“All these people deserve to be headliners,” says curator Tammy McGrath of the local and international artists taking part in this year’s Soundasaurus Multimedia Sound Arts Festival. The artists are coming from places as far-flung as Britain and Mexico and their work plays with everything from crystal bowls to the human voice to a cornucopia of electronics.
But, first things first: what is sound art? The answer is pretty broad — sound art explores sound in all its forms, not just melodies and harmonies, and frequently interacts with visual media such as animation and videography. Taking into consideration the colossal circumference of the “sound and multimedia art” umbrella, every night of the festival features three or four works and provides a diverse palette. McGrath says festival organizers strived to include a variety of sound approaches: “No matter which evening you come, you’re getting a really beautiful overview of what sound art can be.”
For a contemporary art form, sound art is not as avant-garde as you might think. “Sound art has existed in Calgary for years,” says McGrath. “The artists here have a really strong community; there’s lots of support for sound art in Calgary.” She also points out that the work of some popular artists, such as Björk, are starting to embrace the sound art genre.
It may be gaining wider appeal in Calgary, too, as Soundasaurus builds momentum. Operating as part of the High Performance Rodeo for the past two years, Soundasaurus takes its third kick at the can this year as an independent festival (albeit still symbiotically overlapping with the wide-ranging Rodeo). Always ambitious, its next iteration is scheduled for November — a scant nine months away.
“It’s totally nuts,” admits McGrath, “but it’s exciting at the same time because that means the energy just keeps going.”
Engineered Air Theatre
7:30 p.m., Thursday, January 19
It comes in a CD jewel-case, but instead of taking out a CD, you plug an earphone jack into the music-generating circuit that is Tristram Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony. The live piece, which includes video, explores traditional musical forms with 1-bit sonic materials — sure to appeal to music buffs and tech-heads alike. The evening will also highlight a vocal collage by Lindsay Brandon (a.k.a. Information Agent), whose live performance overlaps recorded loops. Plus, filmmaker Kyle Armstrong and sound artist Mark Templeton team up to perform a tribute of sorts to Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who would have been 101 in 2012.
Engineered Air Theatre
7:30 p.m., Friday, January 20
British duo Sculpture peg their work on something old and something new. They’ve reinvented a classic animation tool called the zoetropic disc (turntables that show moving characters when spun) for Reuben Sutherland’s visuals, and Dan Hayhurst creates sound with everything from analogue noise to high-tech computer sequencing.
You’ll also find an environmental cause turned sound art: the arb institute has been modifying barbed-wire fences to create safe migratory routes for pronghorn antelope, and have combined audio and images inspired by this project into a performance that explores migration and man-made barriers.
Hobophobes + SMOTH hit a darker note, recycling images from B-horror movies and medical surgery videos while performing sound on electronic devices and guitar. Finally, Octopus Vulgaris will truly be unique, as they custom-build all of their own instruments, including a theremin-like device controlled by movement instead of touch.
Sonic Garden II
Engineered Air Theatre
7:30 p.m., Saturday, January 21
If you’re looking for a more serene, meditative experience, this is the night to go. Jasmin Poon will fill your ears with a rich ringing sound from nine quartz bowls, while Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse provide complementary visuals.
The evening will also please sound art enthusiasts with the well-travelled Scant Intone, a digital sound piece by Constantine Katsiris that explores experiments in modern audio. ARRAY, on the other hand, embraces not only some traditional instruments, such as guitar, but also classical forms like the rondo or sarabande.
Until January 26
Shawn Dicey has been toiling in public since January 5, creating one three-minute video every two days. Drop by during the day and you should find him hard at work mixing his audio, or sculpting animation. By January 26, he’ll have a full 30-minute film to display as the fruit of his labour.
Plus-15, Epcor Centre
Until August 29
Ellen Moffat and Jeff Morton’s sound installation Seasonal Waves is a perfect place to start if you’re considering dipping your toe into the festival. Stroll through the Plus-15 near the Theatre Calgary offices in the Epcor Centre, and you’ll hear abstract sonic depictions of the four seasons. Each speaker plays a different sound, and the entire piece was designed specifically for the space.