So Below: Alex Smoke and Maarten Vos
- Lorna Irvine
- 5 April 2019
Beautiful collaboration for Cryptic
Scottish composer and musician Alex Smoke has always created work which is highly ambitious, from dance music to his recent pieces for Scottish Ballet, so a collaboration with Dutch cellist Maarten Vos for Cryptic Nights is perfect. So Below, the result of five years' work (where Smoke researched fields of traditional and sacred music) is absolutely sublime.
The beautiful setting is Glasgow University Memorial Chapel, lit by only a few candles. As the sun sets, so their soundscape shifts, from restorative chiming bells to eerie drones, gongs, and a wash of ambient synths.
Patterns begin to subtly emerge in the music, with repeated motifs of keyboard and ticklish harmonics gradually developing. It's truly visceral as the layers build, inducing goosebumps and shivers.
The samples of chanting monk voices seem to first wrap, and then curl, right around the building, merging with Vos' sinewy, gorgeous looped cello. At times, Smoke's music seems unsettling and scratchy like a lost Giallo horror soundtrack, but it all builds into a shimmering resolution of sound, all meditative, warm and transcendent.
This is contemporary experimental electronic music at its most rewarding, experienced live. Spectres may circle in Smoke's sounds, but they are friendly ghosts.
Reviewed at University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel, Wed 3 Apr.