Feedback: Agora 2011

IRCAM’s Agora festival took place from last June 8th to 18th in Paris. The main focus of the 2011 event was the links between music and mathematics through contemporary creative processes, questioning the relationship between logic and imagination, thought and creativity.
 
A great number of works, meetings, lectures and installations were scattered between Ircam, the Pompidou Centre, the Grand Palais, the 104 and the Gaîté Lyrique but also spread to Le Fresnoy, in Tourcoing, as part of the Panorama festival. Somehow logically, it focused on the creativity of Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose visionary intuition and computational frenzy were used as a thematic backbone for the festival. Five works by Stockhausen were included in the program, notably Kontakte as well as excerpts of Klang, the immense spell-binding 24 hours cycle (within a day) that the German composer had not had time to complete before his passing away in 2007. The14th occurrence of Agora testified, once again, of the extraordinary richness of the festival. Let us pay a tribute to the great energy and passion devoted by the team of Ircam and its director Franck Madlener.
 
 
Tripwire
To produce a successful installation is a tricky task. With Tripwire Ahsley Fure and Jean-Michel Albert managed to create an enchantment for the eyes and ears. This very high standard group work was jointly presented as part of the Agora festival and Panorama. From the very first moments Tripwire captures/captivates the spectator. One is inexorably drawn (in)to this living and vibrating scene, droning through kinetic and sound effects. The idea of choreographing 18 sandows [i.e cables] which, under the effect of mechanical acceleration, are then used as a projection screen is already a cunning idea in itself. To then create a successful staging of such a device is quite admirable.
Tripwire is a thoroughly mature work. Ashley Fure is completing his studies at Ircam and Jean-Michel Albert is a student video maker at Le Fresnoy. The quality of the technical and material facilities made available for the two students by Ircam and Le Fresnoy have enabled them to fully express their creative potential. Ashley Fure has dared to put forward a strong and determined sound presence. There is bliss in using this force contained by the organic and climatic sounds, without ever falling into a caricature.
Tripwire testifies of the beauty of the sound energy mixed with that of physics and the image. Caught by this beauty, like a butterfly is caught by the light, the spectator does not fully realise that he too is having an effect on the work. The technical prowess is being outshined by the poetic expression. The Parisian public will be able to see Tripwire at the 104 from October 1st to 9th, 2011.

Stockhausen I
Evening of June 8th, Stockhausen I. The public who had come for Stockhausen not being completely familiar with the Gaîté Lyrique, the wait in the entrance hall in front of the main concert hall caused some lively exchanges. It was also the occasion to rediscover the old lobby. In the first part of the evening, Klang, 19. Stunde-Urantia was diffused on a multichannel system, permanently set up in the new entrance hall and hung several meters above the ground. This was the ideal place to diffuse the work composed for a Soprano voice and 6 layers of melodic cells, moving into space at various revolution speeds.
To create a kind of counter-effect while still remaining in same strength and freshness as Stockhausen, the piece of Victor Parra was diffused next: I have to come like a butterfly into the hall of human life, is contemporary to Stockhausen’s piece, but instead uses techniques of decomposition and sound re-synthesis, whilst filled with the same life force. The evening was rounded up by a second piece from Stockhausen, Klang, 15. Stunde-Orvonton for baritone and electronics. An atypical work, marked by a certain sense of humour. The sung text, which only comprises 26 syllables distributed across 26 sections, is describing the whole process of the work in progress and finishes with the concept of the end of time/times. The ultimate decomposition.
 
Anish Kapoor, Torn Times
A wonderful experiment. First of all, before Les Temps Tiraillés (Torn Times) by Haas and Gourfink, on arriving in the nave of the Grand Palais, time had been suspended. It had almost stopped at the edge of the gigantic Léviathan by Kapoor. A Shrinking effect for the spectator. Paradoxes of the space-time perception: finished but wide and imposing, breathing, on the outside and completely closed up, compressed in the inner space, static vanishing lines, soft and infinite claustrophobia. In the midst of this blood red envelope, the minute dance of Myriam Gourfink was unfolded in reverse. Eight infinite trajectories fixed into a perpetually acting immobility. The dancers were occasionally meeting for an arcane encounter. The music of Georg Friederich Haas, spiralled, strewn with micro inflections, coming to rest as a continuum by embracing via the air the works of Kapoor and Gourfink.
The joint presence of the three artists’ works was simply perfect, without a hint of redundancy. Each one answering the other, being complemented by it, whilst keeping its own specificity. Initially created in 2009 for Ircam, the version of Temps Tiraillés presented as part of the Agora Festival differed from the original one in order to be attuned with the work of Kapoor. No live interactions nor video on this occasion. The music came from the recording carried out during its creation at the Georges Pompidou Centre and the choreography by Myriam Gourfink was framed, without any notation remote control, using a fixed score for each dancer.
 
Luna Park
This is the first time the composer Georges Aperghis has used synthetic voices and electronic interfaces to integrate them at the same level of expression as singing, music and theatre. Luna Park is a kind of contemporary altar set upon an urban espionage background. Two central figures are spying on each other through a video network system and digital recordings, while two instrumentalists on both sides are also connected to the actors through the network. The piece gradually ends up submerging all the protagonists in a polyphonic tangle of redistributed, more or less absurd information, eventually distorted through its course via sounds, percussions and phonemes.
The real and the virtual world continuously overlay in a succession of transparent and utterly hilarious mises en abyme. With Luna Park Aperghis has achieved a rare prowess. Something which goes beyond virtuosity, as the constituting elements are bouncing off each other with such an incredible fluidity. Indeed, the technical and stage elements and the dramaturgy itself evaporate to reveal the sole energy and tension currents. The overdose of information rustles and finishes in an absolutely vertiginous apotheosis, kept suspended to the last minute… A multi-media show pertaining to genius.

Urban Musical Game
On June 17th on the Stravinsky place, just by Ircam, the Interactions Musicales Temps Réel team from Ircam, the digital agency NoDesign and the Phototonic non profit organisation gave the first general public presentation of the Urban Musical Game project. This event was also part of the Futur en Seine festival. This was an instant success with the young audience. After a slightly inconvenient drizzle, the members of the team finally were able to start their interactive device made of sensors and loudspeakers, on a small basketball ground set up for the occasion. Each foam ball was equipped with a remote control interface (the equivalent of the Moo, IMTR’s DIY version of the Wii) which records the movements and sends all the data back to a reception system, then a system of interactive sound synthesis.
The various types of ball games are preset on the spot thanks to a smart phone application. The rules of the game require moving within the space in a sportive and playful manner while being receptive and acting musically. The ball makes it possible to modify, start or stop a sound in various ways through dribbling and throwing it but also by making it roll or rotate, shaking it or by dancing with it. More or less elaborate game scenarios are proposed. Ball passing games, sound duels or group games. It was quite simply great to try it out with children, of course, but also with adults. Urban Musical Range should logically find outlets in schools or as a commercial game.
 
 
Christine Webster
 
Website: http://agora.ircam.fr/

Published in the Digitalarti Mag #7.

Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.

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