LEV: From Theremin to Festival

L.E.V. Festival has had a resounding impact and a great success. We talked about the history of electronic music and interviewed the people in charge of the festival.

Published: May 15, 2013
LEV: From Theremin to Festival

L.E.V 2013

By Laura Cano (@Vi_di_uscita), La Caja Revuelta

“Sound is not heard as it is but for what it represents. Once the meaning has been identified, the signifier is no longer heard. Yet this is not completely true as it can be heard but not listened to, in the same way as something is seen but not watched. However, far less is listened to than watched”. José Manuel Berenguer

(…) Far less is listened to than watched”. This is perhaps the great success of the L.E.V. festival in combining, mixing and making the latest trends in electronic music and visual arts merge into one thing, into one whole. And that this whole penetrates your senses, turning each concert into a unique sensorial experience.  Into a complete work of art.  As John Cage said: “The imaginary separation of hearing from the other senses does not exist”.

Since 2007,  the festival, Laboratorio de Electrónica Visual [Visual Electronic Laboratory] has been taking place in Gijón with great success among the public, filling up to the brim with excited people who come not only from all corners of Spain, but also from Britain, France, Germany, etc. Exposure in the media is exactly the same with it being reviewed and followed by the main radio stations, newspapers, and cultural magazines (special programme “L.E.V. 2013” on Atmósfera, on Radio 3 ), placing itself very close to the most important festivals of this kind such as the Sónar festival in Barcelona or the Monegros Desert festival in Huesca.

L.E.V. Festival 2013_Teaser from LEVFestival on Vimeo.

Botánico

 

Over two days, Friday 3 and Saturday 4 May, spaces at La Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura [Laboral City of Culture] - the theatre, church and art centre as well as Gijón’s Atlantic Botanical Gardens -  are transformed into a place for enjoying and being stimulated by the electronic sounds and technologically generated images. Naiara Valdano has already spoken to us about the happenings of the event itself in her most recent article on #LABlog.

Far from the clichés and prejudices that go round about any event where this type of music is present, L.E.V. has succeeded in giving due recognition to technological and experimental practices music and image. But why hasn’t electronic music been given the artistic category that other types of music, such as classical, flamenco or blues, have?

 

Clark

 

The history of this type of music is not usually known. It could be said that its antecedents lie in the first electronic apparatuses for recording and sound reproduction, such as the Helmholtz resonator or the phonograph by Edison, for example, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the first artistic currents to be attracted to these types of musical compositions would be the futurism who, led by Luigi Russolo, invented music which was composed of noises and electronic music boxes, which from that point onwards were also considered as instruments.

 

 

In 1919, Lev Sergeivitch Termen invented the Theremin, predecessor synthesizer to the Minimoog, and unique since it was the first instrument to make sounds without being physically touched.  Gijón’s festival pays homage to this inventor by adopting his first name. Shortly afterwards, in 1925, the microphone was invented, and in 1931 Alan Dower Blumfield was to develop stereophonic sound for recording, giving an impetus to the music industry in a way never imagined before.

It was in the era of John Cage when the music scene would experience an authentic revolution. Inspired by the experimentation of Satie and Duchamp, Cage would introduce a new music concept where the process is as relevant as the piece itself. The execution would be considered action, and coming into play in this would be chance, silence and, through this, noise. The instruments would be extended, ranging from more classical ones such as the piano to any object capable of creating sound and among these, of course, electronic devices.

 

 

During World War II the disc-jockey figure was born. They were sent to entertain the US troops during the conflict.  After the war Musique concrète (“concrete music”), which was conceived by Stockhausen among others and based on the collection of  ambient sounds  to be later assembled in a studio to create original compositions, was about to become one of the biggest influences on contemporary electronic music.

In the 60s, Robert Moog launched the Moog analogue synthesizer that would introduce new sounds and concepts to music such as mathematical compositions. It was from this time that already existing musical styles like rock or reggae fully embraced sound experimentation which was offered to them by electronics. Dub (electronic reggae) and progressive rock and other styles including minimalism, led by the composer Steve Reich, would use electronic devices in their very first compositions. King Tubby would take a definitive step further by inventing the remix.

 

From the 70s to 80s, electronic music would become truly popular thanks to clubs and discotheques, and a great variety of pre-existing music styles became interested in fusing with it. It saw the birth of well-known electronic styles such as House in Chicago or Techno in Detroit, which were influenced by the German group Kraftwerk - pioneers of electronic pop.

Acid House raves in the 80s were the culmination of all these electronic styles, in which the music was mixed and accompanied by hippy ideals and underground intellectual thinking.

It was during the 90s that electronic music was consolidated and became more commercial with subgenres like Ambient, Trance and Drum and Bass, among many others, appearing on the scene.

Following this brief tour of the history of electronic music, in which its origin and artistic vocation are clearly evident, I would now like to focus not on a description of the actual event, but on what its organisation involves. With this in mind, I had a short interview with the people in charge of the festival.

Roly

 

L.E.V. is a project which has been designed and conceived since its beginnings by the Asturian collective Datatrón 0x3F, made up by Cristina de Silva, Nacho de la Vega and Fran Suárez.

Nacho de la Vega and Cristina de Silva form the multimedia art collective Fiumfoto, which for many years now has been working to bring its personal conception of reality to the world of artistic new expressions at the same time as curating projects such as Arenas Movedizas and the international exhibition Visualizar el Sonido [Visualising Sound] at LABoral, among many other activities.

Francisco Suárez is an interior designer and founder of the platform Scheme, which is dedicated to the dissemination of emerging projects at a global level in the domains of electronic music, graphic design and experimental video.

-What led you to creating the festival?

+Fiumfoto: Well, we’ve been working in electronic music and visual arts for around 20 years now. We’ve always been involved in music. We’ve deejayed and made visuals in lots of bars and clubs and worked with many artists throughout this time, and it always seemed to us that electronics was only approached, or understood from its more festive side. We thought it was important to give visibility to this type of culture and that our city where there has always been a strong scene should be put on the map for this kind of event. Gijón is a small city on the northern coast, but very lively, and we were tired of having to move to the large capitals to be able to enjoy these kinds of experiences.

+Fran: For my own part I had always been very interested in the creation and development of platforms which could act as a medium for music and visual arts. Gijón has limitless potential for a project of this type to work to perfection.  When we met we had common interests and the same vision of how projects of this type should be devised and carried out and so we didn’t hesitate.

Iglesia

 

-L.E.V. is having a resounding impact (I heard comments from visitors who came from Britain who were thrilled). Did you think it would be such a great success among the public and critics at the outset?

+At first you don’t think about these things, but slowly we began to realise that the festival had huge potential. We took great care over every aspect of it: the sound, locations, programme... so that the public could enjoy to the maximum a weekend packed with experiences.

-What difficulties have you encountered in putting across electronic music as art? And when it comes to combining music/visual arts?

+Our intention was to decontextualise electronic creation and take it to a wider space, leaving behind some of the prejudices there are about it... to treat it as another area of creation which also has the ability to connect to other disciplines in a very synergistic way, as is the case with visual arts.

-How important do you think it is for a festival like this to take place in a museum? Is it an ideal place in your opinion?

+An art centre is the ideal place, of course, although there are more possible ones...

One of the premises of the festival is to fully take advantage of all the resources that are available, and in this sense L.E.V. is extremely lucky in having at its disposal a theatre with very good acoustics, a church, an art centre and a botanical garden, all within a very close radius. This is one of the strengths of the festival.

Teatro

 

-The whole host of related activities to the sessions shows it is of great interest to the public : Workshop Red Bull Music Academy with Clark, workshop: Bhoreal, hardware controller, Enhanced performances & It’s getting dark here, L.E.V. competition – Scanner FM, The Creators Project and free admission to the exhibition “Realidad Elástica” (Elastic Reality) at LABoral. Is it one of your interests to promote new values? To get the novice involved in experiencing them? Do you think that in this way art and new technologies are valued more?

+The aim of the festival is being able to discover, understand and analyse electronic creation from different points of view, so that the public can get closer in different ways, hence the idea of programming meetings, workshops...

-Is it difficult to form collaborations such as those with Red Bull or Scanner FM?  Do you consider their support essential in order to complete the project?

+L.E.V. is a coproduction of the Principality of Asturias and LABoral Centro de Arte which has also benefitted from other important collaborations like those established with Red Bull almost from the very beginning of the festival… and many others, all of which we consider to be very valuable.

The support of all these parts and the joint and coordinated work with a clear objective in mind is what has made it possible for L.E.V. to have run these 7 editions and stay in good health.

Pye

 

-What has been the most sought-after activity with the best results?

+The live performances in the church by Pole and Andy Stott may well be one of these activities. We were really keen to take up this space again and programme live concerts there and think it worked really well and that the public enjoyed it in a very special way.

-Are the artists normally interested in taking part in the workshops and round tables? How do the public respond when they come into contact with them?

+Yes, they are usually interested although the truth is that sometimes it gets quite complicated, not out of a lack of interest but because it’s difficult to co-ordinate all of the activities: sound checks, interviews... but in general they show interest. And the public responds very positively. The workshops have reached full capacity in all of the festivals and participation has always been very high in the rest of the activities.

The profile of the artists who come to L.E.V. isn´t either one of a big star - in most cases, they are just normal people who are really pleased to come into contact with other creators and the public. There’s a really great atmosphere at the festival and this is noticed by everyone. The artists are the first ones to, and this makes it possible for them to also enjoy the festival in a relaxed way, being able to go and see the performances...

-  What challenges do you have in mind for future editions?

+We plan to carry on working hard, trying to make the most of all the resources and looking for new ways to get closer to the public. We aren’t interested in a static festival.

 

After speaking to the three of them, it would almost seem easy to organise and start up a cultural event of such quality and importance.  As you can see, good ideas, even today, achieve good results and support.

The fact that L.E.V. sprang from the minds of three people, as opposed to a multinational, who had the interest and desire to provide ideas, knowledge, research, music and visual experimentation is more than just motivating for both you and me. All the more reason to keep a track on it, learn with and from it, support it and, above all, enjoy the show.

Photos L.E.V. 2013: Piru de la Puente

With thanks to Cristina, Nacho and Fran.

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