Sonic Acts 2010: The Poetics of Space - Sound Art in Amsterdam Day 2

Amsterdam sound art conference continued

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

Day 2 of Sonic Acts 2010: The Poetics of Space started off with the beginning of the conference proper, meeting up at the massive Café De Balie in the Leidseplein entertainment district of Amsterdam. De Balie seemed enormous, with its multiple rooms of café seating, a full bar, ticket office and two theater spaces on the ground floor alone; that was until the crowd for Sonic Acts decided to show up.

There were so many people, the atrium and café were shoulder-to-shoulder by 9:45am, fifteen minutes before the conference was scheduled to begin. Luckily I'd pre-ordered a festival and concert pass before I arrived, so I was one of the lucky ticket holders who had priority to sit in the theater where the conference was actually taking place; dozens of other people weren't so lucky, and were banished to the secondary theater to watch what was happening in the theater across the hall on a live internet stream. Keep in mind, this was an academic conference on sound art...I can't reiterate enough, the interest in sound art I witnessed in Amsterdam was truly unprecedented. I've never felt hipper wearing glasses, being bald, and carrying around a Zoom H2 than I did for those four days in Amsterdam. wink

The keynote speaker was Derrick de Kerckhove, a collaborator of Marshall McLuhan's who spoke about the 21st century's move past traditional renaissance perspectival representation into a post-visual, tactile perspectival realm dominated by the advent of electricity, with the "point of being" replacing the "point of view" as the commonly accepted referent to one's position in space.

Daniel Terrugi, Director of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, and Raviv Ganchrow, a sonology expert and installation artist, comprised the speakers for the second session, Architectures of Sound. Terrugi discussed the positioning of sound sources in space (ie surround sound systems) and their impact on contemporary musical composition, while Ganchrow discussed his work with wave field synthesis in order to redefine acoustic spaces. Ganchrow's wave field synthesis system, a 192-channel surround sound system, was on the schedule to appear at the concerts in the Paradiso club the night after his speech, something I was really looking forward to experiencing.

Christopher Salter was the highlight of the Exercises in Immersion panel. His lecture, "The Question of Thresholds: Immersion, Absorption and Dissolution in Cross-modal Environments" was fascinating, covering James Turell and Robert Irwin's 1968 of the effects on consciousness of extreme sensory input reduction -- basically an analysis of the effects of minimalist art on the audience's consciousness. I was really interested in his discussion of enactive cognition (how our environment arises out of the loop between action and perception) and enactive perception (how perception is achieved because of our bodies' sensorimotor system, and all perception equals action). Salter's new book, Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance is definitely on my to read list.

A panel on Utopian Spectacles was up next, with Branden W. Joseph (author of Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage) and Trace Reddell (Director of Digital Media Studies at the University of Denver) gave presentations about John Cage and Lejaren Hiller's HPSCHD and the Vortex concerts of Henry Jacobs and Jordan Belson. Renowned theater artist Robert Whitman was up next, discussing his use of space in non-traditional theatrical venues (see the above video), as well as debunking some myths about the legendary 1966 performance event Nine Evenings: Theatre & Engineering he participated in along with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor, Yvonne Rainer, and Deborah Hay among others.

The final panel of the day, The Poetics of Hybrid Space, featured Eric Kluitenberg (head of the media program at De Balie, the conference's venue; Duncan Speakman, a locative media artist who premiered a new guided soundwalk which took place immediately after the panel; Peter Westenberg, a visual artist who specializes in open source practices; Elizabeth Sikiaridi, a professor of urban landscape design at the University of Duisberg-Essen who spoke about the breakdown of Cartesian space as the ruling system of perspective and its replacement by the speed of electricity's power to control the rate at which we experience space; and Karen Lancel and Hermen Maat, Dutch artists who presented their wearable art project Tele_Trust via webcam from Vancouver. But that's not all...there were five more hours of concerts to go to.

The theme of the second night of performances was Expanded Space, and the bill focused heavily on experimental cinema. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's only abstract film, Lichtspiel Schwarz-Weiß-Grau from 1930 was up first. Projected on film rather than video, this was as close as we were going to get to experiencing the piece as it was originally presented; not to mention that beginning a five hour stretch of concerts with a six minute silent film from 1930 was a bold move, and the audience continued to amaze me by attentively (and silently) watching while crushed shoulder to shoulder in a standing-room-only crowd.

Gill Eatherley's three channel film Hand Grenade (featuring a soundtrack by legendary Krautrock band Neu!) was a definite highlight. Again projected on film, this abstract work was made in 1971 with a series of still images of light drawings which were extended, looped and altered via painstaking optical printing.

A performance entitled (SHIFT) by Dutch duo Optical Machines featured live sound and mesmerizing video generated via a series of mechanical devices and metal plates being filmed and processed in real time.

My favorite film of the evening was "Spacy" (1981) by Takashi Ito. I was amazed by its multiple layers of space folding in upon themselves...I'd love to pick up a copy of this compilation DVD of Ito's works. There was so much amazing work shown that night, it's impossible to write about it all by Paul Sharits, Bruce McClure, Greg Pope & Gert-Jan Prins and many others were all so inspiring...another day of information overload! And Sonic Acts 2010 was only half over...


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