audiograft runs from March 11th to March 27th this year, an extended duration that reflects the high number of experimental music and sound art events on offer. The festival, curated by the Sonic Art Research Unit (SARU) at Oxford Brookes University, and co-promoted by Oxford Contemporary Music, seeks to bring sonic experimentation to a wider audience, and the varied programme certainly offers many new soundworlds to discover.
While audiograft takes place at a range of venues, at the festival’s core is an exhibition of works by Janek Schaefer, Mario De Vega, Arno Fabre, Minoru Sato, and Fiona Miller, held at OVADA (on Osney Lane). It is interesting to note the thematic overlap between some the works exhibited; De Vega and Fabre’s contributions, for example, explore the sonic function of bells through very different means. Fabre’s electro-mechanical bell, free from patterned regularity and predictability, prompts reflection on the time-calibrating role that bells ordinarily fulfil. In contrast to Fabre’s tendency to focus on the everyday, De Vega’s artistic output centres on themes of danger and human vulnerability; he is best known for his work with hazardous materials, from bullets to gunpowder. While his art usually takes on the form of site-specific projects or performances, the work exhibited at audiograft, Absentia, is a two-screen video installation, depicting the destruction of a large bronze bell in Mexico. Here, an instrument frequently used as a warning signal itself becomes the object of violence.
Another pair of artists explore the association between sound production and the immediate environment. Using only a small heater and an acoustic feedback system, Minoru Sato modulates the exhibition space’s resonant frequencies. By working with light and heat, he draws attention to the significance of non-sonic elements in defining the nature of the sound produced. In the performances of Argentinian musician Lucio Capece, meanwhile, the acoustospatial elements of a venue plays a central role in shaping the music produced there. His performance (Saturday 14th March, at The Story Museum, with Sato, Maria Chavez, and Sally Golding) features various speakers mounted on helium balloons, redefining the relationship between Capece and the venue.
Andy Guhl’s free concert (Wednesday 11th March, at OVADA, alongside De Vega) will make use of his creation The Instrument, a custom-built device that combines audio and photo signal outputs to form its own sound, redefining received notions of consumer electronics in the process. On the 22nd March, meanwhile, at the Assembly Room (in the Town Hall), post-minimalist act Icebreaker produce a programme based on recycling in the broadest sense, from reworkings of tracks by punk act Stiff Little Fingers (Ed Bennett, funded by the Britten-Pears Foundation), to a new arrangement of Julia Wolfe’s harrowing response to 9/11, Big Beautiful Dark and Scary. Other concerts include the pairing of Darren Copeland’s Bats and Elephants and Diego Garro’s Dammtor (Thursday 12th March, at Modern Art Oxford); Cutting into the Continuum (Friday 13th March, at the Holywell Music Room), performed by experimental music ensemble [rout] and featuring premieres of four new pieces that explore the boundary between fieldwork and composition; and ‘An Evening of Contemporary Music’ (Friday 27th March, at St John the Evangelist Church), featuring works by Sarah Hughes, Joseph Clayton Mills, and Adam Sonderberg.
For the second year, following the immense success of Alex Allmont’s Lego automaton, Play House, OCM has commissioned a new work for the festival. Joseph Fairweather Hole’s Leviathan’s Electrolarynx is an interactive sound sculpture featuring the voice box of a whale that, when touched, emits whale song. The work will be sited in The Story Museum’s vault, the eeriness of which will no doubt prove complementary. The presence of immersive speakers, meanwhile, will draw attention to sound’s tactile capability, as audience members physically feel the whale’s song. Leviathan’s Electrolarynx is the first step in a larger project; Fairweather Hole’s ultimate ambition is to create an installation that gives the sense of walking into the throat of a whale.
While audiograft’s evening concerts might be more likely to appeal to adults, the HEARth programme will provide a series of more relaxed sessions suited to people of all ages, including a quiz and a book club. As always, this year’s audiograft boasts an array of events that will appeal to all, from existing experimental music enthusiasts to those exploring sound art for the first time.
Full audiograft listings and ticket booking can be found at their website.