Bjork and Brian Eno at Sónar 2017: when music stars opt for digital creation

Phosphere by Daito Manabe & Rhizomatiks

Major festival within constantly mutating electronic culture framework, Sónar festival has been opening up more every year to digital arts. An assessment reinforced by a 2017 edition giving more room to digital creation stakes in its Sónar+D schedule, but as well by a general program pointing out the multimedia side of star musicians as Bjork or Brian Eno.Major festival within constantly mutating electronic culture framework, Sónar festival has been opening up more every year to digital arts. An assessment reinforced by a 2017 edition giving more room to digital creation stakes in its Sónar+D schedule, but as well by a general program pointing out the multimedia side of star musicians as Bjork or Brian Eno.

For its 2017 edition, digital arts forum of Barcelona Sónar festival – the Sónar+D – has welcomed a growing number of participants (5,500 professionals coming from 105 countries and representing more than 2,000 companies from the creative and technological industries) around its very friendly fair, highlighted by a series of meeting/conferences and work themes underlining the current important questions of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. A way to open a prospective debate around technological, artistic and economical stakes, gathering specialists from big companies like Google - Kenric McDowell, leader of the Artists + Machine Intelligence program at Google Research, Freya Murray, program manager director at Google Arts & Culture Lab, Douglas Eck, a research scientist at Google Brain, or Jessica Brillhart, Google principal filmmaker through Deep Dream generative program – alongside with activists opting more for technological hacking such as Memo Akten and Twitter/Tumblr bot programmer artist Darius Kazemi.


The digital makes the show

But, in this massive amount of contents, the challenge was also to appeal around this post-digital participative thinking the largest part of a festive audience mostly come at Fira Montjuich to enjoy with the great mood and the huge electronic music line-up. To fit with this boiling arena (61,000 visitors during the three days of Sónar By Day, in which took place the Sónar+D), the idea was to present a few innovative devices (like the Sonar360° tent conceived by the team of Montreal’s SAT in reference to their own immersive 360° dome), and mostly some attractive live performances/installations. 
Blurring the boundaries between conference, audiovisual concert and live documentary, Entropy show took the shape of an augmented scientific lecture led by the astronomer and cosmologist Dr. Dida Markovic in a special 3D environment created by music duo DopplerEffekt and visual label AntiVJ: A curious multimedia performance, sometimes too much didactic and lacking of rhythm though.

Entropy - We Are Europe
Entropy - We Are Europe

Within the highly-praised live AV domain, the Shiro show by French/Japanese duo Nonotak impressed by its intensity and its light/sound scenography connecting architectural design of Electronic Shadow with electro-industrial impulse of a Ryoichi Kurokawa. A performance that revealed pretty much more convincing than the disappointing set gathering Netherlands-born digital artist Tariq Barri and sound artist Lea Fabrikant around the vocal transformation software Versum. 


SHIRO by NONOTAK, Audiovisual performance


Favoured by its location close to the big afternoon dancefloors, in the high and dark nave of SónarPLANTA space, this is probably the hybrid piece Phosphere – created in Tokyo at the Rhizomatiks studio by digital artist Daito Manabe – that took the most benefit from the Sónar effervescing atmosphere. Conceived like a robotic hybrid architecture in which synchronized mirrors, smoke machines, beams of light and video projectors combine, the installation offered a refreshing participative and spatialized experience during the long and hot days, highlighted by some live happenings in which dancers and performers came to play with visual and light interactions of the device, in line with the always astonishing technological shows (including sometimes drones) imagined by Daito Manabe. 


Bjork Digital’s VR path

Nevertheless, this is almost in the big parallel events commissioned by the Catalan festival (in collaboration with other art venues and beyond the dates of the festival itself) that it is possible to understand the better the more and more interdisciplinary and technological dimension taken by the Sónar for some years. The presence in the program of music stars invited this time more for their multimedia and new technologies work than for a regular music performance points it out well and unveils at the same time a perfect key point of the creative direction taken by the festival and the growing interest of these artists for multimedia digital creation.


Sonar+D Bjork Digital
photo : Santiago Felipe

Unmissable flagbearer of the techno-pop experimentation for this last 25 years, Icelandic artist Bjork benefits this way from an invitation to come and present until the end of September at CCCB – Barcelona museum of modern art and former host of Sónar by Day in the 1990’s and 2000’s – her famous itinerant exhibition of virtual-reality creations Bjork Digital

BJÖRK DIGITAL at CCCB - Virtual reality exhibition


Presented like a real path where each piece, directed by specialists as Andrew Thomas Huang, transports the spectator into a 360 degree video-clip immersive experience (« Stonemilker », « Mouth Mantra ») with the help of Oculus Rift headset (at the exception of the double-screen installation Black Lake commissioned by New York’s MOMA), the exhibition rapidly takes shape of a molecular journey into Bjork’s phantasmagorical virtual dimension. It is then possible to stick with the vibrations of her vocal cords, to track her avatar in lava corridors and wild landscapes, while being overwhelmed by the electro-acoustic arrangements of her Vulnicura album which serves as basis of the project. A spectacular intrusion into intimate Bjork universe that can make dizzy as the singer appears omnipresent, but that is appropriately tempered by the more pedagogical last room – in where it is possible to test all the playful musical apps for iPad created by composer/software engineer Stephen Malinowski for her previous and scientifically oriented record Biophilia .


Immersive hypnosis with Brian Eno

For a deeply sweeter immersion, it is probably better to head towards hypnotising Lightforms / Soundforms exhibition made by father of ambient music Brian Eno. Occupying until the beginning of October the pared-down space of Arts Santa Monica – a former convent transformed into a art centre down the Ramblas –, the exhibition acts like a further step in the collaboration between the artist, invited last year for a lecture at Sónar+D, and the festival.


Brian Eno Sonar+D
Lightforms / Soundforms, Brian Eno

It mostly reveals with a ghostly impulsion, carried out by the especially composed music piece « New Space Music » played in the whole building and notably in the dark cloister at ground floor, the growing interest of the British musician for generative computing creation these last years. 
At first floor, his new Light Boxes project – a series of paintings of lights that constantly evolve – irradiates the space while following the curves of the broadcast music. But, it is at the second floor that a new climax is reached through his icon installation 77 Million Paintings: a huge generative audiovisual installation composed by digital frames slowly modulating and combining to shape with a mesmerizing statistical dimension a light and sound composition that would take years to be repeated – according to Eno's calculations, the piece is capable of producing 77 million different images, hence its name. A highly addictive digital exercise that provides a perfect contrast to the torrid nature of Sónar.

Laurent Catala

Photo title: Phosphere by Daito Manabe & Rhizomatiks


Sonar+D, Creativity, Technology and Business
from 14th to 17th June 2017, Barcelona, Spain.

Bjork Digital
from 14th June to 25th September
CCCB Barcelona, Spain

Brian Eno, Lightforms / Soundforms
from 14th June to 1st October
Arts Santa Monica: