The last edition of Sónar Barcelona has been without a doubt the most complete and exciting in a long time. Sónar has found thanks to Sónar+D the perfect formula through art, technology, innovation and business. The conference is not just an amazing meeting point for creators, artists and industry leaders, but also a great engine for the advance of digital culture, a laboratory of experimentation for music and art technologies. It pays attention to all the phases, starting from the creation and the development of technologies to their production and application inside the festival.
The third edition of Sonar +D has reached this year – trough a rich program of talks, live performances and workshops – such a maturity and complexity that turned the festival in a unique appointment for education, leisure and business. Sonar +D conferences and lectures were attended by an audience of more than 4,000 people, actively participating to the lectures program and to the MarketLab.
Sónar’s winning idea is to share the experience and knowledge of start up creators with a new generation of professionals and innovators in a comfortable and inspiring environment. The democratization of ambitious and expensive advanced technologies is one of the central aim of Sónar, which is always attentive of generating a link between market and innovators, making possible the retailing and the commercialization of new media, through a non-stop schedule of meetings between experts, creators, entrepreneurs and investors. Moments like the first day competition of start-uppers are extremely valuable not just for competitors, but also to encourage and reward innovative initiatives and promote an optimistic view of the future, just showing how easy it can be to start your own business.
One of the most inspiring moments was the opening keynote by Yancey Strickler, creator of Kickstarter, which is now available for new projects in more than five European countries: Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland. But also listening to great personalities such as Chris Milk, Bruce Sterling and Holly Herndon, sharing their views on the importance of choosing different paths from the ones established by the market and enjoying their advices about how to use technologies and social networks to tell stories, and share opinions.
Chris Milk, is one of the most renowned video producers in recent years, he collaborated with Kanye West, U2 and Chemical Brothers. His last project with the data artist Aaron Koblin is Vrse, a video production studio to create experiences for new Virtual Reality platforms such as Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear. His Evolution of Verse is considered a masterpiece, and is made in collaboration with the visual effects studio Digital Domain. It is a journey where the spectator dives into a beautiful and colourful lake, is run by a train, looks at birds flying high in the blue sky and falls down in a spiral of colours only to wake up in mother’s womb. It is a computer generated trip of an archaic landscape.
Also Clouds over Sidra is a commission of the United Nations, allowing, by virtual reality, to experience life as a refugee, and empathize with this story. The piece throws the spectator into the room of a Syrian twelve-year old girl in a refugee camp in Jordan, where more than 84.000 Syrian refugees are living. Suddenly we are inside the girl’s school or inside an internet café, listening to a couple of young guys screaming in support to Syria and we just can’t stop moving our head and smiling to them.
Chris Milk‘s work is mainly about sharing people’s stories, as he did with his project for Nick Cave, collecting with Koblin more than 8,000 video contributions from all over the world. It was a crowd source experiment, trying to make a tribute video for one of the songs from Nick Cave, as they did for the interactive video for the Arcade Fire, The Wilderness Downtown project, which used Google Street View to weave personal stories. Using virtual reality to share the story of a deported twelve-year old girl, or to bring the viewer to New York, inside a demonstration for greater police accountability (as in the project Vice News VR: Millions in March togheter wit filmmaker Spike Jonze) shows how vision technology can be the medium for the creation of a new narrative, besides expanding the possibilities of video art.
The Realities+D area was dedicated to virtual reality, visited by more than 1500 people, was showing ten videos that explored the various and endless possibilities of 360 degrees technologies, including works by Spike Jonze, Squarepusher and Joanie Lemercier. The selection of works enlarged the boundaries of immersive and customized virtual experiences, expanding the idea of the narrative. If some years ago digital technologies seemed to be applied to video art simply for the purpose of creating new sensations and aesthetic experiences, what we enjoyed the most in the last edition was how new technologies can be used to find new ways to tell stories and empathize with people.
Squarepusher and Joanie Lemercier featured the Tech Shows line up, and seeing how virtual reality can expand the cinema experience. Lemercier teamed up with British musician James Ginzburg to create Blueprint, a unique audiovisual installation – exclusive for Sónar 2015 – launched at the SonarComplex stage. The work is an investigation about space, nature and architecture through geometrical aesthetics. Nimbes, the piece presented at Realities+D, was first created to be projected in a dome. It is a 360º immersive environment where the spectator can walk inside a forest and get into a church without knowing exactly where nature ends and architecture starts. Squarepusher teamed up with the creative studio Marshmallow Laser Fest, the Blue Zoo animation studio and the illustrator Rob Pybus to make the video for his new single Stor Eiglass. We could assume the perspective of a headless man, travelling by jet pack and driving viewers in a Japanese colourful world.
Going back to the conferences, we were truly captivated by Holly Hornold’s work and speech. Defined as the “Post Wiki-leaks muse”, Holly is a new generation artist, working with her collaborators through Skype and involving performers, dancers, graphic designers and video artists in her shows. She created her own visual language program to modify and edit voice and she collaborates with Meta-haven, the graphic design studio behind the re-design of Wiki-Leaks identity, sharing with them the opinion that attractive design and sexy vocals can be used to convey a strong political message. She created a new concept of live act, honest and deep, mixing sweet vocals, hard bass and direct messages. In her shows she speaks about online espionage, excess information and political control. We loved how she managed to touch the hearts of the audience during her show, using her text composer. And she succeeded to convert Julian Assange and Ada Colau, the new mayor of Barcelona, into the main characters of her live, working with the talented video artist Mat Dryhurst.
Colin Self was on stage with her, dancing hypnotically and involving the audience in her live act and making all the Sonar Complex standing on the words “What’s the sexiest piece of information that you’ve ever happened to process? The moment you stop sitting down.” The future of live media is physical and emotional, and Holly is part of this new generation of performers who are speaking a new language.
One of the most acclaimed and unforgettable moments of the festival was without a doubt Arca and Jesse Kanda’s live performance, which threw the audience in a melancholic vortex of feelings. The man behind Arca is Alejandro Ghersi, a young producer born in Caracas in 1990, who recently collaborated with FKA Twigs and Kanye West. Rapping in Spanish, surrounded by dark 3D videos and dancing hypnotically, Arca created a new performative language. Jesse Kanda’s videos were just impressive, his magmatic and deformed bodies, covered with creepy skins and dropping metal drops captured and repulsed our eyes at the same time. The magnetic movements of Arca were amplified by the fluid and material videos by Kanda, in a unique and unknown physical experience, which had a strong impact on everybody.
The body was a key concept of the festival, a new representation of the human being made through 3D-rendering featured also the Teen Girl Fantasy show at Sonar Dome, were 3D generated bodies moved into a post-internet scenario. The body and the research of a possible representation of the post-human was also a central theme in the Market Lab. The Ghost in a machine installation by the audiovisual production company Canada and the creative studio Glassworks scanned the user and converted him into a 3D map. Through a wooden machine and a three-level system, the audience was involved in the creation of a video, in which a glitch was generated through the movement of two robots in a mechanical dance, creating a “Ghost in a machine”.
HiLo,was an installation located in the Conductr space at MarketLab, where the audience was able to interact via iPad with “Tres Tristos Trons”, one of the pataphysical instruments made by CaboSanRoque. The installation was the result of the collaboration between CaboSanRoque, who manipulates objects to reveal their sonic personality and turn them into new technology, and Conductr, who created an app to turn an iPad into an instrument.
nHz (ɛn-hûrts) is a project launched by a group of students in Visual Communication and Product Design. It’s an interactive installation gathering together science, sound, and programming. The installation consists of a loudspeaker placed under a container with a liquid made of corn and water and an instrument to play and visualise sounds. The user can change the movement of the liquid using a tablet, moving the speaker and visualising different synesthesic shapes but also get his hand dirty and touch the sound.
The body and his possible mutations were also a central theme in the fifth hackathon edition, focused on interactive design, data visualization and acquisition, movement detection and biosensors, tools for fast prototyping from all around the world. One hundred hackers were selected to work offline inside Sonar+D for over twenty-four hours. This edition had a special focus on wearables, hackers were working with sewing machines and modifying shoes in order to generate new devices to turn the body into an instrument for music performance. This non-stop translation between digital and human, and between new and old technologies, was one of the main features of this generation of makers and creative projects.
One of the most exciting experiments of turning an object into a new instrument was The Well, a performance by live visual artist Emmanuel Biard and contemporary electronic musician Koreless, commissioned by FutureEverything and included in the Sonar+D Tech Shows. Biard, who has worked closely with Fabric London, explained how the parabolic mirrors used in flight simulators inspired him. He also designed lights and stage for Evian Christ, an aesthetic flash experience that surrounded the audience of Sonar Hall with the use of a system of screens, smoke and lights.
Speaking about light, we cannot forget the a piece by ART+COM,RGB|CMY Kinetic at Sonar Planta. It is an installation based on light choreography suspended in the air, inspired by two major 20th Century traditions: kinetic art and light art. The piece, which brought us back to the first video art experiments with light and sound, is a dialogue between primary colours and addictive colours. It consisted of five reflective discs moving in a impeccable dance, reflecting the light from three bulbs that project primary colours on a large screen installed on the floor. The movement of the discs, controlled by an ultra precise motorized system, decomposed the light emitted by the bulbs and magically generated a range of colours on the floor. The project soundtrack was created by Ólafur Arnalds, who used the data stream produced by the movement of the discs.
Just before getting inside Sonár Planta the visitor came across Nyloïd, an impressive spider shaped tripod sculpture created by Swiss brothers André and Michel Décosterd. A physical experience, shaking our bodies. It consisted of three long limbs, each one six metres long, brought to life by sophisticated mechanisms and audio devices. Décosterd brothers were moving the limbs live, in a 20-minute thrilling show.
In the end, we would like to mention the amazing Flying Lotus Tech Show at Sónar Noche, a perfect combination of video, body and music. He presented a dual screen 3D show created by visual artists Strangeloop and Timeboy and performed inside the video projection, wearing light glasses to look like a fly or remind us of Sun Ra, and floating inside space and time, in a psychedelic aerial dimensio.