Sonar is considered the European musical festival par excellence but this is not absolutely true. As a matter of fact Sonar is the ‘ Barcelona International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art ‘ . So it’s about music and advanced multimedia art – not merely electronic music.

Technology and electronic languages have noticeably played a significant role in recent communication and art thus Sonar has been a synonym of electronic and digital culture for its first ten years. But now that the “organic” represents once again a necessary aspect of the creative vanguards practice, the synthesis of technological and human universes embodies advanced culture again in Sonar conceivers and promoters’ opinion.

So the festival (from its decennial edition in 2004) are exploring these hybrids and electronic became only a part of its program. This edition graphics was based on photography figurative and hyper-real element. Line up mainly proposed the “natural/artificial” topic in black and Japanese music rather than electronic music innovations. The message was not really clear though, it was a bewildering festival for everyone (for both ones who were there in 2004 and who were not): thousands of lost, disoriented (but amused) souls crewed Sonar by day and by night looking for synthetic sounds and rhythms and (mostly) finding something else.

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So the better thing to do to appreciate this music and advanced art festival was to forget about “the” electronic festival and enjoy these frenzied 3 festival – which was this year dedicated to black and Japanese music – days in Barcelona. For the ones who succeeded in re-tuning their thoughts on a now changed reality Sonar represented a special opportunity to discover something new and to feel exceptional emotions. We “floated” among various things (with crowd and spaces consent – but we’ll discuss this issue with the three excellent Sonar organisers in the future and we’ll give you the possibility to read our correspondence with them…). By day we were captivated by the angelic and electro-acoustic Knife ‘s songs, the folkloristic Tunng ‘s atmospheres, the electro-corporal Doravideo ‘s sound, the Kimmo Pohjonen/Samuli Kosminen Kluster open-ended and hypnotic mix of styles and instruments, the electric Liars ‘s new no-wave, the melancholic sounds by Circlesquare, the MC Pete Philly ‘s soul and hip hop sounds of Perquisite , the sophisticated Birdy Nam Nam ‘s plates compositions, the ‘s game (19 th century funk), Fat Freddy’s Drop (roots, dub, reggae, jazz or soul???) and finally (by surprise) Scissor Sisters in a finally frisky village.

Even by night it was a multi-directional course: from black history and culture handed down by Linton Kwesi Johnson , the Goldfrapp ‘s glittering glam and the Modeselektor ‘s techno-reggae, to the wild Otto von Schirach ‘s performances and Dj Krush ‘s “rarefactions”. Last but not least, a little bit of electronic “tradition” with Pigna People a Audion , the always brilliant Jeff Mills and Dave Clarke.

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It was obviously impossible to see everything and sometimes we got disappointed (basically because we always have exaggerate expectations!). here are the performances who discontented us: the electrified bossanova by the (too?) soft Senor Coconut or Chic ‘s sleek disco (Chics are always great when they don’t try to give a pop-leaning to their best songs medleys), Dj Shadow & co’s predictable hip hop (classic rap on standard basis) or Laurent Garnier ‘s jazzy version (we didn’t appreciate it like we did for some of her other projects).

Too bad for the weak ending performance carried out by Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos (has anyone ever seen a really inspired and powerful Hawtin&Villalobos back-to-back? We haven’t…) We got fed-up waiting for a never-coming climax. So for the first time the break of the dawn caught the thousands of persons who were there with their hands down and a somewhat jaded look. Organisers can’t do almost nothing to conjure these things but starting to propose – at least for the moment we wait for the height of fashion – less disingenuous and consequently more concentrated or amused artists

By chance every day on the beach and in clubs the town offered us powerful emotions and wild dances. These are private and public rituals which make Sonar our impossible to miss “Holy week”. Que viva Barcelona….

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SONARMATICA, THE ACOUSTIC SPACE OF MOBILE CULTURE

Sonar music became more organic overcoming electronic music and mixing it up with other genres, but artistic proposals were basically still about digital culture and focused on media art. In other words, if music has changed art didn’t (i.e. advanced art still remains digital multimedia art.)

Curated by Drew Hemment, José Luis de Vicente, Óscar Abril Ascaso and Advanced Music , the show, called Always On , is the last episode of a series of SonarMatica that focuses on the representation of territory and its digital re-writing. The first year of SonarMatica, 2004, had been dedicated to Micronations , cyber nations, imaginary countries or projects for new countries that look like real independent nations but that are not officially recognized and exist on paper or online only. Last year was called Randonnée and gave a glance through 21 st century landscaping, from new figurativism to augmented reality to virtual architecture and datascapes. This year the exhibition revolved around mobile culture and locative media .

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Oscar Abril Ascaso proposed the term “On” because it means “on, activated, switched on” but in Catalan it also means “where.” On suggests thus both an idea of place and an idea of activity. The idea of urban territory nowadays encompasses also a very crucial, ubiquous yet intangible element:: connectivity (and pervasiveness). This overcomes Joshua Meyrowitz ‘s TV “no sense of place” because of the spreading of mobile communication connectivity and pervasiveness that re-elaborates city physical geography changing it into a fluid space.

So SonarMatica 2006 explored contemporary declension of what Marshall McLuhan called acoustic space in the Sixties, that is the new experiential dimension which came out from electric media (telegraph, radio, tv) spreading. Electric communication evolution (mobile phone, Walkman, Discman, iPod, RFID, GPS and so forth) combines media and natural environment in a thick network of cross-relationships that re-write the world and create a space without restrictions crossed by pervasive but fleeting fluxes of information. On one hand iPod as a personalization of world based on the possibility to increase reality by dipping into a media landscape superimposing – as a film – to the physical one; on the other hand omnipresent connectivity and mobile phone pervasive closeness. Always On considers iPod and mobile phone technologies as paradigmatic of the contemporary communicative ecology.

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Some projects were for the first time taking Sonar participants to the streets of Barcelona: Among these outdoor projects there were Day of the Figurines pervasive game – three days of constant texting along Barcelona’s streets, and Sonic Interface : equipped with a computer in a backpack and headphones, you follow a guide through the city streets, shopping malls, or the underground. The sound you perceive through the headphones reflects the actual urban soundscape but with some surprises: the noises either come in mosaic or they are amplified or repeated. The subject, perceiving a shift between sight and sound finds himself in a new universe and, liberated from unified perception. Let’s also mention Yellow Arrow (a city physical locations txts tagging) and the outdoor treasure-hunting via gps game Geocatching . Michelle Teran’s project Life: A User’s Manual was also very interesting. She uses a very common tech device to “hack” into surveillance cameras. Every day at 9 p.m , Michelle Teran was inviting people to follow her on a “surveillance hacking” tour in Barcelona .

With Biomapping people are sent in the streets with a BioMapping tool to record their Galvanic Skin Response, a simple indicator of emotional arousal in conjunction with their geographical location. Global Player works like a CD-player. But instead of playing CDs, it plays the globe changing earth surface into sound frequencies. The psycho-geographic project .walk raises regimentation to an art form by giving instructions for a walk through a city. Zapped! takes a close look at-and a new approach to-the mass deployment of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

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Always on artistic direction was great and appropriately and suitably chose the concept and pretty well defined it. Expositive and outdoor projects association was aimed at re-writing the exhibition communicative method. Although the exhibition was yet linked to museum exhibition strategies with an a-sensorial installation approach. There was no room for interaction and hands on experience.

Bruce Sterling has recently wrote an article commenting on Ars Electronica last edition. He wrote media art is not welcomed in museums and it remains an art market outsider. But I think the important think is to learn to be an outsider. Can these projects be emphasised by museum expositive strategies.

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SONARAMA, AMONG DIGITAL UP AND DOWN

Sonarama focuses (without claiming to be comprehensive) on the latest developments in new media – more and more closer sounds interaction, visual art and new communication and expression technologies. In my opinion it is not yet valorised as the other festival events of great international impact. Among this year’s activities were audio-visual concert, installations, and technology demonstrations as well as medialabs and software presentations. Here there are the exhibition of what we appreciated most, better leave out the things that are not on the following list:

- Installazions

Lars Arrhenius (SE) – Urban Stories

Very simple and funny installations presenting city or condo daily life. Lars Arrhenius removes walls hiding people private lives ironically revealing their feelings and emotions.

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Mikel Nelson (UK) – After Kerouac

Nelson is an artist who creates scenarios we appreciate only because “we don’t have to spend our nights there”. He works with fears and anguishes hidden in human soul. After Kerouac is a claustrophobic spiral we – apparently uselessly – stroll. Legs movement is called off and an unpleasant feeling of stillness grows, while nostrils are assaulted by the smell of tyres mucking up the walls and raked behind a door – at the end of this freaky journey – we are very scared to open

Sergi Giordà, Günter Geiger, Martin Kaltenbrunner, Marcos Alonso (ES) - reac table

These artists are developing – at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona – reacTable ( mtg.upf.edu/reactable ), hardware they “played” during the three festival days at the area dedicated to installations. The hardware was then presented on the last festival day at the conference spot. The hardware is based on a sort of round table where it’s possible to perform adlibbing electronic music execution and composition through a translucent table, sound generator devices, loops, filters, metronomes (you can move, round, and touch), a video-camera, and a computer managing a pd and openGL–based system. This is a –still developing – really evocative interactive installation. There will soon be the possibility to play with reacTables online.

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- Presentazioni di hardware/software:

Zoonar – Santiago Ortiz (CO) - www.moebio.com

Moebio – who were also present at OFFF festival – is an always appreciated icon of Spanish artistic-technological vanguard. He presented a new developmental phase of his project Mytozoos . The sound system presented last month is now integrated in the application where bugs live

Arduino – David Cuartielles & Alex Posada (ES) - www.arduino.cc

Arduino is an open-source physical computing platform based on a simple i/o board and a development environment that implements the Processing/Wiring language. Arduino can be used to develop stand-alone interactive objects or can be connected to software on your computer (e.g PD, Processing, Flash, Max/MSP ). The boards can be assembled by hand or purchased preassembled; the open-source IDE can be downloaded for free. David Cuartielles presented an example of multiplicity of sensor data interfacing a computer using 20 Arduinos on stage simultaneously. The workshop was led by David Cuartielles and Àlex Posadas from dell’Hangar di BCN .

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- Audiovisual concerts:

Earth, Wind & Firewire (ES) - www.earthwindandfirewire.com

Flowers, manipulated elements and boring mirroring effect coming from the two performers wearing firemen’s helmets and flip-flops: clean but not that proactive sound

SXNDRX: Videoboxing (NL) - www.mediawar.com/sxndrx

The starting point of “Videoboxing” (created in collaboration with steim – the famous Netherlands studio for electro-instrumental music) is a collection of sound fragments taken from different moments in a fight between lovers and ex-lovers of cinema and television. The idea is interesting but music is trite and the final effect is feeble.

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Toshio Iwai: Tenori On (Jp)

Maybe the most interesting Sonarama performance even if it was not very coherent with audio-visual concept. Iwai created a real digital and interactive music instrument. An interactive and playable matrix of 16×16 with electronic tools, micro-music interfaces and sensorial devices gave us a unique live performance. We didn’t appreciate the visual component formed by the film of what was going on stage by means of micro-cameras placed on performers’ shoulders

Ryoji Ikeda: Datamatics (JP) - www.ryojiikeda.com

Sonarama grand finale: points, lines, particles, plans, volumes, cosmos atmospheric and weather effects of Datamatics project. Obviously perfect and elegant strong synchronized sounds at the dome-shaped roof of the Centre d´Art Santa Mónica. A grand finale made of people escaping excessive noise and techno-enthusiasts that couldn’t control their appreciation. A real style exercise: a flash file erroneously appearing during check phase reveals the blank of an excessively cold and detached audio-video approach, without live emotions, confirmed by the artist’s absence from the stage. In our opinion this is an old-fashioned expressive form (on this subject read the beautiful essay by Terre Thaemlitz “The Crisis of Post-Spectacle Live Contemporary Ambient Performance”) Sonarama’s curators should reflect upon.

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- Technological demos:

Edirol VJ equipment showcase – VJ Masaru (JP) - www.edirol.net

At auditorium spaces Vj Masaru, dancer, fashion designer, video-maker and anomalous VJ presented the system he developed. Minimalist: animation of a simple white circle on black background assuming different identities and multiplying themselves reflecting the complexity of sound. harmonic (but not that rhythmic) image synchronization, shadows, sliding doors, flying petals in slow motion that soften the atmosphere recalled by fast rhythm.


www.sonar.es

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