What is the individual thrown into the world? Part of it or, on the contrary, an alienated and manipulative element? These are to a certain degree the questions that underlied the general concept of Sonic Act’s 2015 edition, the festival about Art, Music and Science born in Amsterdam already 16 years ago and that offers ever since some of the most exciting programs and initiatives at an international level, to a public made of experts as well as mere browsers.

The event took place in the Dutch metropolis from the last 26th of February to the 1st of March, and its title was The Geologic Imagination: the core topic of this edition was, indeed, the Anthropocene, an argument whose wide scope goes hand in hand with the precision of its choice, lately being more and more quoted (sometimes even illegitimately) in studies and research that range from geosciences to sociology, filtered by various degrees of speculative realism.

Sonic Acts even published also a book around the subject, featuring new essays by Timothy Morton, Douglas Kahn, Paul Bogard, Michael Welland, and Raviv Ganchrow; interviews with Dipesh Chakrabarty, Matthew Coolidge, Liam Young, Noortje Marres, Kodwo Eshun, Kurt Hentschläger, and Mario de Vega; visual contributions by Femke Herregraven, Mirna Belina, Ellsworth & Kruse, the Center of Land Use Interpretation, Marijn de Jong, and BJ Nilsen & Karl Lemieux. You can find more informations and order the book here: http://www.sonicacts.com/2015/publication-the-geologic-imagination


The fundamental basis of this theory is represented by the influence exerted more or less consciously by mankind on the environment, a dynamic process that adds a new chapter to the long and twisted history of the relationship between humans and the world around them: the artificial intervention on the environment became as important and geologically significant as to push experts to coin a term defining a new era: the Anthropocene.

The opinions diverge between the scholars regarding the actual beginning of this era – some suggest the 19th century as a period in which the hard industry developed, with all that derived in terms of resources exploitation and emissions. Others, see the dropping of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs as the moment in which the world actually became post-atomic and reached a point of no return. It is largely accepted, among those who adopted this terminology, that in these years we are assisting transformations that are irreversibly changing the aspect and the processes that have regulated for millions of years the organic and inorganic forms on planet Earth.

As just mentioned, it is a vast topic that could have been approached from dozens of different points of view during the packed program of the festival; so, the risk was to privilege certain opinions on the argument, while disadvantaging others, thus dodging the possibility of an open and potentially vivacious discussion on the argument. One could realize, instead, browsing the names of the personalities asked to present their research, that there was an attempt to present a general review of the different aspects of the topic, hosting figures of very discordant opinions sometimes even in the same day.


Such a choice, which can be superficially judged as carelessness and low coherence, infused the festival with rhythm and energy distinguishing it from other manifestation of the genre, where often one can listen to the same line of argumentation for days, declined in dozens of versions, as diverse as, ultimately, similar.

The schedule had a rigid structure that allowed the public to follow the initiatives of their major interest without missing even a single one: the morning and the afternoon were dedicated to the conferences organized in the spaces of the Paradise: the eighteen century deconsecrated church that, for the last half of century, hosts some of the most important concerts and cultural events in Amsterdam, while, in the evening, the public moved to other areas of the city for performances and concerts.

It started on Thursday with introductive conferences on the Anthropocene and on its environmental and philosophical implications. In front of a very large public that, in the evening, reached the Stedelijk Museum, the museum of contemporary art, in order to attend to the second part of the daily schedule. The rooms of the museum hosted performances such as A Tuned Chord is like a Scientific Instrument Probing the Universe by Espen Sommer Eide from Norway and A Script for Machine Synthesis by Florian Hecker from Germany, clarifying the fact that sound and hearing would cover a fundamental role in the festival proposals. A special mention for Measure, the last project of Kurt Hentschläger, an audiovisual installation reflecting on the concept of nature in the 21st century, understood as a series of elements filtered and mediated by the technology we use and the culture we belong or we are subjected to.

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The cycle of conferences on Friday, was dedicated to the human influence regarding the night, the artificial lightning and the so-called “light pollution”, passing then to electromagnetic waves (a topic that returned during the evening) and the exploration and reconnaissance of the last areas of the planet that have not been directly touched by human influence.

In the evening, after a short trip in a bus, the audience could reach the concert hall Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in order to view a series of audiovisual performances that carried on, in their own manner, the discussions started during the day; it passed from the evocative Pasvikdalen by Jana Winderen, based on the sampling of sounds in a desolate border area between Norway and Russia, to less coherent but surely more spectacular projects, such as Seismik by Herman Kolgen. In the large hall of the building, the last installation of the Mexican artist Mario de Vega, called Dolmen, unsettlinglystood suspended above the spectators’ heads; various types of antennas captured and signaled with buzzes and unexpected whispers the invisible presence of electromagnetic waves that pass through the space, giving the impression that they form a menacing and buzzing organic element.

Saturday saw on the stage international experts that discussed, during the three afternoon sessions, the transformation of the natural landscape by humans (thus, more or less implicitly, the concept of the natural landscape as an element external to the individual), speculative geosophy and the nuclear impact on earth.

In the evening, various performances and concerts followed until the lights of dawn, with a diversified selection: at the beginning of the evening, the audience (surely more varied than the usual) was impressed by the cavernous intuitions of Robert Curgenven with They tore the earth and, like a scar, it swallowed them, whilelater in the night music producers and DJs took turns in giving a more popular touch to the festival that, although structured to also attract a less specialized public, up to that moment was frequented mostly by experts and enthusiasts.


On Sunday, the 1st of March, the conference room, hardly filled, finally opened to a public that was wiped out from the night before. A first session of conferences, shorter than the days before, was the introduction to the main event of the day, the installation Long Wave Synthesis of theartist and researcher Raviv Ganchrow, situated close to the western harbor of Amsterdam and created on purpose for the occasion.

The process for the audience to reach the location gave the sensation of exploring an alien place, uninhabited and post-human: once arrived with one of the busses, one had to cross a short path in the woods in order to finally reach a large field where containers had been laid down, with machines that produced long wave infrasound that freely crossed the open space where the public moved slowly and clumsily, because of the strong wind coming from the sea. This, together with the evening performances by Tonaliens and Gabriel Paiuk, in the intimate spaces of the Vondelkerk, was the last act of the festival, and there couldn’t have been a better conclusion: the earth, the sound and the vibration, that have been topics of discussion for days, were finally within earshot and the installation was the right closure of a discourse that, on the contrary, is far from being closed.

So, the topic was analyzed, approached and studied from various points of view and found in the program of this edition a moment of debate and reflection; the sensation was of having assisted the attempt to build the foundation of a building whose shape is still unknown, but whose dimensions and implications are well known – both the current and the future ones.