Inclusive experimental music group tell us about their music-making process and the highlights of their career so far
Formed in 2012, Sonic Bothy are a mixed-ability ensemble featuring musicians with additional learning support needs alongside professional musicians. They recently launched their debut album Fields with a special concert at Glasgow's Mono. Featuring ensemble pieces alongside intimate duos, Fields has a chamber music feel, with spare vocal, clarinet and percussion exchanges interrupted by bursts of manic invention. Founding member Claire Docherty takes us through the Sonic Bothy story.
How did it all begin?
Sonic Bothy began as an artists' project in 2012, bringing together musicians with a disability that I had met working in various participation projects across Scotland and musicians who were working in new / experimental music. The project explored pre-baroque music and instruments, free improv, minimalism and electro-acoustic music, creating new music drawing on ideas from these genres. It was also set up to explore Glasgow's new and experimental music scene as a source of dialogue and inspiration. Improvisation was the thread running through most of the musical ideas and experiments. From early on, the group felt like a band, and so by the end of the first year it made sense to start focusing as a group on creating new pieces and performing.
The group works with improvisation, and other partially free / fixed forms to collaboratively create original music. When we began to perform quite a lot, other people wanted to learn about the music and join, so we became a company with the main ensemble and added other learning programmes / support to individual artists to give more opportunities for people with an ALSN to be involved in experimental music. The line-up has only changed a little over the years. For this album it's Andrew Robertson, Ellen Philip, Adam Green, Allan Wright, Alex South and Nichola Scrutton.
Do you have a particular process for bringing it all together, or do you explore a range of approaches?
We draw on a whole range of influences, including the environment, visual, atmospheres and concepts. Each might offer a potential sound idea or form to explore. We also sometimes set guidelines for an improvisation. We work with a very flexible approach. If something excites us, we work with it to see if it can be developed. Sometimes the influences people bring are really wide-ranging. Last year, Andrew Robertson and Adam Green led the creation of two pieces bringing their respective interests in musical theatre and dance music, and Adam's interest in using glass instruments (made by glass artist Carrie Fertig). We focused on where improvisation meets other musical languages, or where it could overlap or disrupt, what the relationships between these languages were, and how technically to put things together.
In addition to the new album, what have some of the highlights been for Sonic Bothy so far?
We have been very lucky in our time to have warm support from the experimental scene in Scotland and great opportunities for performing and collaborating. Performances are always a highlight because we usually combine work we're a bit familiar with and a new or free piece. Most recently, celebrating the album launch at Mono – it's been a real achievement, so that's definitely a highlight.
A four-day residency at Sound Festival in 2015 in the beautiful countryside up at Newton Dee. By the end of it our playing had really developed and there was a feeling of having broken through something quality-wise, and everyone realising there was more potential to develop.
Collaborating with GIO in 2014, where Ellen Philip's graphic score was included as part of a larger piece, incorporating film by Norman McLaren and Tam Dean Burn reading excerpts of Edwin Morgan's The Play of Gilgamesh. That was a really interesting experience as it extended the ensemble's chamber-style size of around seven players to 30-odd players. That helped us to develop new ways of playing for that setting.