Front Row Seat with Bill Fontana: A sound pioneer presents a new project in Graz - Front Row Seat with Bill Fontana: A sound pioneer presents a new project in Graz - AVL Cultural Foundation
Front Row Seat with Bill Fontana: A sound pioneer presents a new project in Graz
With Bill Fontana, the cultural scene in Graz has gained a valuable co-creator this year even despite the corona-related cultural standstill. In Front Row Seat, Fontana talks to us about his “Prime Energies” exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz, with which he primarily wants to draw attention to the aesthetic and visual uniqueness of renewable energies. Not only the exhibition is the focus of his interview: Fontana tells a lot about his exciting professional career and the diverse experiences he was able to collect as a sound artist worldwide.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The road to freedom is a rocky one that stretches far behind us, and continues a long way into the future. And the path is littered with milestones of all kinds, many taking the form of cultural shifts, others are more tangible such as moments in time, and legendary speeches.
This project by Thomas Höft put the words of some of mankind’s most memorable speeches in the quest for equality, to the music of the time they were spoken. The result is a classical music concert project that documents the history of freedom, using the undulating landscape of changing musical culture as the background, performed as part of the styriarte festival.
With words from the 1776 Declaration of Independence, from the 1863 Gettysburg Address, from Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s landmark 1963 I Have a Dream speech, and two speeches by President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2016, the project chose iconic statements of mankind’s ‘inalienable right’ to freedom.
The concert consisted of words read on stage by leading Austrian actor Karl Marcovics and performed by opera singers, accompanied by classic musical works by the likes of George Gerswhin and Elliot Carter, played live by string and wind musicians. I Have a Dream combined the concepts of culture, politics, progress and freedom to create an auditory exploration of some of most important moments in the history of human rights.
Before he committed his life to music, Bernard Thomas studied law. After his studies were complete his career took a turn, and he became a disciple of the legendary conductors Igor Markevitch, Eugène Bigot and Jean Fournet. The Frenchman then went on to become a world renowned conductor himself, travelling the globe to conduct orchestras in countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Jordan, Germany and Italy.
In 2008, at the invitation of the AVL Cultural Foundation, Thomas travelled to Graz, Austria, where he created a program that drew parallels between the work of conductors and business managers. This insightful presentation of music an ideas, illustrated how a conductor works with each instrument and performer in the orchestra, bringing them together harmoniously to create a musical performance. The culmination of the program was a concert performed by the Styriarte Recreation Orchestra at the Helmut List Halle, conducted by Thomas himself.
Each year AIMS, the American Institute of Musical Studies, brings students from cities around America and elsewhere in the world to join their Austrian counterparts in Graz, Austria. The classical music academy is an opportunity for learning, collaboration and performance, and over six weeks the students and their tutors work together to polish their skills, create new musical works, and perform them in more than 30 musical events throughout the city.
Bringing professional, established musicians from across the globe, to teach their young protégés and introduce them to a life in the professional music scene gives the students the opportunity to spread their musical wings. With the support of the AVL Cultural Foundation, AIMS promotes the work and careers of the young artists, and as a result, enlivens the entire classical music scene.
The highlight of the AIMS summer academy is the annual Meistersinger Konzert, which takes place at the Helmut List Halle. Eight finalists and two alternates get to perform their favourite works, and an international jury awards prizes for the best performances. The biggest prize, however, is the experience they gain during the six weeks of personal and musical progression during this international cultural exchange.
Can the sound of an engine be music? Experts from AVL’s department of Vehicle and Powertrain Acoustics already appreciate the emotional importance of a vehicle’s sound, and how sounds can be used to create a sense of comfort and security, and increase a sense of quality and performance. But can a car be a musical instrument? AVL asked musician and media artist Josef Klammer to find out.
Commissioned to coincide with the AVL Sound Engineering Conference in 1999, and with the help of Dr. Franz Brandl and Dr. Martin Pflüger from AVL’s acoustic department, Klammer set about sampling automotive sounds to create a new musical composition.
Engine sound, type of vehicle and engine, all affect pitch, rhythm and timbre, creating a sound palette from which Klammer was able to construct Kitsuka. Additional noises such as windshield wipers, indicators, and car doors closing added percussion and a whole host of new musical elements to the musical composition, which was performed to engineers at the conference. New harmonies and melodious arrangements combined to create a symphony that puts a new perspective on our relationship with the automobile.
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.