Letters: Sonorities '06

Michael Quinn, Co. Down, writes:I read Bob Gilmore’s response in the September-October JMI to my review of the Sonorities Festival (‘(Hard)core Values’, July-August) with interest. His gracious observation that my discussion of this year’s...

Michael Quinn, Co. Down, writes:

I read Bob Gilmore’s response in the September-October JMI to my review of the Sonorities Festival (‘(Hard)core Values’, July-August) with interest. His gracious observation that my discussion of this year’s events was ‘intelligent and well argued’ made me all the more regretful that for the most brutish of reasons – paucity of space – I had not been able to reference his own contribution to the festival.

However, I would want to correct – or at least challenge – Mr Gilmore’s deduction that the ‘villain’ in all of this for me was the Sonic Arts Research Centre. On the contrary, SARC is the most exciting performance space I have encountered in many a long year in Ireland, Europe or the United States; one, indeed, that seems positively pregnant with potential and possibilities. My description of it as a ‘funereal black cube’ was precisely that, a description, and categorically not a criticism. In fact, I rather like this untainted aspect of it. Purely for the sake of clarity, I’d also take issue with his implication that my piece was solely engaged with ‘SARC-bashing’. It was not. There was nothing in my review that was intended to or did attack the venue.

I was, however, critical of how the space was used, and Mr Gilmore is correct in assuming that my reference to the ‘inhibiting altar-and-pews formality’ of the seating arrangements was meant as a criticism. In a space so vitally flexible and physically and technically malleable, it seemed decidedly odd (and not a little perverse) for the audience throughout the festival – irrespective of the scale, content or aspiration of each and every concert – to have been cemented into a conventional us-and-them relationship with each and all of the performers. It was both a counter-intuitive and contrary proposition for audience members and wholly at odds with much of the music’s eagerness to inhabit and describe three-dimensional space. My complaint was – and remains – that such an arrangement ‘obliged audiences to experience the music in the most restricted and conventional of ways’.

It is, surely, possible to engage critically with something without wanting to denigrate or dismantle it. Just as Sonorities strives to challenge its audiences, so too must its audiences feel able to challenge it, not least in matters of presentation where the matter of how a piece of music (and the opportunity to listen to it) is framed and presented is something not to be ignored or overlooked or even relegated to a matter of minor importance.
I’m delighted that Mr Gilmore found SARC ‘a joy to play in’. I’m afraid, however, that the overall presentation of this year’s Sonorities did not also make it a joy to listen in.

Published on 1 November 2006

Michael Quinn is a freelance music and theatre journalist based in Co. Down.

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