We are approaching the start of one of the most eclectic interdisciplinary events on the contemporary art and music scene. Sónar was founded in Barcelona in 1994 as the Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art, by music journalist Ricard Robles, musician and visual artist Enric Palau and Sergio Caballero. Over the years visitor numbers have grown exponentially and the festival has become established as one of the most important gatherings of music, art and technology.
Organised in parallel with Sónar, as an extension to its packed schedule of events, Sónar+D is an international conference which examines the digital transformation of the creative sector in order to develop and support talent, facilitate the exchange of knowledge and generate opportunities in the world of work. During the day at Sónar, and as they wait for the evening events, artists and experts in the field of technology, both newcomers and established figures, come together to share their experiences, ranging from music and visual arts to transmedia platforms, and to build new ones. In an atmosphere entirely geared towards experimentation and knowledge sharing, there will be presentations of virtual reality projects, wearable technology, musical instruments, sound and audio-visual prototypes and collective experiments.
This major initiative, which generates incredible opportunities, reaches its fourth edition this year, and a packed programme of events is planned to run side by side with the Sónar festival, from 16 to 18 June. Topics addressed in this edition include the impact of algorithms on every aspect of our cultural lives, from the creative to the social, as evidenced by our everyday use of technology; the links between culture and activism, the narrative potential of virtual reality and the reality of data interpreted as material to be shaped for artistic creation.
While festivals are events to be consumed intensively over a few days, Sónar and Sónar+D are somewhat longer-lasting, thanks to the numerous preview events taking place before the three days of the festival and the many contacts and opportunities this crucial happening builds for future productions and activities.
The first live shows to take place at the Mazda Space (A Taste of SonarD Plus) have already involved internationally known figures such as Martin Messier (who converts electromagnetic signals into sound with his FIELD), Myriam Bleau (who turns the movement of her Soft Revolvers spinning tops into sound and light), and Chagall (who creates sound compositions from gesture and voice with her MI.MU gloves). The Domestic Data Streamers presented The Time Keeper (a collective experiment in conjunction with Spotify, which will take the form of an installation combining physical and digital elements). Talking of installations, the Semiconductor studio presented its piece Earthwork (which depicts the process of Earth’s formation and the constant changes in its structure, both natural and man-made, to be made concrete in five large zig-zagging screens on which the video information will be displayed).
On 13 May, Madrid too became the venue for one of these major events leading up to the festival. The presentation of a selection of virtual reality projects and music from all over Spain concluded with a wonderful performance by Italian duo Quiet Ensemble of The Enlightenment, in which a choreography of lamps from different eras codifies electric impulses in sound improvisations.
But let’s return to the upcoming event in Barcelona, where the central role of “catalyst” for relations in the world of creativity, technology and knowledge will manifest itself in the organization of the festival into three areas and three different phases, intended to correspond with the different stages of the creative process: the conception, development and prototyping of ideas, their production and their distribution.
The first of these phases is found in the «Congress» area, with conferences, workshops, networking sessions (to reflect on the ideas stage). The second phase resides in the Expo Area: the place for prototypes and new technologies, plus a brand new startup zone (a venue for the development of ideas which must then face the surrounding reality in order to find funding and distribution). The final phase – the stage of production and distribution – is found in the Live Performances section, with installations, concerts and multimedia projects.
To enliven spirits with an introductory talk (in the Congress section) will be producer, thinker and creative firebrand Brian Eno, with an inaugural lecture entitled “Why we Play”. His introduction will be followed by contributions from illustrious guests active in multiple disciplines, such as Jean-Michel Jarre, Ritchie Hawtin, Carsten Nicolai and Kode9. The presence of Matt Ogle and Ajay Kalia of Spotify will add another important angle. A key moment for our wide-ranging culture will be Decentralize, a series of talks and workshops which will propose new systems for the decentralisation of the internet. Minecraft creator Adam Clarke will discuss the potential of video games as drivers of change and education. Other extremely significant participants this year will include scientific institutions of the calibre of the CERN (The European Organization of Nuclear Research) and the ALMA, the world largest astronomical observatory (Chile), which have decided to collaborate with artists and put their work into practice using research processes and results employed in the scientific field itself, thus fostering a dialogue based on solid theoretical foundations and practices and establishing themselves as a new means of support.
The Expo Area will contain the MarketLab, where programmers, creatives, hackers, artists and designers will gather to develop proposals in real time, through installations and collective experiments. Among the installations we have already mentioned The Timekeeper, presented by Spotify and the Barcelona studio Domestic Data Streamers (if you feel like reliving musical memories and creating new ones for the future), while, in the field of music technology, Eurecat will present an installation that allows us literally to “move sound in space” (incorporating 3D and Binaural Sound). Returning after the 2015 edition of the festival is also Barcelona Supercomputing Center, to delight visitors’ ears with a musical composition for three bands. Makeroni from Zaragoza presents The Eye of Horus, a wearable device which allows users to move objects without touching them, already recognised by NASA.
Extremely exciting too is the presentation of Little Sun, a project realized by internationally reknown artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen in 2012 for an LED lamp that captures solar energy and works without electricity. The dialogue between creativity and engineering led to the start of a social business, at at Sónar represented by CEO Felix Hallwachs, a potential benefit for underdeveloped area in the world.
Events such as IMPRIMIDA Barcelona Art and Design Advanced Manufactory Plan (developed by IAC), aimed at 3D creatives, will be a makers’ opportunity geared to art, music, design and fashion. Meanwhile possibilities for funding and talent sourcing are also increasing, thanks to initiatives like Startup Garden by RICOH. And not to be forgotten is the area within Networking dedicated to finding investors and experts, alongside a Job Market.
There is, then, great expectation for the area of LIVE PERFORMANCE. Besides the fifteen tech shows (starring the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre, Kode9 and Lex Lawrence, Raster Noton, Howling and Gazelle Twin, Martin Messier, Miriam Bleau, Golden Bug&Desilence, Wooky, Bruna + Alba G. Corral), British duo Semiconductor, will amaze visitors with the Earthworks installation for SonarPLANTA. while New Yorker Tristan Perich, will install his Microtonal Wall in the stunning setting of the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion. New narrative possibilities will come to light in Realities+D (with works by Wevr, Felix & Paul and Oculus Story Studio), where virtual reality can be explored in a variety of forms already “experienced” in settings such as the renowned Tribeca and Sundance Film Festivals.
This is just a taste of some of the invited guests and events that will shape the upcoming Festival. The arts, in their widest expression, fuse in a willingness for all-encompassing participation, they mix together in an ecosystem that is innovative, stimulating and increasingly structured on a global scale. Here debate and the application of artistic practice will find shared fulfilment.
Sónar + D, organized within The Sónar Festival, June, 16 – 18, Barcelona, Spain
(cover 1) Myriam Bleau – Soft Revolvers (2) Google data arts – unnumberedsparks (3) Semiconductor, Worlds in the Making. photo Brian Slater (4) Quiet Ensemble – Enlightment (5) Zoom ARQ – slant. Black (6) Alva Noto – by Dieter Wuschanski (7) Domestic data streamers – nature of data (8) Supercomputing – Marketlab, 2015 (9) Microtonal wall courtesy Tristan Perich