Freedom of Sound

15 November 2022

Journeys to far-off lands, some of them imaginary, where we can feel uneasy – or, quite the opposite, right at home…

Audio Art Festival 2022

By Bartosz Suchecki

In spite of having long come of age, audio art remains a youthful, lively discipline. The genre started developing rapidly in the 1970s, when artists were driven by the need to step outside concert halls and hand over agency into the hands (and ears!) of their audiences, allowing them to commune with music in all its forms and stages and to influence it – as is the case with sound installations. Over time, audio art started permeating the world of contemporary music; today, state-of-the-art technologies mean it is heading towards being fully interactive.

There are many directions of growth, so it is difficult for the Audio Art festival in Kraków to provide a concise summary. The 30th anniversary edition retains its review format, resounding at the Krzysztof Penderecki Academy of Music, Cricoteka and Hevre in late autumn. Each element of the international programme – concerts, performances, installations – transports the audience to a brand new microworld.

In separation

To start with, let’s remind ourselves that it’s impossible to describe the digital art world with a few simple slogans. Academics have been discussing the differences between audio art and sound art as well as examining the relationships between multimedia and intermedia for many years, and their proposed definitions overlap or are largely inconsistent. Many artworks are created at the boundaries of different genres and resist any attempts at being pigeonholed. Of course they can gain in value when examined from different perspective, but – more importantly – they can inspire interest without requiring the audience to have an encyclopaedic understanding. “Personally, I try to limit the descriptions of projects in the festival programme and other events I organise. My educational activities, which focus on contemporary art, tend to avoid strict classifications and assigning music to a single given genre, field or current,” says Prof. Marek Chołoniewski, founder of the festival, director of the Electroacoustic Music Studio at the Academy of Music and the Audiosphere Studio at the Faculty of Intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.

The Audio Art festival does not limit itself to digital arts – it also showcases analogue, hybrid and low-tech streams as well as home-made instruments. The focus of the event’s attention remains sound with its properties, its place in our lives and how it affects how we perceive reality. Some activities are similar in format to traditional concerts, while others approach conceptual art; the latter include diploma works by students at the Faculty of Intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków presented during the exhibition. “They are highly ‘alternative’ in the intermedia dimension: they entail elements of digital art, video and performance,” explains Chołoniewski. “The trick is that on one hand they are extremely loose in the formal sense, but on the other they are personal and ‘separate’ in terms of the materials and techniques used.”

Darkness is where the heart is

Let’s introduce some of the projects to explain what makes the festival fresh and enduring at the same time. One of the elements of this year’s programme will be the joint project by the audiovisual artist Aleksandra Chciuk and the composer and violinist Kuba Krzewiński. Inspired by a night-time walk on the coast, Black of Granule is an invitation to a world of complete darkness. In an isolated room, every 20 minutes your only companions are the two artists and sound, and the “concert” is different every time. “We have something of a composition and dramaturgy axis, which gives us a lot of space for improvisation. During our performances at the Musica Privata festival in Łódź, the dramaturgy led us in different directions – sometimes idyllic, other times more intense, always depending on the audience’s energy,” explains Kuba Krzewiński. It is an experience involving many unknown on both sides. “Some participants told us that they briefly found themselves in a world they would like to inhabit – in an environment where they felt lucid. It was something completely new, and people entered this darkness as though it was their home,” adds Aleksandra Chciuk. She herself admits that this unusual setting initially made her feel as though she was standing side by side with herself.

The forest isn’t all it seems

The natural world has also served as inspiration for the Spanish artist Pablo Sanz whose project entangled explores jungle soundscapes recorded during his two-month visit to the Amazon rainforest. The recording features insects, birds, amphibians and reptiles as well as fish, plants and water. “Paradoxically, in the forest scarcely any of the many sounds we hear come from visible sources,” explains the artist. “The dense and apparently immobile mass of vegetation remains visually impenetrable while sounds from unseen sources emerge all around, above and even below.” Sanz is an artist, composer and academic, and he takes a serious approach to listening as a creative activity – even as an act of political protest – and he sees recording as a creative process in and of itself. He questions our understanding of ecology and nature which indicates our surroundings as something “separate” from humankind and culture. The installation serves as a starting point for exploration with the aim of changing our perceptions, our habits and behaviours.

Under the surface

The project Krasis explores the concept of an invisible thread binding together all living creatures. The Ancient Greek word, meaning “mixing” or “blending”, was originally used by the Italian philosopher Emanuele Coccia, followed by his readers: composer Annabelle Playe and visual artist Alexandra Radulescu. The final structure of the performance, comprising music and 3D visualisations, is the outcome of many hours of hard work, discussions, writing and composing. “We don’t tend to talk about the process too much – we just let people have their own experience of Krasis,” says Radulescu, adding that for both artists the most important element is to maintain the energy of a live performance on stage. “We have chosen points at which we kind of meet, but we don’t believe it would be interesting to synchronise completely.”

The organisers of Audio Art follow a similar philosophy by laying the grounds for meetings with many artists, including Gert-Jan Prins, Miłosz Łuczyński and Teenage God, ensuring that each can present their own point of view. Traditionally, festival events will be streamed online, but grab a chance to experience them in person or listen to lectures planned for the event. Free entry, minds open!

Photo: GrupLab (Mateusz Bednarz, Marek Chołoniewski, Elio Greggio, Artur Lis, Marcel Windys, Justin Grize, Francesco Altilio, Mirjana Nardelli, Katarina Gryvul, Miroslaw Trofymuk, Maryana Klochko, Erwin Jeneralczyk, Margarida Sampaio, William Lamkin, Filip Kovalcsk) / courtesy of the collective

The article published in the 3/2022 issue of “Kraków Culture” quarterly.



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