Sonorities is an annual festival hosted by the Sonic Arts Research Unit (SARC) at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. The 2015 programme was packed with performances, installations, talks, and other events, and had already been running for two days by the time I arrived (not counting the satellite event in London the previous weekend). Commenting on everything I heard and saw would furnish enough material for a small book; in the context of this short review, briefly noting some of the highlights will have to suffice.
The very first piece I heard upon arriving at the festival was also one of my personal favourites. Brona Martin allowed the associative drift of resemblance to transform the field recording staples of thunder, rain, and church bells into sounds that were fresh and alive, tied together by reminiscences of village life. Ludwig Berger’s ‘1959’ was another stunning piece telling a story with recorded words and sounds, its fragmented structure drawing me into another remembered world. Dante Tanzi used the voice of John Cage for his piece “Into Another Space”; what made his work stand apart, to my ears, from a myriad of superficially similar approaches was the brief, repeated reoccurrence of recognisable human presence in the midst of all the distortions and disappearances.
Matt Parker’s audiovisual work “The Cloud is more than air or water” made tangible the solid physicality of the data centres that power cloud computing, though I would’ve liked to spend longer with and savour each individual hum, click, and drone (I was gutted to miss the installation version of this piece in both Birmingham and Belfast, which might have given me what I sought). Matthias Moos’ live sounds and visuals also presented a rare tangibility and tactility — I loved how the bounce and flex of the projected visual objects perfectly articulated the shapes of the sine and noise pulses, and vice versa.
Lots of pieces throughout the weekend sought to force an exaggerated visceral impact and dynamic range from the venue’s large multi-channel sound system, which made Rosalia Soria’s subtler, more muted springtime colours all the more enjoyable and distinctive. I also really enjoyed Elissa Goodrich’s cello-derived sounds, rich in the nuances and weight of acoustic instruments, and arranged in a manner that rejected somatic slam in favour of an engaging sort of precarious presence. Steph Horak’s film, with both audio and video shaped by the unremarkable everyday paths traced by London buses, was similarly content to sit and stare out of a window as time and space rolled by, rather than seeking to manufacture time and space through the deployment of special effects.
Helena Hamilton’s performance with an amplified blackboard was both visually striking and sonically compelling, its twenty-minute duration seeming perfectly measured. Tristan Clutterbuck and Lorcan Doherty’s ‘Winter Dykes’, on the other hand, was perhaps twice as long as it should have been, which was a shame as the sounds they made, playing clothes horses with violin bows, were really quite lovely. Simon Atkinson smartly kept his sounds gentle and low-level, allowing them to blend perfectly with dancer Kerry Francksen’s quiet, slow movements that seemed to spill over with butoh-like awareness and becomings-animal.
I promised I’d keep this short, but there were many more high-quality pieces presented across the festival, and many interesting talks and discussions during the day-long symposium too. Although I was vaguely aware of SARC beforehand, the festival provided an excellent reason for curious listeners to visit both the university and the city of Belfast. The opportunity to hear so many fine performances and talks in one place, over one weekend, with great people, great food, great beer… what’s not to like?