Giant Tesla Coil Electrifies a London Sound Art Festival

Sonica features artists working with uncommon mediums.

For one weekend only, art house Cryptic hosts a festival full of visuals and sonic art called Sonica. The exhibition lets passersby experience a sound sculpture and musical instrument played live, pulling inspiration from a dystopian landscape and a Tesla coil in action.

Sonica grew out of our awareness at Cryptic that more and more artists were working in this space between sound, music, technology and the visual arts,” Cathie Boyd, Sonica’s artistic director, tells The Creators Project. “And visual is the operative word here — it's all about seeing the sound. That's how we came up with our Sonica strap line — ‘Sonic art for the visually minded’.” Boyd founded the Glasgow-based producing art house Cryptic in 1994. As part of the Sonica on Tour program, the festival is in London for the first time.

Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan, courtesy of 

Cryptic works with a variety of artists. The organization has worked everywhere from Sweden to Brazil and presenting performances, installations and screening from more than 180 artists spanning six continents. Sonica is just another continuation of the team’s mission to highlight the work of artists.  

“The idea is to work with major international artists in the field, whose work is rarely seen in the UK, as well as giving a platform for exceptional UK new talent,” writes Boyd.

Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan, courtesy of 

An environment theme runs through the pieces in the festival. Kathy Hinde’s Tipping Point, a piece specifically commissioned by Cryptic, explores the “complexities of combining glass vessels with shifting water.” Robbie Thomson’s “The New Alps” creates an ominous landscape in the future overrun by robotic machines. Mark Lyken’s The Terrestrial Sea investigates the marine scapes of Scotland’s Cromarty Firth.

Sisi Lu will also present North of X, a live set that combines elements of music, film, sound design, and pop culture. The piece explores the artist’s relationship with Inner Mongolia and Europe — as well as “the relationship between man, machine, and landscape,” according to the artist’s website.

Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan, courtesy of 

One of the most eye-catching and monumental pieces in the festival, Thomson’s XFRMR is a caged Tesla coil which the sound artist will “conduct.” Thomson began working with the Tesla coil in 2012 and has been experimenting with it as “an instrument in its own right.” The artist finds inspiration in watching the electricity as it’s “discharged from the coil in its raw state.” XFRMR serves as an acronym for ‘transformer,’ emphasizing the many aspects of physics within the work. Thomson finds inspiration within elements of space.

“It's a violent and beautiful phenomenon and there are also complex physical processes occurring on an atomic level and at inaudible frequencies — something that is always happening around us but that we don't often stop and consider,” Thomson tells The Creators Project. “I've also been looking at radio telescopes for a sci-fi project I'm working on and listening to recordings of space weather and electromagnetic fields which feature in the show.”

Sonica runs February 5th and 6th. 


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