Sonica - various venues, Glasgow, Thu 31 Oct–Sun 3 Nov 2013 (3 stars)

Sonica - various venues, Glasgow, Thu 31 Oct–Sun 3 Nov 2013

Photo: Fabrice Allard

The sound art festival features performances and installations from Raydale Dower and HC Gilje

‘Sound Art’ is an eclectic genre, encompassing electro-acoustic composition and installation soundscapes. The Sonica festival’s intention, to provide ‘sonic art for the visually minded’, goes further, programming cross-platform opera (The Buffer Zone) alongside Voice and Compositions for Involuntary Strings, which are closer to a traditional concert.

Raydale Dower’s The Eye of the Duck installation in the CCA is a cheeky remake of David Lynch’s famous ‘Cooper’s Dream’ scene from Twin Peaks, yet Voice and Involuntary Strings mean serious business. Voice is a duet for distorted vocals and light design, while Involuntary Strings is an experiment that examines what sounds can be made when musicians are wired to a machine controlling their playing. The Eye of a Duck is accessible, witty and concise; the two concerts are intriguing and challenging.

Close to a standard gig – HC Gilje’s dramatic light-score would not be out of place at a rock concert – Voice has moments of populist clarity. The finale, when singer and composer Maja SK Ratkje excavates the dusty poetry of old folk song, is moving and passionate, and the bulk of the performance is taken up by a vigorous and aggressive exploration of the treated voice, modulated by machines. Ratkje coos and growls, hemmed in by Gilje’s screens. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, evocative of a ritual performed in a cave, and, ironically, the piece uses technology to simulate a primal, emotive roar.

Ratkje struggles to maintain the intensity, though, and Gilje’s deliberate refusal to illustrate the music’s cadences prevents a fully immersive performance. Ratkje seems to be testing the possibilities of manipulated vocals rather than focusing them into something awesome.

Involuntary Strings has little visual appeal, aside from a string quartet connected to the mains: Michaela Davies sets ‘manipulated’ players against two ‘free’ players, comparing and contrasting the sounds of involuntary muscle movement against the trained precision of the conscious musician. Sadly, the idea is more fascinating than the result – Davies even refers to the involuntary music as ‘not playing properly’. While this may be the start of an ongoing study, which might develop into more engaging compositions, the musical result is predictable. Some eloquent melodies battle some scraping notes.

Sonica’s programme is admirable for sketching the boundaries of sound art, and offers glimpses into the outer edges of composition. While the main events at Tramway highlight musicians working toward new strategies, the installations, including Dower’s Duck and Sven Werner’s menacingly nostalgic The Escapement, offer more immediate impact.

Sonica 2013: Voice by Maja S K Ratkje / HC Gilje

Sonica 2013 on Soundcloud


Cutting edge performance by established international artists, crossing the boundaries of music, theatre, visual and electronic art. It is produced by Cryptic, who are responsible for some of the most fascinating live performance work in the country. Since its launch in 2012, the festival has presented over 400 events by…

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