Delve into night terrors, undreamt and interrupted dreams with Heir of the Cursed

Beldina Odenyo and Josh Armstrong’s new digital music-theatre work premieres as part of Cryptic’s season of Sonic Bites

As one of Glasgow’s finest purveyors of music, sonic and visual art, Cryptic have been entertaining and enthralling audiences for over 25 years in locations all around the world. From multimedia projects that push boundaries to regular events designed to support emerging artists in Scotland, the company’s output has been consistently strong since its formation in 1994. But as is the case with every other organisation, enterprise and outlet in the creative industries, 2020 has forced a change in planned performances and events, which in many cases have been devastating. For Cryptic though, it has presented a new challenge and a new means to innovate, which they have very much taken on as an opportunity to present something that will both inspire audiences and offer a much-needed element of escapism.

Sonic Bites, Cryptic’s latest project, was created in response to lockdown and has been running online since September, with the work of 21 artists presented at 1pm on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. The idea behind the project was to offer small nuggets of audiovisual delights, providing the ideal excuse to take a breather before the day ahead.

“Sonic Bites is an opportunity to enjoy some lunchtime escape from emails, zoom meetings etc., to have a welcome distraction from work by experiencing some cultural content.”

Cryptic founder and artistic director Cathie Boyd explains:

“We wanted to offer something different with events specifically created for the screen. All of our Sonic Bites, whether they are existing work we have adapted, or commissioned to create something new, are broadcast to premier production standards. This means people can have the same high-quality experience whether they are listening on headphones and watching on mobile or using their TV and sound system.”

The series kicked off on 10 September with Gavin Bryars’ The Other Side of The River performed by Third Coast Percussion and featuring visuals by Laura Colmenares Guerra, with other highlights including Heather Lander’s Breaking Reverie, with a textured sonic backdrop by Michael Begg; Optical Identity, performed by the T’ang Quartet and sensually visualised by Cryptic; and two new works from musician and composer, Alex Smoke, and electronic sound and visual artist, Ela Orleans. The series will soon be drawing to a close, but not without delivering something unique and special for viewers at home. On 10 December, Sonic Bites will premiere The Terror, a hypnotic and hallucinatory new work created by director Josh Armstrong and musician Heir of The Cursed, which is a precursor to their live performance for 2021/22.

The Terror is primarily an exploration of night terrors.” Beldina Odenyo aka Heir of the Cursed notes. “Night terrors are a type of parasomnia which occur during slow-wave sleep. The person will become animated, often sweating, screaming or crying, trying to or succeeding in leaving their room or flat while they remain unconscious. The person may be acting as if they are awake but will often not respond to any external stimuli and will look ‘through you’ with wide glassy eyes.”

“This psychoanalytic idea of needing to dream the undreamt dream has become a central form for the work both musically and visually.” Josh continues. “We are working with both autobiographical material from the artists and the public, but also interweaving the material with classic ‘fearful’ imagery. In this attempt we are trying to abstract the cliché and find a truth within it. The question remains, how do you communicate terror? This is an ongoing process which we are currently developing.”

Cryptic supported The Terror through a residency at the CCA in September and were aware of the research and development phase of the project. Josh and Beldina were approached to take part in Sonic Bites not only as a way to reach an audience for the work, but also to support their R&D, which is obviously much more difficult for artists in general right now due to restrictions. The work is described as a “visual sonic dreamscape”, but how exactly will audiences momentarily be lured away from their everyday realities?

“Sonically, the work is rooted in drones, cycles, repetition and binaural beats, which act as means to shift the audience into a pre-dream space.” Beldina says. “This will be accompanied visually by constantly shifting high-contrast visuals appearing and disappearing into and from darkness. The stage images will rely on both video projection and live action which phase in and out of each other.”

“In the video that has been created for us by Louise Mather for Sonic Bites,” Josh adds, “the hypnotic, repetitive quality of the music is reflected in refracted and abstracted imagery of both found footage and documentation from the residency that we had in the CCA at the start of September – phasing between modes. In some ways this video is a ‘mood board’ for the full-length performance. There is a kaleidoscopic effect to the imagery in which everything is always obscured in some way.”

From Beldina and Josh’s description of the project, The Terror is an intriguing and somewhat unsettling piece and one that fits perfectly with Cryptic’s overall artistic mission statement. In terms of its inclusion in Sonic Bites though, the pair are hoping that this bite-sized taster will entice audiences towards the final work once it has been fully realised.

“In many ways this performance is just scratching the surface of a profound familiarity every human experiences. It is suggested that humans sleep about a third of our lives so when that sleep is disordered it becomes a recurring and unavoidable barrier. We would also very much welcome any input from audiences as we continue to develop the work. In this sense, the work might also open a conversation on parasomnia and in particular night terrors, both in children and adults.”

For Cathy, it has been a joy to showcase the work of 21 artists over the past few months, and as well as being thrilled to have The Terror involved in the programme, she has been pleased overall with what Sonic Bites has been able to accomplish.

“Whilst Cryptic has faced many challenges this year, they are nothing compared to those of the many artists and technicians who have been left without performance opportunities. This has, and continues to be, devastating for many. I hope our Sonic Bites can at least celebrate some of the brilliant talent we have, whilst also giving a platform to emerging artists.

“Digital events will remain important within Cryptic’s work, however, I think we need a balance of live and hybrid in the future. What has been fantastic about online is that it has allowed us to reach a different audience who may not have attended live events before, for many reasons, and it has also made our work more accessible for people who cannot travel so easily.”

Watch The Terror on Thursday 10 December from 1pm. Tickets are available at and bookers will receive a dedicated viewing link valid for 24 hours. Tickets are free or priced on a pay-what-you-can basis.

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    I have heard there are Virtual Reality treatments for phobias that have gone through clinical trials written up in journals like the Lancet:
    Games have addressed immersive terrors too (there may be a Playstation VR game where you are locked in a shark cage).

    The fear factor in games is typically heightened by taking something away: in Doom 3 (like in the theatrical production mentioned in the article) light; in other games, perhaps your ability to move (not dissimilar perhaps from sleep paralysis); or real-world physics or causality (which can give an unsettling nightmarish quality). And because of player-character association, it does not have to be a first-person-perspective experience (indeed, player fear may be generated for a non-player character).

    I think BBC Click recently showcased some kind of scary game where two people sat blindfolded across from each other following events through headphones, although that might have been a bit gimmicky, although perhaps a claustrophobic domestic soundscape might be the most chilling horror for some because of its realism. Maybe such games are less therapeutic.

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