Biennial audio-visual festival Sonica opened on Halloween at Glasgow’s Tramway with Aether and Primordial Waters, two dazzling collaborations between UK-based artists that oscillated between crowd-pleasing and magnetic.

Sonica went for the big splash with opener Aether, a wash of high-tech grandeur from London’s design collective Architecture Social Club and Belfast-born musician and techno producer Max Cooper. As the audience enters a completely dark room, thousands of threads arranged in a block hanging from the ceiling start to glimmer rhythmically to a live soundtrack of techno beats and drone waves that might feel at home in a late-hour club or a new Matrix prequel. The three-dimensional, rainbow-coloured patterns of light that pirouette across the installation change from quivery sequins to dripping dollops or rotating flat surfaces.

Lasting for over one hour, the show soon gives the standing audience sore knees; as people start sitting down across the room, walking around in the dark to experience the installation from different angles becomes increasingly difficult. It feels like a GlasGlow for grown-ups – and like this autumn family attraction in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens, Aether is an obvious crowd pleaser with its head-bobbing rhythms, repetitive glitter and demonstration of high-end technology. The impressive razzle-dazzle is so cool it left me a little cold: there is little inspiration to explore new perspectives beyond the glitter’n’beats in this show that was originally designed to engage people emotionally with natural forms.

Primordial Waters, a different installation-cum-live performance happening right afterwards, is somewhat of a counter-experience to Aether. Created by former Glasgow School of Art graduate Heather Lander and Scottish DJ Alex Smoke, this trance-inducing piece is a love letter to the fascination with water’s repetitive, calm movements and shows cleverly how technology, often synonymous with acceleration, can also help to slow us down.

Gathering the audience around a small pool of water in a dimly-lit room, Lander and Smoke remain half-hidden behind a black curtain as they work their magic on their mixers. A projector hung on the ceiling keeps changing its colour from misty hues of blue, lilac and orange as it illuminates the thin smoke curling on the water surface, once recalling a quiet storm, then a volcano eruption. The otherworldly effect is that you feel both underwater and above the surface at the same time, both flooded and airborne – an illusion of strangely transfixing peace. Your breathing calms down and you forget your plans for the rest of the night or who you came here with – or it just makes you sleepy. Instead of building up towards a crescendo, Lander and Smoke lull you into a very intimate contemplation of sound and colour in what feels like the atmospheric marriage between Dark Crystal and a Buddhist group meditation.

Photos courtesy of Neil Jarvie