Tuesday, 26 March 2013


Ever since Cryptic's Sonica festival, I have been trying to work out what the difference between sound art and music might be. The easy definition - music has got a tune, and recognisable notes - was broken by the serialists before I was born, and electronic musicians might think they are "doing art," but it is really the application of new instruments to traditional structures. However, letting Bill Fontana turn the  Finnieston Crane into a musical instrument has got to be sound art. I am unlikely to mistake that for a jazz jam or baroque concerto.

Fontana has done this sort of thing before: he wired up the Golden Gate Bridge once. His technique reminds me of classic Glaswegian noise artist Kylie Minoise: he attaches super-sensitive microphones to tap into the deep sounds the architecture makes, which are not audible to the human ear. Kylie sticks them to his body and bounces off the walls. Hopefully, the crane won't get injured as often as Kylie does.

Inevitably, Svend Brown is behind this commission. Brown, who curated the minimal festivals, has spent the last three years turning Glasgow's City Halls into a happening hipster hang-out through his adventurous programme. In his capacity as Director of Glasgow UNESCO City of Music, he has brought Fontana to the west coast. 

It does fit in with UNESCO's vision. "One thing Glasgow UNESCO City of Music does is to draw attention internationally to the fantastic home to arts and creativity that Glasgow is," says Brown.  "By linking top class international work like Bill’s to iconic aspects of our landscape we take the name of Glasgow far and wide, we give the world a great piece of art – and we get to see the city through a stranger’s eyes."

Apart from the quibble that, technically, we'll be hearing the crane through a stranger's ears, Brown's master-plan is clear. It's one thing to have cool gigs in the classic venues. This time, sound is bursting out all over the city - the Finnieston funk-metal is going to relayed to Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art. There's a sweet cross-over here between the worlds of music and visual art. This is something that Glasgow has always been up for: viz. the number of artists who moonlight in bands.

Fontana does seem to get this, too. “I’m incredibly excited to be staging my latest installation in Glasgow – it’s a wonderful city with an international reputation for its vibrant music scene and rich industrial heritage," he says.  "The Finnieston Crane is an emblem of the city’s engineering past, and I hope this project will uncover sounds that will fascinate and surprise the people of Glasgow and beyond, as well as tap into the history of this iconic structure.”

Silent Echoes will run 18 April - 3rd May

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