Conference Report: Futuresonic 2007 Festival

+Commissioned by Rhizome+

Conference Report: Futuresonic 2007 Festival
Social Technologies Summit
May 10-12, Manchester, UK

by Jonah Brucker-Cohen

2007 marked the 12th year of Futuresonic, a festival that began as a
sound art/ music festival and has morphed into a media art/ mobile
communications-themed event with concerts, exhibitions, talks, and
screenings staged all over the city of Manchester, England. This
year's festival focused on topics ranging from "Free Media" to "Urban
Playgrounds" to "Network Infrastructures" and featured a wide array
of speakers, artists, musicians, and thinkers from around the globe
converging on this urban landscape.

Futuresonic featured a new addition to its exhibition this year,
called "Art For Shopping Centres," which included three
newly-commissioned art pieces staged inside the city's "Arndale
Shopping Centre," a large indoor mall in the center of Manchester's
bustling inner city. British artist Graham Harwood's "NetMonster" is
a net-scraper application that searches and compiles data on the
Internet for historical information related to the 1996 IRA bombing
that devastated the city centre near the Arndale, injuring over 200
people. Meanwhile, Dave Valentine of MediaShed (in which Harwood is
also involved) created "Methods of Movement: The Duellists" a
videography of two "le parkour acrobats" running through the empty
Arndale at night, in a continual "duel" that was filmed entirely
though the shopping arena's CCTV camera system. This project marked
the first use of MediaShed's "GEARBOX Free-Media Toolkit", an open
source software application co-developed with Eyebeam's Production
Lab, that allows for video editing on free platforms. New York-based
artist Katherine Moriwaki's piece, "Everything Really is Connected
After All," consisted of a flock of mobile devices that, when brought
within radio range of each other, produced emergent audio narratives
about the shopping and downtown areas of the city (as told by
Manchester locals). The intent of the piece was to focus on the
shopping mall as a "non-place" or location that is both unique but
still identical in any location around the world.

In the panel discussions and artist talks, lively debates ensued
about the state of mobility in public spaces and how, through
technological interjections into these spaces, new forms of dialogue
can occur. Ottawa-based Anthropologist and avid blogger Anne Galloway
organized the conference speakers this year which ranged from
sociologists to engineers, social scientists, and corporate
researchers, all examining urban space with a critical viewpoint on
topics ranging from wireless networks to urban gaming to mobile
systems that propagate across economic and social boundaries. The
conference itself examined how technology use has become a "social
practice" from open hardware and software platforms to collaborative
applications that allow multiple users to engage in the creative
process at once. This "Socialization" of technology was evident
through the various speakers that presented on how distributed
systems can enable new forms of urban interventions and
collaborative interventions into the city space as an organic
creature. This year's festival also held Manchester's first Dorkbot
event. Local artist Steve Symons spoke about his MUIO
( interface, a real-time, multi-platform, and
open source hardware system (similar to the popular Arduino but
without the need for any programming) that allows for sensing the
external world and inputting data into applications like PureData,
Max/MSP, SuperCollider, and Processing through a standard USB

Although FutureSonic is in its 12th year, the festival is still
struggling with defining itself amongst the now multifarious amounts
of events focused on how "media arts" meet mobile technologies and
platforms. This year's line up of impressive speakers and interesting
commissions added some interesting discussions into the mix. Through
the next few years, it will be interesting to see how the festival
grows and adapts to the current changes in media arts and how
successfully it retains its focus on mobile technologies in order to
steer away from the larger, all encompassing events that include
every form and category of media art practice.