prefuse73blur

We’ve made it out to Siberia, the stretch of lower Hell’s Kitchen that seems to greet more visitors than locals, to the Baryshnikov Arts Center, a relatively new performance venue. The desolate streets bunched together by the cloverleaf of the Lincoln tunnel are lined with low tenements made into mushrooms by the roof parapets, surrounded on all sides by the crystal spires of their modern age siblings, the luxury high rises. Our destination is the Sonar Sound festival, an off-shoot of the annual multimedia, electronic festival that overtakes Barcelona every June. On approach, we could hear excited speech in Catalan and Southern Spain-accented Spanish as the groups entered the vertigo-inducing, (check out its lean, glass brick facade), theater space.

Tonight, the space holds a sampling of mostly Barcelona-area artists, a fusion of the pretty looking and the experimental sounding. The artists involved are international in their oeuvre and appearance, yet the term “experimental” can be safely dropped from the description as the title “artist” should should be sufficient. They were all pretty.

Our first stop on the six-story ascent is to the bar, where the beer choice of Estrella (brewed in Barcelona), is a welcome sight, known to any traveler who had spent a late night walking the Barcelona alleyways to find salesmen offering that or Tecate for under a euro to enhance the sultry, early morning air.

Prefuse 73In the main dance space, Prefuse 73 is already halfway through their set. This is my first time seeing them live, yet their tracks are always on reserve when I need some pick-me-up music, the kind that sways my thoughts and makes for a good dance at the same time. They’ve made us happy, as if they are three musketeers who have re-settled in Southern Spain, deciding to fight boredom of traditional beat structures instead of windmills. Their VJ’d backdrop features 1970′s water-skiers doing ski jumps in a reckless, striped onesie. The set is involved and slightly meandering, and as with other pieces experienced tonight, they are primarily proposed as a flavor for further investigation, not as the center piece.

The scheduling of this event lends itself much better for the two studio performers on the top floor than to the acts occupying the bigger spaces, and since every floor has overlapping activity, our investigations are mere samples of the Sonar Festival proper.

\"Good Bye Dragon Inn\" stillWe wander to the balcony of the expansive theater space where Fibla and Arbol, accompanied by a female violinist, plays a live, enigmatic, score to “Goodbye Dragon Inn” by the Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang. We only catch the last fifteen minutes of the meditative film, whose pause-filled scenes tell a story of a shuttering movie theater. The dusty, vast and empty film theater acts as a relic of the past, giving way to casual reinterpretations and mashups, and visually mimicks the setting where tonight’s audience sits entranced, or comes and goes from the slick, concrete performance space. The score is, of course, brooding, filled with violin solos rising above the grumbling. The etching of the electronic sounds emanates as if the violinist found herself in a slow-to-stop factory for knock-off watches.

After the credits, we aim again higher, to the top floor where two studio performances are taking place.

Metamembrana by Marcel.li AntunezOne room is the temporary abode of Marcel-li Antúnez and his complex, enfant terrible pieces known as “Metamembrana”, (though childlike and complex is perhaps a better way to describe them). We walk in amidst the finale, a Battle Royalle cartoon with warring avatars, whose animation reveals all the impishness of a sophisticated cartoonist, this is an Adult Swim show with Tim Burton dolls. Beyond the theme of kill or be killed until the last one is killed, Antúnez takes it a step further and invites one audience member at a time to scream into a birdhouse-like box, causing their face to be captured on screen as one of the characters doing the mutilations by knife, syringe, machete or very pointed, protruding breast. Seeing those around you caddishly fighting it out after their best interpretation of “scream into a birdhouse” provides the emotional color. It is an occasion of glee of recognition, underscored by sophisticated technology used for something we can all understand.

Marcel.li Antunez

Altúnez opens with a a would-be, simple video loop machine that reacts to touch pads covered with modern/ancient hieroglyphics. Here, his experience with visual design creates a Nam Paik-like experience. In fact, technology should not even garner a mention, as it is the seamless integration by the artist that makes the audience dance along with their primitive counterparts. (The primitive counterparts were actors and their rhythms were generally better than that of the audience, but we came without practice and we had only one take).

ReacTable The last visit is to the studio featuring ReacTable, in a room designed by one of the two perfomers Ikue Mori. Mori appears intense and wise, as if seated on a throne, (which was actually a metal fold-out chair at a computer desk), in the midst of gear-heads peering at her working at the laptop as if they were about to eat her. The centerpiece here is predictable, (hence, the name of the piece). A dj-type fellow stands at a round, blue-lit table, surrounded by a multitude of building blocks, each engraved with either ancient hieroglyphics, or perhaps in this case, representations of sound-engineering icons. When he places the building blocks on the table, each piece would react with the other, as either an origin of sound, a sign wave, a filter, an extender, a foot, a multiplier and so on. The interaction between the units is emphasized as the actor/dj carefully shuffles them around to the quiet glee of the audience, all waiting for what happens next. Since Mori never budges from her laptop, it was akin to experiencing a perpetuum-mobile exhibit: were the blocks there simply as objects and the actor/dj manipulating them just that, a hired hand in the world of sines.

However, since nothing tonight is actually being peddled, aside from a visit to Barcelona this June to see the full-fledged festival, and because, in general, artists are simply here to lie us into telling the truth to ourselves, we leave the questions up to experience.–Tim Nestor

Sonar’s arrival in New York is thanks to a collaboration with the Institut Ramon Llull, as part of the events entitled “Catalan Days: Music and Media from Catalonia and the Balearic Islands.”

 
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