Coming back to Spain every summer? Yes always, and especially for one reason in particular: to rediscover that scene and that aesthetic atmosphere which only Sónar festival has been offering to its audience for twenty-five years. A new shining season with a Björk dj set – on show at CCCB until the 24th of September – and with a programme scheduled that has planned about 140 artists with dj’s, producers and musicians, to whom we should dedicate at least 100 pages in order to describe every “act”.
Damian Lazarus, Floorplan Live, Evian Christ, Clark, Matmos, Nosaj Thing + Daito Manabe, Amnesia Scanner, Jon Hopkins, Moderat, Nicolas Jaar, Cashmere Cat, Carl Craig, Andy Stott, Seth Troxler & Tiga (6 h set), just to mention some of them, without forgetting the Italians Lamusa e Suzanne Ciani.
A programme that has inspired therefore their more recent productions, which concern advanced and experimental research – satisfying everyone: a sea of young people, adults, enthusiasts and experts. This is Sónar festival, the strongest sign of the joie de vivre of hundreds of thousands of people, that return to Barcelona every year to take part in an event that sparks energy both day and night.
Sónar is a many-sided festival where you can deepen your musical culture and your knowledge of experimental music, and it’s also a place of excellence dedicated to digital culture and new technologies, hosting 60 speakers, hundreds of companies and 5,000 professionals from all over the world.
Sónar+D – at its fifth edition – is now focused on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and immersive environments, demonstrating that when a valuable cultural project meets the interest of companies and businesses, it can grow year by year and this one was undoubtedly the best!
This was for five reasons: high level contents that included labs, talks, competition startups which actively involved leading figures on the international scene; exhibits of innovative projects that explored the relationship between creativity and technology; organization and management of commendable appointments; a networking area/bar that connected thousands of operators in the field; a super functional app that informed the community in real time.
To better understand, let’s see what Sónar+D and Sónar PLANTA proposed at the Fira Montjuïc in Rius i Taulet. Among the opening workshops, The Language of Immersion edited by SAT (Société des Arts Téchnologiques) focused on the ideation and development of the main elements for the creation of immersive systems, setting up in the Sònar 360° a kind of digital planetarium where the audiences were invited to live a perceptual and multisensory experience.
There were so many incredible moments also in Stage+D, we just have to think of the one with Ableton presented by Dj Shadow (Joshua Paul Davis) in conversation with Tony Nwachuckwu, who is the director and the founder of CDR, to speak about how the image of the dj has changed over the years, and how new technologies have created a different way of conceiving the musical performance.
The Dj Shadow’s intervention – English producer, songwriter and disk jockey – was interesting and inspiring, since he is one of the figures who have influenced most not only the instrumental hip hop, but the whole contemporary music scene over the last twenty years. In the Market Lab – core of the research and artistic experimentation of Sónar – 30 companies presented new forms of expression of which creation, production and marketing dialogue with each other.
The Sonomap. Sounds of the City project is the first multi-channel immersive experience, conceived and realized by the Scientific Visualization Group of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. Sonomap was created and based on two action fields, a virtual and a real one.
Within the virtual space people could fly over the city to see and hear the noise and the urban rhythms; while in the real one, the audience could view the city’s data on a map as well as their own location. Artificial Muse, on the other hand, created a digital painting that proved how artificial intelligence can improve our work, making it more efficient and contributing to the creative process, thanks to a neural design.
Not less important, I guess, the Data Duo offer of new musical instruments and synthesizers to create electronic music, presented by Kickstarter, aimed at both young and adult audiences. Among the permanent activities, Realities+D captured the attention of Sónar’s most curious audience, who did not miss the opportunity to float in space, discovering the endless possibilities of interacting with virtual platforms that can be accessed through the latest generation viewers.
Tilt Brush, for example, gave Sónar+D visitors the chance to paint in a totally new and different way. Thanks to Google VR, the environment around the user became a big virtual canvas for the imagination, where the visitor, through a digital brush, could draw and create two-dimensional shapes, transforming them into 3D sculptures without any use of specific materials or tools (always sold out!).
The VR is definitely the revolution of the future, which will lead us to the complete elimination of the screen, even though it will take a long time to push its way into our lives, considering that it absorbs life itself in such a total way. Total as the author of the installation at Sónar PLANTA, Daito Manabe, who is so many things together, possibly the multidisciplinary genius by definition: visual artist, dj, programmer, he does installations and performances. Manabe’s work is magical and elegant and goes back to investigate the interaction between space, light beams, body and spectator.
Manabe also took part in the Nosaj Thing live media, which was held in the Sonar Hall, with a high level performance that made everyone dance and enjoy themselves. In addition to Manabe, Sónar + D has invited some of the world’s leading multimedia artists such as Nonotak, Alba G. Corral, Playmodes, Tarik Barri, complex figures that are difficult to define for their heterogeneous backgrounds: in short we could call them interdisciplinary.
In fact the richness of the festival proposal lies in its diversity, which creates synergy and comparison, the only way to promote development and innovation. The advent of digital technology in the Nineties, was followed by the phenomenon of sharing different skills and knowledge and by the birth of the “multiple author”, which set aside the figure of the single artist to involve many figures with different technical and specific skills that collaborate together, creating hybrid and polyglot works.
The Japanese-parisian duo Nonotak came from the encounter between two artists with different backgrounds, the architect and musician Takami Nakamoto and the illustrator Noemi Schipfer, who work on live medias and installations. The SHIRO light and sound performance is a live audio-visual show, focused on the relationship between sound and light, which creates a universe of geometric images in which one could easily get lost.
By merging together electronic music, techno, glitchy, strobe, light design with multi screen, Nonotak created an involving and hypnotic work, that embraces the artists and the audience at the same time. The Sónar week, from the 12th to the 18th of June 2017, also included 5 apointments spread over the Catalan city, most of them with free entry (an unusual thing for the Italians!), these included the Blackout exhibition at La Virreina Centre De la Imatge and Musica Experimental y arte sonoro, 1950 – 2017 at the Juan Naranjo Gallery.
Inevitable was the presence of an important figure of contemporary music, Brian Eno, father of ambient music and obsessed with sound research, who presented Lightforms/Soundforms at the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica. The ex convent located at the end of the Rambla, close to the harbour, will host until the start of October a retrospective of the British artist curated by Lluís Nacenta, which also includes a new immersive sound and light installation, created specifically for the fascinating Max Cahner Hall.
Therefore my question: what was missing at the Sònar? Finally remains unsolved. Which leads to a conclusion: there are many festivals in the world, but Sònar leaves very little room for the others; it remains the international manifesto of contemporary research, with Sonar + D as its spearhead. It’s impossible to forget this last season, also because at the end of the four days, I fell asleep in good company at a beach in front of the Opium establishment, with the sound of the palm leaves and sea waves…