Curator and media artist David Fodel organized the first Lafayette Electronic Arts Festival (aka LEAF) in 2016. In the years prior, he had been curating a similar festival called Media Live in collaboration with the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Melissa Fathman, the executive director at the Dairy Center for the Arts, approached him with the idea for a festival that would be edgier and inclusive of electronic music and visual art. That became LEAF, a two-day festival — including musical performances, visual art, workshops and films — that is free and open to the public.
For this year’s weekend of performances, Fodel invited various artists whose work was loosely representative of the theme of pattern language. In tandem with the performances, Fodel organized an art exhibit titled Machine Language that has been on display since early April.
Westword spoke with Fodel about how he selected artists in support of the festival’s theme and what to expect this weekend.
Westword: Tell us about the theme of "pattern language" and what the curation process looks like. What are you looking for in an artist’s work?
David Fodel: Pattern language is the theme that I put out there for the performances. I don’t like to be too overbearing in terms of establishing a theme, but it also helps me to group the kind of work I’d want to go looking for and select. Electronic music can be, and often is, very pattern-based, and different people approach that in different ways. At the very least, you can imagine sequenced drum patterns and beat-oriented electronic music. There will be some of that, there will be a [Boulder] DJ who has been around for many, many years — Nathan Jantz (aka DJ Crix Madine). ... I wanted to expand that [theme] in different ways, so some of the folks are doing work that is pattern-oriented but realized differently.
Jason and Debora Bernagozzi are the founders and directors of Signal Culture in upstate New York. It’s a residency where you go and they have all this vintage ’70s, ’80s, ’90s-era electronic video equipment. There used to be a place called the Experimental Television Center that’s in a small little town called Owego, New York. In the early ’70s, it was a hotbed of media-arts activity. ... People from all over the world would come there to operate this old electronic video equipment and analog stuff. Jason and Debora recently moved to Colorado; Jason took a teaching gig up at Colorado State University. He and Debora do various live performances using some of this equipment. They particularly focus on this idea of hybrid media, where the sound and the visual are generated from the same signal. So they have some vintage equipment that generates a visual signal, but also that same signal is used to generate the sound that you’ll be hearing. In that way, there is this interplay between sound and image that is directly tied together. So that, as a pattern of interaction, attracted me to that interpretation of the theme.
One of the other guys that is coming to town is from New York: Phillip Stearns. He has a similar approach but does it differently. He writes his own software. It’s a similar kind of thing in that he is using computer code to drive audio and video sequences that are all generated from the same base source.
Then there are two ensemble groups — a laptop orchestra and this group from Fort Collins that builds their own instruments. The laptop orchestra has a set of instruments that are designed to emulate a small chamber orchestra. When you see a chamber orchestra play, it’s usually in a smaller room. Each instrument stands on its own, and you’ll hear the sound of that instrument coming from that instrument. In the case of the laptop orchestra, each of the electronic instruments is attached to its own specialized, hemispheric speaker [which] can be positioned around the room. As opposed to all of the sound coming from the PA system at the front of the house, it [will come] out of the individual instruments, much like a traditional, acoustic instrument. The idea there, in terms of pattern language, is the patterns of interaction that would occur in an ensemble group.
Where are the patterns found in music and art, and why are the artists utilizing those patterns to create something different?
A theme is designed to give people a touchstone. I’m not trying to be didactic in terms of, “Oh, you’ll follow this theme thusly" — it’s not so much that. It’s just something to loosely work from. I think that almost all music is about pattern; otherwise, it’s a bunch of chaos and noise, which I guess can be music as well. Generally speaking, music really is about listening to something that to one person may seem like noise, finding the patterns in it and developing it into something you hear as music. Similarly, in visual arts, there are some basic, formal elements of any work, certainly in design, but in many other art forms — repetition and variation, having some sense of being pulled along in a direction to having your eyes drawn across the canvas or whatever it is. You can attribute that to some degree to patterns or lack of patterns.
It is a very general thing; I wanted to tie the two shows together. The Machine Language [exhibit] was driven by the title of a book I’d been reading, which is about machine art in the twentieth century and how technology constantly plays a role in artists doing work. But having machine language as the theme [ties] into this idea of new media work, how the machine gets represented and how the machine gets used. ... I figured I should have a theme for the performances as well. Pattern language is something that’s pretty prevalent throughout electronic music, so I thought those would make nice counterparts to one another.
What is the intention behind the performances? Why do you feel it’s important for people to see these familiar things transformed into something new?
There are going to be a variety of reasons why people choose to show up. My interest is to put together a program that I like, that satisfies certain interests in my world and to expose the community to a variety of ways that people are working. For some people, none of this will be new. ... They may not have seen a lot of these artists before. They may show up because of something particularly interesting, [like] what these guys from Signal Culture are going to do, because they work with a very special piece of equipment that is interesting and cool. If you’re into these kinds of things, there may be an esoteric element there. But for those people who maybe have no exposure to more experimental forms of electronic music, they could come to this and have some entry points, some way of understanding what’s going on and the ability to then ask some questions, [like], “What is this all about? How are they doing that? What are these weird speakers those laptop-orchestra guys are [using], and why does that matter? How does that tie into traditional music?”
There is certainly an educational component to it. Part of what we’re trying to do is present some things that really cover a spectrum and give people an opportunity to ask questions. That’s one thing we’ve really prided ourselves on — having the performers be available to the audience. The venue is very welcoming and allows people to stick around and hang out afterwards and [talk to the artists] about what they’re doing. What I hope is that there is something for everyone — for people who are sort of seasoned media geeks on this stuff to come and see something special that they’ve heard about and they want to be able to see it firsthand. For other people that have less connection to this work, [our hope is they will] learn something new and be exposed to it in a welcoming, non-threatening way. You know, you’re not driving to Denver, you’re not paying a lot of money and going to some weird club where you feel out of place and it’s awkward. This is a much more welcoming kind of environment. It’s free, so we’re trying to remove the barriers of entry so people can be exposed to this without feeling weird, like they don’t belong or like this is somebody else’s scene.
Lafayette Electronic Arts Festival — LEAF
Performances begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 27, Colorado Music Festival and Center for Musical Arts, 200 East Baseline Road, Lafayette, 303-665-0599
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