As we spend ever more of our time in virtual spaces, from social media to VR gaming, Québecois artists Push 1 stop and Wiklow seek to reverse the trend, realising virtual environments in the physical world. Through a smoky, semi-opaque haze, and to a pounding techno accompaniment, the audience will see three-dimensional shapes sculpted in light appear and change, their mutations and transformations influenced in real time by the artists as they interact through rehearsed actions and improvisation. Membrane suggests an alternative to the use of pre-programmed visuals to accompany live electronica, and proposes a more responsive, dynamic visual element for performance.
Shoeg is sound and visual artist Carlos Martorell, who develops his own bespoke audiovisual tools for his work. In Container he sets out to investigate the symbiosis between the human and the technological: motion sensors capture Martorell’s movements and render them as 2-D forms in video projections. These disintegrated body parts are dismantled, manipulated and rebuilt in a whirling, restless process, accompanied by washes of glitch sound that suggest the bubbling and seething of some primordial soup. Making use of his own biometric data – but keeping the outcomes as his own property – Martorell also draws attention to less scrupulous ways in which we might give away or let others use our personal details.
A new audiovisual work from Paris-based electronic musician Alex Augier and Alba G. Corral, the Barcelona-based visual artist and coder, ex(O) explores ideas of transmission and broadcast. The audience surrounds a circular screen within which the artists work in silent, shadowy collaboration. As Augier’s electronica surges and sears, Corral’s floods of spiky, brilliantly colourful geometric shapes fill the screen: bringing to mind microbial organisms under magnification or geopolitics seen on timelapse, they chase, battle, overrun and devour one another around its 360 degrees in a ceaseless frenzy of vivid action.
For one night only, Sonica takes over the Tobacco Warehouse in Greenock and transforms it with sound and visuals.
Greenock’s Tobacco Warehouse has a uniquely rich history. In its time, the five-storey brick building has been not only a storehouse for whiskey and tobacco, but was also a barracks for American GIs stationed in Scotland during World War Two.
Cryptic – in collaboration with the Scottish Alternative Music Awards – is delighted to present an evening of innovative and thrilling audiovisual performances in this iconic venue. Live music comes from Luke Sutherland’s post-rock pop outfit Rev Magnetic and multi-instrumentalist Callum Easter, with accompanying live projections from VAJ.Power.
Also appearing are audiovisual artist Robbie Thomson, experimental musician SUE ZUKI and queer feminist provocateur Kleft in collaboration with Shona Spalding & Dan Aitken. With light sculptures by Jack Wrigley plus local musician, Lisa Kowalski.
As Lo Kindre, the Glasgow-based, Irish-born musician Daniel Magee (winner of the 2018 SAMAs Electronic Music Award) makes dubby, cavernous music with an almost palpable sense of space to it, from its deep throbbing basslines and metronomic drum machine beats to its smears of echoing noise. In this one-off collaboration, Lo Kindre will push even further into experimentation and abstraction, while live visuals are provided by Alba G. Corral, whose organic projections, bristling with radiant colour and intricate geometry generated in part from drawings she makes live, form a thrilling counterpart to the hyponotic motorik groove of Magee’s music.
In previous works, artist, filmmaker and musician Luke Fowler has made impressionistic biopics of unfairly neglected cultural figures. For this new performance, Fowler (winner of the 2008 Jarman Award and a Turner Prize nominee in 2012) celebrates not an individual but an overlooked genre of musical instrument. Inspired by learning about instruments carved from gourds, Fowler has designed and built his own hybrid versions: dried, carved gourds strung with traditional catgut and ‘found’ strings. When activated, each produces a low, quiet note, letting Fowler, who is joined by musicians Richard Youngs & Stevie Jones, build up microtonal chords he adjusts by carefully repositioning each instrument. The result is an intense and subtle deep-listening experience.
Swedish composer Klara Lewis performs live at Sonica, premiering brand new music. Her latest compositions are built around musical rhythms derived from such unlikely sources as the noises of food preparation and the found sounds of a Tuscan forest. From these minimal beginnings, Lewis builds up layer upon layer of ambient sound to create glittering, crystalline drone music. The human voice is never far from Lewis’s work, looping through her structural soundscapes to give them warmth and emotional texture, while projections show bands of vivid colour melting over and around her in ceaseless slow collapse as she works.
Musical collective Hong Kong Exile present a unique work in which a trio of classical pianists collaborates, and sometimes competes, in a hybrid of musical composition and live-action computer gaming that redefines the notion of play. An array of supporting machinery and output devices transmits and interferes with the trio’s virtuosic performance, testing them to react in real time and improvise to its randomly generated interruptions. Poetry written by Xu Lizhi, a former employee of the infamous Taiwanese tech firm Foxconn, cuts through the performance in shocks and starts, giving a key to this frenetic, unnerving and very contemporary work.
A new collaboration between Glasgow-based artist-musicians Robbie Thomson and SUE ZUKI, Rottinghuis is a nightmarish creature-feature, an investigation into the dark side of the web, and an unnerving depiction of disintegration. An everyday living room is swallowed up by proliferating gaps in space, as though the code of the world is unravelling; a monstrous insect is glimpsed fleetingly, in flashes of light – is it inert or alive, hovering or scuttling directly towards the viewer? The ominous industrial-techno soundtrack uses samples taken from a livestreaming chatroom whose content, like the audio the artists make from it, is as compelling as it is disturbing.
Synspecies is a collaborative audiovisual venture between Spain’s Elías Merino and Slovenia’s Tadej Droljc. In this self-titled performance, the duo are inspired by dream visions, weird intuitions, sacred spaces and rites, as well as the harsh realities of nature’s workings. The distorted, almost-recognisable organic entities that occupy the beautiful monochrome world of Synspecies fight for territory, mate, mutate and reproduce – and are all the while prey to dramatic and unpredictable environmental shifts. Part science experiment, part philosophical treatise, Synspecies reminds us that viewed from far enough, our greatest struggles and triumphs may be reduced to microscopic irrelevance.
Montréal’s Line Katcho makes work that addresses endurance and upheaval. At times of flux, what continuities can be maintained? Lithe, skittering, glitchy electronica, flecked with the half-heard cries of birds and chitter of insects, soundtracks a series of stunning visuals that hint at buildings left empty but intact after catastrophe, at environmental turmoil, and at the steady, indestructible truths of the earthly elements: mountains and the peaks of great waves, the flurrying of clouds, the flow of magma and dashes of lightning.
A ribald, genre-busting new work from Belfast production company, Dumbworld (Composer Brian Irvine & Director John McIlduff), He Did What? mashes together the unlikely combination of street art and opera to punchy, uncompromising and comic effect. Both a riff on Belfast’s notorious past and an indictment of the politics of its present, He Did What? tells the story of a would-be revenge attack among octogenarians, and takes opera off the stage and out on the streets to play its story out as wall projections in public spaces, with the soundtrack playing through wireless headphones. Challenging our perceptions of what opera is for, Dumbworld employ new technologies, humour and a strong political vision in their unique take on the form.
Journey into the unknown with a new work from Glasgow-based Polish singer and composer Ela Orleans. Set to soaring music that recalls the Cocteau Twins and classic science-fiction movie soundtracks, footage of the 1969 Apollo moon mission is repurposed to retell the narrative of Night Thoughts, a nine-poem cycle written by Edward Young in the 1740s. Orleans’ Night Voyager marries the footage of fearful but optimistic astronauts captured in the archive material with Young’s meditation on death – and speaks, too, of the possibility of cultural forgetting, as in Young’s poem, now scarcely remembered but called in its time ‘the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced’.
For three decades, Oslo-based collective Verdensteatret have worked to integrate new technology into their performances. Following appearances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and festivals throughout Europe, they bring HANNAH, their remarkable hybrid of music, installation art, theatre and documentary film, to Sonica for their first ever UK performances. HANNAH was inspired by two trips along the Mekong River, taken a decade apart, and explores processes that are normally so gradual and long-term that they are effectively invisible. HANNAH’s set at first suggests a stylised depiction of the Mekong, with poles that resemble fishing rods or boats’ masts standing upright in a tinfoil water surface. Over the course of the performance, Verdensteatret activate, modify, break up and rebuild this set, while electronic feedback generates constant visual and sonic patterns to accompany the metamorphosis.
Argentina-based composer Nicolás Varchausky explores an illusion we all agree to accept: the symbolic value of banknotes. Two money-counters face each other at banks of instruments; provided with the artist’s appearance fee in cash, the duo (including one local performer, Ceylan Hay) use specially adapted versions of the counting, scanning and verification instruments of their trade to generate an intense fusillade of sound. The cacophony at once brings alive the otherwise silent way in which money – especially digital currency – moves around our world, and suggests all the other ‘currencies’ that a banknote could possess beyond the monetary value printed on it.
Warm, burbling, playful electronica meets by glitchy, geometric computer-generated visuals in Sabina Covarrubias’s Trip, which takes inspiration from science-fiction’s depiction of voyages into space and the way our bodies age – an everyday yet almost unnoticeable journey into the unknown future. Covarrubias describes her work as visual-music: the animated projections she generates and manipulates live are developed according to musical composition techniques (crescendos, counterpoint, leitmotifs) and balanced by music that builds on the spectralist technique of composing music by reinterpreting visual and mathematical data. Covarrubias invites her audience to join her in contemplating journeys both real and fantastical, into outer space and deep into ourselves.
The word ‘tweet’ is perhaps starting to be more associated with technological communication than the natural association with birdsong: its meaning may be under threat, just as the habitats of birds are threatened by humans. Kathy Hinde responds to this double dilemma with Twittering Machines, which renders John Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale in Morse code, then uses multiple output devices to interfere with the transmission, simultaneously redoubling it and struggling to translate the bleeps back into recognisable language. Meanwhile, recordings of birdsong are treated to generate further distortions and interference. The effect is of a swirling, chattering dawn chorus of birdsong, real and artificial – a reminder of how technology can overrun the natural, and of what we stand to lose if it does.
Hailing from Montréal, Myriam Boucher is a video and sound artist working with both classical modes of composition and scientific research. In Phases she considers one of our most commonplace marvels: the ability of water to change state from gaseous to fluid to solid. Treated images of ice floes, cloudforms and glaciers are set to a haunting, unsettling soundtrack that mixes traditional instrumentation with field recordings of water and crumbling ice. The results are beautiful, but also salutary, bringing to mind the most conspicuous example of this changing of state: the melting of polar ice, and the potential consequences for sea levels as solid turns to liquid.
Scientific research suggests that strings, vibrating at the quantum level, form the fundamental structure of our universe. Italy’s Michela Pelusio has turned the idea into a kind of metaphor, scaling up a single string to giant size and setting it to revolve in a helical pattern to form a vibrating spiral glimmering with light. Part illusionist, part lab technician, Pelusio lurks behind the twisting string, using an instrument to ‘pluck’ at it and interrupt its trajectory, causing patterns and colours to flare through its whirl. Quantum physics is where science gets weird; Pelusio’s project scales up the weirdness and makes visible what might be occurring constantly, unrecognised, all around us.
For over a decade, Buenos Aires-based artist, teacher and electronics developer Jorge Luis Crowe has run Toy Lab (Laboratorio de Juguete), teaching the use of electronics as creative tools – a project which informs Ludotecnia, a work he brings to the UK for the first time. On a cross between a sound engineer’s mixing desk and a toymaker’s workbench, Crowe activates an army of plastic robots and gadgets adapted to both produce and respond to sound, building up a chiming electronic soundscape, while psychedelically colourful projections generated from filming the devices at work flow over the walls of the performance space. Charming but uncompromising, this is electronic music and performance at its most playful.
Japanese musician and sound artist ASUNA learned in his earliest experiments in music that all cheap keyboards sound slightly different, even when playing what should be the same note. For this live performance, he has assembled an orchestra of 100 different electronic keyboards, from colourful novelty designs for young children to slightly more advanced (but still inexpensive) models, arranged in concentric rings. One by one, ASUNA sets them to emit a single note, building up a digital-choral drone in which a hundred subtle differences of tone and frequency combine and resonate, generating interference patterns and sonic illusions as the audience moves around the circle.
Karl van Welden presents a glimpse of some almost unthinkable future, condensed into a single object. A single record, Carl Reinecke’s plaintive Elegie, plays on a turntable encased in glass, while a fine trickle of ash – like the detritus of disaster, or the harbinger of a great collapse – falls steadily down on the vinyl. Over the course of playback, the buildup of dust first gently then more insistently interferes with the music, until the quantity is so great it overwhelms the record-player’s needle and the turntable falls silent. Ostensibly simple, A Fall asks deep questions about decay, fate and our sense of purpose.
Two Sonica favourites come together for the first time, as visual artist Heather Lander and musician and composer Alex Smoke present Primordial Waters. Noting how advances in science and technology seem to be turning our attention ever further away from the natural world, the artists seek to remind audiences of our most fundamental history: our common origins in water. Beginning from an elevated perspective, Primordial Waters gradually draws audiences closer into its mesmerising weather-pattern swirl of mists and water, the pull of tides, the movement of water that’s sometimes calm and sometimes tempestuous. The effect is mesmerising and meditative – a reminder to slow down, remember our place in the world, and commemorate the natural laws that bind us to our planet.
Musician, producer and scientist Max Cooper, in collaboration with design collective Architecture Social Club, open Sonica with a one-off immersive audiovisual work, Aether. For one night only, Tramway will be hung with thousands of dangling threads pulsing and glimmering with moving points of light. They form a glowing, constantly shifting three-dimensional matrix that responds in real time as Cooper’s mesmerising electronic soundtrack builds to a thrilling crescendo. Viewers can move around beneath the lattice of hanging lights to view the patterns from every angle as they form one moment a surreal swirling vortex, the next a series of interlocking geometric grids or a hail of heavenly meteorites.