THE TECHIE-SIDE OF THE MUSIC FESTIVAL: SONAR+D

If Sónar is the cool 25-year-old sister, dancing to the likes of A$AP Rocky and Skepta, then Sónar+D is the little techie-sibling, outsmarting the first one, with the potential of stealing the former’s limelight. At the weekend of the Sònar music festival, one of the biggest of it’s kind in Europe, Sònar+D takes place: Between the days of the 17th to the 20th of July a whole new digitalized creative experience will open up in Barcelona. People will dance to machine-created music, will be able to project their emotions into images, experience a 360° image and sound dome, take part in a virtual synthesizer or laser programming workshop and listen to talks from key-players within the creative industries. CANADA will be there, the creator of music video shorts for Tame Impala or Justice and Honor Harger will talk about his leading role in re-inventing Singapore’s ArtScience Museum. A big topic will be how artificial intelligence is a tool for artistic creation. It’s all about the experience, and we talked with Antonia Folguera, curator and communicator of Sónar+D about the future of digitalized worlds, her engagement with the festival and what will happen in July


Nele Tüch Sónar+D sounds like a digitalized wonderland. A lot of innovations will be presented normal people can’t even imagine. What was your biggest A-ha moment of the festival so far?

Antonia Folguera
Sónar+D is full of A-ha moments. We are consistently in touch with new projects, ideas, and people with brilliant minds.
For instance this year we have the neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani participating along artist Daito Manabe on a project inspired by Dr. Kamitani’s research which consists of translating ideas and dreams into images. That is possible using brain scanning technology and deep learning. Considering that deep learning is the branch of artificial intelligence that mimics the way brain neurons work, it’s a beautiful combination of neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and art, and it’s mind-bending.

NT Is Sónar+D a way to free the technological world from its nerd and LAN-party image and bring it to a wider audience?

AF
Everybody is welcome at Sónar+D: nerds, geeks, techies, artists, and anyone with curiosity. It’s a place to learn and connect. As opposed to LAN parties people are not working on their computers –yes, once in a while you see people with their laptops– but The Sónar+D goer listens, participates, connects with other people (without the mediation of the computer’s interface) dances, and has fun.

NT It seems like Sónar and Sónar+D are two very different things. Where do they meet and how do they engage? What was the idea of bringing together these two sides?

AF
The goal when Sónar Festival was conceived 26 years ago, was to create an event where you could go to a concert, chill or dance to a dj set, see an exhibition, a film or attend a lecture or a panel. It was for the 20th anniversary that these non-musical activities got the Sónar+D identity.

In a way, Sónar+D is the backstage of Sónar, the workshops and the lectures provide the context of what’s on stage: we discuss creative technology, music technology, creative process, digital scenography. It’s also the place for the business side of the creative fields: we have a whole program dedicated for creative startups, activities to help develop artistic careers, and we always keep an eye on what’s new in terms of content platforms, monetization, intellectual property, etc. Sónar+D it’s also a meeting point for the industry.

NT Being a curator and a part of the communication team at Sónar+D , do you have to understand all the projects? Are you doing a lot of research or is it more about experiencing?

AF
It’s a combination of both: it’s about researching, but it’s also about experiencing as many things as possible: going to shows, festivals, events.

My side projects also help me a lot to be up to date with what’s new and exciting. Meeting people for a coffee and asking them what are they up to is one of the best things you can do to find interesting content.

The interesting people I meet during Sónar+D one year help me find ideas for programming the next.

NT At the moment it’s all about the experience, if you go to a Michelin restaurant, the food is only the second player, if you go to a party it’s not about the music anymore and Sónar+D is basically one huge experience. How will this phenomenon shape our lives?

AF
This year, we have put the focus on “experience design” and the many ways in which we can interpret this concept. Whether it’s a concert, a dj set, an installation, or a VR piece, it’s all about immersion, it’s about setting the correct environment, it’s all about engaging the senses and engaging with other people, it’s about having an active role, and it’s about having a 360° vision rather than a frontal one. As the word “experience” has become especially ubiquitous the last few years as a way to describe VR pieces, installations, etc. we have asked ourselves how experiences are made, and what technologies help enable these experiences. Asking these questions, we have found many of the people who will speak at Sónar+D: teamLab, Jessica Brillhart, Timoni West from Unity, etc.

NT The workshops and conferences provided by the festival, as well as the installations and presentations at Sónar+D are very playful. They show the good site of digitalisation, but do you think the fear of technology taking over our lives is legitimate?

AF
Many of the workshops, lectures and the installations are playful, but many of them have a questioning attitude, see for instance “Spawn”, Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst “AI baby”– it’s not only a technologic and creative tool to integrate machine learning for voice processing, music production, and live performance. It’s a tool to ask questions about what impact (good and bad) these technologies can have.
Other participants that have a playful and also critical approach to technology are Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne. The two artists will teach a class about how to become unpredictable for predictive algorithms; or Madeline Gannon, who “trains” industrial robots to behave like humans or animals. An important thing about AI is that it is making us ask big questions about humanity.

Yes, somehow fear is taking over our lives when it comes to technology, and this can be overcome by being playful and acquiring the right knowledge, and if possible do both things at the same time: Learning in a playful way.

While we are playful, we never forget to cover the impacts technology has, and we never forget to ask ourselves the hows and whys. There are balance and diversity in the way we approach our content.

NT The sentence „Sónar+D explores how creativity is changing our present and imagining new futures“ comes up a lot while researching. What kind of futures are you imagining?

AF
We imagine futures where humans and machines collaborate, we imagine futures where people are fearless of technology, where decentralized and clean energies reign, and nobody is left behind, everyone is included. Of course, we imagine futures with music that we have never heard before, dancing to rhythms that we still cannot imagine, and we imagine futures where for just a moment we can be transported to different worlds without leaving home, where technology will allow us to see things from perspectives we cannot yet imagine.

NT I have the feeling Sónar+D is about creating new parallel worlds, do you think that technology-driven spheres will be a place of retreat for us in the future?

AF
Virtual worlds are an ancient dream of humanity that now technology can make come true. Immersive technology, while a bit old, it’s only in its early stages. I think that it will work both for retreating or entertaining, as it will work for almost any daily task that we must perform, no matter how simple (finding our way around an unknown city) or sophisticated (science, medicine…)

These virtual spheres will be every day more embedded in the real world as technology will become almost invisible.

Portrait Photography JONAS HELLMANN
Interview NELE TÜCH