Sonica festival to open with a feast of electronica and Gaelic song

Anne Martin PIC: Alastair Jackson

Gaelic song, nurtured by the culture of north Skye, is spliced ​​into industrial-strength electronica and state-of-the art-visuals in Kistvaen, the spectacular performance piece which will open Sonica, Glasgow’s biennial international festival of visual sonic arts, next month .

Kistvaen will see singer Anne Martin, who lives on a croft in her native township of Linicro, near Uig at Skye’s north end, perform live within what is described as an “other worldly” audio-visual collaboration between Bristol-based composer and sound engineer Roly Porter and German audio-visual artist and filmmaker Marcel Weber, aka MFO. The piece, to be presented at the Tramway on 10 and 11 March, derives its title from the many Neolithic stone tombs or kists found across the bleak landscape of Dartmoor, where the project was partly filmed, contrasting pagan rituals of death and burial with today’s hi-tech society. For her part de ella, Martin, who has embarked on cross-cultural musical collaborations in the past, describes herself as “a Gaelic singer who’s very rooted in her tradition de ella. The partnerships I’m working in obviously affect how I’m singing, but I’m always very rooted and feel that I sing the song pretty much as it comes to me at that point.”

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The song she will sing for this particular partnership is the venerable Bràigh Ùige – “The Braes of Uig”, a woman’s plangent lament for her husband, a hunter, while “the deer are on the Braes of Uig”.

Previous performers in Kistvaen have included singers using old Welsh or Slavic languages: for the Glasgow event, however, Porter was attracted by what he saw as the “bleak beauty” of Gaelic. Sonica suggested that she and Porter meet in Glasgow, “But I said ‘No way. If you want to work with me and you’ve never been to the west coast of Scotland, you’ve got to come to Skye.’ So he came up last September and spent a few days with me here, to get an idea of ​​our landscape, because landscape is so important in this project.”

Porter heard a recording of Bràigh Ùige and felt that its funeral associations suited Kistvaen, so Martin agreed that elements of it could be woven into the production. “I’m always willing to explore,” the 58-year-old Martin replies when asked how she feels about singing along with the at times full-on sound and light scapes devised by Porter and Weber. “I’m more than delighted to introduce new audiences to Gaelic song.

“Electronica is not normally something I’d be putting on in the house,” she laughs, “but like all music, when you stop and listen to it, there is musicality and when you put the headphones on and listen in depth, you go, ‘Oh my goodness!’ and you find you can weave things in.”

Martin, who with her family runs the Whitewave Outdoor Center from their croft and also mentors young traditional singers, has previously collaborated with sound artist and beatboxer Jason Singh, with whom she traveled to India, with the help of a PRS New Music Award, creating a new piece with Indian musicians. She is currently working with the Skye arts organization SEALL on An Tinne, “The Link”, a Scottish-Australian collaboration to fully emerge later this year as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories, charting the history of emigrants cleared from a village beside Linicro who settled in Victoria.

There is, of course, much more than Kistvaen happening across Glasgow during the ten days of Sonica, produced by the award-winning Glasgow art house Cryptic. Among much else, also at the Tramway, on 12 March, composer Gavin Briars, celebrated for works such as Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and The Sinking of the Titanic, makes his first conducting appearance in Scotland with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The program includes the UK premiere of his new violin concerto, accompanied by live kaleidoscopic visuals by coder Alba G Corral.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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