Updated: Saturday, 21st July 2018 @ 8:06am

University comes together for Salford Sonic Music Festival – bringing experimental art music, jazz and folk

University comes together for Salford Sonic Music Festival – bringing experimental art music, jazz and folk

By Mohammed Cherio

Music lovers are set to enjoy the first ever Salford Sonic Music Festival next week – and in the run-up Mancunian Matters chat to some of the artists and organisers. 


The four day festival runs from Thursday April 26 until April 29 and will feature in excess of 60 performers from around the world playing the very best works from 25 composers in contemporary classical and jazz.


Stephen Davismoon, the director of music at the University of Salford and the brains behind the idea, felt that this was a necessary step to signify the transition taking place in Salford, both in the City and the university. 


“Manchester already has a lot of festivals such and the Manchester International Festival but there isn’t anything in Salford to reflect all the changes it is going through” he said.  “There has been a lot of activity in the University music and acoustic departments and so the Festival acts as a focal point for all the research.”


The first day of the festival is devoted to the Listening Cities project; a collaboration between the University of Salford and four other musical institutions in Europe including the Tempo Reale in Florence and Vienna’s University of music and performing arts. 


The day will start off with a string of presentations about electronic sound research and the rapid development that has been made in this field.  Peter Mechtler of Vienna University will be presenting a lecture on the sounds of industrial noise, a somewhat fitting topic to conduct in a city famous for its industrial heritage. 


In the evening the music starts and audiences will be treated to a performance by members of the Salford University and the other musical institutions, giving students the opportunity to play alongside the likes of household contemporary classic names.


On Friday, the festival will once again feature both presentations and live music.  Davismoon will take to the podium to conduct a presentation about the microstructures of his own piece titled Towers of infinity. Davismoon reveals that for years composers like him were trying to solve a problem. He said:  “The big research question was how do we make electronic music sound alive?”


His presentation at the festival aims to show how electronic music can alter the ‘DNA’, or the microstructure, of the sound of an instrument and how that has influenced his own work. 


Later in the evening Towers of infinity will be played by a quartet that includes Richard Craig, whose album titled Inward was recently nominated for the Scottish album of the year by the Scottish Music Industry.


The Festival will certainly be the place to be on Friday night for jazz lovers.  On the line up is Jan Kopinski, who was introduced to saxophones and the jazz scene in the 1960’s as an art student. 


“My interest began when I heard an album when I was 18 by John Coltrane called my favourite things and it instantly made me want to play the saxophone,” Kopinski recalls.  Since discovering his love for the jazz music, his career has gone from strength to strength after producing a diverse range of critically acclaimed albums.


Kopinski will be performing his BBC magazine award winning album Mirrors.  The Opera North commissioned project differs to his previous leftfield jazz he produced with Pinski Zoo. 


While Pinski zoo was solely an audio project, Mirrors relies on visual just as much as it relies on sound.   


The composition will be performed at the Digital Performance Laboratory, where video artist Jim Boxhall will be able to project photos of Poland taken by Kopinski in the 1980’s on one of Europe’s biggest HD screens to compliment the live music. 


Kopinski studied Szymanowski scores and was trying to go for what he calls ‘sweeter music’ compared to the punchy Pinski zoo work to go with this visual imagery.  The eerie yet relaxing feel to Mirrors reflects the themes of memory and identity Kopinski intended to give out. 


As he puts it, ‘the idea was to get a feeling of a waking dream where you’re not quite asleep and not quite awake’. 


Kopinski describes this as a personal project, and this is evident from working on Mirrors with people very close to him. At the festival Kopinski will be playing the both his daughter and son will join him on stage to play the violin and the bass respectively. 


The Kopinski family will also be accompanied by Steve Iliffe, the pianist that has been working with Jan for the last twenty five years.  The vocals – an element that is present only in Mirrors and none of Kopinski’s other work – will be performed by Anika Toth.


Saturday will see Simon best take to stage to perform torts, a concertu that fuses together contemporary classic and jazz.  His work is heavily influences by funk legends such as George Clinton as well as György Sándor Ligeti, one of the biggest classical composers and best known in the mainstream for his contribution to Stanley Kubrick movie soundtracks. 


The star of the Concertu will be Jamaladeen Tacuma.  ‘He’s a true gent’, Kopinski says of the impeccably dressed bassist who worked alongside legendary Ornette Coleman. 


Audiences that day will also get to witness Marco Visconti-Prasca playing a composition by the late Luciano Berio.  Laborintus II, described as ‘a monster of a piece’ by Davismoon, is arguably one of Berio’s finest accomplishments. 


The cast for this performance comprises of a composer and an orchestra just like any other, but they will be joined on stage by three sopranos including Toth again, eight actors, electronics and even a narrator.  Frederico Sanguinetti, whose father Eduardo Sanguinetti was one of the most revered poets of his generation will be narrating the texts that compliment what will be one of the impressive performances of the festival.


On the last day, the music will be entirely devoted to the late John Cage, whose work was the driving force behind the minimalist movement.  One of his most critically acclaimed works called 4’33 features 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. 


This piece was inspired by his experience in New York University’s Anechoic chamber; a room that is acoustically dead as possible.  When he asked why  he could hear a high tingling noise and a thumping sound in a room that was supposed to be silent, he was told that those noises was his nervous system ringing and his blood circulating through his body. 


Being a devout Buddhist, Cage wanted this work to show his audience what it was like to meditate on nothing, while at the same time allowing him to poke fun at how complex classical music had become.  Davismoon understands why the layman may be perplexed by almost five minutes of silence.


“Is it music? I guess that is up to debate, but that depends on whether you accept that there is music everywhere.  To some people listening to traffic on m6 isn’t music but Cage might have said that maybe it is” he explained. 


Lauryna Sableviciute will be performing Cage’s piano music and dispersing that with Mozart’s work.  Davismoon explains that this blend is due to Mozart’s influence on Cage’s own work.  He said: “Cage was very fond of music of Mozart because as Cage put it, Mozart had an instinctive feel for musical time and this was fundamental to his thinking because it was the canvas for the visual artist.”


Lastly, students at the University of Salford will round off the evening of John Cage’s music and will play several of his works, including the very original ‘child of tree’ that requires all the instruments must be made out of plants. 


The chosen plants must include cacti and fir cones, along with any other fruits, leaves or branches.  This challenges musicians to forget what they have learned and rely on their acoustical instincts.  What makes this even more peculiar is that the score is just a list of instructions as opposed to traditional sheet music, which once again highlights how Cage constantly challenged art.


The city of Salford may have been overshadowed by Manchester in the music department, but with such an array of talent at display at the festival this may not be the case for much longer.  Davismoon and everyone else at Salford have worked hard to put Salford on the map and this will hopefully be the first of many Sonic Music Festivals to come.