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Convergence Sessions. Future Art + Social Ideas Exchange


Run Riot interviews Matthew Cook, Programmer & Producer behind Convergence Sessions.

Into it’s third year, Convergence Festival is running a series of talks, workshops, exhibitions, performances and encounters titled “Convergence Sessions” at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch from the 17-19 March 2016, showcasing innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in arts and technology.

We caught up with Matthew Cook, Programmer and Producer behind Convergence Sessions to quiz him on what we can expect from the programme this year as well as what’s in store for London’s art and music scene and in the multilayered world of near future tech more broadly.

Ben Romberg: Congratulations on Convergence Festival’s third year! Can you tell us a little bit about what you have in store?

Matthew Cook:
Convergence has grown significantly since we launched in 2014 and it's great see our hard work come to fruition. This year we’re taking over some of London’s landmark arts centers and music venues such as the Barbican, Roundhouse, Village Underground, KOKO, Scala and Troxy with an ambitious programme of live music, AV performances, installations, visual art, workshops and talks. From Johnny Greenwood’s sublime collaboration with Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and The Rajasthan Express JUNUN  (check out the album produced by Radiohead’s Nigel Goldrich and Paul Thomas Anderson’s documentary of the same name) to Syria’s legendary Omar Souleyman, post-industrial minimalists Factory Floor, a celebration of the late, great Gil Scott-Heron under the musical direction of The Invisible’s Dave Okumu featuring a host of British talent like Floating Points and Anna Calvi; LA’s psychedelic hip hop producer The Gaslamp Killer Experience and our artist-in-residence, the genius electronic composer Dan Deacon – there’s a lot on offer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Our Sessions strand is a playground of ideas comprising of an exhibitions programme; a week-long residency for University of the Arts London and Guildhall School of Music students at the Barbican's Pitt Theatre; and three days of talks, industry panels, workshops and masterclasses hosted by a range of partners including Spotify, Google Labs, Mixcloud, PRS for Music Foundation, CMU, onedotzero and seeper.

Ben: Can you tell us about the artists you have chosen to commission this year? In particular, we are curious about Ryan Wolfe, the Colour Choir and the Cyland Exhibition.

From 4-6 March we have the beautiful Colour Choir, an audiovisual instillation created by artist and musician Py developed in partnership with Silent Studios and longterm Radiohead collaborator Andi Watson. Stationed in Kachette on Old Street, the piece uses coloured light and 3-D sound to digitise colour through the visualisation of the human voice, creating a choir of colour. It’s an immersive experience exploring the relationship between voice, colour and space, a polyphonic celebration of the senses that allows us to experience sound and colour in an entirely new way.

On Saturday 5th March there’s a special AV performance called Axioms performed by Py and Throwing Snow, the Bristol based producer and composer celebrated by luminaries such as Thom Yorke, Four Tet, Glies Peterson and Bonobo. From the 10–20 March, mutimedia artist Ryan Wolfe is showcasing a new, site-specific work on display at the Great Eastern Wall Gallery. The piece will be his interpretation of London street life, drawing from influences such as Rube Goldberg’s fantasy inventions, Mondrian’s final painting Broadway Boogie-Woogie and Keith Haring’s eponymous bold, cartoonish murals. We’ve also partnered with Cyland this year, the influential team behind Russia’s largest multi media festival Cyberfest held annually at St. Petersburg’s prestigious Hermitage Museum. Cyland will exhibit at Village Underground Gallery throughout Convergence and it will be their first ever UK show, which is a real coup for us.

Ben: Convergence Sessions partnered with Mixcloud and onedotzero again this year. Can you tell us what they have in store for us?

Mixcloud have been very supportive of Convergence since day one and this year we’re taking the relationship even further with Mixcloud Curates on March 17th in Miranda, Ace Hotel Shoreditch. It’s a day of panel discussions and talks kicking off with BBC 6 Music’s Mary Anne Hobbs in conversation with Dan Deacon and The Gaslamp Killer. This is followed by Radio Renaissance, an in-depth look at the resurgence of radio with speakers from a variety of stations cropping up across the UK who are using Mixcloud as a broadcasting platform. Pioneering digital collective onedotzero have also been with us since the beginning. They’ve been leaders in the field for twenty years and we consider them an authority on digital art and culture. This year they’re hosting an event exploring the frontiers of Virtual Reality, inviting those working at the forefront of the medium to talk about their latest adventures in the realm of VR. There’s going to be a 360 degree immersive story telling session which I’m really looking forward to.

Ben: What made you choose the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch as a venue for Convergence Sessions this year?

Despite the rampant commercialisation of East London, the area is still a hotbed of creativity and innovation and Village Underground is central to our work (Glenn Max, our director, is also the Artistic Director of the venue). We wanted a space on the doorstep that was both international and could serve as a local hub - Ace fulfills both criteria. They’ve opened their doors to the local creative community of start ups, entrepreneurs and freelancers trying to survive in an increasingly competitive, resource poor industry and we salute them for that. I also like the feel of Miranda (Ace’s basement) hosting the Sessions from 17 – 19 March. It’s a refreshing change from the usual, dry corporate spaces typically used for talks and we intend to animate it with performances, masterclasses and AV work to keep people engaged and inspired.

Ben: Who are the contemporary artists or groups you feel have the most potential to blur the lines between technology and creativity?

VRSE, the virtual reality platform founded by director Chris Milk and technologist Aaron Kobin create innovative work within a variety of industry contexts. Aaron Kobin makes particularly beautiful work, such as Unnumbered Sparks, a monumental interactive sculpture in the sky choreographed by visitors in real time through mobile devices. It’s a crowd controlled visual artwork on a giant, floating canvas. London based visual artist Davide Quayola is also great. His work explores photography, geometry, time based digital sculptures and immersive audiovisual installations and performances.

Last year Convergence presented work by Marshmallow Laser Feast, who create epic light pieces and Tupac Martir is also great. WARP have made an unparalleled contribution to boundary defying electronic work for nearly 30-years years and introduced an entire generation to influential artists like Chris Cunningham, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. While programming Convergence Sessions we’ve also stumbled across a world of innovation, emerging platforms such as Reify, a platform for encoding physical objects with music and visuals and Makerversity, a sprawling lab of innovation based in Somerset House who have partnered with us this year. There’s so much talent out there, it's shame arts funding has been cut so dramatically. Imagine what we’d be seeing if there was more money around to make it happen.

Ben: What are the main topics that Convergence Sessions aim to focus on?

We want to take the traditional festival model - gigs, talks, industry events - and really mix it up. We want to offer people a chance to have encounters with the artists and gain a real insight into their creative practice and use of tech. Thematically Convergence is interested in the dematerialization and rematerialisation of digital culture, not only of the objects and tools we use but the digitization of society and humanity itself, such as our feelings, senses or even thoughts. We’re looking at the new information currency so we have digital arts collective seeper discussing Tangible Data and Google Labs presenting their new digital publishing platform Editions at Play, which proposes nothing less than the future of the book, how we read and digest literature. As always Convergence is focused on exploring the intersection of art, technology and culture (the clue is in our name) and how art is impacted by – and hopefully utilizes to a creative end – technology. At the heart of this is the belief that ideas are paramount, there’s no place for pyrotechnics and technical wizardry in the absence of an idea and we want to promote work that values creativity before anything else. This is why I’m excited about our talk about Cymatics, where we’ll explore the ancient roots of sound art practiced by Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo and the beautiful images created using water and sound vibrations which mirror symmetries found in the natural world such as snowflakes, or hexagonal cloud formations on Saturn. I guess you could say we’re focused on anything that inspires us, which makes for a lot of ground to cover.

Ben: In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues for artists and people who work in technology living in London today?

It’s difficult to imagine anyone in today’s world who doesn’t work directly or indirectly with technology. The issues are manifold but one that stands out is how technology impacts our basic humanity. There is a real risk of becoming desensitized, not only by the abundance of images, information and access, but how we use and interact with tech. There’s persuasive evidence to suggest smart phones are affecting the natural curvature of the spine and our posture, fracturing our attention spans and ability to think, focus, sleep and read. And, as advertising becomes more and more ‘intuitive’, is our right to choose and think for ourselves being infringed upon? For artists, this is pertinent because the creative process is all about free, associative thinking and – perhaps more importantly - feeling, which means more than ever our ideas and originality must be fought for and prioritized. But despite the concerns we all have about our brave new world, I think there’s a sliver lining. Ideas will always prevail and we want to endorse that. This is why Convergence is focused on technology as a tool to harness creativity and support innovation, rather than the other way round. It's like what our good friends Hellicar and Lewis say, 'technology is not an idea'!

Ben: What is changing in the tech scene in London that is making events such as Convergence Sessions possible?

Maybe there’s an increased appetite for digital work out there but what makes any festival possible is hard work, dedication, creativity and risk taking. If anything, I’d say it’s becoming more difficult to realise an event on this scale because funding is so scarce. You have to believe in the importance of what you’re doing to keep the faith.  

Ben: Is there a mayoral candidate who can count on your vote?

Is there a candidate who promises to look out for the people, who won’t sell what’s left of this incredible city to corporate wolves, who won’t cultivate social division, who genuinely cares about the environment, who understands the vital role the arts have to play in our lives and shapes policy accordingly? That is the candidate who will get my vote. If I have to choose, probably Siân Berry but my money’s on Goldsmith because, nine times out of ten, charisma is the deciding factor and let’s face it, he’s quite pretty isn’t he?

Ben: Can you name a London-based tech company or entrepreneur who has caught your eye in the past year?

Too many! It’s been a joy discovering new work this year. Technology Will Save Us, ROLI, Bare Conductive, Reify and SAM Labs are all dong great work. Check out their websites, you’ll have a lot of fun!

Ben: Are there any London-based festivals or peeps you'd like to give a shout out to?

Future Fest and Future Everything both set the bar very high. NESTA, onedotzero, seeper, Barbican, Roundhouse, Alpha-ville, WARP, Ninja Tune, Hellicar and Lewis, The Quietus and Village Underground, the mother ship. Oh, and of course, Run Riot!

Music + Art + Technology
10 - 20 March 2016

Matthew Cook is an arts programmer and creative producer. He has worked as Contemporary Music Programmer at The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Whitechapel Gallery, Hackney Empire and Brighton Dome and Festival, where he oversaw the year round performing arts programme. He was also Programme Producer at Alain de Botton's The School of Life, an associate producer at the Barbican, Music Programmer at London's House of Vans and co-founded internet radio station London Fields Radio.

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