This year’s incarnation of Audiograft, Oxford’s annual Festival of Contemporary Experimental Music and Sound Art, runs from Monday 25th February to Sunday 3rd March. A collaboration between researchers from the Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University, and locally-based arts organisation Oxford Contemporary Music, Audiograft presents a packed programme of performances, installations, workshops and discussions incorporating work by some of Europe’s leading contemporary composers, performers and sound artists.
Alongside long-established names on the experimental music and art scenes such as pianist and close associate of Cornelius Cardew, John Tilbury (who will perform a realisation of Samuel Beckett’s radio play Cascando on Thursday 28th February), and pioneering German sound artist Rolf Julius, this year’s festival also sees a performance of 2012 Sonic Art British Composer of the Year Ray Lee’s work Chorus, an outdoor sound installation to be presented over three evenings at Oxford Brookes University’s Richard Hamilton Building.
A unique aspect of Audiograft’s programme is the inclusion of HEARth: a programme of free events designed to ‘mix the sonic and the social’ and provide a space for both audience and artists to meet and discuss their work and creative ideas in a more informal setting. These include a book club ‘exploring the role of sound in literature’, hosted at Blackwell’s on Broad Street, a sound art pub quiz, a tour around the various installations on the Oxford Brookes campus, and an afternoon of family-friendly activities at Modern Art Oxford. Furthermore, organiser Stephen Cornford says that “In curating the concerts, we specifically chose work which we feel is accessible to non-specialist audiences but is nevertheless worthy of international repute in its field.”
Guided ‘listening walks’ around the city centre will also take place on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons, aimed at encouraging participants to listen and respond to the aural soundscapes of this seemingly familiar urban setting. According to Stephen: “There are so many things that make Oxford unique as a soundscape; the presence of such large swathes of relatively wild land within the city centre as are found on Christ Church Meadow and in Magdalen College are a complete anomaly within European cities in my experience, but are largely hidden from our ears within college walls.” The Festival aims to open up and explore these spaces, not least through the variety of settings and environments in which the work is presented. As well as more traditional concert-type events such as that at the Holywell Music Room on Thursday 28th February (incorporating John Tilbury’s Beckett realisations alongside performances by the Oxford-based Set Ensemble and composers Tim Parkinson and Austin Sherlaw-Johnson) and the ‘listening walks’, audiences will also be invited to explore outdoor sound installations. Continuing with themes of soundscapes and challenging the ways in which audiences listen to and interact with their environment, Charlotte Heffernan, a current PhD student at Oxford Brookes, will be presenting another outdoor sound installation at the Richard Hamilton Building which Stephen describes as presenting “a series of scores for listening, texts which invite the audience to step outside the building and follow her instructions in actively listening to the environment around them, so that here the audience is also the performer of the work.”
The Audiograft festival, then, offers something that is at once both aesthetically and intellectually challenging, but also renegotiates the relationships between performer, audience, composer and environment: inviting audiences to find beauty and complexity in the everyday sonic environment while also presenting work which, while incredibly sophisticated in its conception, is arguably somewhat democratic and inclusive in its execution and presentation. To quote Stephen Cornford again, “At Thursday night’s concert in the Holywell Music Room, all of the works performed are scored only in words – the interpretation of these pieces does not require you to read music or have any experience at playing, and the prevalence of these instruction scores in contemporary music certainly has a democratising effect.”
Opening with a sonic art exhibition at Brookes’ Glass Tank art gallery (running from Monday 25th), and closing with a “DIY DJ” event at the Jam Factory on Saturday 2nd (complete with wine and hot chocolate); with events at venues ranging from the Holywell Music Room to Blackwell’s bookshop cafe; and with performers from Argentine/French electroacoustic master Daniel Teruggi (Friday 1st, Modern Art Oxford 7:30pm) to the constantly evolving soundscape of the city itself; Audiograft offers a unique and accessible experience for anyone interested in exploring our intriguing relationship with our auditory environment, and the multiplicity of ways of hearing and listening.
To find out more about Audiograft or to book tickets, please visit their website; the Festival launches on Wednesday 27th February at Headington Hill Hall, Oxford Brookes University.