Sonic Acts 2010: The Poetics of Space - Sound Art in Amsterdam

Sound art conference in Amsterdam

John Kannenberg is a first year MFA candidate in the School of Art and Design.

Last week I travelled to Amsterdam for a four day conference on sound art, Sonic Acts XIII: The Poetics of Space, a densely-packed series of lectures, exhibitions and performances dedicated to 21st century notions of sound's relationship to space, using Gaston Bachelard's 1958 philosophical text on the architecture of the imagination, in which he phenomenologically analyzed poetic notions of space and place. The conference was a four day crash-course in contemporary sound art theory and practice, and one of the most exciting and inspirational art events I've ever attended!

The first day of the event began with a mini-conference and exhibition at STEIM, one of the world's premier studio/research facilities dedicated to electronic performance arts. Talks were given by artists-in-residence Hans W. Koch, whose "Two Rooms, Flipped" installation connected two of STEIM's studio rooms with sonically mirrored microphones which broadcast inverted pitches of sounds from one room to the other, and Yutaka Makino, whose "Conflux" installation of chemical fog and wave field synthesis created a simulated whiteout condition.

After the artists presented, a panel discussion of alternative venue curators discussed current trends in artistic curation and distribution. Daniele Balit of Birdcage discussed his inspirations for creating a "gallery without walls" dedicated to showing challenging works of art whose exhibition spaces are a part of the actual artwork, a concept influenced by works like Brian O'Doherty's "Inside the White Cube". Hamish and Keiko, the founders and curators of London's newest venue dedicated to experimental music Café Oto, discussed the joys and difficulties of running a world class music venue and café on a shoestring budget seven days a week for the past two years. Finally, Rotterdam-based collective WORM presented highlights from their activities of supporting and showcasing experimental art and music both online and in physical venues during their decade plus of existence.

From STEIM the activities moved to NIMk, the Netherlands Media Art Institute, which housed a group exhibition including Jakob Kirkegaard's Labyrinthitis installation (which broadcasts two tones into the spectator's ears, creating a third tone only audible inside the ears of the listener, as well as HC Gilje's "Blink", a video installation using the gallery space's architecture to generate colored patterns projected back into the space. This show was the lead-in to the actual opening of the Sonic Acts festival, US artist and sound art theorist Brandon LaBelle's "Q+A", a multichannel sound performance presenting the artist interviewing himself in surround sound. As you can (sort of) see from the video I shot from all the way in the back of the performance space, LaBelle's reputation in Europe drew a rock star-sized crowd -- not exactly what i was expecting, considering the comparatively dismal attendance at nearly every sound art event I've attended in the US (with the exception of Long Beach's excellent Soundwalk annual festival).

The next venue of the day was Paradiso, a gorgeous music club created from the remnants of an abandoned church in Amsterdam's Leidseplein entertainment district, where the first of three nights' worth of five hour long sessions of performances and film screenings began with seminal UK improviser Keith Rowe joined by the Nordic saxophone improv duo Streifenjunko and video artist Kjell Bjørgeengen for a beautiful set of quiet improvised sound translated into flickering analog television static.

Haswell and Hecker followed with a viscerally intense sound and laser light performance that filled the Paradiso with touchable light and sound so thick you could cut it with a bread knife.

Robert Henke, aka Monolake, ended the night with a live surround sound performance of thick dub-inspired electronica, perfectly synched to Jitter visuals by the Netherlands' Tarik Barri. As composer and Cycling '74 employee Gregory Taylor said at the show, "Tarik's Jitter work looks like no one else's", and he wasn't kidding.

Such an insane amount of information to process, and this was only day one! I'll be posting summaries of the rest of the conference soon, so stay tuned...