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‘Real satisfaction’ curator Glenn Max on the winning formula: Music + Art + Technology = Convergence Festival

[Photo: Glenn Max]

Following the success of its inaugural year, Convergence Festival returns again this March with a new programme of visual art and musical performances that play directly to the intersections between technology, music and art in diverse and innovative ways. To find out more about what the festival entails, we ran some questions past its influential and charismatic founder, Glenn Max. Interview by Ben Romberg.

Run-Riot: Convergence sees a great lineup of forward thinking artists performing this year, are there any new or special projects you would like to highlight?
Glenn Max:
Too many to mention, but George Clinton’s talk should be a wonderful opportunity to hear one of the great innovators of 20th century music tell his story. Radioland is Mathew Bourne’s collaboration, should be a fascinating take on Kraftwerk’s most mysterious record, ‘Radioactivity’. The Boom Room with Andrew Weatherall and Eat Light Become Lights promises to be a compelling exploration of the phenomena of reverb in which we’ll creating a series of reverb effects chambers linked over broadband to manipulate the music being played. But I’m also very interested to see so many artists on our line-up coming out to showcase their newest material, most with new releases: Matthew Herbert, Portico, Tricky will all be showing us their new stuff.

Run-Riot: Can you tell us a little about the process of setting up and running this in London?
It’s been a lot of improvisation, constant adjustments, moments of calm confidence alternating with sheer panic, pure guess-work, mind-numbing frustrations and then some moments of real satisfaction. Stakes are high. Our standards are high. And we regularly face an array of circumstances and elements that are frequently out of our control. But ultimately, we’re getting a strong sense of who we are and the agenda we hope to set forth - and it looks as though the audience we seek are responding with great enthusiasm.

Run-Riot: You are also launching 'Convergence Sessions', a series of discussions and workshops taking place in Kachette on Old Street, can you tell us what this will involve?
Last year talks and installations were scattered between Village Underground, Barbican and Red Gallery. This year we’ve tried to condense the conversation with 3-days at the very cool subterranean Kachette with talks, workshops and installations. On the 19th March, hosted by Mixcloud, we will address the state of the music industry and on the 20th March we address digital culture more broadly looking areas of pioneering audio visual, and developments in 3D technology. Then on the 21st of March, partnering with the Barbican will be focused on music education with Mouse on Mars and others speaking about their methods and creative strategies.

Run-Riot: The music and tech scene in London have made uncomfortable bedfellows in the past, is one of the ambitions of Convergence to bring more harmony to this space?
I think they’re natural allies. However, music and art culture is the ‘avant-garde’ of real estate investment. And by that I mean music and art culture is the 'forward-guard', like an army, advancing into poor areas to create the possibility of ‘affordable housing’. We’re in a time of great corporate avarice and sadly, the people who care most about preserving our cultural life – galleries, clubs, venues, independent cafes - haven’t yet expressed, or haven’t yet effectively expressed, the crucial role of the music scene in enriching and restoring London’s reputation as a vital destination. Mostly we get lip service from politicians who then happily shuffle the avant-garde to the next peripheral no-man’s land. London, like New York and Paris, is in danger of becoming a cultural wasteland at its core.

Run-Riot: The convergence of music and art with technology is a burning topic across all three disciplines at the moment. Can you tell us how this is benefiting the artist and musician as well as the consumer?
I tend to see both sides of this issue and as always, with technology, there are as many casualties as there are benefits. One element that’s very compelling for a music-addict like me is the sheer access to recordings I can find. I’m listening to Caribou’s 1000-song playlist at the moment and it’s filled with new wonderful tracks that will surely lead to more discoveries. Although I’m not a proponent of the rent-a-song model of Spotify and other streaming services, it’s my hope that we’ll see listeners stretch beyond their comfort zone to check out artists that they might not otherwise have discovered.

Run-Riot: How has the nature of musical performance changed following the proliferation of digital technology on the stage? Has the artist become integral or peripheral?
I think DJ-culture is definitely predicated upon the idea that a ‘’musical performance’’ is not tantamount to a musical experience. And there are some great musical thinkers who have rejected performance in favor of a communal musical experience. Certainly, technology has played a role in making this possible. When I started Ether at the Southbank in 2002, it was my objective to confront what I saw as an orthodoxy that had surrounded electronic music in its outright rejection of traditional performance. That’s thawed a bit now and we see much more performance-based electronic music. But in 2002, for a performing arts centre, this was challenging territory.

Run-Riot: Is there a risk that technology can completely replace the "human" element in music and is it a problem if it does completely?
I suppose in its purest most insidious form, when corporations develop algorhythmically advanced methods for creating the most irresistible pop songs that are targeting every individual listener based on stolen marketing data—yes, its pretty bad. But the conversation between cold and warm, android and human and the music that comes from both ends of the spectrum, has thus far remained exciting. For me, I’m just as happy to put on Elmore James if I seek that kind of warmth or Autechre, if I’m seeking a kind of technical sharp-edged perfection.

Run-Riot: What is your hope for the future of music, technology and art - from a personal perspective?
From a personal perspective, I’ve got higher hopes for technology than its impact on music. For all I care music can go back to the cave if that’s what the zeitgeist calls for. But in terms of eliminating economic barriers of entry, effective ways of getting artists paid for their work, there’s a lot to hope for. And of course I hope to see artists continue to find new ways to present their work—whether technologically abetted or not.

Run-Riot: Are there any other festivals or events you'd like to give a shout out to?
Convergence is partnered with FutureFest, which will be taking place at Vinopolos in London Bridge on March 14 & 15. The two-day event will bring together some of the worlds’ leading thinkers and technologists. Convergence was asked to contribute to the Future of Music section so we’ve brought Matthew Herbert, George Clinton and Spoek Mathambo all doing talks or multi-media presentations to their line-up.

Run-Riot: And lastly, with cupid getting its mojo on this week, we have to ask, what are your all time top-5 loved-up tracks?

Let’s Get it On - Marvin Gaye
Dirty Love – Frank Zappa
I Feel Love - Donna Summer
Computer Love – Kraftwerk
Je t’aime Moi Non Plus - Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin

Music + Art + Technology
12-21 March 2015
Village Underground | Heaven | Royal Festival Hall | Amnesty International UK | Kachette

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