Hitting the high notes: Titan crane to be turned into a giant musical instrument
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.”
Artist Michael Begg, left, will turn the Titan crane into a huge Theremin