Sónar+D 2019: The Day After
It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
Sónar 2019 have hosted more than 80 premieres, tech shows, and unique experiences from 140 performances by artists from 36 countries and five continents becoming more than ever – a global and intercultural festival. On Sunday the 20th, Sónar 2019 concluded with the Closing Concert by the Mathew Herbert Brexit Big Band at the Teatre Grec, which was performed by a choir of 50 voices from the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya. Sónar+D, its parallel conference and professional congress, this year was especially dedicated to learning and participation. Sónar+D was attended by 4,600+ professionals from 2,000+ organisations and companies and explored the impact of artificial intelligence, the next internet and Quantum computing in art and creativity.
Sonar+D started a day earlier, for Sonar+D delegates and participants. On Wednesday the 17th, the inaugural conference Connecting Music and Technology was led by Robert del Naja and Andrew Melchior, Chief Technical Officer of Massive Attack, in conversation with writer and musician Peter Kirn. Both talked about how technology and science provides artists with tools like artificial intelligence and genetics to build new languages. Massive Attack in a landmark marketing move encoded their album Mezzanine in strands of synthetic DNA and packaged in a spray can.
The talks programme started on Wednesday morning with the talk ‘Tales of the Next Internet’ in which cybersecurity journalist Marta Peirano; the researcher and activist Xenia Ermoshina, and the “solarpunk” theorist Jay Springett talked about many topics like disinformation, digital migration, and losing Internet freedom, among many more. Then we enjoyed the talk ‘Creativity in the age of quantum computing’ in which three quantum scientists: Holly Cummins, Artur García Sáez, and Libby Heaney explored ideas on why quantum computers are useful, what if the physical law changes and how quantum computing is used in art. Another highlight was the Creative Technologies Café in which Hamill Industries, Push 1 stop and Ferdi Alici (Ouchhh Studio) discussed the inner process of their artistic creation.
From the Sónar Creative Tech Hub once again this year Barcelona Supercomputing has caught our eye. This year BSC presented the installation “#Cuentalo: A Constellation of horror” based on #Cuentalo, a Spanish social movement in the spirit of #MeToo. The installation reflects on the evolution of how society addresses sexual assault problems, it is estimated that 80%-90% of sexual assaults in Spain are never reported, they told us. And from the twenty-one startups that participated at Sónar+D Startup Hub, we enjoyed Windowsight by ICEX and Red.es. Windowsight is a Barcelona-based platform , that allows new ways for artists to monetise their content – through a streaming platform dedicated to providing the artistic community with unlimited access to content, tools and an overall broader and positive experience with art.
Sónar festival also offered interesting moments on its regular programme, constantly bringing new A/V shows where technology is at its core. We are keen to highlight Superstrings, a specially commissioned collaboration between experimental local duo Za! and Ouchhh, an independent creative studio from Istanbul – which presented in a visual format the electric impulses and synaptic connections from the members of the band in real-time. In a similar vein, Daito Manabe – in collaboration with Kamitani Lab developed a system that selected data from the visual cortex and then presented it as images accompanying Manabe’s music creations, the combination of both, transferred us to a hypothetical space inside our minds.
Actress appeared on stage “accompanied” by Young Paint, an AI compositional sprite to deliver a cloudy show, with muffled kicks buried in the background of a thick wall of grainy samples and synthesized pitches. Italian collective Quiet Ensemble presented their project Back Symphony, an experimental show in which Bernardo Vercelli and Fabio Di Salvo built up a symphony introducing gradually -light, sound, noise, and machinery- that ceased to exist the moment it was assembled.
Holly Herndon didn’t disappoint with her pastoral avant-garde vocal show, things that can look contra-intuitive in a place like Sonar. Herndon presented her latest album PROTO, her experiment with artificial intelligence. PROTO is a collaboration between humans and machines that brings AI into the sphere of composition as an unpredictable collaborator. Holly Herndon has built with her collaborator Mat Dryhurst, and the developer and coder Jules LaPlace – an AI recording system called Spawn, ‘a computer equipped with machine learning applications that learns to speak and sing like any other baby, “listening” to their parents and relatives,’ they told. Herndon was joined on stage by a choir whose voices were all manipulated by Spawn. Herndon and Dryhurst as well gave the talk ‘Voices of AI’ where they went deeper on Spawn.
From a completely different perspective Arca immersed us in one of the most defining narratives of this century: identities and gender, a stunning, lively show, where she exuded talent, personality and charisma, the performance was accompanied by the breathtaking, futuristic visual work of upcoming Spanish talent Sevi Iko Dømochevsky. Syrian-Armenian-American composer and producer K Á R Y Y N produces music highly influenced by the aesthetics of her environment and Syrian roots. Her layered vocals are modulated and synthesised to work as instruments making her show a deep listening experience.
From the local scene, we enjoyed RRUCCULLA and Alba G. Corral. RRUCCULLA presented SHusH, her latest work, a collage of different shades of drumming accompanied by left of field electronics, think of an avant-garde mixture of the sound palette of Flying Lotus sifted by John Coltrane’s style arrangements and drum patterns. The show’s visuals, also her creation, fluctuate and bubble, delivering reactive forms that accompany in a cheeky way her musical idiosyncrasies. Keep an eye on her, we are sure that she will give plenty to talk about in the future. And Alba G. Corral presented End(O), a live performance with the musician Alex Augier originally created for SAT. The two performers blended sound, image, space and time in a live performance that during 20’ translated us into a synthetic and oneiric experience.
The Italian sonic experimentalist Caterina Barbieri also presented at the Resident Advisor SónarLab her latest album entitled Ecstatic Computation, her epic, grandiose music is heavily driven by arpeggiators and modular synthesizers, using repetition and crafted sonic textures as the main drivers. Live vocals were layered on top of a few songs from her performance creating intensity and emotivity which was unparalleled at this Sónar edition.
And among the DJs and live acts, from the most conventional part of the programme, we enjoyed the syncopated and synthetic rhythms of Nyegue Nyegue’s stalwart Slickback, the eclecticism and the deep knowledge of the past from the Floating Points DJ set, the hyperborean forcefulness of Neon Chambers live set, the fractured rhythms and ambient textures of Ylia’s first live set, the fiery urban poetry of Skepta, the unconventional clubbing music presented by Tutu.
Technologists, cyber activists, researchers, scientists and artists from the fields of music, video games and immersive creation gathered in Barcelona for three days. They offer talks, innovative performances, installations, workshops, lectures, and networking sessions that made this year’s edition one of the best. Sónar+D in its 7th year has established itself as the reason for a pilgrimage to Barcelona every summer and the intellectual reason for the partying that accompanies the Sónar festival.