“Look at the hands.” As AI art is rapidly infiltrating our cultural zeitgeist, many have been easily duped by the power of computer-generated artwork. Last August saw the Colorado State Fair’s digital arts competition won by a work generated by Midjourney’s zeroes and ones. Mutant hands, though, have been a telling sign for many. In his work for Sónar’s 30th anniversary, co-director Sergio Caballero artificial intelligence meanderings have mutated more than simply just palms and digits.
“Sónar has processed the past 30 years of visual campaigns with artificial intelligence,” the Catalan artist explains. “The AI has carried out 29 training sessions, each one of them based on a visual campaign from the festival’s history. In seeking to acquire the ability to generate images that could fit into each of these campaigns, the AI trains itself and generates a multitude of trial and error results. It is in the beauty of these errors that Sónar has found the image for its 30th anniversary.”
Thirty years is some going for a festival so at the fringes of conventionality, and this year’s approach to their famous ‘Sónar Image’ serves as a testament to how their progressive approach has maintained their place at the forefront of creativity and experimentalism. In celebrating the flaws of machine learning, Caballero questions the value of art; a concept more pertinent than ever in a digital world spiralling its way further and further from humanity.
After a few years of simple beginnings, in 1997, the Sónar flyer would embark on a more outré approach, with the parents of the festival’s directors photographed on an out-of-season Costa Brava beach. From then on, the ‘Sónar Image’ has become a major part of the annual proceedings, taking in a taxidermy dog on wheels, Maradona himself, the greatest fraudsters in history, mutant pets created in a Chinese laboratory, and many a surreal cinematic adventure in the countryside. The festival’s 25th anniversary featured a celebratory exhibition, Ni Flyers Ni Posters, marking the visuals that had become synonymous with its unconventional identity, and now five years on, Sergio Caballero celebrates 30 years of Sónar with the mother of all remixes.
An installation at Sónar+D in collaboration with ME by Melià, Processing… 30 years of Sónar, will present an immersive film that transports ticket holders on an audiovisual journey through the Sónar universe as processed by artificial intelligence, and will be accompanied by music by longtime friend of the festival, Austrian composer Fennesz.
The groundbreaking European festival of bleeding-edge electronic music and technological innovation, will celebrate its 30th anniversary in Barcelona from 15 — 17 June, 2023. The event will showcase more than 250 artistic offerings and a diverse range of activities, including concerts and DJ sets, as well as masterclasses, engaging talks, and thought-provoking debate forums. A typically splendid lineup features the likes of Aphex Twin, BICEP, SHERELLE x Kode9, La Niña Jacarandá, Bored Lord, Fever Ray and Honey Dijon; whilst artificial intelligence’s impact on the arts will be the central theme of the expansive Sónar+D 2023 programme.
Tickets for this year’s festival are available now at Sonar.es, in the meantime, here’s a roundup of the very best from Sónar Image through the years, interspersed with this year’s array of unnerving AI-created remixes.
Sónar 1996: Flyers, posters, design schools and design magazines proliferated, and Sónar images began to stand out from the crowd with an inflatable armchair, more typical of ’70s decoration than end of the century design.
Sónar 1997: The parents of the Sónar directors took a starring role in the first campaign to break the mould in terms of what was typical from music festivals at that time. The parents were photographed in an out of season Costa Brava holiday spot. A certain air of nostalgia and decadence enveloped these images with influences drawn more from cinema and art than cutting edge electronic music.
Sónar 1998: In contrast to the perceived coldness of electronic music, Sónar integrated the sensuality and warmth of Brazil. A spectacular group of women, dressed for the Rio carnival, were photographed against the snowy backdrops of Pastorets, Christmas holiday theatrical performances typical in Catalonia.
Sónar 1999: If the Olympics, universal exhibitions and large events all have a mascot then why not Sónar? A taxidermy stuffed dog placed on wheels moves through a luxurious house and city parks as if in an article from a gossip magazine.
Sónar 2000: Themes of paranormal phenomena and identical twins have regularly been used throughout the festival’s 25 years. The start of the 21st century saw two pairs of twins, some with telekinetic and levitation powers, others capable of not breathing for hours. Tarkovsky, Kubrick and Alice in Wonderland influences were evident in this campaign, which was almost censored.
Sónar 2001: Photographs of a stereotypical conservative and affluent Spanish family, perfectly framed in their surroundings -if it weren’t for the mysterious urine stain on each family member. This was a scathing critique on a family model the conservative were aspiring for the XXI century.
Sónar 2002: As an ironic parallel to the remarkable growth of the festival, Sónar focused its attention towards an authentic social phenomenon for the masses: football and the year of the World Cup. And it did so in a gigantic way, with an icon, a footballing genius and symbolic figure associated with numerous scandals: Diego Armando Maradona, a living legend who has managed to survive the incredible pressure of global stardom.
Sónar 2005: A tribute to the greatest fraudsters in history. Homage to a cunning and shameless attitude, which ultimately provoked sympathy from society and, over time, made these characters authentic folk heroes capable of selling the Eiffel Tower or winning the Boston Marathon by using the subway. And fittingly, only a couple of these stories and characters were in fact real.
Sónar 2007: Photographs from the book ‘Surgery through the Ages’ by Lejaren à Hiller, considered to be the creator of American photographic illustration, published in 1944, formed the basis for this year’s image. Onto these images, in which models posed as patients and surgeons, representing the surgical history from antiquity to the present day, the smiley appears, an acid house music icon from the ’80s, a precursor to electronic music and a tribute to the beginning of dance music history.
Sónar 2008: The image for 2008 played with fiction and reality exposing shocking images from a Chinese laboratory where animals and humans were being experimented on to create mutant pets. It became viral even before Sónar confirmed its authorship. One of these creatures, La Pajarraca, with lofty artistic ambitions beyond electronic music, was presented as a contender to represent Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest of that year.
Sónar 2010: Once again a film was used for the image of Sónar. This time in the form of two Russian-speaking ghosts whose pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was intended to recover their human form. It paid tribute to road movies but also the first works of the Swiss artists Fischli and Weiss. The film continued its journey long after that year’s Sónar festival and participated in prestigious film festivals. It received the award for best film at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2011, among others.
Sónar 2012: La Distancia is the film on which the image of 2012 was based. A film that dispenses with any forms of narration and seeks to create an atmosphere more in line with contemporary or performance art than cinema. Despite the author’s tribute to artists such as Joseph Beuys and David Lynch, this work escapes any true comparison, its personality and complexity was showcased at more than forty film festivals around the world.
Sónar 2017: This was perhaps Sónar’s most commented image to date. In a green, leafy and cozy environment, strange beings throw all kinds of gold objects into an immense crusher. A continuation of the King Midas story in which discarding everything that promotes greed is the only salvation for humanity and the planet.
Sónar 2018: The 2018 image commemorates 25 years of the festival and is a mission that has been two years in the making and aims to travel much further, specifically to the exoplanet Luyten Star b (GJ273b). Thirty-five artists and three lucky winners from the public synthesize their musical exploration in the form of 10 second pieces transmitted to this exoplanet which is only 12.4 light years away from Earth and meets the criteria for possible intelligent life.
Sónar 2019: The short film “Je te tiens”, image of Sonar 2019 written and directed by Sergio Caballero was premiered worldwide on the 19th may at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival. It is the road trip of a mother (Spanish actress Ángela Molina) and her daughter (Virginia Rouse – from the Sónar Booking team) through strange worlds. The daughter wants to kill herself and the mother will try to talk her out of it.
Sónar 2022: Last year marked the return of Sónar after a two year hiatus due to the pandemic. The image of the 29th edition delves around series of scarecrows move in the wind among vineyards and sown fields. Archetype of the mental body of the human being, in the process of evolution, the scarecrow is also a symbol of solitude in search of forbidden friendships.