As digital artist Tarik Barri astutely observes on his website, when we look at a bird we don't think to ourselves, "Hey, the way these visuals and this audio go together is really nice and well constructed!" Our brains have no problem integrating information from multiple senses at once—in fact, that's the fundamental way we experience the world around us.
Media, however, isn't quite there yet—though many technology-forward artists say that multi-sensory, immersive experiences are where its future is headed. That's what the Gray Area Festival, running July 25–28 at the Gray Area Theater and Pier 70, seeks to explore with a weekend of workshops, performances and installations from artists eager to embrace the latest technological tools.
The festival's biggest attraction is the U.S. premiere of the ISM Hexadome, an installation by the Institute of Sound and Music in Berlin. Presented at Pier 70, it's comprised of six 20-foot-tall screens and can fit about 200 people. Essentially, it's a 360-degree theater for showing audiovisual works by a wide variety of artists, including Radiohead's Thom Yorke, whose beat-driven, sci-fi new album Anima explores the concept of a techno-dystopia. (Barri, who handles Yorke's visuals for his tours, collaborated on the visual component of his Hexadome piece. )
The Hexadome pairs nine forward-thinking electronic musicians with nine visual artists. Cult singer-producer Holly Herndon, who recently released an album partially composed by artificial intelligence, worked with digital artist Mathew Dryhurst, her frequent collaborator and husband. Local techno luminary Lara Sarkissian (also known as DJ Foozool of Club Chai) teamed up with Berlin's Jemma Woolmore, whose dimly lit geometric abstractions complement Sarkissian's percussive beats that sample traditional Armenian folk instruments.