From February 26th to the 28th, in Amsterdam, took place the Sonic Acts Academy, a three-day festival happening in Stedelijk Museum, De Brakke Grond and Paradiso. The Academy is a platform organized by Sonic Acts, a festival born in the mid-Nineties as an occasion on which intersections among art, science, and technology could be shown and discussed.
The aim of the Sonic Acts Academy was to underline the importance of the artistic engagement in the understanding of the complexities of our contemporary world, overcoming the classical dichotomies between theory and practice, or between science and art. We could define this series of encounters and performances as a buffer event between two editions of the Sonic Acts festival (the last one having taken place in 2015), and as an event parallel to the Dark Ecology project, initiated by the festival’s organizers and lasting three years, from 2014 to 2016.
Sonic Acts Academy hosted lectures, performances, workshops, and concerts revolving around the issue of artistic research as an important part of the understanding of the complexities of our era. The individuality of the artist investigating the folds of reality in the time of the Anthropocene somehow represents that very impossibility of detaching from subjectivity, that is: the impossibility of objectively looking at the worldly phenomena, for which human beings as such are somehow directly responsible and in which they are deeply tangled up. The importance of these issues, which have a high political relevance in most cases, collides and merges with the aesthetic opportunity offered by the arts.
The notion of Academy for this edition of Sonic Acts channeled the events proposed to an arena in which knowledge is produced; a kind of knowledge which emerges from the close observation, led with wonder, curiosity, and sometimes with disenchantment, of those phenomena which are creating the world as we experience and live it, and as it will be inherited by the future generations.
Me and Filippo Lorenzin attended the Academy for Digicult and discussed about it and some of the most significant events which took place in those days.
Filippo Lorenzin: Sonic Acts is a biennial festival and this 2016 edition has been a sort of experiment. The many workshops have been one of the main points of the programme: the aim of this year was to teach and learn, both by theory and practice. I’ve personally really enjoyed all the events and talks, especially because of the wide range of topics that have been addressed. What do you think?
Martina Raponi: I agree with you, the Academy edition of the Sonic Acts has brought up many issues which can be considered thorny or difficult to tackle in the contemporary discourse about art and academia. On the one hand, the production of knowledge through art practices and artistic research has reached a level of “scientificity” which challenges the classical separation between art and science or theory and practice. On the other, an important issue emerges: the one involving the legitimation of an artistic research practice through the academic validation, that is: the run for PhDs and other academic titles which validate the practices involved in the theoretical discourse about the themes they deal with.
It comes from this that the very role of art is challenged, together with its definition that, according to the very first lecturer of the Academy, Sally-Jane Norman (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/240005), shouldn’t be confused with the notion of artistic research and the academic discourse which is meant to support it.
Did you find anything particularly interesting among the presentations or the performances, especially in relation to these issues?
Filippo Lorenzin: You’re right, in this edition the curators focused their attention on the subtle topic that is inherent everytime we talk about “science and art” events, festivals and artistic researches, namely: “what are the actual points that the first shares with the latter?” If academia started as an institution that defined and empowered artists and their researches, in the last decades this situation has been subject to a state of crisis. The redefinition of the academia’s general aims has been one of the most discussed points of Sonic Acts Academy: if the lecture of Sally-Jane Norman programmatically introduced these doubts at the beginning of the first day, others addressed the same issues in a more subtle way – I’m thinking to the amazing lecture of Susan Schuppli (http://susanschuppli.com/) about the conceptual pathways opened by technical and scientific modes of inquiry and the performance of Ewa Justka (http://ewajustka.tumblr.com/) about low-tech, DIY technology and what roles can they have within an academic framework, for instance. You actually took part in the workshop by Ewa, don’t you?
Martina Raponi: Yes! I built my own Voice Odder following Ewa’s guidance and..it actually worked! Ewa managed to transfer her knowledge about DIY electronics in a simple way which is “geeky” on the one hand, but also popular on the other, trying to open up to other practitioners a field of expertise which she, as the hacking tradition teaches, has explored all by herself. I particularly liked her fresh view on her practice and her passion about it. I could recognize the personal drive, sometimes ineffable, impossible to explain, from which the noise interest sparks, and the need to match that with some other kind of expertise which could be expendable on the job market. For what concerns the latter: I am referring to the fact that she is academically studying computational art, something which, according to her, is very far from her own analog practice, but which could allow her to be defined and acknowledged in an academic or professional field. Again: we find here the neoliberal need of validating one’s own professional profile with a recognizable and identifiable title.
Another interesting case of need of validation is Anton Kats’ (http://www.antonkats.net/en/) academic journey, which started from the need of defining himself within civic society after having sought asylum in Germany, coming from Ukraine.
His research starts as something very embedded in his biography, in his history, in his experiences, and develops naturally into an artistic practice acknowledged as strong enough to support a practice-based PhD research. His artistic research, and here I am referring to the project “Radio Narrowcast” presented at De Brakke Grond, is practice-based and socially engaged, since it investigates the educational and developing potential of the practice of making radio and films. He uses these media to tackle issues such as gentrification in transitional areas, in which the in-between status of specific sites, and the population inhabiting them, creates an interesting pattern in which the artist looks for “the musical meaning of social relations”. With the methodology created Kats can then develop radio practices with local communities exposing their relation and position towards/against the existing power structure.
But Kats is not the only artist and researcher presenting at the Sonic Acts Academy who deals with local communities and the traditions connected to them. Am I remembering well?
Filippo Lorenzin: Absolutely yes. Filmmaker Louis Henderson (https://vimeo.com/louishenderson) held one of my preferred speeches of this edition, introducing his research on the influence of capitalist technology on history and local communities. The fact that the internet is just one the most recent tools used by colonialist powers (i.e. dot-coms, governments, etc.) to take control over local cultures all around the world is not often discussed when we Western people talk about how Facebook, Apple and the other companies affect our daily lives: I especially appreciated how Henderson addressed these topics without a humanitarian aim, without defining who are the goods and the bads involved in this complex situation. On the contrary, he showed how local traditional cultures and beliefs converge with e-mails, social media and electronic devices, suggesting the idea that animism could be (quoting the same title of his panel) “the only sensible version of capitalism”.
He talked about the e-waste deposits in Ghana and China and how obsolete (at least for Westerns) hardware can achieve a life after its programmed obsolescence, a potentiality that extends its lifespan. This question was the focus of another memorable lecture, the one held by artist Ana Vaz (https://vimeo.com/anavaz). She presented two of their most recent movies: A Idade Da Pedra (2013) and A Film, Reclaimed (2015), both focused on the effects of capitalist industry on the environment and the people who live in places that are heavily affected by the exploitation of natural resources. The first had a poetic and abstract feeling, suggesting rather than indexing what it means for local communities to take part in the industrial cycle. I’ll be honest, the latter disappointed me because of the way in which the environmental problems have been denounced: it felt as a sort of manifesto with a lot of punch lines and a lack of imaginative approaches to the question. The aim to find a path to follow in the near future has been the focus of many other lecturers, as Daniel Rourke and Morehshin Allahyari. What do you think?
Martina Raponi: The presentation by Daniel and Moreshin (http://additivism.org/) really impressed me and I am glad that you’re asking about that. Their vision of the future which “does not, and cannot, belong to us” is one which radicalizes the materiality in which we live in, prophetizing a crapularity whose omens are not something belonging just to our current Antropocenic era, but have always existed and always have occurred. The additivist future considers the materiality speculation and its aftermath, embedding in the material discourse all the aspects of contemporaneity starting from the active/activist derailment of available technologies and narratives towards the creation of post-man machines.
Technology is viewed then as a “philosophical toolset to reflect on objects”, in a material world made of “stuff”, of crap and detritus, allowing the re-embodiment of humans into beings which find their definition in the materiality of existence, in the hybridity of solutions, in the disposability of resolutions.
I find the proposal of the Additivism Manifesto in line with a shared feeling imbuing the second decade of the new millennium, in which the environmentalist resolution of the problems inherent in the Antropocenic discourse doesn’t seem to be possible; the only viable possibility is the intensification, exaggeration, radicalization of what is material and existent and available, in order to display “a phantasmagoric and unrepresentable repertoire of actual re-embodiments of the most hybrid kinds”, envisioning then other eras beyond the very Anthropocenic one we are discussing lately: a Chtuluhcene, a Plasticene, accelerating revolutionaries and activists “to an aftermath whence all matter has mutated into the clarity of plastic”.
I like the idea of embracing the doom that the humans carry along with them, as a race being detrimental for the planet, and dealing with the altered concept of nature which is bound to embed synthetic materials we are forced to deal with. I am curious to see the outcome of the 3D Additivist Cookbook (http://additivism.org/cookbook), towards whose finalization Moreshin and Daniel are working now.
Filippo Lorenzin: I really appreciated the attempt of the curators to provide as many points of view as possible, both geographically and theoretically speaking. In fact, we attended to lectures and performances held by a really various range of artists and figures coming from backgrounds that sometimes had nothing to share with each other. This stimulating situation did reflect in the big events at the Stedelijk Museum and the Paradiso: we had the opportunity to discuss with a really international audience with different approaches. For me, meeting these persons has been an important part of my experience at this Sonic Acts edition. Has it been the same for you?
Martina Raponi: During the other moments at the Stedelijk Museum for the opening night, as much as during the Paradiso Saturday night program with screenings and performances I enjoyed the variety of the offer. On the first occasion it was possible to experience a set of different performative acts and installative moments which reflected somehow the possibilities of inflection of the themes proposed. In the museums electronic and sonic explorations ran along with more historically rooted researches.
A performance I really enjoyed was Okkyung Lee’s (http://www.okkyunglee.info/): a display of detournement of a deep knowledge of the medium, the knowledge of how to play a Western music instrument with the intention of disrupting its codified potential. Not to mention Thomas Ankersmit’s (http://www.thomasankersmit.com/) journey in the work of Dick Raaijmakers, a homage he paid to this figure, exploring his concepts of sound, composition, and spatial perception. His homage though included the translation of Raaijmakers’ research and practice from analog to digital, using computer softwares to create a sound environment highly textural, and which I felt like experiencing closing my eyes, and drift away, along with the sounds.
On the second occasion, at Paradiso, I really enjoyed not only the cinematic investigations but also the musical ones. I lost myself in the twirling deep music Jason Sharp (http://www.jasonsharp.ca/) played to accompany the movies of Daïchi Saïto (http://lightcone.org/en/film-10174-engram-of-returning), and I was blown away by the astonishing video architectural work of Tarik Barri (http://tarikbarri.nl/) in collaboration with the amazing drone musician Paul Jebanasam (https://www.discogs.com/it/artist/1151032-Paul-Jebanasam). Apart from the offer of the main hall, another program was running in the small hall of Paradiso, hosting artists and musicians which had been part of the program such as Ewa Justka, but also like SØS Gunver Ryberg (http://soesgunverryberg.blogspot.nl/), a musician brought to my attention after having been produced by Samuel Kerridge’s label Contort (http://contortrecords.bigcartel.com/).
A change of register was determined by the very frame of each series of events, gliding on Saturday night towards a more entertainment-related gigs, which managed to gather a wider public.
This is one of the strong points of Sonic Acts: the ability of matching a program dealing with burning issues related to the field of the arts with a program which offers more popular occasions for listening to music and dance, developed in collaboration, this time, with Viral Radio (https://soundcloud.com/viralradio), and embracing a stunning variety of genres.
How did you experience instead these two different occasions gathering performances varying from more art-related content to more performative-entertaining acts?
Filippo Lorenzin: I agree with you, the choice of the locations and their heritages tells a lot about the festival’s approach to the addressed topics and the audience they tried to gather – but I’ll return to this later.
Answering to your question, I really like how they planned the programme, balancing the potentially staid moments (e.g. the panels) and the more entertaining events (i.e. the Saturday night at Paradiso). The opening event at Steijdelik Museum has been maybe too much chaotic, with too many performances to attend in a short period of time (they closed at 23) in a space which is surely fascinating but at the same time mazy despite the maps they handed to the audience at the entrance.
Two of my preferred moments (which you already mentioned, by the way) of the festivals did took place at Paradiso: the screening of Daïchi Saïto’s recent film Engram of Returning accompanied by the extraordinary improvised score by saxophonist Jason Sharp and the mind-blowing Paul Jebanasam’s collaboration with Tarik Barri, a performance of the most recent album of the first accompanied by the visuals of the latter. The performance by Jason Sharp has been a really special moment in which you could feel the silent participation of all the audience that could not help but listening and resonate after the strong vibrations produced by the saxophone and the snare; in fact, it’s like Sonic Acts waited to be in the big hall of Paradiso to turn up the volume.
The performance of Paul Jebanasam and Tarik Barri has been another significant work fitting really well with the Sonic Act’s aim of addressing large scale topics such as the role of Humans in the world, memory and future: the sounds were so much massive I could feel my skull vibrating inside my head in a way that it felt as a very private experience, without the possibility to talk or communicate with the other people attending to the event next to me. The visuals were really catchy and the combination of the sounds and the images looked as something coming from prehistory or myths age. I remember that after the performance I was thinking we did experience the same feelings the first audiences of Richard Wagner’s operas at Bayreuth probably felt when they were sitting in that dark big hall, in an ecstatic mood that had not so much things to share with all the other operas they previously attended to.
Returning to the choice of the festival’s locations, so distant from each other and situated all over Amsterdam, made the moments between the events in which you had to take the bike or the tram an integral part of the “Sonic Acts experience”; you had the chance to continue to discuss with the other people attending the panels and the performances. In short, I don’t think they could reach the same degree of entertainment, interest and concentration if Sonic Acts did take place in an other city. What’s your opinion? You live in Amsterdam and I’d like to know how much of Netherlands’ peculiar cultural mood is in Sonic Acts.
Martina Raponi: Amsterdam has in fact a very vibrant art scene, on many levels. Sonic Acts is also the proof that the different institutions and venues in town communicate effectively among themselves, which is definitely a strength point, especially for the valorization of the patrimony in terms of circulation of experiences and audiences. Sonic Acts is just one of the many examples of this virtuous exchange, and I think one of the best ones. I’ve been living here for just a year and a half, so far, but what I noticed is that audiences distribute themselves in very complex patterns, among galleries, museums, venues, and so on; Sonic Acts gathers a very wide variety of publics, and this happens because of the aforementioned exchange and communication among institutions.
The city in itself then is a perfect setting, in infrastructural terms, but also for what concerns the possibility of actually cruising it more freely (biking, for example), giving the visitor a full experience of enjoyment.
Despite the dense schedule, informal moments of exchange managed to fill in the breaks and the more entertainment oriented events.
I see the recognizable imprint of the Sonic Acts Festival in this experiment of the SA Academy, and I am looking forward to seeing how it will develop in the following years. In the meantime we can just wait for the next Sonic Acts Festival edition (which I guess I’ll attend with you, FIlippo, since it seems like becoming a sort of tradition for us), while attending the various occasions being set up by Sonic Acts, like the Progress Bar (https://www.facebook.com/prgrssbr/) events, the last one having taken place on March 26th (http://sonicacts.com/portal/progress-bar-lafawndah-brood-ma-ital-tek-and-more) in Paradiso Noord. Progress Bar is a new collaboration among Sonic Acts, Lighthouse (http://www.lighthouse.org.uk/), and Viral Radio, giving space to performances, talks, screenings, then ending with a club night.
It seems like matching perfectly the SA lineage, with the crossing and the contamination among practices, genres, and arts. Let’s stay tuned and see what is up to come!