By Brianna Robertson-Kirkland
As we entered the dimly-lit theatre, the shadows of five vast water tanks reminded me of Frankenstein’s laboratory. We were here for ‘Aquasonic’, part of Glasgow’s Sonica festival, showcasing ‘sonic art for the visually minded’, and, in the gloom, members of the audience muttered about the ‘creepiness’ of the set-up, emphasised further by the watery reflections on the stage floor. Faint outlines of human bodies gently floated inside the murky tanks. We were held in suspense as the lights lowered to complete darkness, except in one dimly lit tank. A ghostly figure of a man played a solitary melody on the violin. His playing continued, but our attention moved from this tank as its neighbour was illuminated, revealing a variety of weird and wonderful percussive instruments. There was a slow build as each tank was lit to reveal its contents: a performer playing a newly-designed underwater instrument, including what looked like a Steam-punk-style gramophone called a ‘rotacorda’. This slow crescendo was one of the most powerful devices used in the whole performance. In fact, it was only in the final section that all of the instruments, musical techniques and lighting tricks were combined together.
What was more impressive, however, was the unity with which the performers played during the ensemble sections. Even breathing was used as an instrumental device. By the middle section it was evident that the players were not using breathing equipment, though it was only in certain sections that gasps for air above the tank were made obvious, carefully choreographed to enhance the musical experience.
As the performance progressed, subtle changes in lighting and musical texture allowed the piece to explore oceanic themes, including sea-life, whale song and the environment. The only section which was less visually dynamic was that in which smaller water tanks from the front of the stage appeared to adopt their own personalities, breaking the tension of the previous section. However, there was humour in the fact that that the players were controlling these smaller tanks from their larger containers. Overall, this was a dynamic, thought-provoking performance that stood up on both a musical and visual level.