Last weekend saw the return to Glasgow of the Tectonics music festival. A joint venture between Iceland and Scotland, the festival has settled into an annual role with two sibling festivals running in Glasgow (in May) and Reykjavik (in April) with artists and orchestras from both countries coming together to provide a strange and often wonderful mix of electronic and symphonic music.
Despite having attended and enjoyed the Glasgow edition last year, I nearly missed this year’s festival. Most of April was lost in a haze of Gàidhlig assignments, and any post that wasn’t of a vital or time sensitive nature got put to one side in the interim. On Saturday I sat down with intent to go through said abandoned post and deal with anything that needed dealt with. I didn’t get very far, as fairly early in the pile I came across a programme for this year’s Tectonics festival and discovered that it was in fact that weekend. So instead I spent time frantically rearranging my schedule to fit in the Sunday programme of the festival. Definitely worth it though.
I think this year’s selection was a little more esoteric than last year, either that or Sundays are reserved for the more Avant-garde side of the festival because there were a couple of acts that were…very Avant-garde (including an act that felt like I could have stumbled on them in one of the odder venues at the Fringe) and I seem to remember picking Saturday over Sunday to attend last year for that reason. Nothing quite blew me away the way the transcendent beauty of Guth na eòin/Voice of the birds by Hanna Tuulikki did last year but then the only live experience I had that improved on that in the entirety of 2013 was Skunk Anansie and I’d wanted to see them live since I was 12…
There were some definite highlights to this year’s festival. The always excellent BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, were on form, making their instruments do strange and wonderful things. At the other end of the scale S.L.Á.T.U.R. (pleasingly, slàtur is apparently the Icelandic equivalent of haggis) a Reykjavik-based collective, composing and creating experimental music with both electronic and analogue (very analogue, during one piece they all played instruments that looked as though they had been made from long, square cardboard tubes) instruments, and performing them with an innovative and entertaining form of animated notation that proved most interesting and amusing. Also it made the audience participation in the last song rather easier to follow and stay in time for. (I was a foot. That’s all I will say on the matter)
Despite their Scandinavian charms, it was the Sound Art performance that stole the show for me. Sarah Kenchington’s installation Sounds from the Farmyard was open all day for concertgoers to play with and on, and it was fabulous. Kenchington creates instruments out of every day and found objects, alongside deconstructed conventional musical instruments, and she brought a selection of her creations from the last ten years for the audience to play with. My personal favourites were a contraption where you rolled large metal ball bearings into a giant metal maze where the motion swung the balls on ever changing paths and chimed bells made out of wine glasses. Also a much smaller contraption seemingly made from some kind of metal tom-tom and a metal slinky, which made a brilliant noise that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a 1950s sci-fi film. On both days of the festival she managed to gather together a collection of musicians and enthusiastic amateurs to perform all the instruments in something like harmony, that managed to show case the charms of each of the instruments. By all rights it should have been the most discordant and weird of the performances, the performers were almost all strangers to each other, they had no real rehearsal time and there didn’t appear to be a central score, yet somehow they created something not only strange and wonderful, but completely musical as well.