Art of Noises V(irtual) festival: 23rd - 27th November 2020


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Oxford University’s EMPRES Collective and Modern Art Oxford once more join forces to present a series of innovative performances and installations that explore the boundaries between music, art and technology.

This time they are joined by celebrated performance artist and researcher Atau Tanaka; film-makers Henrietta Williams and Merijn Royyards; and finalists of the EMPRES Prize 2020 – a call-for-works ran during the first 2020 lockdown focusing on Collaboration, Collectivity and the Digital Arts.

Individual events will be streamed nightly on YouTube through the week, all starting at 7:30pm. Full programme below and on the right. Subscribe to our channel to avoid missing out.

Monday 23 November, 7.30pm | EMPRES AWARD 2020 Finalist: Alice Hackney, Ananda Kupfer, Sarah Catterall and Sophia Hambleton-Grey – MIXER//SHREDDER

MIXER//SHREDDER is an ongoing sound art piece that mimics the parasitic nature of a virus as it passes through a sequence of willing hosts.

Born in the early weeks of COVID-19 isolation, a group of first year students at The Ruskin School of Art laid out some simple instructions. Participants were to: 1) select four images, 2) organise them into a sequence, 3) send this sequence to the next host in the chain via email, and 4) upon receiving the images, modify them using any digital tools available (e.g. Photoshop).

As the group met over video call, they became aware of the intermittent sounds of households and noisy electronic devices echoing across the digital space, which led them to focus on a new medium: sound. Facing a second lockdown, the group revisits MIXER//SHREDDER, delving into film and continually infecting new mediums.



Tuesday 24 November, 7.30pm | EMPRES AWARD 2020 Winner (Experimental Electronic Music): SALINGER and Xactus: fission 

fission [versions 1.1-4.2] (2020—ongoing) is an online collaboration between SALINGER (Jonathan Packham) and Xactus (Alex Saad). 

Due to the pandemic, Packham and Saad have had to move their in-person collaborative practice online. Rather than aiming to replicate real-life studio sessions through digital technologies, fission aims to explore the sonic implications of a more unconventional approach.

Starting with a 100 second audio file (fission 1.1.wav), produced by Saad and sent to Packham, the file was cut, altered, added to by Packham, before being sent back again. This new version was subject to the same process again, with new elements, alterations, and additions radically reconstituting the track with each successive iteration. Crucially, with each new version editing individual layers of the previous iteration becomes impossible. fission is the multi-layered product of their collaborative work.



Wednesday 25 November | EMPRES AWARD 2020 Winner (Sound Art): Piers Kennedy and Rowan Ireland: Crescid: a new audiovisual work after Phumblism (SCPTTHCNTRY)

This new improvisational work Crescid explores the concept of collaboration in the current moment. Melding found sounds with spoken word, the piece attempts to uncover and provoke necessary questions that we need to ask ourselves within this new normal: What are we? Who are we? How can we stay safe?

Written and recorded in lockdown, Crescid offers a vision of the new normal – where virtual collectivity can enable creativity. Crescid invites a collaborative response to the challenge.



Thursday 26 November | Film Screening: 2020: State of Exception – a film by Merijn Royaards & Henrietta Williams. Convened by Professor Gascia Ouzounian 

On 23rd March Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a Covid-19 lockdown across the UK. At once, London became a city with no people - a ruin in reverse - heavily policed and surveilled. Against the backdrop of this empty chaos, the government rushed through the Coronavirus Act 2020, a bill that introduced emergency powers – a radical suspension of the basic rights of the citizen, including the right to protest. After almost 100 days of lockdown the Black Lives Matter protests erupted onto the streets, an outpouring of humanity, solidarity, and emotion, banned by the Home Secretary. The surveillant gaze of the police helicopter logged all of this, the empty and the full.

2020: State of Exception charts a journey through the dystopic landscape of lockdown London and proposes a new form of engagement with the online audience.

Central to the work is a figure portrayed through the machine vision of a thermal imaging camera, similar to those used aboard the police helicopter. The heat of our bodies is now a key indicator of viral infection, the surveillant gaze inextricably bound to the heat sensor. A woman glows white with the warmth of her body, trapped within her domestic environment, she issues a set of instructions to encourage the viewer to join with others, across digital space.

Are you here with me? Press your hand to a window, feel the cold of the glass against your warm hand.

This is not passive, but active viewing, the audience experience together apart. The instructions connect the viewer’s sense of their own corporeality to the landscape of documentary footage portraying a city in lockdown, and as it emerges in protest in the final moments. Masked faces. Warm bodies moving together.

A hyper-real sonic landscape intensifies the effect and should be listened to with headphones. The birdsong of a never-ending Sunday morning echoes through deserted streets, but the continuous waves of distant sirens and the incessant drone of circling helicopters tell a different story of curtailed freedoms and watchful eyes. This din of police helicopters has been sampled, de-constructed and reconstructed. The resulting output envelopes the audience in the defining sounds of London’s lockdown.

This surge in surveillance and blocking of protest is Giorgio Agamben’s state of exception in action, a moment of transmissible fear that allows governments to argue for a radical suspension of basic rights of the citizen. As the helicopters thrum, and we see each other’s bodies as the threat, we need to feel concern and to remember this moment. Let us fight against the state of exception becoming the rule.



Friday 27 November | Atau Tanaka: Body as Instrument – Lecture and Performance. Convened by Professor Eric Clarke

A 30 minute talk will be followed by a 30 minute performance of three short pieces for muscle-music interface, Le Loup, Lifting, and Myogram.

The talk will consider the human body as a musical instrument. It will look at the use of physiological signals as a way to capture the gestural intention and effort of a performer. How does the notion of “instrument” contrast with the concept of “tool”, predominant in our technoculture? Through an extended vision of musical instruments, can biosignals to represent a virtual instrument, or perhaps even turn a performer into an instrument?


Performer biographies

Atau Tanaka
Atau Tanaka is Professor of Media Computing at Goldsmiths University and is a composer and performer of live computer music. He uses muscle sensing technology and EMG signal in musical performance where the human body becomes musical instrument. He will present a performance and talk entitled Body as Instrument, convened by the music faculty’s Prof. Eric Clarke.

Henrietta Williams and Merijn Royyards
Henrietta Williams and Merijn Royyards will screen and discuss their latest work 2020: State of Exception – a short film charting the dystopian landscape of lockdown London. Prof. Gascia Ouzounian will host a post-screening discussion. 
Merijn Royaards is an artist-researcher guided by convoluted movements through music, art and architecture. The interaction between space and sound in cities with a history/present of conflict has been a recurring theme in his multi-media work. His recently awarded doctoral thesis explores the state-altering effects of sound, space and movement from the Russian Avant-Garde to today’s clubs and raves.

Henrietta Williams is an artist and urban researcher. Her practice explores urbanist theories; particularly considering ideas around fortress urbanism, security, and surveillance. Henrietta is currently based at the Bartlett, UCL, where she is a tutor across a number of programs specialising in using film making as a research methodology. Her projects have been widely exhibited and published in the UK and internationally, most notably at the V&A Museum in London and on the front page of The Guardian.

EMPRES award finalists
EMPRES award finalists include Piers Kennedy and Rowan Ireland with their new audio visual work CRESCID (finalist of the Sound Art category); SALINGER and Xactus with their iterative composition fission (finalist of the Experimental Electronic Music category); and Ruskin school of Art collective, MIXER//SHREDDER with their visual and sound art processual production.