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/articles/Technology leads the way for the Convergence of Science & Art

Sónar 2016 x Amusement Magazine

Another edition of Sónar has come and gone leaving a trail of positive reviews in it’s wake, for the plethora of diverse musical acts on the docket but also for it’s ability to seamlessly intertwine it’s younger SONAR + D tech conference counterpart into the mix. The dust having officially settled on the massive electronic event, here’s a look back on the trends in creation and technology that caught our interest during the festival.

The conference ‘Arts@CERN & ALMA: When art and science meet’ was compelling for a number of reasons. First and foremost because it highlights the increasingly prevalent syphoning together of art and science — two historically distinct ways of defining our reality — into a hybrid and communal category. “Art can pose new questions and offer meaningful new ways of looking at science,” Mónica Bello of Cern said during the conference.

She went on to explain how the Arts@CERN program aims to foster the commonalities between artists and scientists in order to encourage the emergence of a unique, common language from which to develop ideas and works. 
Of course that’s all well and good in theory, but what does it really mean in terms of output? For one, it means a lot of cross-disciplinary collaboration. Cue Enrique Rivera, curator and director of the Artes Mediales Biennial of Santiago de Chile. Along with Ricardo Finger, PhD in Electronic Science, the two demoed the project ALMA Sounds which captures signals that represent the chemical composition of the universe from the Orion Nebula, transforming them into a spectrum of tones and frequencies that are then converted into a sound bank that artists and producers can use as they please.

At this point the question of what this means for the future of art invariably surfaces. With its distinguishing lines blurring thanks to an increased reliance of digital tools and the math and physics needed to pilot them, likewise the data that so often inspires, even powers the visual renderings, a traditional definition of art no longer applies.

But maybe that doesn’t even matter.
Keeping in mind that historically our understanding of our surroundings and the natural laws that govern them, along with the interactions we have with our fellow human beings have been the guiding inspiration for scientific exploration as well as artistic expression, it seems only natural that two would converge at some point. The increasingly dominant role science is playing in people’s creative process also feels quite logical given the array of digital toolsets at people’s disposal: computers computing thanks to algorithms engineered to produce visualizations of natural processes, coated with aesthetic interpretation. Case in point: Earthworks, by Semiconductor — SónarPLANTA, a joint initiative between Fundació Sorigué and Sónar, selects three international artists per year for special funding, Earthworks being this year’s standout piece.

The installation piece sat in a giant empty space, with five enormous screens lining the wide soundproofed room. They displayed layers of crackling, twitching, colours — a representation of the Earth’s formation process and the tectonic changes impacting its structure, from both natural causes and man-made.

The uninitiated might assume it to be an abstract piece, if not for the data incorporated into the artist’s process and the use of geomodels — a technique normally employed by scientists to study changes in land formation. The approach applies different types of physical force to sand that has been coloured by different dyes as a means to visualize and understand behaviour. Also of note, the artwork’s animated graphics, which reacted differently based on the different sounds applied to them at a given time.

Other productions incorporating scientific methods into their creative process included Cycle, a digital art super-duo pairing the likes of Ryoki Ikeda and Carsten Nicolai, who explore the visualization of sound, their aim being to give it “shape.” Less of an emphasis is placed on the musicality of their work, making way for a more algorithmic approach to both the sound and the visuals they provoke, intrinsically linking the two — the images are the audio are the images.

Two Canadian artists also made headway at this year’s Sonar: Martin Messier who presented FIELD during the festival, and Myriam Bleau with Soft Revolvers.

With FIELD, Messier would create a sound and light show from electromagnetic fields otherwise completely invisible to the naked eye. He interacted with them through transmitters and connections that he would plug into and out of as he sculpted his show in realtime.
Soft Revolvers paired sound with LED encrusted spinning discs manipulated by the artist. Bleau manipulated them almost as a DJ would their vinyls. Only instead of a record engraved with sound, Bleau’s discs are each associated to a type of digital sound or instrument via sensors which generate sound data. Add to that LEDs lighting up based on the discs spinning velocity: an impressive final result of visual and auditory pattern generation.

Suffice it to say, science is empowering art with a profusion of different directions of exploration. And while the dialogue about how to define what’s happening might still be a somewhat generic one, the work is anything but. Sonar is a testament to that. The festival’s continued awareness of the many new creative avenues to explore, and the ease with which the art and design components of Sonar + D, along with the values they promote, are intertwined with the festival at large can certainly be considered an important indicator of things to come for the wider creative community.
Find all the festival’s talks and conferences including Arts@CERN & ALMA: When art and science meet on the Sonar+D YouTube Channel.

A replay of Earthworks, by Semiconductor can also be viewed here.

elizasj 2022 CC BY 4.0
first published August 2016 for Amusement Magazine