Through the Music Tech Fest, I’ve recently been involved in a project to create a sound installation for the passenger terminal area of Rijeka airport on the island of Krk in Croatia. My role was to help connect the local commissioning body to a community of brilliant and creative technologists and artists who are experts at exactly this sort of thing.
After #MTFCentral in Ljubljana, Slovenia, we drove down to Croatia to spend a little time with friends and family. At the fantastic Samovar Tea bar, we met with Daniela Urem, head of Arts and Cultural Affairs at the University of Rijeka – and she introduced us to Valerij Jurešić from the Department for Culture, Sports and Technical Culture. Valerij asked if we would help find the right person to develop a commission to create a musical sound environment for the airport, using the unique regional cultural characteristics of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County – and of course, we agreed. We could immediately think of a number of people who would love to get involved in a project like that.
Turns out, that was only the tip of the iceberg.
We had a really tight turnaround on this – just one week between making the announcement and the deadline – but we had an amazing response with over 100 expressions of interest and 34 finished submissions, including newly composed works. It’s now down to a shortlist of eight, and we’re looking forward to an announcement about a decision of the winning tender soon.
We’re not actually choosing the winning tender, of course – simply helping to manage the project by reaching out through our network of artists and creative technologists.
For the artists, this means working with the Istrian Scale and partnering with local artists to create an interactive piece. The commissioning partners in Croatia were looking for six hours of material that could be looped… but from the Music Tech Fest crowd, we were pretty much expecting installations that are generative and responsive – and there are some brilliant ideas in the mix, from the very simple and beautiful to some entirely engaging projects that may cause some people to want to miss their flights.
It’s an anonymous and transparent process. The organisation in Croatia making the decision about which project gets commissioned doesn’t know the name of the artists submitting – or much about their background. We sent the proposals and audio examples to the commissioning body each with an identifying number. They are selecting the project and then telling us which number they’ve chosen. We’ll match the number to the person and introduce the successful applicant to the commissioning organisation.
What’s particularly interesting about this for me is the idea that music innovation (and music in general) is about so much more than streaming and downloading recordings of songs, marketing bands through social media, putting on gigs and selling merchandise. The fact that an artist’s work can be commissioned either as a piece of six hours duration or as a generative installation that is non-recurring is a really interesting one. I like that a work like this can perform both an artistic function as an expression of a specific local culture as well as to create a sonic environment that affects the mood and experience of a group of people as they move from place to place.
The fact that it’s for an airport terminal is so great. There’s an opportunity here to create something ambient and unobtrusive, but also to reward listening within the space by having some genuinely interesting elements to it. This is not a new idea, of course – and Brian Eno’s Music for Airports is itself a great example and inspiration for this sort of thing.
But this is more than a soundtrack. The opportunity here is to create an installation. With the help of our partners at Sonos, who have offered to contribute speakers and other (as yet unreleased) technologies to the project, there’s the chance to design an auditory space that changes as you move around it. Sounds can come from different places within the passenger terminal and can reward active engagement with the installation as well as provide passive background listening.
Having read and heard every submission, I can tell you no matter which of these is chosen, it’s going to make for an absolutely beautiful sound experience – and I think it will make an enormous impact on the way the building feels as you move through it, whether arriving in Rijeka or on your way somewhere else. More public spaces internationally should consider their sonic environment in this sort of way. The sound of a place really affects how we feel when we’re in them – and how we feel about them when we’re not.
This is an incredibly prestigious commission, so we were delighted to be asked to be involved and connect so many members of the MTF community. There are also monetary prizes (and recognition) for second and third place entries. There’s already been some coverage in the television news in Croatia (including a televised press conference that Michela joined via Skype from the European Commission’s ICT2015 conference we attended in Lisbon last week), and there’ll no doubt be a great deal more once the installation is completed and ready to launch.
For me, it makes a lot of sense to be involved in this sort of thing. It’s a natural extension from the work that we do with Music Tech Fest, bringing together and showcasing some fantastic imaginative projects and providing a space for artists and technologists to work together on new sorts of collaborations. The good news is that we may well get to do more through these same connections, not least because Rijeka is in the build-up towards its entry for selection as European Capital of Culture 2020. Fingers crossed…
But this is definitely something I think we could do a lot more of in all sorts of different places around the world. Know any public spaces that could sound better? We know some people who could turn that into a real experience.