Friday, 12 May 2017

Tectonics Glasgow 2017

Tectonics Glasgow, May 2017. Review


For the fifth Glasgow outing of the Tectonics music festival all its familiar elements of experimentation, improvisation and collaboration were on display. Female composers and performers were to the fore this year, with the ever reliable BBC Scotland Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ilan Volkov the glue holding the whole weekend together.

The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
Whilst most of Glasgow lay about in glorious sunshine, decent crowds were drawn into the cool darkness of the Old Fruitmarket to see jazz musician and composer Roscoe Mitchell, who would bookend the festival, kick things off. Resplendent in some fantastic green knitwear and sunglasses despite the gloom of the Fruitmarket he wheezed and parped his saxophone like some exuberant snake charmer to get us started. They were followed by artist Luke Fowler and musician and composer John Chantler squatting in the centre of the room over a jumble of cables and string instruments creating fantastic electronic drones and distorted sounds. 

Luke Fowler and John Chandler
Next up we were through to the City Halls where New York musicians Yarn/Wire, a quartet of two percussionists and two pianists who started on conventional instruments to perform a piece by Andrew MacIntosh, before gravitating to bowed wine glasses and cymbals. Twitchy samples, shaken foliage, kitchen utensils and coloured beads agitated on drums were required for Thomas Meadowcroft's "Walkman Antiquarian". Their playing throughout, and across the weekend was crisp, clear and precise. If you want four musicians to fit a kitchen for you I would go for them - neat, particular and perfectly measured.

Back into the main concert hall and members of the BBC SSO combined with Yarn/Wire to play François-Bernard Mâche's "Kassandra", a tight performance conducted by Volkov combining the musicians with recorded voices and natural sounds. A strident babble of diverse voices. The first piece of the weekend from composer Linda Caitlin Smith, "Wilderness", was sweetly mellifluous before cellist Lori Goldston's composition for amplified cello and orchestra. A darker, more forceful piece and a good contrast to what had gone before.


My personal highlight of the weekend was the collaboration between Australian trio The Necks and the complete BBC SSO being guided in an extended piece of improvised playing by the energy of conductor Ilan Volkov. With The Necks front of stage, performing away, Volkov looked to be composing live with the orchestra, as he waved his hands and sculpted sounds, much as Tony Stark does with his VR computer system in the Iron Man movies. It was phenomenally beautiful, and a reflection of the close working over many years between Volkov and the orchestra.

Triangulum brought the evening to a close in the Old Fruitmarket featuring Julia Holter, Catherine Lamb and Laura Steenberge. A gentle, and slightly anti-climactic end to the day.


Sunday started with many of the musicians from the festival performing on the floor of the Old Fruitmarket Eddie Prévost's 'Spirals'. With members of Yarn/Wire, The Necks, Triangulum and others playing whilst dressed in gold lamé tabbards, the tone for the second day was established.

Two more pieces by Linda Caitlin Smith were performed in the main concert hall. First the baroque and melancholic 'Ricercar' performed by solo cellist Alison Mcgillivaray, followed by Yarn/Wire on two marimba and two grand pianos playing the more halting, laconic, and haunting 'Morandi'.

Pierre Berthet and Rie Nakajima
Across the weekend Pierre Berthet and Rie Nakajima had an installation on display in the building's recital room, where they gave occasional performances, animating their assorted creations. Gently diverting but never amounting to more than the sum of its little parts.

James Saunders and Tim Parkinson gave us two entertaining pieces ('in which one thing depends on another' and 'songs') which played with word association, a variety of dropping, plopping and banging of everyday objects and tabletops, accompanied by vocal ejaculations.

After these carefully written and choreographed pieces Ash Reid's piece of agitprop theatre in the Old Fruitmarket felt a bit self-indulgent and shambolic. A tighter piece, 'Felt Events' by Ilana Halperin and Raymond MacDonald featuring further contributions from the musicians of The Necks, brought a jazz cafe feel to a piece reflecting on volcanoes and earthquakes. Tectonics, you might say. Tut Vu Vu were a noisy wake up call to the audience after all that, with distorted, fluorescent guitars and electronic beeps and sqwaks.

The closing concert squeezed in six more performances starting with Shiori Usui's 'from scratch', a piece of music based on her experiences of eczema (which was making me feel itchy). Lawrence Dunn's 'Ambling, waking' followed in the City Halls, with more from Linda Caitlin Smith, James Saunders and Roscoe Mitchell bringing the weekend to a close.

Always an enjoyable way to spend a weekend, the whole thing this year felt less fresh than in previous years. Much of the music was similarly toned 1960s and 1970s pieces, and with many of the same musicians playing across the weekend it ended up with a familiar tone over the two days. There just seemed to be less chaos - more chin stroking this year and less drama.

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