Project Detail - AVL Cultural Foundation
11 - Bill Fontana
Sound artist Bill Fontana has been experimenting with technology and noise as a form of sculpture since the 1960s. Some of his works have crossed continents as he’s worked with radio waves, some have found permanent homes, such as the Sonic Mapping sculpture in the entrance hall of the MAXII Museum in Rome. All of them explore our relationship with sound, and the world around us. In particular his works play with the idea of making hidden sounds – the sounds that we overlook every day – both audible and visible. He even extends his experiments to sounds that cannot be heard by the human ear. A bell that does not ring. The sound of the sand in the desert.
He has travelled the world, working with sounds of the desert in Abu Dhabi for his 2014 sound experiment Desert Soundings, and visiting the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva for his 2013 Acoustic Time Travel work. And he has been exhibited in museums around the planet, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Cologne’s Museum Ludwig, London’s Tate Modern and Tate Britain museums, and the 48th Venice Biennale.
In 2015, as part of impuls –the International Ensemble and Composers Academy of Contemporary Music – the AVL Cultural Foundation invited Fontana to Graz to speak about his work. His lecture, Acoustical Visions and the Phenomenology of Sound, gave insight into his understanding of sound, his artistic sound experiments and a behind the scenes look into his latest projects. During his visit he took time to meet with AVL’s acoustic engineers, and learn what role sounds plays in the development of the motor vehicle, and the driver’s relationship with it.
Distil the essence of the AVL Cultural Foundation and you get art and science. And what could fulfil that description more than a musical group that combines traditional instruments with unique, digital, music-making devices?
Ivotion consists of the emotive guitar of Tom Huber, the delicate yet powerful voice of Ariane Roth, and the digital creations of Thomas Foster. Nyx, Tenori and Foster’s amazing cyber glove are the technologically exciting instruments which give an electronic twist to the music of Ivotion, setting them apart from other bands.
It seemed appropriate for the AVL Cultural Foundation to ask Ivotion to perform at a Helmut List Halle event in 2013. And when they appeared on stage, they added an extra digital dimension to the experience. Joined by video jockey Ma. K.as – part of Visualdrugstore – the Ivotion concert added cutting-edge digital projections to the show, completing an experience that truly married science and art.
Originally choreographed in 2005 by Darrel Toulon without music, ‘Winding’ is a tale of creativity and art, technology and human accomplishment. Performed on stage and in an AVL wind tunnel that can produce wind speeds of up to 120km/h, music by Gerhard Nierhaus and video installations by Herwig Baumgartner were added later to complete this revolutionary technology art performance, which was commissioned by AVL.
Illustrating the human struggle and the interaction of technology and emotion, the dancers pulled themselves along a rope against the force of the wind. This symbolic act represents themes such as success and perseverance and the endeavours of man through technology and mechanisation.
By employing videography and video projection, the performers are transformed into instrumental and technical elements of the overall performance. Like parts of a machine it poses questions about our relationship with technology – do we work with it, or are we part of it?
The Helmut List Halle was built around its acoustics. So it seemed apt that a performance of the electro-acoustic experience Poèmes Electroniques should take place in the Graz Venue.
Performed as an introduction to the Informal EU Council on Competitiveness conference in 2006, the innovative acoustic experience used samples of machines and instruments to make the most of the dynamic space within the Helmut List Halle. From sensual room acoustics to the sound of a diesel engine, and the alternating melodic patterns of an automatic piano, Poèmes Electroniques was an electro-acoustic concert that created an immersive soundscape that highlighted the musical possibilities of modern technology.
Mixing art and science, the suitably fitting Poèmes Electroniques also marked the close of the Conference on Space Safety.
In 2014, when an international team of multidisciplinary artists and technologists came together to collaborate for the second time, something wonderful took place. Combining different fields of science and art, including stage design, music, 3D computer graphics, lighting design and projection mapping art, the artists created an event that was an assault on the senses.
The Maplab three-day workshop, supported by the AVL Cultural Foundation, brought together experts, local artists and students studying for their masters degrees at the FH Joanneum university of applied sciences in Graz, Austria. Over three days, with the entire Helmut List Halle put at their disposal – including its technology and production team – they set about experimenting, planning, building, designing and creating. The result of this ongoing, ‘work-in-progress’ project was the Lenz Club Night – an evening that saw DJ’s in fancy dress performing in front of a three-dimensional projection wall that took its audience of dance music lovers on a journey through light and sound.
Since then the project has continued year after year, supported by the AVL Cultural Foundation, and with a different theme each time. Every year the results are exciting, dynamic, and groundbreaking.
His instruments are legendary. Even three hundred years after his death, Antonio Stradivari’s fascination with sound, design and experimentation continues to transfix musicians and audiences all over the world.
In 2009, The AVL Cultural Foundation created Encounter with Stradivari in collaboration with the Nippon Music Foundation and the Salzburg Easter Festival. Together they brought together a dozen of the world’s finest musicians to create a classical music concert performed on Stradivari’s original instruments.
The near-perfect sound of the Stradivari instruments was complimented by the near-perfect acoustics of the Helmut List Halle. This was a marriage of the Stradivari’s masterful 17th Century craftsmanship and the high-tech engineering of 21st Century architecture.
Ten Stradivari instruments were loaned by the Nippon Music Foundation for the event, along with Archinto, a viola created by Stradivari in 1696, and loaned by London’s Royal Academy of Music.
Following the event in Graz, the ensemble of musicians and instruments performed just one more time, at Florence’s Galleria dell’Academia. It is unlikely that such a collection of iconic instruments will ever again perform in such a flawless acoustic environment as the Helmut List Halle, so the audience savoured the magic of the event.
Researchers, scientists, engineers, artists and musicians all have similar traits. A clear vision, expertise and perseverance, accuracy, and a mastery of their craft. The AVL Cultural Foundation exists to celebrate these similarities, and in doing so promotes new artistic works that represent or echo these similarities between the arts and the sciences.
In 2007, the Graz, Austria, cultural scene was given the opportunity to see this philosophy at work even before the Foundation was born. Under the commanding leadership of conductor Valery Gergiev, the St. Petersburg-based Mariinsky Orchestra visited for a performance commemorating the 150th birthday of Russian composer Mikhail Iwanowitsch Glinka.
The evening opened to a performance of Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Ludmilla. The Mariinsky Orchestra concert was followed by a rendition of Dvorak’s cello concerto in B minor, accompanied by cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl. The evening was rounded off with Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony, bringing to an end of performance that sowed the seeds for more art and science-inspired performances and collaborations – ultimately leading to the birth of the AVL Cultural Foundation.
The AVL Cultural Foundation has a mission to bring science and art together, emphasizing the best of both worlds. It was with this in mind that the Helmut List Halle was built, employing cutting edge engineering techniques to create a venue with dynamic, adjustable acoustics, that could be altered to suit almost any type of performance. With such a marvel of architectural technology, it would be remiss not to make the most of it. So the AVL Cultural Foundation sought artists to exploit the acoustic prowess of this new venue.
Friedrich Kleinhapl is a celebrated Austro-Belgian cellist, considered among the best in the world by audiences and the international music press. Concentrating his energy and talent into his precise, innovative style results in captivated audiences and captivating sound. Who better to invite to the magical space of the Helmut List Halle?
Together with internationally acclaimed German pianist Andreas Woyke, Kleinhapl recorded a series of performances at the Graz concert hall. Initially the performances were conducted simply for the purpose of making the recordings. But in order to truly make the most of this marriage of captivating music and advanced acoustic engineering, audiences were invited to share the energy of the exuberance of the musicians performing in such a dynamic space. Five recordings were made: Brahms Sonatas and Songs (2005), Ludwig van Beethoven Sonaten (2008), Ludwig van Beethoven Sonaten II (2010), Pasión Tango (2014) and Felix Mendelssohn Sonatas & Songs (2015), so that music lovers could enjoy the experience wherever and whenever they wished.
The recordings reflect the impressive acoustic qualities of the venue, the audience response, and the mastery of two musicians performing at their best.
With the precision and versatility of a scientist, piano artist Markus Schirmer is able to delight audiences around the world with his renditions of Beethoven’s works. Bringing a pure, delicate touch to Beethoven’s vigorous compositions, Schirmer understands the emotional impact of sound when delivered with dramatic intent.
With the support of the AVL Cultural Foundation, between 2005 and 2011 Schirmer recorded three albums of the maestro’s work in the near-perfect acoustics of the Helmut List Halle. The Markus Schirmer albums, Pictures & Reflections, Beethoven Vol. 2 and Beethoven Vol. 3 stand testament to the high-resolution acoustic magnificence of the venue, the genius of the composer, and the pure play of Schirmer, which is demonstrated on all three albums.
In its 50th year the Graz, Austria, music festival musikprotokoll featured a number of extraordinary concerts. Performances from Ensemble PHACE and Studio Dan, the Quatuor Diotima and the ensemble zeitfluss formed part of the gripping line-up, which also featured musicians such as the UK’s Barry Guy.
The festival, which forms part of steirischer herbst, also saw Stefan Fraunberger and Andreas Trobollowitsch present the performative installation, SHAPE. This project had been created a decade earlier by musikprotokoll’s festival network, ICAS and was a suitably fitting homage to the festival’s history on this special year.
Another performance, the Crystal Sounds Lab by the AVL Cultural Foundation, bridged the gap between art, technology and science, by featuring at its heart Irvine 7. Employing crystals created by AVL’s scientists at its heart, New York music artist Andy Cavatorta and Munich-based musician and producer Tom Huber probed the contrast between analogue and digital spheres. The audience was able to witness the creative process in action, and got a rare insight into the genesis and further development on this experimental musical instrument.
Crossing disciplines and artforms, the steirischer herbst festival (Styrian Autumn) has something for everyone. Aesthetics meet theoretical and political discussion, classical music holds hands with modern, and art, performance, literature and architecture all get in on the moment – plus lots more.
When the Graz festival began in Austria more than fifty years ago, it was an initiative of the local arts scene. And then it grew bigger, year by year, and today has become a prestigious “festival of new art” showcasing a network of new artforms by artists from all across Middle and Eastern Europe.
The AVL Cultural Foundation has a special relationship with steiricheser herbst, and performances by many of the festival’s artists take place at the Helmut List Halle. In the past this has included works such as ‘When the Mountain Changed its Clothing’ by Keiner Goebbles (2012), ‘Cesena’ by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Björn Schmeizer (2011). All adding colour and delight to this multifaceted celebration of art and creativity.
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.”
AVLIFE was a 1995 event attended by almost 10,000 guests, both in person and via live streaming. The project was an art performance that sought to use technical know-how as a basis for artistic experimentation. Split across four acts that took their themes from technology, media and biology, act one amalgamated the cumulative emotions of the audience to create a ‘meta-person’ which then evaluated a car from this new collective human emotional perspective.
AVLIFE combined works by a variety of artists, including Richard Kriesche and Josef Klammer, to offer a new way of seeing the relationship between humans, technology and art. It used emotion and research data as inspiration for the creation of music, visual art and performance.