Moogfest 2016 Remembered

Moogfest 2016 brought artists, thinkers and musicians alike to Durham, NC last weekend, focusing all festival goers on its themes of “future thought” and “future sound.” Between avant-garde artists like Laurie Anderson and Oneohtrix Point Never and technological innovators ranging from IBM’s Watson team to notable future philosopher Jaron Lanier, Moogfest did not disappoint on either of its futuristic fronts. The event not only creatively previewed the future of music and technology, but molded the minds of so many boundary-pushing individuals to develop a weekend full of innovation and mind-boggling conceptions.

This convergence of the cutting edge demanded that audiences ask themselves, “What will the future look like?” As technology advances, how will we see this inexorable march forward reflected in art and in humanity itself? For an overwhelming number of the lecturers, performers and collaborators at Moogfest, the answer to these questions was interactivity. Interactivity between people, people and robots, people and cyborgs, people and social media, people and art… The list goes on.

Moogfest’s many installation exhibits this year prominently demonstrated this theme, allowing festival goers to interact with the music — manipulating elastic screens to remix Grimes’ “REALiTi,” getting hands on with both Moog and Critter & Guitari synthesizers and tossing around accelerometer-equipped beach balls to play music through playful physicality. These and many other installations, galleries and programming sessions allowed festival-goers and community members to not only see and hear experimental music at the festival, but to play a role in creating it themselves.

The PLAY-Beachball Synthesizer installation at Moogfest 2016 in Durham allowed audiences to play and interact physically with their music. Photo courtesy of Phillip Greene/CisternYard Radio.

The PLAY-Beachball Synthesizer installation at Moogfest 2016 in Durham allowed audiences to play and interact physically with their music. Photo courtesy of Phillip Greene/CisternYard Radio.

For Neil Harbisson, a cyborg with a sonochromatic antenna implanted into his head, creative interactivity is literally hardwired into his brain. Using a Bluetooth internet connection in his antenna, people sent him colors in his sleep, directly tapping into and communicating with Harbisson’s senses and bypassing all physical limitations to communication. Harbisson and cyborg rights activist/art collaborator Pau Riba believe that allowing individuals to directly interact not only with technological hardware, but with the very thoughts and whims of other people, through the opportunities presented by cyborg technology is the next step forward for humanity as a species.

Musicians performing at the festival likewise focused on interactivity within their art. From the seismically loud and visceral performance of Sunn O))) to Dev Hynes’ urges to the crowd to dance along with songs from his band Blood Orange, interactivity within the performance, the music and the creative space as a whole was a trend amongst the artists. In their joint “Masterclass” interview and Q&A session, electronic musicians Ben Frost and Tim Hecker described how the use of massive amounts of fog and elaborate light shows during their performances minimizes the role of the performer in the musical experience, allowing audiences to more directly interact and associate with the art.

While discussing the high volumes his live performance demands, Frost stated that “music is about physicality,” or engaging the listeners and allowing them to interact with the music on auditory, psychological and physical levels. Hecker holds similar beliefs regarding the “operatic constructs” that his performance entails, using musical aspects of “intentional nonlinearity” as well as a live show that many reviewers describe as frightening or overwhelming to force audiences to more deeply consider and interact with his goals as an artist. In his own words, this goal is “to try to make something that’s pleasant and not pleasant,” a fittingly interpretive goal for an artist on the cutting edge who demands deep consideration from the audience.

Flagship performer and speaker Laurie Anderson best encapsulates the idea of this interactivity. Anderson’s work over the past several decades focuses on immersing people into art through public performances such as her early “Duets on Ice” series, physical contact with her artwork such as the handphone table or through forcing the viewer to be “overwhelmed by sound” in her 2015 immersive project Habeas Corpus. In her headlining lecture and interview, Anderson stated that her goal as an artist is to tell stories objectively and let viewers judge on their own. By immersing individuals into a creative space, story, work of art or a symphony, she allows viewers to interact with the narrative and apply their own opinions or morality to their physical and mental experiences.

The future, as Moogfest makes it out to be, is a place of deep interconnectivity, personalization and interaction the evolving tech world. Technology is often seen as an isolating force, keeping people inside with their face to a screen, absorbed in their own personal bubble. Moogfest imagines a world beyond the screen, where technology is both within us and all around us. As new innovations come forward, people will be more willing and more able to connect with their peers and their art, bringing them together through interactivity in future sound and future thought.

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