Finnieston Crane to become musical instrument

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IT is the city that gave birth to the Blue Nile, Simple Minds, Franz Ferdinand, Travis and Belle and Sebastian.

But now one of Glasgow’s most iconic landmarks is set to be turned into a giant instrument to help celebrate its “World City of Music” status.

World renowned sound artist Bill Fontana is set to unveil his latest project in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry

World renowned sound artist Bill Fontana is set to unveil his latest project in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry

An American sound artist who has worked on similar projects at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris has visited Glasgow to oversee his plans for the Finnieston Crane on the city’s waterfront.

The crane, built to hoist mainly steam locomotives onto ships for export along the Clyde, was famously featured on the cover of Deacon Blue’s iconic “Raintown” album.

But now its “inner voice” is to be channelled by 65-year-old Bill Fontana for a major new installation at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow, which will operate for 12 hours a day for several weeks from mid-April.

Two tiny super-sensitive microphones will be fitted around two thirds of the way up the 165 ft tall structure, a fixture on the Clyde since 1926, by the artist next month for his project “Silent Echoes.”

A high-definition camera will beam a rotating picture, accompanied by live sounds generated by the microphones to a giant table-shaped structure which will installed outside the entrance to the city centre gallery.

Most of the vibration sounds will be inaudible to the human ear, although the microphones will capture everything from passing pigeons to Glasgow’s fluctuating weather patterns.

The £100,000 project is the first special commission instigated by the Glasgow Unesco City of Music organisation since the status was awarded five years ago.

Mr Fontana has never previously worked in Scotland, but is internationally renowned for projects he has staged around the world, including Paris, Berlin, Venice, Sydney and Tokyo.

Svend Brown, director of Glasgow Unesco City of Music, said: “One of our main objectives is to promote Glasgow internationally as a music destination and as a place of great musical heritage.

“I had the idea of commissioning major artists to create work which is intrinsic to the city so you cannot ignore its roots.

“I approached Bill because nearly everything he has done has really had some kind of geographical aspect to it.

“It wasn’t specifically for the Finnieston Crane. He came to Glasgow for a weekend last year and we climbed all over the Squinty Bridge and the other bridge near the BBC, but ended up with the crane.

“It’s been an amazing challenge to deliver because no-one has ever tried anything like it with the crane before. The idea is that you can stand next to it and not hear anything, but when you put the microphones on it it is listening to Glasgow.”

Mr Fontana’s work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Post Museumi in Frankfurt, the Art History and Natural History Museums in Vienna, both Tate Modern in London, the Venice Biennale, and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

Mr Fontana said: “When Svend invited me to Glasgow for a site visit to see if there was anything that turned me on I was really struck by the crane. It had such an interesting, beautiful structure and I’ve found my way of working with it.

“It seems to me to symbolise Glasgow’s industrial past and it is almost like a landmark or monument to that history. There’s something very compelling about the fact that it doesn’t do anything.

“I’ve done a lot of work using acoustic measurement technology to listen to the sounds that exist within materials and structures. I did some test recordings last year and found that it is quite alive with sound inside itself. It is reacting to the wind and his this deep resonance.

“I was also struck standing under the crane and looking up at it, I decided to also do the video component. As it is no longer active, I decided to have the camera slowly rotating.

“The microphones, which are normally used by structural engineers, are like extremely sensitive listening devices. The crane is reacting to wind and weather and energy of the ambient sound around it. It is excited - the structure is vibrating a response to its surroundings. What you are hearing is the inner voice of the crane.”

Silent Echoes is at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow from 18 April to May 3.