Review of SoundCulture'96
YT: What did you think of it overall?
EO: Oh, I thought it was quite successful. I was amazed that most of the
events were sold out and that there were huge audiences. I don't know where
they all came from, I have no idea.
YT: I think some people found out about it from the web,
but I found out about this through a friend, then I checked out the web
site which was very helpful during the festival.
EO: Our web site was informative, but it was not like one of these really
snazzy web pages or anything like that. There was an article in the S.F.
Bay Guardian that came out that helped to draw a lot of people in, but I
think it was also good word of mouth more than anything. A lot of people
kept telling me that they only kept hearing good things about it, that it
is a fun festival to be at, with a lot of interesting people and a lot of
different kinds of work going on. So that sort of kept people interested.
YT: Do you think SoundCulture
changed you somehow?
EO: It is hard to say, because it is still fairly soon after the festival
has finished up. I am a lot more organized now than I was before I did this,
but that just comes out of necessity. The thing I really value about it
is that an event like this gathers all these interesting people who are
working in sound. For me that is even more valuable than having the exhibitions
or concerts - although that is certainly important part of the discourse
that goes on as well. But it's pretty huge amount of work to get it all
YT: How big was the event?
EO: When all was said and done we included the work of 228
participants in 17 exhibitions,
10 panels, and 55
performances and other events. These
occurred at 33 sites throughout the Bay Area and
involved 32 presenting organizations.
It's really huge. I didn't realize that it was so big until I sat down and
added it up.
YT: Didn't you expect things to get this big?
EO: Oh, no. I knew it's going to be big but I thought there were probably
going to be maybe 40 artists or something. I've never bothered to add anything
up until a couple of months before it started and then it turned out to
be a lot more than I had expected.
YT: Do you have any disappointments, regrets, or something
you wish that could have happened?
EO: It's hard to say, because a lot of stuff got included. Fairly early
on when we were planning everything we made a list of different kinds of
work that we want to have happened and I think they are all included. We
wanted to have noise bands, something on acoustic ecology, panels, computer
network stuff, high tech work, instrument building, installations, radio
pieces, activities for kids, and so on, and there was something from all
these categories on the festival. I think the only shortcoming is that one
of the things we tried to do is to find some innovative indigenous sound
practices from non-Western cultures among the Pacific Islands, Native American
groups here, or cultures from Central and South America, and our efforts
didn't yield very much. We had the call for entries translated into Spanish
and distributed here, in Mexico, and in South America, but nothing came
back from it. It probably would have been better to have more actively curated
that area rather than just seeing what showed up in the mail, but that certainly
would have required more time and resources than we had available to us.
Even with a few of the SoundCulture organizers having
good contacts in those areas, we weren't able to find anything that fit
For example, we had heard about a particular storytelling practice among
the Chinese Hmong people that involves playing a wind instrument by singing
into it and dancing at the same time. There is a Hmong community in Bakersfield,
but of the people there none had maintained this practice enough to feel
comfortable presenting it to an outside audience. So in that case it meant
if we wanted to include it in the festival then we would have to find someone
in China and bring them over here. And there wasn't the money to do that.
There is also a really interesting artist in Indonesia, Heri Dono, who we
wanted to bring over, but again there wasn't the money to do that and the
Indonesian government doesn't pay to send their artists abroad, so we were
stuck. I think that that was the only thing that was something of a disappointment
in that it didn't happen. But that was mainly due to lack of
money, and lack of money is no surprise nowadays. But other
than that we had a representations of all the different kinds of work that
we had planned, and I was happy with that.
YT: During SoundCulture'96, were there any surprises or any
successful stories that you want to talk about?
EO: There were a lot of nice surprises. Projects that looked like they might
be hard to realize under particular circumstances ended up turning out very
well. Kathy Kennedy's piece which was held at the Town Center Mall in Corte
Madera took on a lot of different transformations during the course of the
planning. Originally it was going to be with a choir and it was going to
be a slightly different piece in a different location, then a choir couldn't
be found. So then Public Art Works (the organization producing that event)
found a site in the mall where something could happen. When they told me
I thought, "A shopping mall? Well okay, whatever." Shopping malls
are usually pretty deadly places, but I thought the piece worked really
well in the site. So that was a really good surprise. Also I thought that
the panel presentations on "Acoustic Ecology" at Headlands Center
for the Arts were pretty good because there were whole range of work that
was represented there. We also got Negativland to perform at the Trocadero
Transfer, which I was happy about. That performance looked kind of dicey
for a while because of logistical requirements, but it got pulled together
really well. Since Negativland has been doing their wonderful show on KPFA
for years, they are at the forefront of appropriation practices, and they
have had a large influence on contemporary sound practice, I wanted to make
sure that they be included in the festival. If SoundCulture
had happened here without them, it would have been a really serious omission.
YT: Are you going to get involved in the next SoundCulture
event? Can you tell us anything about it?
EO: Since I am on the International Committee, I help keep things running
from this end (the US) as much as I can. But because this is a festival
that moves around from place to place, I am not really going to be doing
whole a lot for the next one so far as I know. It will be probably
be New Zealand in '98 or '99, but it's not certain yet because
the people there haven't committed to organizing it yet. I know there are
some people that are meeting there about it sometime later this month. They
are going to be talking about it to see how it looks, and they will probably
be looking at all the same issues that we did when we started two years
One of the things that I imagine that they'll try to do is to find one organization
to take on the project in-house. When were first talking about doing the
festival, we wanted to have an existing organization to do exactly that.
But while the organizations we approached about this were all interested
in participating in the festival, none of them wanted to take on the responsibility
for organizing a big project like this. Because the funding has
gotten so peculiar lately, taking on something big like this is, quite understandably,
just asking for trouble. Ultimately, not having the event centered
at one site worked very well in terms of the overall contour of the event,
but it did make it very hard to keep everything organized properly.
YT: Is there anything that you particularly want to mention
EO: Well, there was hardly any budget for the event. For the amount of money
we had raised, we were planning far too many events. In that situation it
would have been eminently sensible to have just given up, given the money
back, and just forgotten about it. But it's a credit
to everyone involved that they stuck with it, put in a lot of time and energy,
and made it happen. It's really a miracle that something this
large could happen given what the funding situation for the arts is right
now. There is also a reluctance among arts organizations and
funding agencies around here regarding involvement with large festivals.
This is a result of what happened with Festival 2000 in 1990. Festival 2000
was designed to be San Francisco's equivalent to the LA Festival: a big,
cutting-edge, multi-cultural arts festival. It was supposed to designate
San Francisco as the art place to be for the 21st Century, and there were
a large number of arts organizations and funders involved. But it was badly
managed and they didn't have as much money as they really needed, so after
one week of a three-week festival they closed it down. And this left a lot
of performers unpaid and a number of funders and organizations that had
done a great deal of work for the event with nothing to show for it. So
after that there exists an understandable reluctance for any of these organizations
to get involved with large events. So although SoundCulture
wasn't planned to be as large as it turned out, it grew big because there
was a lot of interest among the organizations in making it happen and it
seemed feasible to do with their help. On the other hand, I don't recommend
this as a model for making a festival occur. Trying to stretch
a tiny amount of money into covering lots of things basically means that
a lot of people have to work very hard and end up getting burned out.
But overall it's a good thing that happened and good to know that a
lot of people were willing to work hard to make it go.