Tectonics review – noise, toys and heavenly soundscapes

City Halls and Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
The BBC SSO’s dreamy drones mingle with plastic-cup players and flocks of bleating kazoos at the festival of experimental sounds

A plastic comb is raked over a rough wooden block until its teeth snap off. Fragments of shell jitter on top of a vibrating speaker. An accordion placed on its side is gently thumped. The seventh Tectonics Glasgow, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s annual new music festival dedicated to experimental sounds, made plenty of space for the unknown. Czech musician Lucie Vitková’s Makeup Scores installation used unlikely instruments to perform unusual music; written on fragments of paper using old beauty products as pens, scores carpeted the Recital Room’s wooden floor, looking like aerial photographs of barren landscapes. Vitková and her accomplices mused over the sheets with playful scrutiny, deliberating over their tools: violin or plastic cup?

Curated by Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell, much of Tectonics’ Sunday programme explored the porous boundaries between classical, noise and sound art. Downstairs in the Old Fruitmarket, Scottish vocalist Nichola Scrutton breathed deeply into a mic, the sounds mirrored by clarinettist Alex South across the room. In between, the audience were caught in a dexterous layering of breath that felt like the wash and roll of the sea.

“I don’t know if you know much about avant garde music, but nobody likes it,” joked Bostonian vocalist Angela Sawyer. Her improvisation combined true stories with intentionally grating noises – both vocal and electronic – which rattled around the space like empty cans in the wind. A flock of kazoo players enlisted from the crowd baaed in loud approval – or, perhaps, dissent.

The world premiere of Sarah Davachi’s Oscen asked for a very different kind of patience. The Canadian composer specialises in heavenly (often electronic) soundscapes that reward a deep concentration. A commission for the BBCSSO, and inspired in part by its Latin title, a word that refers to omens found in birdsong, Oscen began with something like a dawn chorus before moving into a dreamy, reverberating drone anchored by the cello and french horn. Davachi and her synthesiser sat hidden in the heart of Volkov’s orchestra, and the piece felt like an impossibly slow, sustained exhalation. Finishing on the faintest whisper of a violin, the bow was drawn so slowly that it seemed as if time had stopped.


Katie Hawthorne

The GuardianTramp

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