Sonica: Sandglasses @ Tramway
A minimalist concept masks a complex combination of media in Juste Janulyte’s Sandglasses. Four cellists are encapsulated within large tulle columns, human hourglasses to which the title refers. They each play a part of Janulyte’s monochrome composition, which is then recorded and filtered live by electronic artists Michele Tadini and Antonello Raggi. Luca Scarzella and Vilius Vilutis, video and lighting virtuosos respectively, are charged with rendering an optical patterning of the musicians and their claustrophobic surroundings.
Sound is the extraordinary element in this outfit. Listeners are immersed in measured, churning drones, which are simultaneously piercing and lulling. Janulyte has been hailed one of Europe’s most prodigious young composers. Her award-winning music typically features only one type of instrument, producing long, slow, gradual transformations in texture and register. This unique approach sucks time into itself, making it feel both flitting and eternal.
Visuals are slightly less impressive. The piece originated as a sonic exploration of the idea of sand timers. Scarzella and Vilutis were brought in to realise an imagistic side to this symbol. The four large cylinders looming on stage are impressive. That the hourglass theme isn’t taken more literally is a little disappointing, however. There’s a scene at the end of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror film, Vampyr, in which a baddie is drowned by falling flour, an inventively sinister proposition. Sandglasses goes for less offensive projections of multi-coloured lights and swirly designs. These sometimes appear as fishy performers in aquariums, not a theme which digs very deeply into the significance of stretched temporality. At one point, a naked, phantom fellow-cellist appears over all the players, offering a more thoughtful contemplation of the topic. In general, though, Janulyte’s composition is the highlight, standing out as the work’s vital ingredient. [Helen Wright]