Sónar+D, the 4th International Conference for Creativity, Technology and Business, took place during Sónar by Day and this year brought together more than 4700 professionals belonging to more than 2.600 companies active in the the fields of culture, technology, science, education, and business.
This fourth, and the biggest so far, edition of Sonar+D was celebrated with the opening of the Start Up Garden, a new meeting area sponsored by RICOH, where 30 new startups had the opportunity to meet 30 business angels capable with their mentoring skills to raise 46 investment funds of different nature. This new area for entrepreneurship and business has brought together projects and investors from 12 countries, culminating in 46 investment funds.
The MarketLab, a space where the creators of the year’s most outstanding technology initiatives present the projects that they have developed in creative labs, media labs, universities and businesses, had been more hectic than ever this year, with more than 3.800 attendees and with approximately 584 scheduled meetings between experts, creators, entrepreneurs and investors, in the networking areas.
Realities +D, the virtual reality area, presenting a selection with the year’s most innovative audiovisual content curated by Jeremy Boxer, wasalways crowded, and it offered a wide view of how virtual reality has changed its narratives and enlarged the creative possibilities during last year.
This year the highlights for this section were: In the Eyes of the Animal, a totally immersive journey experience, made possible by wearing a special headset designed by Marshmallow Laser Feastand and Subpac. A journey that allows the spectator experience flight in a landscape of Grizedale and and see through the eyes of different animals living in the park.
Then there was the Tilt Brush, a new invention by Google that allows you to paint in a 3D space thanks to VR. This system (we had to queue for more than one hour to try it but was more than worth the wait) allows you to paint in a 3D room and to choose among different digital brushes to draw, paint, and mould any kind of shapes.
Last but not least: the documentary Nomads, about different nomadic tribes directed by Canadian filmmakers Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël. The documentary introduces a new concept of anthropology, where the viewer lives the story in almost first person creating an empathic approach with the characters.
The role of new technologies in the evolution of creative processes was one of the most interesting topics of the Congress. We were really inspired by the roundtable about the new frontiers of VR moderated by filmmaker and Realities+D curator Jeremy Boxer which hosted Barney Steel, cofounder of Marshmallow Laser Feastand, Sam Margolius, producer of Run The Jewels “Crown” and Jimmy Maidens, supervising technical director at Penrose Studios. VR is giving to creatives the chance to distort perception and to create experiences that will be processed as proper memories in our mind. The new frontier of VR is now to help visualizing and taking the creation processes closer to what it was before the intermediation of a screen, humanizing it and giving it back its physicality, in an enhanced way.
Adam Clarke ’s conference about how to use Minecraft as a mean to engage young people in ideas and stories was uplifting. From Tate Gallery to arboretums, Adam is using Minecraft to create highly engaging virtual worlds that can be used as cultural spaces for play and learning.
Another essential creative language is Art with DATA , where a huge amount of information produced is not shaped yet as a comprehensible message, and many artists and developers are using it as a new way of storytelling.
In the interesting session Art with DATA, the Barcelona-based Domestic Data Streamers (a local team making data tangibles) met the Google Data Arts collective (a small team of creative programmers) which were responsible of curating artistic projects such as the Virtual Art Sessions. This was a website who featured 25 works created by 6 artists who designed, sculpted and drawn with the Tilt Brush. Takashi Kawashima, member of this special team of creative technologists, believes that technology can really make us more human and that platforms such as the Tilt Brush reveals it.
Among the highlights at MarketLab were music technology projects with a focus on production and social purpose. The Spotify Domestic Data experiment by The Time Keeper was one of the most visited installations exploring this field. They improved an algorithm which connects a future moment with a song we still don’t know, analyzing the user’s Spotify profile. After conducting a survey, data were contrasted with user’s behaviors, and visitors were asked to make a wish that would be associated with a song. Domestic Data Streamers wants to figure out how social networks have modified the way we listen to music and how it relates to our vital behaviors.
The Barcelona Supercomputing Center also presented an installation exploring musical tastes composing a tune using the inputs of the attendees that visited the BSC stand at MarketLab. Two types of input were used: a motion sensor scanned the attendees’s gestures to convert them into sounds and a survey. The system reproduced the way the human neurological system works, the system learns and processes gestures and opinions from the users, and it constantly modified the composition during the three days.
Another interesting experiment involving music featured in the Market was The Smartphone Orchestra by WildVreemd, a website where it was possible to log in with an iPhone, disabling the device as a phone and turning it into an instrument, empowering its creative duties and allowing to connect and synch more than a thousand handsets, providing tools to play music and converting the user into a part of a big Orchestra.
Also remarkable was the perceptual experiment Absolute Relative by Maria Euler, Luka Kille, Ava Watson, Ker Siang Yeo, an artwork part of The Black Box by Absolut, a project developed by students from the Information Experience Design (IED) program of the Royal College of Art of London together with Matt Clark, co-founder and creative director of United Visual Artists. Absolute Relative is an experience that plays with our senses. This installation, inspired by a scientific experiment known as the ‘thermal grill illusion’, a sensory illusion created by an interlaced grill of warm and cool bars. When someone presses a hand against the grill, he or she experiences the illusion of burning heat. Thermal imagery was projected on the grill to reveal to the viewer the mechanism of the haptic illusion.
Sonar+D is consolidating as a platform pushing on the convergence between science, art, and technology. General audience can experience science and technology trough workshops, live performances and installations. Sonar PLANTA, a joint initiative between Sónar and the Sorigué Foundation, which aims to promote and celebrate the research and experimentation of creative languages, based around technology and new media art, is a huge scale audio-video installation open to Sonar+D and Sonar visitors.
We spoke with Semiconductor who created the monumental new media art installation Earthworks about how art can add a new perspective to Science. Semiconductor is composed by British artists Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt, pioneers of the digital and natural world. They use raw scientific data from the nature (earthquakes, volcanic activity, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, motion of stars, data from satellites) as the basis to create their artworks.
They were invited by Sonar to create a piece for SonarPLANTA this year, after Carsten Nicolai in 2014 and ART+COM in 2015 had created a monumental piece consisting of 5 x 5.5 metre screens, placed in zig-zag form, on which detailed animated graphics representing the Earth’s strata surrounding PLANTA – the industrial headquarters of the Sorigué business group. Before Semiconductor has taken up residences in scientific research centres including NASA, CERN and the Smithsonian Institute’s Natural History Museum.
Silvia Bianchi: This is not the first time you work with volcanoes, how did this project start?
Semiconductor: We have been collecting volcanoes datas for different projects in the past and there is an online network called Iris where all the different seismic scientists collect this type of data and upload it there, so we researched which of this sounds we could use and we started to compose them and to develop them in visual way.
Sonar Planta is the collaboration between Sonar and and the Fundació Sorigué for SonarPLANTA and knowing our work they really wanted our collaboration to be inspired by the quarry and that was really natural because it meant landscape, technology, science, things that are already in our work.
When we got in the face of the quarry the first we thought was that we could really read the landscape and understand how layers and layers of story superimposed by looking at it, so we just began to think about this. We also wanted to question the way in which science mediate nature and how volcanologist create a different kind of experience of nature so we ended up looking at the analog modelling the seismologist use to simulate the bedding and they can really accurately recreate the movement.
We looked for the most most hi-tech laboratory and we discovered the the Faculty of Earth Sciences at the University of Barcelona was the place. Was just a series of perfect coincidences who made the project possible. We took as a basis a really accurate model of the Pyrenees they made and then we introduced the data we collected at the Quarry.
Silvia Bianchi: I spent a while sitting in front of the installation yesterday and I noticed people seated inside the space respecting a certain distance from the screens. It’s nice because it seems like on one hand they are inside the installation and on the other the artwork creates a new point of view for the audience. Do you think that art can add another point of view to science?
Semiconductor: This is really interesting. Especially for a piece of work like this we have been thinking about Anthropocene a lot and about how our work relates to that. We realized that in our work we try to offer a different perspective, where you are invited to experience science.
We try to make you step out your everyday perception of the world and in this case it was quite difficult to think on a completely different scale, we wanted to represent the process of the Earth’s formation through centuries up to and including the Anthropocene. It is not easy to make an exercise on such a long timeframe, we are talking about thousands and thousands of years and also about dealing with a huge physical scale. We wanted the viewer to consider the problem that’s posed by only experiencing nature through technological and scientific mediated observations of nature.
We wanted to offer to people a way of starting to understand what the matter is and what the physical processes are in a way that perhaps Science doesn’t do.
Science is a language and its tools are not made to offer an experience.
We really need to think about what science is, considering it as a language and thinking if Science is asking the right question, because when the question is answered, it is not Science anymore. With this work we wanted to create an experience of the phenomena of landscape formation through the languages of science that are made to study it. By using seismic data to control the geo models, we are not only playing with the idea that seismic events have shaped and formed the landscape around us, but also that being events that occur beyond a human timeframe can only be experienced through scientific mediation of nature.
We use the products of science and the tools and the techniques to create meaning and understanding.
There are many layers of understanding in society and we are taking these concepts to find ways to create experiences from them. Most Science is about trying to explain the concepts but we are interested in creating experiences. Our work Heliocentric for example is about the first concept you learn at school, sun is at the center of the Solar System and the Earth is rotating. While learning it, you also learn that people used to think the opposite: that the Earth was at the center of the Solar System. It doesn’t really matter which one is true but the concept experienced.
In Heliocentric we created the experience of the Sun in the middle of the film and the Earth rotates; even if your mind sees it it is still suggested the opposite. We like to create ways of experiencing concepts you normally don’t even think about, so here the concept is to experience the landscape formation. We use Science rather than work with Science.
Silvia Bianchi: How did you use Sonar Planta space?
Semiconductor: We imagined to put the landscape inside the space and to recreate a quarry so we put the five screens on a zig-zag fashion. In the space we dealt with hug scale concepts, and in order to create an humbling experience we used big screens to render the scale of the landscape. The idea was to have people inside the installation, as part of it, such as the people observing natural events. The humans wouldn’t be able to observe this in their lifespan because this processes take ages and they are not ordinary experiences, and humans can just be a small part of them.
Silvia Bianchi: I read that you like to work with raw data: is that a way of finding a new meaning for them?
Semiconductor: Raw data is the closest you can get to nature, because most science products collect raw data, to then translate them and clean them. The data become something useful for scientists to find what they are determined to find, but of course nature is messy and science is a clean product so in a way the Scientist has already humanized the data to make something other scientists can understand. We like to go back to the noisy dirty raw datas to bring them closer to nature itself.
Silvia Bianchi: How was the experience of making Cosmos, because it seemed it was the first time you were turning data in something really physical.
Semiconductor: The experience of making Cosmos was quite different to how we normally work as the final fabrication was done by a team of skilled makers where as we would normally do everything ourselves. You have to trust those people, that things will be done on time, they will keep the integrity of the raw data, it’s a difficult thing to do. We translated the waveform data directly, so that it wasn’t just an approximation but you are seeing the actual data as it was captured, this then becomes fixed in time, as an object.
Silvia Bianchi: This was a circular wave such as the Earthworks, which is also a wave. How did you work to create the color wave?
Semiconductor: We worked with colors that the scientists use for modelling, so that was the selection we used. Some of the gradients are directly taken from models and applied so they have the same relationship they have in actual models. The movement is generated by sound, obviously we had parameters and waves for each sections of seismic sound and we defined how the movement was going to be but then the sound and the data completely control the space, the speed and everything that is happening.
Silvia Bianchi: Is that a way of visualizing sound?
Semiconductor: From very early on, when we first started making works working with the computer, we were the first generation who owned computers, it was ‘97, we were making works with it, we really wanted to understand what the digital matter was and we wanted to create pieces of work we could process. Doing a lot of those works, we were interested in the idea that the digital information could be translated into digital sounds and also images could, so we made pieces of work playing with that notion. We have always been interested in how matter can be represented as image and as sound. They are both materials and they stay as such while being very much united, since one cannot exist without the other.
Silvia Bianchi: Have you ever worked in the opposite way? Generating sounds from images?
Semiconductor: Yeah we do both, sometimes the raw data is visual sometimes it is acoustic. With the piece called Brilliant Noise we worked with visual data that had been collected. There were images collected as single snapshots by ground-based observatories and satellites looking at the sun, and then we went back to the raw visual data, sampling the brightness of the image to create the soundtrack in the same way often the scientists do when they look at the deep space sample brightness to try to understand the image in some way. Then we used that technique to make the soundtrack of the piece.
In Heliocentric you have the feeling that the sun stays at the centre of the video and everything is moving around, the sound is generated by everything is moving past the sun so there is always a synesthesia between these two and it usually creates a physical experience where your eyes and your ears are connecting things.
Silvia Bianchi: How is it working with Cern, because you work with astronomical data and geological data and now you are working with data we can’t visualize.
Semiconductor: We are just in the middle of the project and it is very difficult because there is no single concrete thing, everything is abstract, time doesn’t exist and we are just really starting. Quantum physics is a totally new challenge for us, because it’s something that is well known to be hard to defined and documented, and that is what we are trying to do. We took a lot of time speaking to theoretical physician and it’s really interesting to listen to them, and to hear the kind of language they use to talk about their activity; and when you think you are starting to understand you are actually not because you can’t understand.
We got the biggest challenge ever with this, and with Cern everything happened there, started there, and you step inside in this world and you got inside a bubble, and the language spoken inside is its own language, we were there for about ten weeks and we could spend a year there, we did a lot of collecting and talking and know we need to start thinking.