Cryptic is a Glasgow based art house, producing large scale “visual sonic” art works and performances, and creating opportunities for local and international artists to experiment with the latest in technology and innovative creative tools.

In this interview, we asked the team at Cryptic to tell us more about their work. You can watch videos about two of their projects, Sonica and Luminous Birds in the videos above and below 

Cryptic was founded over 20 years ago, long before the notion of visual sonic art entered the public consciousness. What made founder and artistic director Cathie Boyd want to form the company?

Cathie moved to Glasgow to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS formerly RSAMD) from Belfast in 1990 – Glasgow’s Year of European Capital of Culture. She was completely inspired by the work she witnessed at Tramway around this period, and it was seeing this multi-art form work that inspired her to set up Cryptic where live music, visuals and text were of equal importance.

How did Cryptic start?

Whilst studying at the RCS, Cathie founded Cryptic in 1991 and performed her first work, The One Sided Wall, with a commissioned live score. She then went on to take Friel’s Lovers with another commissioned score to the Edinburgh Festival in 1992 which sold out and received much press attention. In 1994 she decided to set up the company officially, and was approached by the Scottish Arts Council about applying for funding.

In 1995 Cryptic was the youngest arts company to be invited by the British Council to tour Child Lover to Hungary and Czech Republic. The following year, Parallel Lines won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival that went on tour for several years to Colombia, Ireland, Italy, Mexico and the Barbican in London.

How would you describe the sort of productions Cryptic makes?

Cryptic’s work has always been multi-art form – the company aims to create ravishing work that combines music, visuals and often poetic language, albeit the latter has become less important over time. Productions that fuse music and sonic work with a strong visual component has become our trademark.

We have always endeavoured to pioneer new technologies in the arts; in our very first production, Bonjour Tristesse, cellist Anthea Haddow played through a guitar effects unit to create live soundscapes on stage. This developed to exploring projection technology in 1997, live camera capture in 1999 (as well as webcasting in 2001), 3D video in 2002, and live interactive visuals in 2005.

In 2010, Cryptic partnered with the Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualisation (formerly Digital Design Studio) to unveil two groundbreaking new technologies: real-time projections, which used the performer's body as a versatile projection surface, and Point Cloud Data Imaging (3D laser scanning of buildings).

As a result of this artistic shift, we have moved away from being a music theatre company and are now a Glasgow-based internationally renowned producing art house.

How do new projects come about?

We spend a lot of time planning new projects that can take between one to three years to materialise. Cathie observes new talent across the globe, travelling and attending key events such as ISPA and IETM to foster new collaborations and partnerships. Partnerships are very important to Cryptic and we work closely with artists, festivals, and producers to generate opportunities for worldwide touring and exchange.

What do you think Cryptic adds to Glasgow’s art scene, and the wider Scottish cultural landscape?

Cryptic has always been an innovator on the Glasgow art scene and further afield, offering audiences the opportunity to immerse themselves in something completely different.

This has often taken audiences out of their comfort zone, whether that be through the variety of work presented, the unusual or unexpected venues and places in which it is programmed, or the format in which it can be experienced and explored, both small- and large-scale. At our office in the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow we have installed everything from interactive sonic rocking chairs to audiovisual installations.

We also offer support to talented artists who cross boundaries and whose work is often mutli-disciplinary. The biennial 10-day Sonica festival fills the city with extraordinary international visual sonic work, while supporting emerging British talent. Through this we also offer residencies in Glasgow as well as programming a variety of venues such as Tramway (our main Sonica partner), CCA, The Lighthouse, disused factories, empty swimming pools and the Hamilton Mausoleum, amongst others.

We have toured Scotland widely and have developed relationships with partners in major cities as well as more remote or rural regions including Argyll & Bute, Banchory, and the Outer Hebrides.

Luminous Birds

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THE PROJECT FIRST COME ABOUT?

Luminous Birds was originally commissioned by Kidderminster Arts Festival 2015 and in 2016 Cryptic received support from the Scottish Government’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design to develop the design and sound. The project transformed urban and rural surroundings using synchronised lighting and spatialised sounds that create the effect of birds flying overhead, creating a surprise encounter for members of the public.

The installation took place in Glasgow, Dundee and Dumfries.

WHAT WAS KATHY HINDE’S INSPIRATION FOR THE PIECE?

Luminous Birds was shown in autumn 2016, at a time when many birds were migrating through Scotland for the winter. The work’s creator, Kathy Hinde, was particularly inspired by these migratory routes, which included large flocks of Barnacle Geese resting near Dumfries, and Pink Footed Geese further north near Dundee.

She was also inspired by the differing locations for the work, all of which were steeped in history. These ranged from the alley of one of Scotland’s oldest pubs (a favourite haunt of Scotland’s national Bard, Robert Burns) and The Howff, a city centre graveyard with one of the most important collections of historic tombstones in the country, to the lane of Glasgow’s last surviving Edwardian public bathhouse and a Mackintosh designed tower which doubled as both water tank and dovecote.

How did it work?

The work was shown in autumn 2016, at a time when many birds were migrating through Scotland for the winter. The work’s creator, Kathy Hinde, was particularly inspired by these migratory routes, which included large flocks of Barnacle Geese resting near Dumfries, and Pink Footed Geese further north near Dundee. She was also inspired by the differing locations for the work, all of which were steeped in history.

These ranged from the alley of one of Scotland’s oldest pubs (a favourite haunt of Scotland’s national Bard, Robert Burns) to The Howff, a city centre graveyard with one of the most important collections of historic tombstones in the country.

HOW DID AUDIENCES RESPOND TO THE PIECE? 

Luminous Birds was created using Tyvek paper and metal to form origami birds suspended overhead on wires. Inside each bird is an LED timed to a travelling spatialised sound track, creating a stop-motion animation sequence of flying from one end of a site to the other. The installation took place after sunset and was free for all audiences to visit.

Sonica

How would you describe Sonica to a new audience?

Sonica (sonic art for the visually minded) is a worldwide, year-round programme of high quality, cutting edge sound works, each with a strong visual element. It is punctuated by a biennial autumn festival in Glasgow (returning in 2017) and spring weekend in London (2018).

Sonica introduces visual sonic art to new audiences and makes an exciting contribution to the development of this art form, blurring the boundaries between live music, visual art, opera, film, theatre and through works that embrace multi-media, science and technology. Sonica presents some of the most innovative work by today’s most exciting UK and international artists.

What is “visual sonic art”? And how can audiences interact with it?

In the context of Sonica, visual sonic art is ‘visual art presented with a sound element, or sound/music presented visually.’

During Sonica 2015, we programmed Helmholtz by Wintour’s Leap, a sound-sensitive installation of suspended LEDs. Audiences were encouraged to enter the darkened space and make noise, clapping, stamping their feet, or whistling, causing the LEDs to light up, showing the sounds travelling around the space. Helmholtz was also used as a reactive stage for live performances from both a string quartet and choral ensemble.

This allowed audiences to experience and understand a variety of known chamber works in a new or different way, where accents and changing dynamics became more exciting and dramatic and where subtle nuances, motifs and phrasing were given greater emphasis.

How important are the spaces the festival inhabits?

The spaces selected for Sonica are essential to the success of both the works programmed and the ethos of the festival as a whole. Many of the works are selected with a specific venue in mind; how audiences experience the sound is just as important as the visual elements used by the artists.

The citywide use of both conventional and unexpected spaces is also important in creating opportunities for easier access and diversification of audiences. We want to reduce barriers and reach people who would not normally be attracted to or feel comfortable interacting with visual sonic art. Most recently, we have and are continuing to work closely with Glasgow Science Centre in programming full-dome work for their new, state-of-the-art digital planetarium, the only venue of it’s kind in Scotland.

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