Hit­ting the high notes: Ti­tan crane to be turned into a gi­ant mu­si­cal in­stru­ment

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - BY KARIN GOOD­WIN

Gusts caught in the steel and wires and be­came very mu­si­cal at times. The sound be­came tonal

IT looms over the River Clyde, an im­pos­ing sym­bol of Scot­land’s great in­dus­trial and ship-build­ing past. Now the Ti­tan crane in Cly­de­bank is to be turned into a gi­ant mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, con­trolled by the wind.

The weird plan, by sound artist Michael Begg, be­low, has been com­mis­sioned as part of the Son­ica sound art fes­ti­val to cel­e­brate the 110th an­niver­sary of the150-foot-high (46m) crane.

Plans for the work, ti­tled A Crane Is A Bridge, will see it trans­formed into a huge Theremin, the elec­tronic in­stru­ment re­spon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing the eerie sounds as­so­ci­ated with early hor­ror movies. To play the Theremin, the per­former moves their hand around its an­tenna “sculpt­ing” sound waves.

Begg – who is based in East Loth­ian – has fit­ted the vast struc­ture with hand­made Theremins all dif­fer­ently pitched to pro­duce “ghostly, eery, whis­per­ing sounds”.

The work will be per­formed in the wheel­house and view­ing plat­form of the crane – de­signed to lift heavy equip­ment such as en­gines and boil­ers dur­ing the fit­ting of bat­tle­ships and ocean lin­ers for John Brown and Com­pany – for two days this week­end.

The crane stopped op­er­a­tion in 1971 but was re­opened fol­low­ing a £3.75mil­lion re­fur­bish­ment project in 2007.

Begg said he had grown up feel­ing two im­por­tant things de­fined Scot­tish his­tory – the High­land Clear­ances and the west coast’s ship­build­ing her­itage. But his first im­pres­sion of the crane on a site visit was the con­trast be­tween its bulk, and the “el­e­gant” but “tense” sounds made by the wind hit­ting the steel ca­bles.

“Strong gusts caught in the steel and the wires and be­came very mu­si­cal at times,” he said. “The sound be­came tonal. Emo­tion­ally, this had a cu­ri­ous ef­fect on me. The sound felt like the sound of my own anx­i­ety be­ing re­alised and by recog­nis­ing the anx­i­ety it felt eas­ier to man­age. Up there in the wheel­house among the huge drums around which the ca­bles are wound, I felt a cu­ri­ous sense of calm.”

“The pre­con­cep­tion of the Clyde is that it’s a hard-bit­ten place,” he added. “But I wanted to ac­knowl­edge its gen­tler, more sub­tle side. The aim is that if you can lis­ten to it for 30 min­utes or so it will bring an un­usual de­gree of peace in an un­likely lo­ca­tion.”

Cathie Boyd, founder and artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Son­ica fes­ti­val which brings to­gether mu­sic and vis­ual art, said: “The Ti­tan crane is one of Glas­gow’s most iconic land­marks. It’s mon­u­men­tal. When you fly in or out of the city you see it. For the peo­ple of Glas- gow I think it sym­bol­ises the past and the fu­ture – it is both a mon­u­ment to an in­dus­trial age of un­prece­dented feats of engi­neer­ing and ex­plo­ration and also sig­nals a prospec­tive epoch of am­bi­tion, imag­i­na­tion and out­go­ing­ness.”

She said Begg’s piece was both “very beau­ti­ful and re­flec­tive”.

The bian­nual Son­ica fes­ti­val, which Boyd set up in 2012, runs from Oc­to­ber 26 to Novem­ber 5, and fea­tures per­for­mances, screen­ings, in­stal­la­tions and club events across Glas­gow.

Un­usual works be­ing brought to the city in­clude Aqua­sonic – a Dan­ish piece fea­tur­ing un­der­wa­ter singing and mu­sic de­scribed as “whale song meets cham­ber mu­sic”. Mean­while, Sideral by artists Marcela Amas and Gil­berto ex­am­ines the mod­u­lat­ing mu­sic pro­duced by me­te­orites. Bailie De­nis Agnew, con­vener of mu­se­ums and cul­tural de­vel­op­ment for West Dun­bar­ton­shire Coun­cil, said: “We are de­lighted that the iconic Ti­tan crane will be a key el­e­ment of this world-class pro­gramme of events in Glas­gow. It’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to high­light West Dun­bar­ton­shire’s fas­ci­nat­ing past in­clud­ing our proud ship­build­ing her­itage.”

Photo: Martin Shields

Artist Michael Begg, left, will turn the Ti­tan crane into a huge Theremin

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