Cut & Splice - Cult ‘Sonic Art’ Festival Hits MCR This Month

This March, Manchester plays host to a festival of experimental music produced by the Sound and Music organisation in conjunction with BBC Radio 3

Written by  Alun Richards | Follow @ | Tuesday, 7 March 2017 15:07

‘What is a microphone doing on stage when a microphone becomes a mallet?’ This is just one of the unusual questions to emerge from my conversation with Mauricio Pauly, co-curator of Cut & Splice 2017.

She’s one of those giant names that you never get to meet anywhere – she’s almost a myth

The cult ‘sonic art’ festival, now well into its second decade, will take place in Ancoats on the 10th and 11th of March. It’s the first time the event has been staged outside of London, and this is all down to the efforts of Mauricio and his colleagues in Distractfold (pictured), the award-winning chamber ensemble that is helping to put Manchester on the map as an international centre for experimental music.

The theme this year is ‘technology as an unreliable narrator’. It’s an idea that looms large in Distractfold’s practice, which combines traditional instruments with electronics to explore new possibilities for organising sound. ‘The technology is being used in ways that are unorthodox,’ observers Mauricio. ‘When you deal with these tools you find limitations, and within those limitations you find expressive possibilities. None of this is doing what it was intended to do, but because it’s being operated by a group of humans communicating in real time, there’s an expressive quality.’

.Ancoats' Halle St Peter's will be home to Cut & Splice from 10-11 March

The wide-ranging programme features instrumental and electronic compositions alongside sound art installations. As well as several works commissioned specially for the festival, there will be a UK premiere for Steven Kazuo Takasugi’s The man who couldn’t stop laughing, a piece for quartet and tape that earned Distractfold the Kranichstein Prize for Interpretation at the prestigious Darmstadt festival in 2014. ‘The piece had originally been written as a scored quartet,’ explains Mauricio. ‘But then I saw a performance in Tel Aviv of an improvising quartet playing it. So I thought, what if we did a version that had one shadowing the other, without knowing who was the shadow of who?’

Another notable presence is German sound artist Christina Kubisch, who will be bringing her legendary Electrical Walks to Manchester for the first time. Originally performed in Cologne in 2004, the piece consists of a public walk through the city wearing headphones designed to pick up electromagnetic fields. The exposure of hidden energies provides a new perspective on familiar locations, and the sounds are much more musical than you would expect – complex layers of high and low frequencies, loops of rhythmic sequences, groups of tiny signals, long drones. ‘She’s one of those giant names that you never get to meet anywhere – she’s almost a myth. I would be interested to ask her what are the markers that particular cities may have? As an experienced tour guide, can you identify aspects you’d never hear in Germany, things that are totally English?’

Cut & Splice Festival 2017 from Distractfold Ensemble on Vimeo.

A more homegrown sound artist, Prestwich-based Lee Patterson, will be taking over Hallé St Michael’s for the duration of the festival to showcase his latest project. Mauricio himself doesn’t yet know what it will entail, but he’s eager to find out. ‘Anyone who does that kind of work here, when you mention that name it’s like mentioning Hendrix. It’s very homemade – electronics, magnetics, things vibrating, mics, things oscillating. He puts it together and it happens.’

The rest of the programme consists of composers and artists from around the world – the US, Canada, New Zealand, France – many of them established Distractfold collaborators. It’s a remarkable collection of people to be gathering at a couple of former churches in Ancoats, but that’s reflective of the ensemble’s combination of regional identity and international scope.

Founded in Manchester in 2011, Distractfold is made up entirely of University of Manchester and RNCM graduates, and had its start playing small venues across the city. Concerts in North Tea Power and Nexus Art Café were followed by an informal residency at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, which provided a base for the ensemble to hone its craft and bring

To wrap up the conversation, I ask Mauricio about the general state of experimental and post-classical music in the city. His response is strikingly up-beat. ‘Music and art are doing well in Manchester, as they always have been. I think there’s a big pool of people doing super varied things, whether sound-based or visuals-based or some sort of hybrid or theatre.’

There are students of mine who call themselves “pop” who are doing things that are brutal. Truly scary. And I think that’s part of that scene. Maybe the stakes are lower so you take bigger risks! The scene is less asphyxiated.’

Cut & Splice 2017 will take place at Halle St Peter’s and Halle St Michael’s on the 10th and 11th of March. All performances will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast on Hear and Now. Tickets are available here.