Galleries: Glasgow’s Sonica music and arts festival is back to enchant your senses


It takes a certain talent to bring music and art together – just think of Wagner, who dedicated his life to the “total work of art” – the multidisciplinary opera.

In the parlance of Sonica, the festival of sonic arts created by Glasgow-based arts producers Cryptic, it’s strongly digital but crucially human, the insistence on offering something to the audience, as Cryptic’s founding aim is to “the to enchant the senses”.

Sonica itself will be 10 years old this year, a festival that takes place every two years has thrown a numerical year off track due to the pandemic. With more than eight participating artists from ten countries and eleven venues across the city, some well-known, some new, the festival continues on its path of bringing an international combination of acoustic and visual arts to some of Glasgow’s most interesting old buildings.

Musically, it’s not just electronica, although electronic music plays a big part, but a broader range of musical and visual experiences, whether it’s the creation of music through the audience’s interaction with a field of smoke, or the erratic swinging of a feedback-powered pendulum.

“For me, the most important thing there is the variety of music,” says director Cathie Boyd when we chat about ten days before the show starts.

“The program we presented in 2019 was great, but it was too electronic for me! In 2017 we had the Dunedin Consort (the renowned baroque ensemble) and I loved that mix, old music with visuals. I really want Sonica to open up to different genres.”

There’s a wider mix this year, with digital artists mixing with Gaelic singers, classical musicians, electronica that isn’t and electronica that is. At the inaugural event at Tramway next Thursday, electronic music composer Roly Porter and visual artist Marcel Weber (MFO) will work on monumental visuals alongside Gaelic singer Anne Martin, who will sing funeral hymns in a work inspired by the ritual landscape and burials is – the eponymous Kistvaen – from Dartmoor. “It is beautifully written, profound. The score is electronic, but not electronica. With the visuals, I think it’s going to be absolutely exceptional,” says Boyd.

“It is also exciting that this year we are collaborating with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Gavin Bryars in giving the UK premiere of their viola concerto A Hut in Toyama.”

At the Tramway concert, Bryars will also conduct a performance of his moving Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Spanish artist Alba G. Corral will creatively encode digital landscapes live in response to the music. Boyd is excited about the prospect: “I’ve wanted to do this since the early days of Sonica.”

Elsewhere, a focus on French artists at this year’s festival, Virgile Abela’s Acoustic Pendulum, developed in response to Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music, sees The Pipe Factory hanging over a ground mic, with the pendulum slowly beginning to swing in response to feedback . On Tramway, cellist Maarten Vos improvises live to Maotik’s “Erratic Weather,” in which live weather data from around the world is visually processed into unique hurricanes by digital artist Mathieu Le Sourd.

In a more earthly way, this year’s commissions include Kathy Hinde’s interpretation of Antoine Brumel’s experimental 1550’s ‘Earthquake’ Mass in a play about Mexico’s earthquakes and seismic activity and the fractures of the modern world. Boyd himself travels the world, more physically than digitally, albeit in a somewhat more reticent manner in recent years due to Covid and an increasing focus on sustainable travel and the organisation’s carbon footprint, in search of new assignments. In this respect, all commissioned or performing artists come with two works “so that they can spend at least five days, sometimes as much as two weeks, in the city instead of jetting in for one day”.

The venues are important. “We try to unveil a new venue at each festival. Glasgow is so full of old buildings that we want to give them away!” The festival never stops, says Boyd. “This is the first year that we have not gone to the Hamilton mausoleum. It’s a great place and we will return, but we don’t want to be predictable!”

One senses that predictability is something Boyd is deeply averse to. In 2019 the new venue was The Engine Works. This year the festival features The Deep End, the arts and social enterprise space in Govanhill, and The Pipe Factory at The Barras, which once made disposable Victorian clay pipes. The general idea, as Boyd puts it, is simple. “You wouldn’t expect that in here, so come check it out!”

Sonica, Various Venues, Glasgow, 10-20. March, details and bookings via the website

Critic’s choice

Of all the diverse impressions and experiences that make up our worldview as we grow up, our parents’ lives leave their mark – their passions, their jobs, their inability to sing into keys, perhaps, or a particularly unworldly approach to dividing cutlery drawers .

The father of Catherine Ross, who is mentioned in the preamble to this exhibition, was an Arctic meteorological observer whose imagination may have planted its own fantastic seeds in her childhood mind – and she names it, too, in this North Viewed exhibition, as it does in Dan Richard’s accompanying essay, of the comforting warmth of the cabin.

Aberdeen-based Grays Graduate (BA Painting, 2014), who also won the Muirhead Fund purchase price at last year’s Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) annual exhibition, fresh from a self-paced stay in Iceland, exhibits a series of ‘phantoms’. .

There are images of imagined landscapes, half-remembered, the imprint of a childhood partly spent in remote northern landscapes, and the rich collection of books about the north.

Gouache and watercolor and oil draw sweaters and blankets, carpets, candles lit on a Christmas tree, snow-covered forested slopes, red shadows, the different hues of the northern lights, the deep green of the pine trees.

Some of them contain the notion of existence and perhaps how memories and stories reinvent reality.

Ross captures and exaggerates the caricature of snow-covered trees, the subject returning, a light touch as if recognizing the inherent plastic quality of the material and its ability to render and reframe himself in a different image, himself somewhat humorously to hide and disguise what it envelops.

Catherine Ross: Phantoms, Arusha Gallery, 13a Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 557 1412 16 March – 17 April, Mon – Sat, 10am – 5pm; Sun, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m

Do not miss

From forward-thinking Fife Contemporary, this inspiring exhibition on the ‘circular economy’ explores what the creative world can do to combat and circumvent climate change: the idea that objects are designed to be reused, repaired, shared or can be easily recycled. Curator Mella Shaw, herself a ceramic artist and former curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, highlights 12 artists and designers, as well as Edinburgh’s impressive Tool Library, all contributing to new ideas about embedding the circular economy in their lives.

REsolve: A Creative Approach to the Circular Economy, Kirkcaldy Galleries, War Memorial Gardens, Kirkaldy, 01592583206, , Until 8 May, Tue, Wed, Fri 10-17; Thu 10-7; Sa 10-4; Sun 12-4.


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