8 reasons to go to SónaR FESTIVAL 2023
Get a glimpse of the future of AI in Barcelona
As the world reels from the advancement of AI, this June will see Sónar Festival’s Sónar+D programme explore its impact on the arts
Every year, Sónar+D forms a key part of the stamina-pushing Sónar Festival, one of the world’s biggest and most forward-thinking dance music events. This summer, the festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary in Barcelona. It’s ‘headliner’? AI itself.
If you have ever wondered what the D stands for, it all becomes clear when you look at it like this…
While festival-goers rave outside its lab space acts as a research and development node between the innovation, creative and technology communities.
Since 2013, this anti-disciplinary part of Sónar Festival has brought together a carefully-curated programme of leading artists, technologists, creative people, musicians, designers, thinkers, scientists, entrepreneurs, makers and hackers. Now, add AI into the mix.
The theme for this year centres on Artificial Intelligence – looking at the cultural, ethical, economic and industrial implications of AI and the new creative tools linked to it. As well as Aphex Twin collaborator Weirdcore, DJ/future-thinker Elijah, Max Cooper, Eric Prydz and all the music stuff, this year will see talks and masterclasses focus on how AI is affecting the creative industries, as well as how artists are responding to the climate emergency.
From a boundary-pushing generative AI art collective and a fungal-network loving musician to a robot ethics expert and cosmic Afrofuturist, here are my top picks of this year’s fest that prove technology can be warm, joyous – and good.
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1. Universal Everything
AV Talk: Joel Gethin Lewis on playful, subversive design
Scratch everything you thought about generative art not being joyous or caring. Universal Everything are here to embrace the latest technology and tools, “just like Monet did”. The pioneering digital design collective creates mind-bending generative art that loops beyond infinity.
A truly fluid collective of nature-loving techno optimists, the media artists, experience designers and future makers work with CGI, physics simulations and real-time generative design to create colourful, interactive and immersive works of art. There’s a reason why everyone from Zaha Hadid Architects to Radiohead loves working with them. But these are designers who care about ecological impact as much as making something engaging. They see the concept of play as the only sustainable activity available to humans.
More ► universaleverything.com
2. Domestic Data Streamers
Talk: Artificial Ignorance and the Arts
How can we use data differently? Domestic Data Streamers have been coming up with creative answers to that question since 2013.
Wry and witty, the Barcelona collective of journalists, researchers, coders, data scientists and designers have a unique approach to data-driven innovation – focusing on social outcomes and ethical implications in their many films, actions, installations and exhibitions. They’ve exhibited everywhere from schools and prisons to the Tate Modern and the United Nations Headquarters.
More ► domesticstreamers.com
3. Forensic Architecture
Talk: Stefanos Levidis on dissecting ‘natural violence’
Conflict. Police brutality. Border regimes. Environmental violence. War crimes. There is nothing Forensic Architecture shies away from investigating.
Based out of Goldsmiths in London, and now Berlin too, the research agency investigates human rights violations and injustices committed by police, the military and corporations across the world – using a variety of digital and architectural techniques. This often involves open source investigation, reconsrtuction models, 3D animations, virtual reality environments and cartographic platforms.
Open source intelligence is changing the way information is shared across the world. Part innovative visual and spatial practitioners, and part criminal investigators, Forensic Architecture;s work has shone light on abuses of power and even led to criminal convictions. Stefanos Levidis is Forensic Architecture’s lead researcher on border violence and migration.
More ► forensic-architecture.org
4. Claire L. Evans / Yacht
Talk: Wild Information – New Frontiers in Biocomputing
Can you put biology into technology? What can the Internet learn from trees? Can you make a computer using organic brain cells?
You might know Claire L. Evans best as lead singer of ‘post-pop’ band YACHT. Since 2008, she’s recorded four albums, including 2019’s Chain Tripping, a Grammy-nominated album produced with a range of AI tools. But the fungal network-loving writer and musician is very modern polymath, with a passion for technology, ecology and culture.
Evans has written about the first female hackers and authored a book about the forgotten female role of women in creating the internet. A former editor of Vice’s technology arm Motherboard, she co-founded Terraform, a digital home for speculative fiction.
More ► clairelevans.com
5. Kate Darling
Talk: The Future of Human-Robot Interaction
What is a robot? Will AI take our jobs? Should we be very afraid? As AI is introduced into our daily lives, the evolution of relationships between humans and apparently-living machines is becoming increasingly important.
A researcher and scientist at the MIT Media Lab – and witty voice of reason – Kate Darling is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on robotics ethics. The author of The New Breed: What Our History with Animals Reveals about Our Future with Robots carries out experiments to explore how we perceive human-robot interactions, focusing on the emotional connection we establish with machines. She believes that treating robots with a bit of humanity, more like the way we treat animals, will serve us better.
More ► katedarling.org
6. Jana Winderen
Talk: Listening to the unheard
Jana Winderen has made a career out of listening to the things that we can’t hear – like the audio topography of the oceans and the depth of ice crevasses.
The Norwegian artist captures sounds from places that are difficult to access, or at frequencies inaudible to the human ear. Renowned for her site specific installations and performances, she also releases recordings of the unseen world on famed field recording and ambient label, Touch. Highlights include surprisingly noisy recordings of shrimp, the sound of cracking, melting ice floes and a symphony of underwater river insects in her native Norway.
More ► janawinderen.com
7. Moor Mother
Talk: Radical possible futures
Make space-time in your life for cosmic experimental musician, artist and activist Moor Mother, aka Camae Ayewa. As an advocate of Afrofuturism – the movement that paints utopian prospects for black culture – the unapologetic hip-hop sorceress explores blackness, social justice and surviving centuries of oppression. Ayewa founded Philadelphia-based Black Quantum Futurism, a collective dedicated to exploring quantum physics, time travel, Afrofuturism and creative possibilities in marginalised communities.
At Sónar+D, she will discuss the role of speculative fiction and futurism – in conversation with Steve Goodman (Kode9). The Scottish electronic music artist and founder of the Hyperdub record label imagines possible futures, including Scotland seceding from the UK and heading… to the stars.
More ► moormother.net
8. Monica Bello, Head of Arts at CERN
Talk: Breaking down barriers between disciplines
What is our universe? What is it made of? Where do art and science intersect? Since 1952, CERN has been asking the big questions about our universe. The world-renowned centre for scientific research is home to the mind-boggling Large Hadron Collider, the planet’s most powerful particle accelerator.
At TOPIA, we love to bring topics together in a mashup to explore how they intertwine to create creative and innovative solutions. As the challenges facing humanity become increasingly complex, this requires a new approach between art, science and tech. Mónica Bello is the curator of the Arts at CERN programme, stimulating dialogue between artists and physicists through residencies, commissions and exhibitions. We are big fans, because collaboration matters.
More ► arts.cern
What’s so good about this?
When it comes to festivals and conferences, Sónar+D stands out for its exceptional blend of cutting-edge technology, innovation and creative exploration, offering a unique platform where artists, scientists, and technologists converge to shape the future of art, music, and immersive experiences. This year will see 130 activities take place at Barcelona’s Palau de Congressos de Fira Montjuïc on 15-17 June.
Meet the writer
Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”