Events have been called off, concert halls have fallen silent, and music making has moved onto balconies and the Internet. With DJ sets played no longer in clubs and concerts which invariably captivate though no enthusiastic audience is in sight, pure live music has made its way online. Dubbed INTO MUSIC! – this week’s online WRO program conjures concerts, dazzling performances, serious and irresponsible ventures, and finally the crossings of the sound-image barrier back from the remote and recent history of the WRO Biennale.
The week opened, fittingly, with a world premiere. Capping the 18th WRO Media Art Biennale, the concert of Ensamble KOMPOPOLEX was recorded on 12th December 2019. The trio of Aleksandra Gołaj, Rafał Łuc and Jacek Sotomski were rambling in the gallery with the audience, and playing scores by contemporary composers, including the latest piece by the Polish composer Piotr Peszat. As part of the concert, the musicians had ice-cream, blew soap bubbles, and played a game on a Nintendo mini console. Six pieces, six stands, three artists, and a hypnotic journey across the gallery. A strong Monday opening.
On Tuesday, the floor was taken by Jaron Lanier. In 1997, the artist played a live-broadcast concert entitled How Music Will Save the Soul of Technology: Virtual Reality as a Musical Instrument at the Polish TV Studio. Lanier generated virtual, but at the same time visible, instruments which responded to his gestures. He played them by manipulating traditional Asian instruments (by the way, the artist’s collection boasts rare ethnic instruments from all over the globe). Lanier’s project aimed to dismantle the concept of art as a slave to technology: in his view, art must have the upper hand in this relationship. In the 1990s, Jaron Lanier and virtual reality were virtually synonymous. No wonder though, as Lanier introduced and popularized the term itself, improved the data glove, patented software and interfaces, and founded a company dedicated to the research, development, and implementation of VR technologies. He also attracted considerable attention as a visionary artist in whom creativity, anthropological knowledge, and scientific expertise were perfectly amalgamated. His charismatic stage appearances as a composer and a virtuoso of virtual instruments emphatically showcased the potential of venturing beyond the civilization of the late 20th century. He kindled hopes that, furnished with digital technologies, humankind would master them truly creatively. He believed that there was no going back from technology, but he also insisted that technology would have no future if it did not engender valuable cultural practices. He highlighted the anthropological investment of his ideas by using ethnic instruments, which he regarded as an expression of spiritual practices harmoniously dovetailing with the technology developed in ancient cultures. He combined traditional instruments with state-of-the-art technologies. His firm conviction was that music could save the soul of technology and consequently prevent humankind from self-annihilation. Engaging in interactions in the 3D space of sonic and visual phenomena, he sought to reveal the potential of virtual reality to reassemble and re-forge whatever culture and art had severed in their historical development.
Brigitta Bodenauer’s concert resulted from several days of a workshop with a group of participants in October 2017. The artist invited them to study the impact that city sounds had on people and to explore whether the sounds encountered in urban spaces could be the source of alienation or an instrument of isolation/exclusion. The project was meaningfully rooted in the context of the Black Protest, i.e., manifestations against the tightening of the restrictive anti-abortion law which were held in most Polish cities and towns. As a result of collaborative recordings and experiences, an experimental audiovisual piece was produced in the WRO’s real space. Sound recordings made by the participants were mixed, with the final effect enhanced by their movements and the motions of small sources of light they were holding. Unity, coherence, the sense of inclusion and contribution were all achieved in a pure audiovisual form through collective creative practice.
Tractatus by Tibor Szemsö is a minimalist piece which references Ludwig Wittgenstein’s celebrated Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a work which has fascinated multiple artists. It was developed as an outcome of work on a series of audiovisual essays that used amateur Hungarian interwar film footage to explore multiple interconnections between language and image. A joint project of director Peter Forgacs and composer Tibor Szemso, it has won several awards at festivals worldwide (including at the WRO Biennale in 1993) and is now a recognized classic of found footage films that address the themes of representation. Tractatus, as played solo by Szemsö, is more than simply a piece of a film soundtrack. Autonomous of the film, it is an intimate meditation on the world and its image, expressed in the Wittgensteinian analytical spirit through the languages that were the philosopher’s own: English interwoven with the vernaculars of the former Austro-Hungarian nations. Szemsö reasserts and at the same time questions the logical structure of language by clashing the razor-sharp precision of Wittgenstein’s propositions with a soft, lullaby-like tune and an utterly subjective, riveting emotional emanation.
386DX Cyberpunk Rockband made its appearance as part of the i-club Residents project, the club program of the WRO Biennale, in 2001, when Alexiej Shulgin was already an acknowledged classic of net.art, i.e., the first wave of art projects which were discovering the Internet as a new artistic filed. In his work, Shlugin adopted a critical attitude both to the artistic potential of the worldwide web (net.art as a matter of fact surprisingly quickly reached its developmental limits) and to the progressing capitalist colonization of the Internet. The project of the one-person 386 DX Cyberpunk Rockband helped Shulgin wreak his festive, techno-pop-cultural revenge on culture industries. It also revealed him as a pioneer of digital recycling and a harbinger of the culture of “makers.” He used then-obsolete devices, such as the XT/AT computer with a 386DX intel processor and a 40 MZ clock, an EGA graphic card and a sound-blaster (an early soundcard), to construct an instrument which he advertised as a handy invention for street musicians of the 21st century. The thus-contrived computer made it possible to play rock covers, complete with the vocal based on speech synthesis. In concerts, the keyboard hanging on a strap like a guitar also served to activate live visual sequences, and above all enabled the artist to imitate the characteristic gestures of rock musicians. The 386DX Cyberpunk Rockband garnered global, albeit niche, renown, and audiences rushed to the WRO Biennale club to enthusiastically dance to the robotized covers of The Doors, The Rolling Stones, and Nirvana. The overall aesthetics of the event was strongly redolent of William Gibson’s cyberpunk novels and Philip K. Dick’s writings, in which visions of technology were driven by substances triggering altered states of consciousness, previously an attribute of counterculture and rock.
Weekend madness should be properly controlled and rationed; hence the documentation of a sea chantey concert by Kashanti, i.e., Karol Radziszewski, Ivo Nikić and Piotr Kopik. Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? However, their métier, which is located somewhere between an idea for a band and the first rehearsal and brings to mind the unpretentious indulgence of singing while showering or shaving, ultimately adulates the freedom of expression. In their crazy performance, which unfolds as if without any prior plan or preparations, the artists enact authenticity and spontaneity. Slightly romanticized but also banqueting songs that chanteys are were shamelessly re-cast into pieces lauding candor, energy, glamorous exoticism, and pure expression.
To end with, we take no prisoners. Fragments of a performance by Istvan Kantor, a legend of the experimental noise scene, is a high-pitched closure to the week, with Kantor perched on the barricade of civilization – a washing machine – and belting out his ravishing song as a revolutionary bard. Kantor’s artistic strategies powerfully come together in his performance in Wrocław’s Pokoyhof Passage in 2011. Intercepting the pop-cultural trappings of the Empire and the System and framed in an ostensibly militarist aesthetics, Kantor’s neoism is ultimately a radical protest against violence practices that crush authenticity and curb the freedom of expression. Kantor, a Canadian artist of Hungarian descent, grounds his resistance tactics on situationism combined with historical workers’ protests, the flapping standards carried by the people flocking to the barricades, unchangeable conflicts, and the fear that relentless technological development will take command of our everyday lives. Once again, singing, music, and the song become a site of art’s rebellion against and resistance to being apocalyptically subjugated to technology.
[Aleksandra Gołaj – percussion, various instruments;
Rafał Łuc, accordion, various instruments;
Jacek Sotomski – keyboards, various instruments]
recording of a concert
December 12, 2019
WRO Art Center
18th Media Art Biennale WRO 2019 CZYNNIK LUDZKI / HUMAN ASPECT
Jaron Lanier (US)
How Music Will Save the Soul of Technology: Virtual Reality as a Musical Instrument
recording of a concert
April 30 – May 4, 1997
Polish TV Studio in Wrocław
6th Media Art Biennale WRO 1997 Geo/Info-Territory
Brigitta Bödenauer (AT)
documentation of a workshop / audio performance
October 18, 2017
WRO Art Center