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by Leonora Oppenheim
on 20 June 2006

Ahhhh, summertime in Barcelona, can you feel the heat and the beats? Year-round this city's thumping to one rhythm or another, but summer months are a whole different story. For all the music festivals that descend on the town at this time of year, how anyone gets any sleep or does any work is a Catalan mystery. At its heart Barcelona is an electropolis and this weekend was the mother of all avant-garde electro music festivals, Sonar and the companion multimedia side show, Sonarama.


First up, a video installation on the ground floor by Swedish artist Lars Arrhenius "was born out of the artist’s interest in the universe that is animation, the capacity for synthesis of the pictograph and the possibility of employing these mediums to reflect the life that beats in the city." I particularly enjoyed the animation "Habitat" (left), which moved through a cross-section of an apartment block showing different household scenes. It’s wonderfully voyeuristic as these strangely simple, but expressive, figures go about their evening. With muffled sounds as voices, the tone and rhythm infer just enough to make up the dialogue in your head; the awkward disagreement at the dinner party, the couple having sex upstairs, the guy watching TV alone next door. The limited gestures made it all the more amusing. A small arm movement or bob of the head insightfully conveyed the humor of human emotions in a minimal format.


The next installation, the mind-boggling reacTable (left) "is an electronic multi-user musical instrument with a tabletop tangible user interface." Clear? No, I didn’t think so. Basically, players move shapes with different symbols on them across the table top. The reacTable reads the symbols, which connect to different synthesiser sounds and different speakers. You can play it like a multimedia instrument where color, movement, lines and sound are all connected—amazing stuff and totally unintelligible to non-electro-music geeks like me! But it is quite beautiful and mesmerizing to watch it working.


"After Kerouac" by the British artist Mike Nelson was at first nothing but a curved white wall, but following the curve, you realize you entered a spiral. Is this enclosed curving corridor with strange black streaks never-ending? Are you feeling claustrophobic yet? Or dizzy? We keep going round and round until suddenly…an old door with peeling paint and rusty hinges. What’s inside? A room full of old car tires! Ahh, now we know where those black marks come from. So strange, so unsettling. What does it mean? Kerouac equals cars, the open road, discovery? Well, it seems to be Kerouac inverted, no car and a spiralling path leading nowhere. As the blurb accurately describes, "In Mike Nelson’s work we feel this fear of being left alone with our questions and anxieties." For an installation at an electro music festival this was a very acoustic experience. I am sure the guard was entertained by the rhythm of our running footsteps and shrieks of nervousness as we ran around the spiral in an attempt to get out of there.

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