5 Questions to Anne Marqvardsen and Anna Berit Asp Christensen (SPOR Festival)

On May 10-14, 2017, the 13th annual SPOR Festival will permeate the city of Aarhus, Denmark with five days of contemporary music and sound art events. The festival features an international roster of composers and performers and attempts to place contemporary music within a larger and more diverse artistic context. Aarhus is also the 2017 Cultural Capital of Europe, which overlaps with this year’s festival. We asked five questions to Festival and Artistic Directors Anne Marqvardsen and Anna Berit Asp Christensen to learn more about the history, mission, and future of SPOR.

For audiences who might not be familiar with SPOR, could you summarize the history of this festival?

Since 2005, the SPOR Festival has taken place each year in May in Aarhus, Denmark, and it has presented international as well as Danish contemporary music and sound art. Every year, SPOR collaborates with a guest curator or a curator team, and together with the curator, we frame the programme around a concept or a topic that in one or another way reveals, examines and/or discusses relevant issues of today.

We were selected as curators in 2007, and after that festival, we got permanent positions as festival- and artistic directors. Since 2007, we have aimed to set new standards for curating music–looking at each festival as a total work of art (with many different aspects) and creating a space around the music that allows the audience to reflect, meet, talk, and enjoy.

Today, SPOR also works with other activities that go beyond the festival. For instance, the SPOR New Music School focuses on composition, experimental instrumentation, and performance for kids between the ages of 11-15. 

How is the combination of contemporary music and sound art at the SPOR Festival different from other contemporary music festivals?

From our very first festival, it was our goal to present contemporary art focusing on sound, and to not see our field as “only” consisting of new composed music. We understand the festival as a prism that reflects various tendencies within the contemporary art field. In that way, there is not a hierarchical relationship between whether something takes place in an art gallery, a concert hall, outdoors, or some other place. The combination of music and sound art reflect and support the field and the way many artists work today–for the festival, it brings a dynamic programme with fixed times for concerts and more open and self-exploring times for exhibitions and other events.

When we place sound art and composed music on the same plane, it also becomes natural to include other neighbouring genres such as performance, modern dance, and concept art. For us, contemporary art music is just as reflective and vociferous as all other contemporary art–it is not necessarily only about sound in itself, and it does not only address those with a knowledge of music, quite the opposite. We want to show that music has the same potential for exploratory curation as all other art forms, and that is, perhaps, what makes SPOR different from many other contemporary music festivals.

The SPOR festival boasts an international roster of artists, but can you tell us about some of the featured Danish composers and ensembles?

On the opening night of our concert programme, we will present the Danish composer Bent Sørensen, who is one of the most interesting Danish composers of his generation–also on an international level. Bent has a very unique and beautiful musical language, and the opening concert will present a special project and collaboration with the Norwegian writer Tomas Espedal.

Our collaboration with the Danish art/music ensemble SCENATET has been consistent, as a kind of ensemble in residence. The ensemble is one of the most innovative in Europe, has always answered all kinds of challenges from our side, and has brought many exciting projects to the festival. This year, they are quite heavily presented at the festival with a very large Manos Tsangaris production and a performance of a new work by the Danish composer Christian Winther Christensen, who is one of the most talented in his generation. The work will have its world premiere at MATA Festival in New York end of May, and afterwards SCENATET will bring it to SPOR.

We will also present a collaboration between Ea Borre and Sandra Boss, which is a very typical type of SPOR production: an outdoor performance installation created jointly between a composer and a visual artist. Their collaboration focuses on an everyday situation of the busker and is turned into a moment of contemplation and wonder. By creating a sound sculpture inspired by the form and function of the accordion–but taking on extreme physical proportions–the public domain of the busker’s physical effort of music making will be besieged and cannot pass unnoticed by.

Anne Marqvardsen and Anna Berit Asp Christensen

Anne Marqvardsen and Anna Berit Asp Christensen–Photo by Marc Fluri

The theme of this year’s festival is “Epiphany.” How do the artists, works, and venues contribute to this theme?

This year, we framed the festival by the theme EPIPHANY, which explores the magic and mystery of the everyday. SPOR festival 2017 will conquer the spaces of the everyday and shed new light upon the habits and routines of daily life. With this year’s theme, the private and public spaces of everyday life will be staged and challenged, when concerts, performances, and installations cause the everyday as we know it to disintegrate as something completely new is resurrected, subtly or even grotesquely. We invite artists as well as the audience to create new connections within the everyday network of people and objects. The familiar is turned upside down, while the wondrously extraordinary is studied within the ordinary.

Through a broad span of nationalities, from Danish to Turkish and Russian to American, young artists and composers bring the everyday of the whole world to SPOR. Here, you can experience Martin Andreas Hirsti-Kvam’s hyperreal sound walks where every day sounds are enlarged and visit Jagoda Szmytka in her specially designed living room where, through seven days, she invites everyone to everyday music experiences.

All of the presented artists and works come together as a large whole of different corners of the everyday life–where the familiar crumbles and something completely new and wondrous appears.

In addition to hosting the SPOR Festival, Aarhus is also the 2017 Cultural Capital of Europe, for which the central theme is “Rethink.” Did this overlap affect the 2017 festival planning, and if so, how?

Our most ambitious project as part of the Cultural Capital of Europe is our educational flagship, SPOR New Music School (SNMS), which started in 2015. This project was actually something we have wanted to realize for many years, but with ‘Aarhus 2017 Cultural Capital of Europe’ it became possible in terms of budget and finances. SPOR New Music School rethinks the whole way children are typically taught in classical music–the kids, who all play instruments, are taught how to compose and experiment with sounds. So instead of reproducing what others–mostly men, mostly in the past–have created, they are taught how to create music by themselves. The outcome the past two years has been really beautiful and touching, and this year, we’ll do the largest version of the school yet. What happens after 2017, when the funding stops, is still an open question–to rethink…