Different location, different sound? Recap of “B!as 2015: Taiwan-Belgium Sound Art Exchange Project”
Relative Perceptions N°3, a prototype version of Chang Yung-Ta’s Relative Perceptions, features physical phenomena such as dipping heated iron parts in water to create sound and vapor, to allow the artwork to switch the medium of expression between sculpture, mechanical installation and sound maker. Photo Credit: Chang Yung-Ta
City Sonic: An intersection for sound art
In early September, the City Sonic: International Sound Art(s) Festival, then in its 13th year, kicked off once again in Mons, Belgium. During the half-month-long event, Mons, long dubbed “the ancient city of the highlands”, displayed over 70 pieces of sound art and sound performance in all corners of the city. They can be found by the lawns of the Renaissance campanile, inside the Gothic churches, on the corridors of the newly inaugurated performance hall, within the Fablab-inspired container house and on the back of those air-horn-equipped bicycles roaming around. Of course, the DJ shows, which bombarded the local pubs all night long, also contributed to the tune of City Sonic. The Festival was held in a city that keeps its medieval radial layout – having the Grand Place at the city center. The Festival gathered visitors in the downtown area but also permeated across the city, surrounding visitors wandering in the alleyways under Belgium’s early-autumn drizzles.
People say that such a “sonic stroll” takes about 2 hours. By the time you finish it, you have walked over half of the city. “Strolling” is how you appreciate the art pieces at City Sonic. Bearing a listener’s mindset, when you stroll, you actually move, encounter, receive, react, activate and reconnect with something at the same time. Mons is a perfect city for a stroll – not too time or too energy consuming. The city has the unique advantage of hosting City Sonic.
City Sonic, Photo Credit : DAC
Such arrangements not only came from the integration of resources across industries or promotion at art venues, but largely from the fact that City Sonic is a cross-platform event and that Transcultures had frequently held sound art events across European cities. The aim was to set up “meeting points” that have a heterogeneous nature. These places allow “listening” to follow “sound-making” closely. When visitors spontaneously and intuitively put themselves into a “speak-listen” cycle, they interact with an innately different culture and traditions. In contrast, a “nomadic” but highly maneuverable way of deploying resources is how “Transcultures” creates these meeting points. Whether it is transnational, inter-city, intra-city, connecting and exchanging venues or community resources, it all reflects the curatorial ideology of “Transcultures”.
“Sound as connection” is the main interest of Philippe Franck, founder of Transcultures (Center of Digital and Audio Cultures) and curator of City Sonic. In other words, if art usually happens when a contrastive relation forms, one can describe art as being “relation-oriented”. Therefore, since “sound” is built on a “speak-listen” cycle, naturally, it is a “site for relation to take shape”. Tthe definition of “sound art” is not the focus of City Sonic. Instead, “seeking new possibilities in the creation of relation” is the purpose of sound art.
We can put it this way: Since City Sonic breaks the conventional boundaries of “sound art”, it allows “sound” and “art” to keep their purity and openness. This facilitates their interaction. Perhaps, one can express this ultra-minimalist concept in the words of Phillipe Franck, "When we start to focus on the sound without worrying about the music, then we are dealing with sound art and audio art."(Erick d'Orion)
City Sonic, Photo Credit : DAC
In fact, when Transcultures was founded in Brussels in 1996, the linguistically mixed spoken-language environment of Belgium provided the basis for converging the creative momentum of contemporary and new media art. In 2003, thanks to the growing trend of integrating digital technology, web media and art creation, the 1st City Sonic opened in Mons. As Mons was named “European Capital of Culture” in 2015 and began attracting huge waves of investment in culture and global media attention, Transcultures returned to the birthplace of City Sonic. This time, City Sonic was more concentrated and featured a larger pool of artists, with Asian artists participating for the first time – through its collaboration with Digital Art Center, Taipei in B!as 2015: Taiwan-Belgium Sound Art Exchange Project. The four Taiwanese artists – Wang Fu-jui, Wang Chung-Kun, Yao Chung-Han and Chang Yung-Ta, represented a strong force at this year’s event.
The four Taiwanese artists – Chang Yung-Ta, Wang Fu-jui, Yao Chung-Han and Wang Chung-Kun (from left to right). Photo Credit: DAC
At the crossroads of cultures, how do I tell you what I heard?
In this first Taiwan-Belgium collaboration of its kind, the “Taiwan-ness”, which the “Exchange Project” highly promoted, was represented by the four artists. In Taiwan, from mid 1990s, the convergence, passing down and accumulation of creative energy seen in amateur artists, art school education, international participation and live sound performances tells a story of Taiwan’s sound art development mostly hidden from the public eye. Such a storyline more or less coincides with the careers of these four artists. However, for many times, we are silenced by the question, “What is special about Taiwan’s sound art?” This is due to several unclarified issues: Firstly, are we knowledgeable enough to discern the “special quality in Taiwan’s sound art”? Secondly, even if we consider ourselves knowledgeable, is there any describable “regional quality” in “sound”? Moreover, there are questions about cultural and political identity. When we say “Taiwan’s sound”, does the exclusiveness of the word “Taiwan” apply?
Of course, we can still identify some shared “spirit” of Taiwan’s sound art, such as an artwork’s operating mechanism based on the combination of digital technology and mechanical principles – most likely represented in the form of an installation; or, an experimental noise art piece that combines ready-to-use parts with basic stereo – most likely realized in the format of an impromptu performance. However, apart from these special methods and formats, are there other possibilities to “speak about” sound?
Yao Chung-Han’s LLAP has an installation version and a live performance version. By combining laser and Fluorescent lamps’ limited repertoire, the artwork creates a dialogue between digital and analog signals. Photo Credit : DAC
Does location make a different in the creation sound art? The question is still up for debate. The only certain thing is that Taiwan rarely shows the unique qualities we see at City Sonic: agility and entertainment, which comes from simple and interactive “experiential” design. “Experiential” refers to physical instincts such as hearing, sight and movement. “Interaction” can be an analog descriptive concept or a digital augmented reality that opens up people’s imagination and projection, or even physical effects caused by moving or turning certain parts of an artwork. Whichever it is, interaction is never limited to technological functions, such as movement sensing or signal feedback. We may say that City Sonic creates a new “law of nature”: The artist no longer controls the activation of sound in the artwork; instead, the creation of sound is guided by the audience’s instant and on-site action/performance. In this regard, City Sonic has a strong “popular” quality. One can even say City Sonic is based on progressive democratic ideologies shown in the “sharing” and “connecting” activities on digital media. From an avant-garde point of view, the deconstruction and restructuring of art fields and the cross-disciplinary attempts seen at City Sonic reflect a sense of urgency for innovation, which is worth following.
Four pieces from Wang Chung-kun’s Sound of suitcase series are on display: E#01, noiseBox, 3 little wood-fish, and newly created Dual. Live performances turn these delicate and self-playing music boxes into musical instruments that coordinate each other. Photo Credit : Transcultures and Zoe Tabourdiot.
If we go back to the afore-mentioned quality of purity and openness shared by “sound” and “art”, it is evident that the “comparative-type” definition does not apply. In this context, even “visual” can have the same value as “audio”, and “art” is the ultimate goal! As to why it is so, we can again borrow the words of Philippe Franck,（"…sound was always linked to images in one way or another—were they only mental ones—but also that sound was indeed self-sufficient in its evocative powers, as long as one was perspective enough to it; only then can its undeniable presence and power can be appreciated." )
To some extent, this viewpoint echoes the concept of Chang Yung-Ta’s Relative Perceptions, that is, using an installation as the basis, the artist allows the audience to watch and listen to the operation of the artwork. This helps to bring out an image that consists of invisible but perceivable sound and movements. The “image” here is both decorative and dynamic/audible. Wherever an inspiration emerges, what comes with sound is the perception of “something different” by the body. It is in this “difference” that art continues to create countless different perspectives.
Wang Fu-jui’s Hyper Transmission - Fujui Wang Live Performance employs several directional speakers to generate hypersonic “sound beams”, which refract and crisscross each other in an enclosed space to create an ever-changing audio space. Photo Credit : DAC
(Part of this article is published in, Artist, December Issue.)
BOX#1 About B!as 2015: Taiwan-Belgium Sound Art Exchange Project
Organized by the Digital Art Foundation and administered by Digital Art Center, Taipei, B!as 2015 is an exchange project with Transcultures, Belgium. B!as 2015 is part of an annual art festival held in Belgium and Taiwan: City Sonic (Sep 12 – 27, 2015) and Digitopia: 2015 Digital Art Festival, Taipei (Nov 13 – 22, 2015). Taiwan and Belgium each selected four groups of artists for the exchange project. Apart from a sound art exhibition, there were live performances and seminars. Through these performances and events, artists from the two sides exchanged thoughts on the imagination of “sound”.
BOX#2 About the 10th Digitopia: 2015 Digital Art Festival, Taipei
Using Digitopia as the theme, this year’s Taipei Digital Art Festival hired Fablab Dynamic, a Taiwan-based artist community, as the curatorial team. Their experience of producing homegrown arts heralds a new age in which digital technology and social life become inseparable. It also reflects the inter-disciplinary feature and the culture of joint creation in digital art. The Festival included International Digital Art Exhibition, Award Exhibition (including the 10th Digital Art Awards Taipei, the 6th Digital Performance Art Awards, the 9th Digital Art Criticism Awards and a special exhibition of The 10th anniversary retrospective of K.T. Creativity Awards) and the Digital Art Platform (including International Artist in Residence Exhibition, 2015 Animation – Slices of Film, City Sonic: International Sound Art(s) Festival Exchange Project, GIF ART Exhibition and Ina-GRM X DAC New Electronic Music Program).
 Phillipe Franck (2015). City Sonic : Les arts sonores dans la cite. Bruxelles : la Lettre Volée, impr. 2014, cop. 2014.
 Founded in 1995, Etat organizes forums and live performances, combining web and TV media. It is one of the most important experimental sound art labs in Taiwan. In 2000, Etat’s Media Lab was created by Huang Wen-Hao, Alf Chang and Wang Fu-jui (Ku Shih-yung joined the Lab in 2001). Etat began developing new media and interactive art projects through joint research and joint creation among its members. In 2001, Taiwan had its first Graduate School of Art and Technology (TNUA). In 2005, three artists, namely, Wang Chung-Kun, Yao Chung-Han and Chang Yung-Ta enrolled in the school. Meanwhile, Etat organized an event combining awards and exhibition in 2003, 2005 and 2006, namely, B!as Sound Art Exhibition (at Etat), B!as International Sound Art Exhibition (at Taipei Fine Arts Museum) and Aura Spurt: 1st Digital Art Festival Taipei. Lacking Sound Festival, Taiwan’s most important experimental sound event, kicked off in 2007. The event was mainly planned and administered by Yao and Wang.
 Please see note 1.