Interview with Arie Altena on The Poetics Of Space

doinkArie Altena is part of the Sonic Acts team. This edition, his works was mainly focused on the programming the Acoustic Spaces program on Saturday and the editing of the The Poetics Of Space book. Besides his work for Sonic Acts, Arie also writes about new media, art, internet-culture, media-theory, literature and works as an editor/researcher for V2_ in Rotterdam. I had the privilege to interview him after the conference on the last day of the Sonic Acts festival. First of all, what did you enjoy most about this years edition of Sonic Acts, The Poetics Of Space? Without a doubt the audience. First of all, the program of the conference, that ran from 10 to 6, three days in a row, was incredibly packed. Although the speakers did not often speak past their scheduled time, some way or another, it seemed that there was almost no time for a proper lunch break at any of the conference days. The program was very full and the lectures just continuously followed each other. Even so, the public seemed very enthusiast and never complained. During the night program in Paradiso, the audience was an even bigger, pleasant surprise. I was nervous, because you invite people to a pop-temple, where it is normal to order beer and socialize, and the Paradiso was packed. The performances however ask the audience to sit down. To be understood, they require the audience to surrender and to open their eyes and ears. The big public in Paradiso did just that, the whole night from 8 to 12 (or even 1), 3 nights in a row. I was especially nervous for the Acoustic Spaces program, for which I was responsible for most of the programming. For this evening we had programmed 4 hours of tape music: field recordings with almost no images at all. This kind of performance forces the listening to take place within you. To listen to an inside space - and I think many people understood that. In the end there was no need for any kind of disciplining whatsoever. The audience was silent even during the very silent parts that were programmed. It proved that a lineup that some people would refer to as highbrow or academically difficult, could actually be programmed and enjoyed by a big public. It was very satisfy I also enjoyed that the connections the programming team tried to make - connection between older and younger generations of artists and audience - succeeded. People, artist and audience alike, realized that they have similar approaches, or that they create overlapping work even though they have very different backgrounds. This shows that there are similarities between the ways people think about space and how sound and space can function, be approached and generated. The festival created a dialogue between different disciplines: music, philosophy, art, architecture, music, literature and media theory. It questioned the way artists play with space, how they can be more aware of it and how they listen to it (inside of ourselves). The festival evolved a form of layered listening, or listening as a shifting definition. Before the theme Poetics Of Space, Sonic Acts celebrated themes like The Cinematic Experience and The Anthology of Computer Art. Can you say anything about how these themes evolved, and how in particular the theme Poetics Of Space came to existence? Also, do you think that researching the relations between sound and space is a new, popular trend or fashion, or something that has always existed? A team of six people organizes the festival. The preparations for every festival start usually immediately after the last festival has finished. We come together and talk about things we feel we have learned from the last festival, and about artists and themes that we think deserve attention in a next edition. From this kind of conversations, that can take place through emailing and meet-ups, different concepts develop between us and we start collecting a long list of artists. For the theme Poetics Of Space, I remember that Martijn came up with the book by Bachelard. I had read it when I was young, but to me it was more poetics and less about space. For Martijn the book was all about space and how space affects your being and technology effects culture. This seemed to connect very well to the interests that were reflected within our team. Of course if you want to criticize the festival, you could say that many performances featured this year would have fitted as well under last editions theme The Cinematic Experience, but this is because the festival is really shaped by the teams interests, which only evolve slowly. We would never choose a theme for its popularity, but of course the things that happen around us also shape our interests. So in a way, Poetics of Space is chosen also because it has some kind of momentum; the artist within our team, Gideon Kiers, Lucas van der Velden and Nicky Assmann, seem to develop a growing interest for space in work. They have been working on immersive installations, instead of computer-screen based work. In computer arts in general, we can see a growing wish leave the screen, while more and more sound artists seem to develop interest in field recordings. For a long time the scene of field recordings was a very inclusive scene, they have never been a big part of festivals, although they were part of the theory world. Lately magazines and festivals have picked up this branch. For example, the City Tunes festival in Berlin, which unfortunately nobody of our team visited, involved sound recordings and thinking about changes in sounds of the urban environment (including iPod culture and car radios). I found their documentation on the internet very interesting. Sonic Acts shows the hybridity of space. The festival brings about 30 artists and speakers together, that, throughout the festival all present different or overlapping perspectives on space. In the last session Raviv Ganchrow stretched the lack of a nomenclature, a naming or characterization of the different spaces. As an example, he differentiated the sound in the room, the sound of the space, musical space, virtual space, the brains-pace, physical space, phased space, emotional space and neutral space. The immaculate, neutral space however, does not exist. Space and the essence of a particular space is always related to who and where we are (except for when we put a device in it, that can measure its data - but than we would just have the data of that space and not its characteristics). I think it is good enough for now, that the visitors walk away from the festival and realize that space is something very complex. While you say space is infinitely complex, I noticed that in the program book, the Sonic Acts actually tried to provide different handles, or divisions of space (there are panels called immersive space, utopian space, hybrid space, invisible space, etc.) Why is that? These divisions are made up according to the people that we invited for the panels. They show the issues that we were hoping they would address during their talks. The names are just handles; for a nomenclature I think there needs to be more research, but I wonder if we really need one. Do you look back differently at this division of spaces now the festival is (almost) finished, i.e. did some spaces get more specific or crystallized than others? No, to me it doesn't work like that. We did a lot of research beforehand, we shaped the program, and I think the spaces got shaped accordingly. In hindsight I can however recall particular intersections between arts and theory, but it is to early, to soon after the round up to realize what spaces actually did come together, and which didn't. During the festival, I felt certain tensions develop between spaces. These tensions showed themselves not as breaking points, but as tipping points; only after we entered a new space, we realized that there was a transition, or an overlap between the two, but often we did not realize this at the moment of transition itself. Somebody in the last panel also referred to this as cracked planes of space. Is this maybe where poetics of space is located? The poetics of space is culturally defined; as I said before, there is not something like a neutral space. I think that the cracked planes of space are very intriguing. This is what most artists are researching, intentionally or not. Right now, I recognize a lot of people thinking about this and I think there is a lot of space to do research in. This research is interesting right now, because our connections to space are changing, because of the technology we are using. Before, most people used to orient themselves in a 2d space or topography space. But today, they switch to Google earth and street view. We navigate through images. This is a very big shift, a change in mental make-up. But because of the lack of a terminology it is hard to bring this dynamic research into words; it almost becomes banal. Are we exploring new spaces, wild spaces? No, our experience of space is changing. Exploration of space is more a 1960s kind of thing. Think about Gagarin for instance, he also explored space. Space was then very different, maybe as different as Pythagoras described space, or Saint Thomas Aquinas. That was maybe the most beautiful, the three references to Aquinas during a festival about technology and space. But you don't have write that down. Is there an end to space? Ask Roger Malina, he will be able to give you a much better answer to this question than me. When I was a kid, I tried to imagine the end of the universe, what would this look like, what would be on the other side; was it rapped into something again? I forgot what I knew about string theory - but just like Derrick de Kerckhove mentioned in his talk, this could be one way to think about space. There is so much knowledge that we don't know how to use when we think about space, and there are also so many ways to think about space that we have not researched yet. In the future we will have many opportunities to rethink space and I think this is really good.
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