We met Adam Thorsmark, programmer of AUDIO:VISUALS the concert series presented in occasion of CPH:DOX, Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival. Adam has been working at CPH:DOX since the beginning of 2011, and before that he worked in the editorial staff of Soundvenue, one of the two main music magazines in Denmark.
The music series this year was very wide. In every concert there was visual counterpart, whose responsibility is to keep the link with that aspect?
Mostly it is the responsibility of the artists, we explain them the concept, and say maybe you know somebody you would like to work with and you haven’t worked before, or you want to try to create something new.. Sometimes also, in the ideal world, we try to take artists from the visual art world and we pair them, and see what happens, we did it for example with Dark Matters vs. Max Richter, they are Danish visual artists, he is a German composer, with a bit of electronic feel, they had never met before, and they did something together which was fantastic (Editor’s Note: 60 Minutes of Vivaldi recomposed). In an ideal world all the concepts would be completely one time only and with artists meeting other artists, but it is an economic question and is difficult, it takes a lot of time, money and time also for the artists, because sometimes they are touring, but that is the concept.
The program you created for CPH:DOX was quite international, but how do you see Copenhagen scene?
The local scene is very interesting now, we had these guys called Gäy and First Hate, super young like 16-19 years old and they are part of the underground scene which maybe started three years ago with Iceage and all punk scene, I mean there has been of course other underground scenes, but this latest one has been super interesting and has gained exposure also in the rest of the world, so yeah the local scene is definitely interesting now. But of course also the international scene: we are an international film festival and for us is so is important not also to be an upcoming Danish festival, there is a lot of them, but they already exist, and it is also important for us not to be just one genre festival, not just electronic music festival, or different kind of festival, for us the music has to be something that we enjoy but also other people enjoy, with the visual and the film element, that ties it all together.
I hope that AUDIO:VISUAL is a new way for people at least to see music in new contexts, and focusing on the visual part, while people usually just go because they want to see the band playing. But when there is a visual context too, I think the audience tries to see it as a whole experience. We set concerts in different venues, we did Jenni Wilson‘s concert in Østre Gasværk Teater an old theatre that can host maximum 800 people, with an amphitheater shape. We also did a lot of concerts at Jazzhouse (Editor’s Note: The Haxan Cloak + support Pharmakon), a fantastic venue. We have a lot of international delegates, it is a big festival for people living in Copenhagen, but it is one of the worlds’ biggest documentary film festival now, there is about 700-800 international journalists, delegates and film directors, so it is a good chance to show off exciting parts of Copenhagen. Of course we want to use also normal venues because of the good sound and we enjoy that too, but is also important for us to mix everything up.
You have invited musicians, visual and performance artists from both Denmark and abroad. How was the selection process? And were the concerts linked to the screenings?
Of course there is some subjectivity involved, what I’m interested in and what I get tips from different people that they say sounds interesting and I check it out, I go to festivals, I was at the Primavera festival in Spain this year and checked out some stuff, I saw actually Fuck Buttons there, who ended up playing the last night of the festival at Pumpehuset, they have a very strong live interactive visual element to their concept which was super cool. So yeah that’s basically sniffing around on blogs and websites and always listening to music, I used to be one of the editors of Soundvenue so I have always been interested in music since, and even before that. Sometimes I write to the bands, other times I have some good partners in Copenhagen that are music bookers all year long, and keep me posted on the bands availability. The selection process it is one big a mix of everything and then trying to pull all the strings together get a concept program out of it.
Some concerts were linked to the screenings, for example this year we had the Chinese film called Disorder (Editor’s Note: directed by Huang Weikai, China, 2009, 58m.), a four years old film, about complete chaos in China, where they try to control everything, it’s very dark, black and white, very edgy, no narrative, or any talk, but since it is not a new film but really inspired the whole Chinese series Everything is Under Control, we thought if we have to show a film that is not new, which we typically do, let’s try to put it in a new context. So we contacted a Danish musician called Snöleoparden who has worked with Chinese musicians before, a very experimental artist who builds his own instruments, it was at Cinemateket, and then he played live, he has been working on the live soundcheck for the last 2-3 months.
Any comments about the combination of sounds, visuals, lights and performance this year?
Each year there are some concerts that are more emersive than others, sometimes it is just an electronic artist with his own visuals as a backdrop, but then I try at least to chose electronic musicians that are very conceptual, like Holly Herndon, where it is not just a pattern and it has something to say; but other times it is completely immersive like Snöleoparden or Jenny Wilson who did new visuals just for that night, and have been working with the directors to create something completely new. Sometimes they create something completely new new, just for CPH:DOX, other time is like Fuck Buttons, they already have super nice visuals.
James Ferraro actually also works with visual arts, but when you know that he did a loop on purpose, like a CD that is scratched, you understand that is part of the concept of the new album, about everything being in a glitch, never really moving forwards, is part of his own world. I couldn’t say it was a completely fantastic concert, but for me it was something else, he is very conceptual. You couldn’t really call it a concert. It’s an artist who works with sounds and visuals, and one of the most niche oriented concerts, otherwise we had pop names like Jenny Wilson, who is alternative as well but a more broad name. Omar Souleyman also is something special, since the 90ies he has been putting out like 200 albums, he is a big cult musician in the Middle East, and getting big in the rest of the world. We showed the series in documentary before, highlighting the very dark side of the series showing a film about civil war and then flipping it over and showing the more happy side with a concert by him.
About the program you created, do you think the audience was satisfied? And which are your future projects?
I think so, there were a lot of people, even at some of the small niche concerts like James Ferraro, where I didn’t know if we were going to sell any tickets, because it is very niche oriented, it also reflect sthe rest of the film program this year, we had 25 films that have been extra screened now, but last year we had only 5 or 8 which were super popular. Now it seems that people are checking out different things and we had 200 films in the program with 20 concerts and it is nice that people is not just going for the big one; it seems that we are breaking through all the different niche areas of the music and film interested people. The festival started in 2003, in documentary context it is kind of young, and we have grown a lot. I’m satisfied about the AUDIO:VISUAL series, of course we want to be even better, we want to get bigger names, we are satisfied but in the sense that we are never satisfied, and we always want to create an even better whole immersive festival.
My future project is to continue working at CPH:DOX. And one exciting contact we have, are the makers of the festival All Tomorrow Parties (one of the biggest and best music festivals in the world, their concept is to have different musician curate a program, like Animal Collective choosing 20 bands that they want to perform, and they have been doing it in New York, in England, and in some other places) since Fuck Buttons are released on All Tomorrow Parties’ label, we invited them to come to Fuck Buttons and stay in Copenhagen a few days, hopefully I will talk to them about perhaps creating All Tomorrow Parties in Copenhagen with CPH:DOX. I want to do more collaborations in the future, I think that the festival has been exciting and I’m looking forwards to next year.