Sound art doesn’t carry the same public appreciation that visual arts have earned but the medium has a long, storied history. Developing throughout the 20th century, it has taken advantage of rapid technological advances that drive the recording industry. Modern sound art, for all intents and purposes, emerged alongside jazz and embraced many of the same tenets: self-expression, spontaneity, juxtaposition and a fearless commitment to changing how the listener perceived sound. The EPCOR Centre’s Soundasaurus festival aims not only to honour the rich history of sound art, but also to remind people that many of the genre’s most innovative artists have called Calgary their home.
Soundasaurus curator Tammy McGrath has been involved with the festival since its inaugural run in 2010 and her adoration for this art form is unmistakable. From the beginning, McGrath has sought to promote a diverse array of artists, tailoring the lineup to satisfy connoisseurs as well as neophytes, always making sure to endorse Canadian artists alongside their international peers. The festival will encompass traditional live performances, interactive live performances, interactive art displays and workshops hosted by some of the world’s most innovative audio manipulators. Up-and-coming Calgary artists have also been selected to perform in the EPCOR Centre lobby before and after the main events.
Michael Leeb is setting up his handcrafted hybrid instruments in a free interactive installation and Ivan Reese’s “A Shrinking Feeling” will be on display at the +15 Soundscape (located near the Theatre Calgary office). Soundasaurus has partnered with Saskatoon’s Sounds Like Audio (SLA) festival this year, demonstrating the cooperative nature of Canadian sound artists. Soundasaurus will be bringing Saskatoon’s Ian Campbell and Ernie Dulanowski to perform and give a workshop on source material modification, and in exchange will be helping send Calgary artists to next year’s SLA. This spirit of cooperative communication has persisted throughout the history of sound art, although it is only in recent years that the festival format has really taken off: Soundasaurus is currently the only three-day sound art festival in Calgary.
Despite the festival’s focus on the creation and manipulation of soundwaves, many of the artists on display this year have crafted stunning visual works to accompany their audio. Performers such as Loscil and Ivan Reese work extensively with computers to create soundscapes previously unheard. Reese, in particular, has formed utterly amazing audiovisual art using nothing more than computer code. Some artists prefer to work with sound and light using homemade circuits and modified analogue equipment; Kyle Whitehead’s “generative, reactionary” Aleatronic Feedback Machine will be on display at the festival, demonstrating to attendees how electronic circuits can interact with one another to create complex audiovisual settings. Monty Adkins and Julio D’Escrivan work with found sounds and found footage and Ceephax Acid Crew has earned a major following by coaxing amazing tones out of forgotten hardware. Holly Herndon’s innovations with Max/MSP digital instruments have earned her a reputation as one of the most inventive electronic musicians in the world today. This year’s Soundasaurus covers an incredible range of styles and should offer something of interest to almost everyone. Contrary to what people might think, sound artists have never worked in isolation: production techniques, sonic textures, aural backdrops, theories on consonance/dissonance, melodic and amelodic tendencies, unique instrumentation and a wealth of other ideas have flown freely between sound artists and traditional musicians.
Because sound art is such a broad genre, it can be difficult for organizers to attract both fans of the dissonant and of the serene. This year’s lineup includes artists renowned for their work in ambient music, noise/drone, film sound, avant-garde electronica and sound collage so even those unfamiliar with sound art should find more than enough to pique their interest. Much of this accessibility comes courtesy of Ms. McGrath, who carefully selected the lineup to ensure no one would be left out. “I really look at accessible sound art, where people come into the room and it’s inviting, but it’s also exciting and new.” She expands, “We hit every genre, which is exciting because you can come any night and find something that interests you.” Many of the headliners demonstrate sound and music that soothes and encourages quiet contemplation, but fans of abrasive noise or puzzling avant-garde will still find more than enough artists that cater to harder tastes.
Soundasaurus was not designed to initiate people into the ranks, so to speak—everyone involved is acting out of a genuine love for the art form. By pulling together such wildly different artists, Soundasaurus will likely be just as exciting for the performers as it is for the audience.
This year’s Soundasaurus festival is taking place at the EPCOR Centre from November 14 —16. Tickets are $15 per night, or a festival pass can be had for $39. In addition, a number of free, interactive exhibits are opening around Calgary.
By John Julius
Photo (middle): Tristan Perich