If incoming Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan
really wishes to refresh his music programme with something more
contemporary than the current model as he hinted at during a recent
press briefing, he could do worse than look at this second edition of
the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's inspired three-day meeting of
musical minds, which saw curators Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell
foster international alliances aplenty.
While Volkov has been a mercurial figure, both with the BBC SSO and in
Iceland, where a Reykjavic-based arm of Tectonics runs in tandem with
the Glasgow event, much of the the groundwork over the last decade for
something as sonically ambitious as Tectonics was done by the Instal
and Le Weekend festivals, with Campbell in charge of the latter for
much of its existence. The involvement of the BBC and the presence of
Radio 3 in particular at Tectonics, however, suggests an official seal
of approval that opens up an avenue of mainstream culture to a strand
of forward-thinking experimentalism too often pushed to the margins.
This also frees up composers to produce bigger works than they might
normally have the resources for.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the opening and closing concerts
of the Tectonics weekend. The first featured Bill Wells performing a
new piano-led piece, Summer Dreams, with viola player and long-term
collaborator Aby Vulliamy alongside a thirteen-piece string and horn
ensemble drawn from the SSO that made for an ethereal experience
accentuated by the acoustics of St Andrew's in the Square. Even more
ambitious was Richard Youngs' festival finale, Past Fragments Of
Distant Confrontation, but there was a lot more inbetween in a full to
bursting programme which looked designed to disorientate.
Much of this pushed boundaries of space, form and content in a series
of moments which use the assorted venues housing Tectonics in
interesting ways. While another large ensemble played David Behrman's
self-explanatory Pile of Fourths and Pitchbends, the first half of
Friday night's concert followed Wells and co with Klaus Lang playing
solo harmonium in the centre of the room, with Prainn Hjalmarsson doing
something similar with viola and Marcus Weiss with assorted
saxophones. Jer Reid took things even further with Fracking, a piece
for manipulated electronics which saw dancer Solene Weinachter begin
her meditations on the venue's balcony before moving into the main
space sporting a costume by artist Victoria Morton.
The second half began with a short piano piece by Christian Wolf,
before Richard Youngs performed a wonderfully evocative solo vocal
piece, using St Andrew's in the square's rich acoustic in a powerfully
insistent miniature that tapped into folk idioms while sounding
thoroughly contemporary. Catherine Lamb and Klaus Lang's viola and
harmonium duo was concentratedly low-key, while Vernon and Burns'
Renditions of the Beat: A Resuscitation Recital was a playful mix of
pure sound and spoken word that was a harbinger of much fun to come.
While there was much anticipation centred around the first of two
Tectonics appearances by former Sonic Youth guitarist, the increasingly
ubiquitous Thurston Moore, in the end his duo with Japanese Fluxus
veteran Takehisa Kosugi that closed day one was a pleasant enough but
unremarkable concoction of avant-guitar stylings and electronic
The real highlight of the second leg of the evening, alongside Youngs,
was ANAKANAK, aka Conquering Animal Sound vocalist Anneke Kampman,
whose solo turns are fast mutating into increasingly confident
multi-media spectacles. Her the as if body loop featured visuals by
artist Tom Varley, which accentuated the pulsating stridency of
Kampman's performance. As she morphed her live vocals into dubbed-out
mis-shapes using layers of electronics, the end result was akin to a
one-woman Cabaret Voltaire circa 1982, just before Sheffield's
electronic pioneers fully embraced the dancefloor.
Saturday's proceedings may have been divided between the Old
Fruitmarket and the City Halls' more formal Grand Hall space, but that
didn't prevent composers Christian Wolff, David Behrman and Georg
Friedrich Haas from exploring what an orchestra might be capable of
when taken out of its comfort zone, a challenge the BBC SSO rose to
with distinction. Plunderphonics pioneer John Oswald, meanwhile, messed
things up even more with a wink to the Beatles at their trippiest on
his BBC Commission, I'd love to turn.
Sarah Kenchington's Sounds from The Farmyard installation was a
gloriously Heath Robinsonesque sonic playground that set up shop in the
Recital Room off the foyer of the City Halls, with a trio version of
female collective Muscles of Joy ramping up the presence of
Glasgow-based artists even further.
Things really livened up with an impromptu promenade through the Old
Fruitmarket, in which a whole heap of Tectonics artists and fellow
travellers including Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra director and
saxophonist Raymond MacDonald, plus curators Volkov and Campbell,
spiralled their way through the audience, blowing and honking an array
of instruments or else singing or shouting their way through the space
with harmony and dissonance rubbing up against each other in equal
As warm-ups go, it was perfect for Thurston Moore's second appearance
of the weekend, this time in tandem with Blood Stereo mainstay, founder
of the Brighton-based Colours Out of Space festival and proprietor of
the Chocolate Monk micro-label, Dylan Nyoukis. Combining Moore's guitar
with Nyoukis' electronically enhanced gibberings made for an intense
but surprisingly nuanced experience.
Things fully let rip with the second night's closing performance by
Cindytalk, for more than thirty years the thunderingly raw
spleen-venting vehicle of vocalist Gordon Sharp. Sharp's musical roots
date back to Edinburgh's original punk scene with his band, The Freeze,
which was followed by appearances on 4AD Records house band/super-group
This Mortal Coil's debut album, It'll End In Tears. Since then, his
wilfully singular path has taken his explorations in avant-rock and
self-styled 'ambi-dustrial' soundscaping ever further out there.
The eight-piece version of Cindytalk that graced Tectonics proved to be
a beguiling visual experience as much as an aural one. While much of
this was down to the presence of Sharp helming things as a dragged-up
Cindy, looking like a trans-gender auteur straight out of Andy Warhol's
Factory, the sight of band-members Melanie Clifford and Lucy Duncombe
extracting sounds from table-tops full of electronic boxes, sticky-back
plastic and such-like with near hypnotic concentration made for
gloriously disorientating and contrary light and shade spectacle of
fury and calm.
The way 'performance percussionist' Tim Goldie, aka “ “ [sic]
VomiTimov Goldie Abject Bloc, appeared to play his face by rubbing it
at length at one point further added to a mix of music concrete, skewed
noise-rock and Sharp's soul-baring confessionals. At one point, on his
knees, Sharp clutched his hand-bag to him, taking time out from an at
times pulverising but nonetheless touching display.
If Cindytalk were purging old demons on the Saturday, the Old
Fruitmarket space was left exorcised enough for much levity on the
final day of Tectonics. The Sunday afternoon session began with a
trouserless Usurper, the absurdist and increasingly performative duo of
Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson, perched on the stairs of the City Halls
in cardboard tuxedos as they attempted to iron their cut-off troos for
what looked to be a very formal affair. Once the pair acknowledged the
audience with faux-surprise and vaudevillian double-takes before
raising a toasted with plastic container-loads of bottle-tops, they led
the audience in a procession to the Old Fruitmarket, where four tables
were set up in a large square that left enough space for the circus
ringmasters Duff and Robertson effectively became to navigate their way
At each table sat a fellow traveller of Usurper; artist/musician Norman
Shaw, musicians Fiona Kennedy and Luke Poot, and film-maker and
activist Sacha Kahir. Stopping off at each in turn, Duff and Robertson
whipped the table-cloths from under an assortment of junk-shop detritus
that seemed put together at random from a job lot bought for buttons at
Steptoe and Son's yard. Over four courses, a choreographed mish-mash
of extrapolations, ablutions and a warped remix of dinner party rituals
were performed in turn.
All this was both ridiculous and hilarious, but it was also in part at
least a recognition and cheeky critique of how a runtish underground
has either subverted or else been accepted and co-opted by Auntie
Beeb's posh classical music radio station. Casting themselves as
eternally bemused-looking unexpected guests, Usurper could revel in the
mess they can make with such resources even as they fart in its face.
In this respect, Usurper are becoming the Morecambe and Wise of the
Noise scene that sired them. If live art was a form of breaking the
frame of still lives, Usurper are a cartoon double-act who, like The
'O' Men, the duo of Sylvester McCoy and David Rappaport who applied a
messy fringe theatre aesthetic to early 1980s teatime TV show, Jigsaw,
may yet make it on to kids telly.
There were more laughs to be had with S.L.A.T.U.R., the Icelandic
composers collective whose response to various on-screen stimuli, which
included having the audience join in with a series of co-ordinated
hand-claps, made for a participatory play-pen in which call and
response was an essential component.
Back in the City Halls, the seven short vocal pieces performed by the
eight-piece Exaudi ensemble under the direction of James Weeks was a
fantastic pre-cursor to the world premiere of Weeks' Radical Road,
which took place in the upstairs and downstairs of the City Halls
foyer. With small groups of singers overlapping performances that
tapped into the ebullient spirit of traditional work-song, it made for
an initially overwhelming but ultimately exhilarating experience.
Volkov and the BBC SSO took over again for a series of world premieres
by Catherine Lamb, Michael Finnissy, James Clapperton and Klaus Lang
before the penultimate performance of the festival, a solo turn from
Takehisa Kosugo, whose manipulations of raw electronics revealed a
discreet but no less evocative form of sonic alchemy.
This left only Past Fragments Of Distant Confrontation, the grandest of
big band finales by Richard Youngs. Performed in the round of the Old
Fruitmarket, Youngs combined brass, strings, electronics and opaque
guitar stylings for a short, sharp invocation of post punk dance
culture which at moments recalled Jeremy Deller's Acid Brass project.
If time had allowed, the performance should have ideally ushered in the
most abandoned of club nights. As it was, it was the grandest and most
joyous of finales to a shape-shifting three days and nights of sound
The List, July 2014