Sonic Past and Future

By Josephine Bosma, 10 September 2000

Josephine Bosma made the pilgrimage to Manchester to enjoy the Futuresonic festival ‘unplugged’.

It seems like ages, in net years, since the first Futuresonic festival in 1997 which, before the current surge of sound art fever, was well ahead of its time. Futuresonic was one of the first avant-garde music festivals to attempt a live audio stream on the Net which, due to retransmission, enabled audiences from far away – and without computers – to follow the festival’s proceedings. It was its webcast that inspired me to ask for a radio transmitter for the top of the Waag in Amsterdam – the premises of the Society for Old and New Media. Back then this was hot stuff. This time, however, there was no livestream from Futuresonic. If you wanted to hear the lectures, presentations and performances you had to go to Manchester – a problem slightly remedied by the impressive size of Futuresonic’s local audience.

I went there to read a paper I had written on the new media-fuelled dissolution of boundaries between musicians and audiences, and how one can and must still distinguish oneself as an artist in the digital age. While I was there I caught the presentations of Jason Skeet (<earshot>), Tomato, a panel on the history of dub in which Kodwo Eshun took part, Skion&Tikiman, Merzbow, a lecture by David Toop, and chatted to Christoph Kummerer about how to transform your Gameboy into a musical instrument. I was particularly blown away by Skeet and Merzbow’s presentations – quite literally by the latter which was VERY loud.

Skeet emphasised how <earshot> is not just a tool, but also a political statement on the need to create homemade software to combat the increasing uniformity of the new media environment. When you look at the fragile, almost clumsy interface which demands quite a lot of its users in terms of memory and skill, you see the mark of its creators so clearly that it is hard to call it purely a sound editor. In a way his presentation was a preemptive strike against David Toop’s disappointing lecture the next day. After having read a nostalgic piece about his early musical memories Toop lost himself in an unfittingly pessimistic lament on the loss of creativity in music due to new technologies like MP3.

But I cannot forget the frictious concert by the eerily calm Merzbow, which still rings in my ears. This strange coexistence of deafening volume and musical subtlety elicited two standing ovations from the audience. Even Merzbow managed to bring a flicker of a smile to his face.

Josephine Bosma <>

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