What to expect from Sensoria 2019

Sensoria is our very own film/music/digital arts festival, now in its 12th year. As ever they have put together a totally unmissable collection of unique events to entertain and inform the good folk of Sheffield as we all head into autumn. I’m a massive fan of the sort of events curated by this festival and I’m on a mission to give you my thoughts on which events you really will kick yourself if you miss. 

As we mentioned at length in our September issue, Sheffield-based photographer, Chris Saunders has a long overdue exhibition of his work, under the title of ‘Shine A Light’. It’s in the Trafalgar Warehouse, and if you’ve not been in there, it’s worth the trip, just to go inside this wonderful re-purposed former industrial space. Chris’s subtle use of light creates photographs which are always compelling, and tell their own unique story, so I can’t imagine a more perfect place to see his work displayed. And it’s free too, so there’s really no excuse for not calling in.

Another light-based installation of a different kind is ‘Breaking Reverie’ by Heather Lander. it’s an immersive sonic light sculpture, which perhaps goes someway to describing what we can expect. It’s another free event, this time down on Barker’s Pool, near Patisserie Valerie, where the one-off Arctic Monkeys pop-up shop appeared briefly.

Now, here’s something special. If you’ve never explored the music of Erland Cooper, I implore you to do so, otherwise you may regret missing a rare opportunity to see him live. If you want a musical escape from the modern world, his performance in the Drama Studio promises to be an evocation of his homeland of the Orkneys. His music is hypnotic and mesmerising, as it explores and reflects the beautiful world he lives in, and his performance will be supported by artists featured in the Modern Fairies project.

Another more experimental composer was Morton Feldman. Although he died in the eighties, his music sounds fresh and challenging even today, and a leading interpreter of his beautiful, and endlessly captivating piano music is Philip Thomas. He’ll be performing Feldman’s music in the Upper Chapel, alongside screenings of two documentaries which use his atmospheric music as their soundtracks.

Holly Herndon is a composer of electronic music, who has created her own stylish soundscape, and her latest album, PROTO is an incredible cascade of fascinating sounds. It is one of my albums of the year, and she will be performing her vision of a musical and digital future at the Foundry. The way she uses an electronically expanded vocal ensemble is astonishing. She has also created a machine intelligence called Spawn, which she will be performing with. Voice processors have fascinated me, going way back to Laurie Anderson (herself a previous Sensoria performer) and even further back to Wendy Carlos with Beethoven’s’ Ninth, on the Clockwork Orange soundtrack. Even Cher got in on the act when she sang ‘Believe’.

The musical week reaches a fitting conclusion with the return of Bo Ningen, last here during DocFest, and before that, in Sheffield for an unforgettable performance at Sensoria 2015. This time they’re providing the live score to Jodorowsky’s controversial film, The Holy Mountain, a cult classic from 1973. It’s a trippy, surreal film, which scandalised the film world when it was first shown. Who better than the masters of psychedelic noise, Bo Ningen to relaunch this film into the 21st century.

Film is of course a major part of Sensoria, and my pick of the festival would be the opening film, Dreamgirls. It’s been given a Saturday night screening at the start of the festival, and follows the fortunes of a fictitious Detroit girl band, The Dreamettes, in a story loosely based on the The Supremes and the Motown record label. We’re all encouraged to come along in our best 60s/70s outfits, and to follow the screening with a visit downstairs to a DJ set in the Picture House Social. I never need an excuse to spend a Saturday night down there, so I’ll see you there, sporting my best tank top and flares.

The film La Planete Sauvage (Fantastic Planet) made a great impression on me when it first came out, and has lost none of its impact today. In the seventies, sci-fi films were often concerned with making thought provoking fiction, about possible futures and alternate civilisations, before the success of Star Wars encouraged so many films to be little more than Cowboys and Indians in space. Add to this serious film this a jazz score by Alain Goraguer, and you have the perfect cinema night out.

Sensoria always like to end the festival with a storming music gig, and headlining the final Saturday night will be a  combined performance by two previous Sensoria headliners – John Grant and Stephen Mallinder’s analogue synth band, Wrangler. They have been working together for some time, and the resulting album, Mr Dynamite, came out last year. Together they are known as Creep Show, and combine the voices of John and Stephen with an alt-funky, synth and drum sound, quite unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

While I’ve tried to pick a few unmissable highlights to recommend, as you might expect, I’d advise you to visit for updates and the full list of events, and most importantly the links to book tickets, as some of these are bound to prove very popular.

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