IN THE early 18th century, women were discouraged from playing the newly invented flute for fear of its strongly sexual overtones. Around the same time, just like the chart songs of today, opera arias would have been far better known through their superstar performers – seldom remembered now – than through their mere jobbing composers.
Sound Thought 2014 - CCA, Glasgow
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It’s astonishing the nuggets you can pick up at an academic conference – and Sound Thought, a weekend of events at the CCA organised by postgraduate students from Glasgow University, went further than a traditional set of paper presentations, mixing talks, installations and performances at the cutting edge of sound art from advanced students and performers around the UK. The saucy flute revelation came from Elizabeth Ford’s entertaining talk on the chamber music of neglected Scottish Baroque composer William McGibbon in a lecture-recital on Saturday lunchtime, and Scottish soprano Brianna Robertson-Kirkland gave an accomplished performance of the virtuoso 18th-century arias she’s exploring for her PhD – including an Auld Lang Syne with added Scotch snaps and Caledonian ornaments designed to appeal to Scottish listeners. Interesting stuff, but still couched comfortably in academia.
An installation in the CCA’s cinema, however, moved the audience firmly into sonic art. Georgia Rodgers’s Late Lines remix put the playing of cellist Séverine Ballon through electronic processing to create sounds whose granular textures were so vivid you wanted to reach out and touch them. Sent spinning around the listener through four loudspeakers in the corners of the room, the music melded machine-like pistons and valves, sandstorms and solar winds into a slowly developing – and strangely gripping – crescendo.
Saturday evening’s concert continued the sound art theme – with rather mixed results. It started strongly with the straightforward but powerfully effective Laminate by Mark Summers, in which the fragile clicks and scratchings he drew from his expressive caressing of a viola da gamba were looped through four speakers surrounding the listeners, building to a dense, thick wall of sound that was impressive in its majesty. Random Order Collective’s A Poem Without A Tongue combined the Big Bang, TV static, bed and breakfasts and Doctor Who in a largely impenetrable multimedia offering – not helped by the absence of threequarters of the Collective. Neil Simpson unleashed a furious aural assault in limp limb, which mixed his own processed vocals with noisy degraded audio in a curiously compelling if overlong work in progress.
Best of the bunch was the final work, Blind Sight, full of resonant contradictions. Visual artist Steve Hollingsworth attempted to play the Baroque cello of professional cellist Alison McGillivray, who prowled the stage floor drawing primitive electronic sounds from a glowing neon tube. Both were out of their depth, attempting to communicate with each other and create a coherent performance using materials entirely unfamiliar to them, while a glowing fire guttered in a stuttering projection behind them. It was a poetic meditation on vulnerability and failure, touching in its directness.
And it proved a moving climax to an event that combined academic insights with boundary-pushing creativity to never less than provocative effect.