Notes from Ars Electronica 2015


Tea-cup clouds, dancing mecha-forests, geo-magnetic raindrops, paleo-apocalyptic VR, widescreen 1:train scope visual performances.
In electronic arts, this correspondent does simply expedition into such cyber, very future.
Ars Electronica is an annual festival for new digital media in Linz, Austria. It gathers artists, scientists and technologists for a long weekend of serious future overdose. Your correspondent attended for the first time last year, and fell in love, like ketchup falls into fries or flowers fall into bloom. Expedition report to investigate!
Teacup Tools
A year ago I decided to become a whisky geek. A brilliant, clever plan! Except for a strange phenomena. I am unable to form a coherent opinion about any whisky after the first one? So this year I unfollowed whisky and decided to become a tea geek. With much pleasure I observe my ability to drink one million puerhs or sip a thousand silver needles each day and my opinion gets MORE coherent pr cup. Also I have found the tiny, but attentive ceremony of brewing, to be a wonderful and miniature-workout break from endless digital work.
Therefore, understand my immediate drop-dead infatuation with the magical Teacup Tools. I was coming out of a dark, immersive sound-loft, the top of the upwards spiraling Cyber Arts exhibition. It was late at night, I was the last person through the exhibition building, coming out on fresh, damp, rainy balcony. Well, what, is, this?
There is a futuristic-literal-steampunk array of cybernetic teacups.
They are constantly gliding up and down, brewing tea from particles drawn out of the air surrounding the station, creating a hyper-local cloud above the cups, an essence of the local atmosphere. This cloud then cycles back into the next cup of tea, a recursive loop of feedback-tea. A computer analyzing the particles are generating the heat for brewing the tea.
Ars-Tea-030I absolutely loved this piece the hardest. (I did not drink the tea.)
Temps Morts
Temps Morts, by my new digital media arts heroine Alex Verhaest, is an interactive room installation with multiple screens revealing a sombre and uncanny narrative about death, loss, embarassement, the inability to communicate. Upon entering the room, all screens are and characters are passively looping in a sort of limbo standby, but by calling a phone number, the story springs to life. She has a trailer of the work at Vimeo.
Ars-Temps-029What made me fall in love with this work was the uncanny, Hieronymous Bosch-ish aesthetic combined with intriguing story, exquisite execution and inviting, brilliant, unreal symbolism. I loved all the tiny details, the creepy, lovely critters, the distorted characters, the mystery. Do clones dream of electric deja vus.
The Voestalpine Klangvolke (dress rehearsal)
The Linzner Klangwolke (the Linz Cloud of Sound) is not exactly part of the Ars Electronica Festival but it sort of is, it happens every year at the same dates, connecting the crazy media futurism of AET with the fine arts classical Bruckner Festival. This year your correspondent used his incredible spy network to secure himself top secret access to the dress rehearsal: A full production run minus the massive fireworks.
(Well not top secret… actually its completely open to everyone, but you sort of have to know when it starts. Which is… not hard since everybody in Austria probably can hear it when it starts. But I do have a spy network so why not use it.)
Ars-Klang-034I will refer to my notes: 20 meter tall industrial robot arm with attached human dancer thrown around like a mouse in a cat’s mouth. Helicopter choreography visual eye guidance. Realtime video masking and character layering. Transportable stage. Doppler effects of brass bands passing by in buses. River boats as side scrolling backdrop carriers. Excavators with industrial robot exosketeleton attachements to whirr full sized trees around for forest choreography. Using all of the city’s emergency vehicles as distanced light design elements. Jaw slightly open. Ideas noted. Size matters.
Ars-Glass-00You are in an area in the corner of the Cyber Arts exhibition space.
There is a guard. She is quietly and friendly gesturing for you to  be quiet.
Also, a sign politely requests for you to remove your shoes.
The gard silently gestures you into a huge room.
There is something delicate installed on the walls.
You are in the Chijikinkutsu room, by Nelo Akamatsu.
There are lots of tiny shelves, and each shelf holds a few glasses.
Each glass is filled with water and has a wire attached to it.
The wire is connected to a tumbler with copper wire and a needle on one end and electricity at the other. The tumbler orients itself in north-south direction depending on electric current. The needle hits the glass when electricity happen.
You stay in this room for a long time listeing to the fragile sound of distant, geo-magnetic tonal rain.
Cargo Cult – post-apocalyptic devices
Ars-Cargo-039Cargo Cult by Peter Moosgard is like post-apocalyptic device voodoo. The concept behind his work is tied to indigenous replication beliefs, the phenomena of naturalistic tribes creating replicas of western technology to control it.
Ars-Cargo-037Or if I understood correctly, I’m not sure, but I prefered looking at this from the other side, from the last of us, a post-apocalyptic future. Where all we have are wooden segways and pottery iphones. Beautiful reminiscences of what we once had in abundance.   
There was SO MUCH MORE fantastic stuff, I wish I had more time to tell. The Post City exhibition space in itself was really smart. The Second Body performance in the Mariendom was super interesting. The Deep Space 8k projection space really needs a serious write-up. The huge sensorial cocoon of Feed Me ought to be an stage performance. And having 9 projectors synced up for train-scope widescreen is not a bad idea.
Expedition success.

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