SONICA, taking place across Glasgow from today, promises a feast of ‘sonic art for the visually minded’. But what will that involve, exactly? Its creators talk David Pollock through five highlights.
Glasgow’s status as the second city of contemporary art in Britain will be bolstered this week by the arrival of the very first Sonica, an event staged by leading art production company Cryptic and exploring the emerging field of sound art. Although not a new phenomenon by any means, sound art was thrust into the spotlight of the mainstream contemporary art world in 2010 when Susan Philipsz – also from Glasgow – won the Turner Prize for her Lowlands installation along the banks of the River Clyde.
Curated by Cryptic and Sonica’s artistic director Cathie Boyd, alongside Graham McKenzie and Patrick Dickie, this first Sonica will bring together installations, live artworks and musical performances by artists from South Korea, Lithuania, Holland and Scotland – this year’s Turner nominee Luke Fowler, more commonly known as a video artist, will be contributing two works. Although the event will make for an attention-grabbing first salvo aimed at presenting these pieces in an accessible format, however, Cryptic’s intention is to use the Sonica brand throughout the year to promote one-off events at home and abroad, spreading the reach and appreciation of a still little-understood art form.
Here are five things you can expect to experience at Sonica.
1 AN OPERA IN A DESK
Already witnessed last month at Aberdeen’s Sound festival, Claudia Molitor’s Remember Me sets out to recreate the experience of witnessing live opera in miniature. Although the artist is secretive about what exactly will appear within the white writing desk left to her by her late grandmother, we know that it involves several live interventions by her, including film showings, a visit to the “orchestra pit” and the serving of interval refreshments.
“For me, opera has always been a reflection of how society sees itself,” she says. “This is what Remember Me seeks to do as well, to reflect upon how we engage with culture and with one another.”
Molitor says the experience she wishes to create is one which leaves a “big and quick and fast” world behind, and which instead focuses on the smallest sights and sounds, inviting people to enjoy using their senses to an acute degree. Telling the story of an imagined meeting between operatic heroines Dido and Eurydice, the work is also a tribute to the original owner of the desk.
“She kept her papers and her letters inside,” says Molitor, “and it was really her only private space in a house which belonged, because of when she lived, to her husband and children. At the same time I thought of these great operatic heroines who sing these wonderful arias and then have to die at the end, and I wondered, what if this pair met and decided to change their stories?”
• Remember Me by Claudia Molitor is at Scotland Street School Museum, today, 14 and 15 November.
2 FOUR CELLISTS PERFORMING INSIDE EGG TIMERS
LITHUANIAN composer Just Janulyt resists placing any specific meaning upon her new audio/visual piece Sandglasses, instead insisting it’s a work which must be experienced in person to truly appreciate it. It certainly appears to be one of the most striking performative pieces at Sonica: a composition for four cellists from the Gaida Ensemble, who play within glass cylinders overlaid with video images of sandstorms and running water created by Italian artist Luca Scarzella.
“It’s an accumulation of sounds and images over time,” Janulyt says cryptically. “It can be interpreted in all possible ways, but for our group of artists it’s about the acoustic and visual elements more than transcendental themes or metaphors. It’s important to note also that all the images are real, not computer generated, and that all the sounds are produced live on stage.” Interpret that how you will, or just enjoy it for what it is.
• Sandglasses by JustJanulyt is at Tramway, today and tomorrow.
3 HUNDREDS OF ROBOT FINGERS DRUMMING
Speaking to South Korean artist Mookyoung Shin about his work for Sonica through an interpreter leaves little room for manoeuvre in deciphering why he has created a rhythmic symphony of hundreds of robot fingers drumming, yet his statements point the way. “It’s the people who are living in the current world,” he says. “it’s a reflection of how these people live a repetitive life.”
Sonica artistic director Cathie Boyd elaborates further. “You’re in a darkened room, and then one hand starts to tap, and then another and another until a cacophony builds up,” she says. “His interpretation is that people are bored of their lives every day, so they tap their fingers because it’s a mundane activity reflective of the kind of society he doesn’t wish to join, whereas a lot of people who have seen it say they feel they’re being judged, because the rhythm is quite threatening. It’s both immersive and very beautiful, but that’s the great thing about visual art, it’s open to so many interpretations.”
• Our Contemporaries by Mookyoung Shin is at the Tramway, tomorrow until 18 November.
4 A BOX TELLING AN INSIDE-OUT STORY
Garish French folk tale Bluebeard is being radically reinterpreted at Sonica, courtesy of Dutch artistic collective 33 1/3 (Douwe Dijkstra, Jules van Hulst and Coen Huisman).
“An opera, but told with film,” is how Dijkstra attempts to describe it, although it seems very much like the kind of project that will divert true understanding until it’s seen live. We know there is a large box on stage, and that this box represents a physical reversal of the story – that Bluebeard’s wife is “inside” the box, and that when she opens one of the doors on its side to witness the further horror of another room in his house, what she finds is represented by film, music and live interventions by the 33 1/3 trio on the “outside”.
“There is already an opera of the story,” says Dijkstra, “in which Bluebeard’s wife Judith stands on stage and opens the seven doors, but we never see what’s inside, only hear her describe it. So we’re taking the classic perspective of the opera and turning it inside out to create a sense of disorientation.”
Van Hulst has an even more intriguing take: “We’re trying to make the audience feel like they are part of the story.”
• Bluebeard by the 33 1/3 Collective is at Tramway, 14t-18 November.
5 A TURNER PRIZE-NOMINATED ARTIST MAKING ELECTRONIC MUSIC
GlASGOW-based Luke Fowler is best known as a video artist – his piece All Divided Selves is one of the nominees for this year’s Turner Prize – but he made his interest in sound art known to Sonica artistic director Cathie Boyd. “It was when he won the Paul Hamlyn award in London in 2010,” says Boyd. “He came up to me and said, ‘You won’t remember this but I was one of the engineers on your (2006) Gavin Bryars recording.’ After that I stayed up very late on a Monday night to hear him play Serge [a classic synthesizer] at the Old Hairdressers in Glasgow.”
With Fowler currently not doing interviews in advance of the Turner award ceremony, Boyd can only guess – like the rest of us – at what his live performance alongside Jean-Luc Guionnet will entail. “I know they plan to explore the relationship between dance and electronic music,” she says, “so I know there will be noise and there will be music. When I approached him to do this, though, it was to hear him play Serge and to explore a side of his work that people don’t necessarily know.” Fowler’s film Pilgrimage From Scattered Points, about composer Cornelius Cardew and his Scratch Orchestra, will also be shown during the week.
• Luke Fowler & Jean-Luc Guionnet perform at the CCA, 16 November; Pilgrimage From Scattered Points is at the CCA, 12-16 November.
• Sonica is at various venues around Glasgow until 19 November. Full programme at www.sonic-a.co.uk