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The SPARK festival logo.

SPARK again, this weekend

February 21, 2006

Unconventional musical devices will rule this weekend on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis.

For the fourth straight year, the University of Minnesota's School of Music is hosting the SPARK Festival of Music. The event, which showcases the latest in electronic and electroacoustic music and art, runs today through Sunday, February 26, at the U's West Bank Arts Quarter and various locations in the West Bank neighborhood. More than 15 concerts, five paper sessions, and four featured lectures are scheduled this year.

"Spark provides local arts patrons a unique opportunity to sample the best cutting-edge electronic art and music works from everywhere on the planet," says Douglas Geers, University professor of composition and SPARK Festival founder and director. "And best of all, most events are free!"

This year's keynote guests are American composer Alvin Lucier and British media artist Scanner. Lucier, who pioneered many areas of music composition and performance, including the notation of performers' physical gestures and the use of brain waves in live performance, will give his lecture on Friday, February 24, at 11:15 a.m. in Room 370, Anderson Hall. Scanner, whose nonperforming name is Robin Rimbaud, will talk about his music and the technology behind it with local music legend JP Everett on Wednesday, February 22, at 7:30 p.m. in The Whole at Coffman Memorial Union. Scanner, who is known internationally for creating and multilayering sound pieces that twist technology in unconventional ways, will participate in a live Internet performance with free103point9.org, an arts group based in New York. (In this performance, several free103point9 DJs will create music in New York and send it over the Internet to Minneapolis, where Scanner will mix the multiple feeds into a single live musical stream.)

Geers conceived of this festival in 2003 "to shake this place up." When interviewed about the festival last year, Geers said one of the goals is "to bring in [performers] and sounds to stretch people's ears a little bit."

"To me, normal is boring; weird is good," he once said. "There's no point in us at the University hosting a festival of music that people could just go down to Target and buy a CD." For those unaccustomed to listening to electronic music, but want to check out some of the events this week, Geers suggests paying attention to how a sound (or sonic texture) changes over time, instead of listening for a tune (because sometimes there isn't one).

Spark has grown from a two-day event to a six-day event that draws dozens of artists from around the world, including France, Hong Kong, Greece, India, Switzerland, Bulgaria, and Argentina. As in years past, participating artists will include University students and faculty, as well as a number of regional independent artists.

For a complete list of events, which includes a panel session on the rave scene and nightly concerts at the Nomad World Pub, see 2006 Spark Festival.