Sónar 2010:
(Back to) the Robots

Milica Paranosic
January 25, 2011

When Sónar began its journey in 1994, robotics had started gradually to filter through from scientific environments to artistic spaces, and artists including Bill Vorn and JL Demers in the international arena, and Marcel·lí Antúnez in Spain, came to SonarMàtica to display their projects. During that decade, the cutting edge of technology shifted from robotics to computer technology, from the prosthesis to the Internet, and the future soon came to be seen in terms of its relational context rather than in instrumental-mechanical terms. Moving into the twenty-first century, the socialisation of digital tools and the spread of creative co-operatives has made new generations of artists once again turn their attention towards robotics as the recurring backdrop for their investigations.

In June 2010, Milica Paranosic traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to attend the Sónar Festival. She writes:

The title itself, the "back to" part, the notion of making a circle of exploration only to come back to point A, but a bit smarter, all fine-tuned how I myself felt about the use of the technology today. For years (has it been decades already?), I have been continuously seduced by technology. The new. The exciting. The unknown. The edgy. The elite. The sexy. The "of the future". Future defining.

Until recently. When it became clear to me that we have arrived at the point where technology is so ubiquitous, so all-around us, so ever-present, so incorporated, that it finally had become less self-important, and more only as good as the result it helped create. As it should be.

The more concerts I heard, the more I was pleased to find out about what I think might be the forming of a new trend. Tasteful, somewhat minimal use of electronics. No flashy "look what my new gadget can do" kind of show off. Organic, somewhat raw, unaltered, unprocessed or minimally processed, un-madeup sound of either acoustic or electronic nature made a huge comeback and found its place in a majority of music features.


Loud Objects, US, Sonar Hall June 17. Photo: Milica Paranosic.

A live performance of simple and yes, loud sounds generated by electrical circuits and then amplified, untreated by computers or other sound processors.

Speech Debelle (UK), Sonar Village June 17. Photo: Milica Paranosic.

This vocalist, a winner of the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2009 was accompanied by mostly acoustic sounds of a guitar, stand-up bass and live drums and a minimal backing track. The result is a fresh, quasi hip hop sound, which we have come to expect to be as much about the production as about the vocals, with focus on text, vocal and live performance strength.

Tristan Perich & BCN216 (US/ES), Sonar Village June 17. Photo: Milica Paranosic.

Active Field, a piece for 10 violins (a local instrumental group BCN216),10 channels and a 1-bit circuit The violin orchestra played over minimalistic, repetitive tape part with the focus on solid, well balanced sound as the main production element. Each music stand had a bare, out-of-box speaker hanging on them, facing stage-center in addition to main house speakers. A brilliant idea, perhaps well known to others but a "bingo" moment for me.

Two days at Sónar — a lot of offerings, something for everyone, which I think is the strength of Sónar. This year, like two years ago, I was looking for a theme. What is it about? Well, it's a fair around music. People come to Sónar for all sorts of reasons. To tan. To drink. To get high. To flirt. To socialize. To meet people. To dance. To hear music.

And, after all, Barcelona is beautiful in June.