Audiograft 2014:

A Festival Report

Audiograft is Oxford’s annual festival of experimental music and sound art, curated by the Sonic Art Research Unit (SARU) at Oxford Brookes University. This year’s performance programme took place from 12th-16th March, with a number of exhibitions and events running alongside and beyond the evening concerts.

I was unable to attend the opening night at the OVADA warehouse, but luckily the event was streamed live in high-quality, lag-free sound and vision via the festival’s website. The evening had something of a culinary theme, with Gordon Monahan making sounds with sauerkraut and the Sonic Catering Band playing with the amplified noises from live soup preparation. I am unable to report on the taste of the resulting soup, but the sounds were top-notch. Marianthi Papalexandri’s mesmerisingly beautiful set was a festival highlight, the complex tones of her motorised vibrating strings deployed with a formal simplicity that matched the visual appearance of her sculpture-like instrument.

Another sculpture-like performance came from Dawn Scarfe, who used the resonant properties of various wine glasses, slowly spun on two turntables, to make music from simple sine tones. The use of material resonances to perform a shift in the locus of agency from the artist onto resonating objects is by no means unique, but Scarfe’s choice of ordinary household glassware made an already uncanny phenomenon (things sounding apparently by themselves) doubly so. Unlike Rie Nakajima’s excellent set, in which toys, trinkets, and other modified household objects were marshalled to create music of intense detail and nuance, the simplicity, in academic musical terms, of Scarfe’s performance underscored the receding of her familiar objects from familiarity, their becoming once again mysterious in nature.

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Audiences themselves had the opportunity to transform one of Oxford’s most common objects into a sound source on a very enjoyable sound walk with artist Felicity Ford. Whether their purpose is to keep the unwary from falling into rivers or the unwelcome from trespassing, the city’s many railings offer opportunities for sound making at the boundaries between public and private space. A diverse range of unexpected tones, timbres and rhythms (and a few funny looks) were uncovered. The intense activity of Patrick Farmer, David Stent and Neil Chapman’s performance installation at the O3 Gallery certainly created a strong impression of writers at work, the constant clatter and ping of typewriters marking out the expenditure of energy, though that same intensity made the writing itself somewhat inaccessible. Throughout the week, the AudioHEARth series of social events organised by artists Claudia Figueiredo and Stavroula Kounadea provided welcome space for conversation, discussion, fun, and food (to return to one of the festival’s recurring themes!).

A host of other performances, events and exhibitions rounded out a great week of sometimes challenging, sometimes humourous, always intriguing music and art, topped off with some unseasonably sunny and warm weather. Not everything struck a chord with me — for example I found that Zimoun’s cardboard box installation lacked both the historical resonances and the immersivity of his similar work installed in a disused water tower — but Audiograft is a place for experimenting and taking risks, both for artists and audiences, and as such it more than delivers. I look forward to returning for next year’s edition!

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