Signal & Noise

At VIVO Media Arts Centre

If you’re into ATM dance parties, being locked in a self-storage unit, meditating in an organ the size of a room, pirate-radio plays in the park, re-writing Vancouver’s history or psychic readings of pizza crust with a vegan option, then you must have attended the life changing Signal & Noise festival, as I did this Apr. 23 to 26. If you didn’t, I suggest you make a resolution to attend next year’s festival, right now.

At VIVO Media Arts Centre, ground zero for the ninth annual Signal & Noise festival, bikes were piled high out-front. They seemed to be greeted by the rhythmic cacophony of Stephan Schulz’s Drumline, which was mounted to VIVO’s front wall. Like a vocalized speed trap, three snare drums were triggered by the passing cars.

Volunteers, signified by matching braided headbands, greeted me with screams and warnings saying, “You don’t want to go in there.” I’m still not sure if this was a joke, but strangely, the door was locked. Eventually someone left and I darted in, smiling back at the nervous volunteers.

The main room was rushing with sound. People were pinned to the walls and all the seats were taken. Three projected images raced, roared and fluctuated between sky and ground in a chase between deer and wolves, eagles and ravens—the hunters and the hunted. A live audio composition of a wild animal snuff score was taking place at the back, hidden in near darkness. The gallop of hooves, the wind rushing through feathers was too real and too loud. This was Hope and Prey, a fierce and majestic collaboration between Portland-based artists, composer Daniel Menche and filmmaker Vanessa Renwick.

Menche, whose antics are as innovative and extreme as his sonic work, is well on his way to becoming this year’s Signal & Noise comedic wiseman. He remarked that “people chase each other around in films all the time.” So, he implied, why not watch animals do the same thing?

The serene Renwick studied wolves and developed wolf and wild animal footage since the late 1990s. When asked about her work she recalled reaching a point and deciding, “I’m not going to go to school. I’m going to make a film and hang out with wolf biologists.” If you get a chance to witness her work, you’ll be glad she didn’t pick the education route.

One hour into Ryan Trecartin’s film, I-Be Area, where virtual reality bought-out reality, I managed to tear my eyes from the screen, remembered I had a body that was inhabiting a room with other bodies, and turned to see people stumbling from their chairs, some never to return. At this point I broke into a paranoid sweat over who had spiked the wine with psychedelic drugs.

I-Be Area reveals a hyper-cyber space divided into areas like plots of purchased land. “Originals” and clones—as people in the audience called them—traipse around speaking in SMS [ed. Text messaging jargon.] It was like online social-networking gone berserk in a virtual high school popularity contest for identity where children are left in rooms screaming and people are moved to the desktop trash can. Chaos.

One of the few moments of discernible plot in I-Be Area happened when a pregnant character revealed a target painted on her stomach. Removing the stuffing from herself, she screamed, calling it a “power prop.” Menopausal lesbians in this movie can purchase children through Internet auction which gives them all the parenting power. In this, I-Be Area contains a social commentary and futuristic forecast, disguised as a hallucination, revealing a critique of heteronormality. After being immersed in the cyber-queer capitalism of I-Be Area, ironically, I wondered two things: How much does this area cost? And where can I buy it?

The Mystic Pizza Occult Snack Den ambient room supplied Signal & Noise goers with an amber-lit refuge, as well as mystic healing. There were three pizza choices, including a Julia Roberts variety in honour of her role in the installation’s namesake film, Mystic Pizza. This installation filled VIVO with the alluring aroma of pies magically produced by the Canadian born, but Portland-based artist couple, Helen Reed and Hannah Miami.

According Reed, through the use of the “divine,” psychic clues could be found in a patron’s crusts and crumbs—all to the tune of a mystical mix-tape, which included darkwave artist Diamanda Galas.

Patrons sat at one of three small round tables. The positioning of the crusts and crumbs on the plate, the crumb to crust ratio, the directional relationship between pizza eater and pizza, all inform the artist’s psychic script. The pizza partners divined my crust by shaking up my plate’s crumbs to the rhythms of an undisclosed question with impressive accuracy and attention at the end of a busy mystic-pie filled weekend—and all for a mere four dollars (including the vegan slice). It was, in truth, a mini-therapy session and nourishment for the body, spirit and eye.

Jeffery Allport’s solo percussion improvisation brought the main space—including the standers and wall-leaners—to an intense breath-holding near-silence. The work was performed without the use of electronics, but rather with snare drums, mallets, rubber balls, cymbals, vibration and tuning forks. Most of Allport’s instruments were acquired from the Sally Ann and a medical supply store, as opposed to Long & McQuade—a dreaded destination for the artist. Refreshing to the experimental music and noise-norm, Allport is a self-identified musician, although he said, “Some people wouldn’t consider me one.”

Although the work felt more exploratory than realized at stages, Allport appeared to place emphasis on listening as opposed to playing, exposing his process, as well as his craft.

“Science of Sound,” the artist lecture featuring Allport, Sara Gold, Daniel Menche and Brady Marks as facilitator, explored the idea of capturing what was referred to by Marks as the “holy moment”—a place of cathartic connection, and even spirit, within improvisation. This holy moment in Allport’s Signal & Noise performance was not only achieved, but was delicately transferred, leaving the ear renewed.

Showcasing media artists at home and abroad in a presentation of new-tech contemporary work, Signal & Noise provided a viewfinder into the current (and what we can either hope or dread is to come) realm of art, as well as in our interactions with media, technology, nature and each other.