Cryptic, the Glasgow-based company renowned internationally for its audio-visual art, came home to the city in late September to deliver a feast of Scottish, British, and European works of emotional inquiry, of unlocking cranial mystery and sensory perception. The company’s tag line is ‘Ravishing the Senses’. Over the two hours of Sonica Surge, this reviewer’s mind lit on some very big themes indeed, for ‘Ravishing the Senses’, it turns out, is no idle promise. The whole thing was a hallucinogenic trip, without the need for any substances.
Remarkably, for any performance organisation outside the artistic mainstream, Cryptic will celebrate 30 years in business next year. Sonica Surge itself celebrates Scottish-German cultural relations that are the product of the Goethe-Institut’s 50 years in Glasgow. The Saturday evening performances I saw were just part of a two-day festival at the Tramway, once Glasgow’s tram repair HQ, and in its Hidden Garden. It showcased artists from Scotland alongside Germany, Ukraine, Sweden, Nigeria, and Italy.
Sonica Surge was a near sell-out triumph. Producer, Claire Moran, who has toured Cryptic over half the world, says that the success is evidence of Glasgow’s internationalism, its openness to culture from everywhere but especially, Europe.
“Cryptic is thrilled to have been able to showcase the talent of not only our homegrown artists at Sonica but also to be able to share with audiences the creativity of so many international artists. With the support of Creative Scotland’s Expo Fund, we were delighted to host 38 programmers from across the UK and Europe. We hope to continue to strengthen international and national connections and opportunities for these artists, which is even more important after Brexit“, says Moran
Sonica can be a bit of a challenge for those of us weaned on traditional ways of presenting sound and vision. To quote from Cryptic’s literature, “Cryptic artists and projects transform existing spaces from theatres to defunct factories, as well as immersing audiences in virtual environments; they make use of traditional musical instrumentation and projection techniques as much as state-of-the-art new technologies that point to the sonic art of the future.”
I was not certain I would make it through the first piece. The 25-minute epic, authored by KMRU, of low-level electronic music came entirely from a modest table. Here, the composer manipulated faders and laptop to deliver something quite remarkably therapeutic. Behind him, what may be the biggest screen in Glasgow, ran through a lexicon of sparks, flashes, patterns and swirls. Despite what at first I perceived as a monotonous undertone, the work kept me alert and questioning for its entire length. It left me thinking for a long time after. Big themes; love, loss, jealousy, rejection, landscape, friendship, parenthood, unwritten masterpieces. That’s quite an achievement for a genre of performance wholly new to me.
Having been wrung through joys and memories, delightful and occasionally still painful, the next piece, by Tatsuru Arai, brought me nothing but pure happiness. A million bright blooms filled the screen; breaking, tumbling, dying, regenerating, flowing like liquid, sparkling with a billion droplets of rain. All the time sets of numbers appeared on the screen. What did they represent? Time running out for the natural world, for our world? Were we counting down to some catastrophic event? What I saw was Renoir on steroids and as the music swelled and the explosions of the atoms of buds filled the screen I was no longer with Renoir in Arles or on the Southside of Glasgow on a damp September evening, but in the South Seas with Paul Gaugin. A new intensity of flowers morphed and were pulled apart, accompanied by symphonic strings that seemed to be played in a remote cove on the edge of the great wastes of the Pacific. This was a piece full of hope, of fertility and a crescendo of new life. The planet may be in grave climate change danger, but here the most modern of art forms, born of the digital age, offered a view that was not despair but optimism.
Sonica’s final piece of the evening by SCHNITT/Gianluca Sibaldi brought me instantly in my head to Zurich, were once I had worked for a year. Like millions of their German neighbours, the Swiss of Zurich seemed to love techno music, as I discovered when a huge festival came to town, truck after articulated truck pumping out mind-altering electronics at full volume. Here, in the Tramway, the screen filled with more numbers and shadowy figures from a cinema of what looked like 1960. Who were these people?
My mind went to the Cold War. Fear and surveillance. Danger and intelligence. No hiding place, no rest from the Stasi or the CIA. Harry Palmer will be along soon and John Le Carre’s tinkers, tailors, soldiers, and spies. There’s another exchange at Checkpoint Charlie. Corrupted Marx and rising consumerism. Processed lives. Mercedes Benz and Trabants. Souls in torment. Fridges and tape recorders, stereo record players, transistor radios and fledgling colour TV. Two weeks in Benidorm. Five years in the Gulag. U2 flights and Burgess, Filby, MacLean and Fuchs. Secret speeches and client wars in desperate African post-colonial places.
There can be no doubt my senses were ravished. Something happened that Saturday evening that released torrents of images, memories and seemingly unconnected thoughts, the like of which I have never experienced in a theatre, concert hall, opera house or basement jazz club in half a dozen cities. If you get the chance give the Cryptic experience a try. I doubt you’ll regret it.
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