Sound Festival 2022, various venues, Aberdeen ****
It’s always a worry when you’re handed earplugs on the way into a concert. Not that they were needed, in the end, for the admittedly ear-challenging gig on Friday from Breton double-bagpipe, double-oboe/shawm ensemble Sonneurs at Aberdeen’s sound festival of new music.
It was a startlingly diverse performance of music written specially for the group, from the strident, wall-of-sound dissonances of Dror Feiler’s Desobedience in DBS to the over-the-top, Hollywood superhero soundtrack-like RUN by Bernard Cavanna – and, as such, joyfully representative of the festival’s all-embracing, generous stance.
Of the two new pieces that sound had commissioned for Sonneurs, Laura Bowler’s Starting Line felt like it needed to develop its connections between lighting level and bagpipe volume/tuning a bit more to truly convince, while Géraldine Foucault’s unashamedly abstract Ce que les oreilles doivent à la nuit was strangely bewitching in its towering harmonies and surprisingly fragile solo for Breton pipes.
Sonneurs leader Erwan Keravec gave an equally memorable solo concert on Highland bagpipes the following afternoon, which showcased his staggering stamina – in Heiner Goebbels’s No. 20.58 which sent him piping all over the concert venue, as well as the relentless, hypnotic repetitions of Philip Glass’s Two Pages – and also his remarkable sensitivity: Éliane Radigue’s OCCAM XXVII dispensed with the bagpipes’ chanter entirely, focusing on minute tuning adjustments between its three drone pipes to equally mesmerising sonic effect.
There were more conventional concert instruments in the spotlight on Saturday evening, though the grouping of the "endangered” (or seldom written-for) viola, bass, horn, oboe and bassoon was itself a novelty, and drew inspiring responses from Scottish composers Electra Perivolaris, in her austere but lyrical, nature-inspired Skein, and Lisa Robertson in the finely judged descent into darkness of her òran nan sgàt, a musical memorial for the endangered flapper skate.
Eclectic, challenging and uncompromising, sound again balanced a welcome seriousness of purpose with provocative playfulness that ensured it was just as entertaining as it was thought-provoking.