work for audience members. The sound piece for the work is provided by collaborator Graeme Miller.
The technical rules of Sonica have been thoughtfully assembled – no event will last longer than an hour, meaning the out of town visitors will have the chance to fit in a few shows in a single day. It also makes the experience much less daunting for those with little or no experience of the world of sonic art – an hour isn't very long to promise to pay attention. Ticketing is based on an early bird system, where advance bookings enjoy healthy discounts. This project wants to encourage attendance rather than draw massive profits.
Don't call it a festival, though. Boyd doesn't want to limit Sonica by giving it that title. “We want Sonica to be much more fluid. It can be a festival, but we can also have other events. It’s a platform to enable us to really present the best sonic art, and that can be at different times throughout the year. Sonica can build to a festival size, or it can just be a one off performance that we want to put the Sonica label on.” Look out for future events popping up in Glasgow, the rest of Scotland and across the globe.