The Irvine project perfectly reflects the mission of the AVL Cultural Foundation: that true innovation can neither be just about art or technology, but is the result of dialogue between the two.

Together with Andy Cavatorta, a New York-based sculptor working with sound and robotics, the AVL Cultural Foundation began an ambitious adventure into the world of experimentation and research. Part of this experiment was an intense dialogue and exchange between the artist and AVL scientists.

Why? Because at the heart of this project are gallium phosphate crystals:

Thirty years ago, the gallium phosphate crystal was developed by former AVL physicist, P.W. Krempl and his team. Piezocryst, a subsidiary company of AVL, is the only enterprise worldwide that produces these high-precision quartz-like crystals, which are used in high-performance sensors that require intense internal resistance capabilities. This near-perfect sensor behavior is unique in the world and is an essential component in measurement technology, particularly in aircraft turbines.

Cavatorta’s vision was to create a new type of electronic musical instrument featuring at its heart the gallium phosphate crystal. Months of experimentation with his team in his Brooklyn laboratory led to various prototypes and an exploration of, as Cavatorta expresses it, “the dark forest of possibilities” that is key to any innovative process. With musician and producer Tom Huber (Novosonic), as well as his team of musicians and artists, Cavatorta developed Irvine to create a new musical language. To accompany Irvine’s unqieu sound spectrum, a computer program developed by the technology experts at SCOOP & SPOON to add a unique visual element to the experience, in order to further the level of audience-engagement to the instrument.

For Cavatorta, Irvine is part of a re-imagined history of electronic music. And he started the process from the question “If electronic instruments found a home in the symphony orchestra in the early 20th Century, how would they have evolved differently and what would we demand of them?“

Discovering unexplored musical dimensions and spectrums of sound, a new auditory world of creative opportunity began to open up before the artists. Irvine is intended to be played as expressively as a singer sings, with continuous and discrete expression of pitch, dynamics, and timbre. Irvine 7 – the seventh prototype of the instrument – was finally introduced to the world at its premiere in the “Crystal Sounds Lab” within the steirische herbst festival at the Helmut List Halle in October 2017.

Even if technology and scientific inventions play key role in the instrument, Irvine, however, is nothing without the musician. Putting the human center-stage allows the personality of the musician to shine. As Cavatorta explains, “It is not the instrument that makes the music, the musician does.”

Front Row Seat
A video series for AVL Cultural Foundation’s artists and contributors

The pandemic has shown how abruptly a filled cultural calender can yawn with emptiness. The year 2020 has brought great challenges to everything, especially to the art and cultural life. But it has also shown us that art is inventive and in those times of temporary standstill of the cultural and art scene worldwide, many artists switched their activities online. New and different ways of experiencing art began to emerge and are still evolving to this day, demonstrating that during these times – more than ever – art is fundamental in upholding the human spirit in times of crisis. It has also been shown that isolation can be artistically productive: Focusing inward, on what is essential, and then engaging creatively with people.

In May 2020, the AVL Cultural Foundation therefore launched a new video series to offer artists and their activities another channel of communication in times of cultural stagnation and to continue to enable collaboration during this period. The main purpose of this was to address the changes and challenges imposed on artists' working lives by the pandemic and to put them in a new and unusual spotlight. FRONT ROW SEAT participants included composer Rupert Huber, sound artist Bill Fontana, vocal ensemble Cantando Admont, and filmmaker and photojournalist Hazel Thompson.

Watch our FRONT ROW SEAT videos here.

In a short video clip, participants had the opportunity to show their perspective and artistic work or processes. The video series also aimed to highlight unique ideas to demonstrate the power of creative and artistic work, show the sources of inspiration for individual artists, and provide a behind-the-scenes look at artists' creations.

Due to the restrictions and security measures prevailing at the time, the artists simultaneously became the "composers" of the content and images of their video. Self-made video recordings via cell phone or tablet found their completion in a professional post-production with the film production company HENX, in close coordination with the artist.

In addition to individual artists, the series also presents opinions and perspectives of organizers and artistic directors of major festivals on the pandemic situation, highlighting challenges in the cultural sector and new visions that are emerging in the current period.

Graz x Osaka
The discovery of an ancient Japanese screen triggered a cultural exchange between Japan and Austria

During the renovations of the Eggenberg Palace in Graz, Austria, a sensational find was uncovered. What were thought to be paper wall hangings in the palace’s beautifully ornate Japanese Room were, in fact, panels from an incredibly rare Japanese folding screen. The Osaka-zu byobu found its way to the Austrian palace in the 17th century, and depicts the golden era of Osaka’s opulent palace complex, including scenes from everyday life in the Japanese city.

Inspired by this find, and the previously unknown connection between the two cities in Austria and Japan, the AVL Cultural Foundation gave it’s support to a new cultural exchange between the two countries. Two young composers, Christof Ressi (Austria) and Yuki Sugimoto (Japan) were asked to create new compositions for two traditional instruments – the dulcimer and the shamisen inspired by the Osaka-zu byobu.

With support from soloists Hemma Pleschberger on the dulcimer and Seiyu Tsurusawa on the shamisen, and backed up by 24 string musicians chosen from a variety of exceptional European orchestras, conductor Jon Svinghammar led performances in Graz and Osaka. Audiences were delighted as the two instruments, which rarely play such a lead role in the orchestra, took centre stage in the performances of the outstanding new classical masterpieces.