Cube Fest explores new possibilities in immersive sound
A festival designed to connect international artists, researchers, and industry professionals to explore new possibilities in immersive sound, audio technology, and musical composition, Cube Fest returns in hybrid form, offering a mix of virtual and in-person events.
Cube Fest 2021 features virtual works from leading Afrofuturist artists selected from an international pool of submissions, as well as a rich, in-person multisensorial installation in the Moss Arts Center’s Cube that illustrates the unique venue’s 360-degree environment.
Cube Fest artists present music created for high-density loudspeaker arrays (HDLAs), specifically for the Cube, Virginia Tech’s premiere research environment and performance space that features a 140-loudspeaker HDLA system. With a limited number of these kinds of systems available, Cube Fest is an important platform for artists to realize their spatial audio visions in a unique HDLA performance environment and share their creations with the public.
“Since its inception in 2016, Cube Fest has invited artists from all over the world to share their sound- and space-focused artistic creations in collaboration with audio technologists at Virginia Tech. Cube Fest 2021 centers the theme of Afrofuturist immersive art. Among many facets of Afrofuturism is the imagination of space as a place for positive change, which is also how we view the Cube,” said Eric Lyon, professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts and Cube Fest artistic co-director.
“Given this natural affinity between Afrofuturism and the aesthetic research objectives of the Cube, at Cube Fest 2021 (and 2022), we have invited Afrofuturist artists to share their spatial/musical visions for the Cube, creating experiences that are possible only on high-density loudspeaker arrays, going well beyond what is currently achievable on stereo sound systems or headphones in terms of spatial richness, presence, complexity, and depth,” said Tyechia Thompson, assistant professor in the Department of English at Virginia Tech and Cube Fest artistic co-director.
Afrofuturism is a concept, philosophy, and artist practice that was coined in 1993 in Mark Dery’s “Black to the Future,” but its experience precedes 1993. It can be traced to the W.E.B. DuBois’s short fiction work “The Comet” published in 1920, and is also represented in African American folktales. Perhaps the earliest overt expression of Afrofuturism in music surfaces in the project of Sun Ra and his Arkestra starting in the early 1950s.
"Sound of Space: An Interactive Afrofuturist Experience"
The in-person portion of the festival features an interactive, multisensory installation presented in the Cube. "Sound of Space: An Interactive Afrofuturist Experience" was created in the Cube by Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students for the course "Afrofuturism to Vibranium and Beyond,” led by Thompson. "Sound of Space: An Interactive Afrofuturist Experience" allows visitors to experience a sonic, visual, olfactory, and tactile environment of Afrofuturistic vibes with themes of transport, funk, flow, and testimony.
Inspired by Sun Ra’s “Space is the Place” and the music of Parliament Funkadelic, the students created counter histories, alternate destinies, and posthuman identities through the aesthetics of their arrangements, working with technicians in the Cube to configure their intellectual mixtapes for a public audience.
Free and open to the public, "Sound of Space: An Interactive Afrofuturist Experience" is on view Friday, Aug. 20, and Saturday, Aug. 21, 12–9 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 22, 12–6 p.m., at the Moss Arts Center, 190 Alumni Mall.
Cube Fest 2021 also includes a collection of virtual works created by internationally renowned Afrofuturist artists. Excerpts of these works have been prepared as binaural experiences for headphone listening and are currently available on the Cube Fest website. The artists featured include:
From the engine room of Sun Ra's Arkestra and under the direction of Marshall Allen, Jupiter Blue tone scientists D.Hotep and Jupiter Girl Blue emerge to reveal elements and particles of another kind of language that come from another tomorrow and are learned from a history of discipline, but are to be shared in the present. Expect the unexpected from electronics, electric guitar, celestial vocals, percussion, and violin that call forth jazz-sourced vocals, harmonic soundscapes, and shadows of unseen worlds.
Moksha Black featuring Roba El-Essaway
“As It Should Be”
Moksha Black is a project from veteran producer King Britt. The project name refers to the process of Black liberation through self-realization and spiritual awareness. Moksha Black is a collaboration with legendary singer Roba El-Essaway (MidnightRoba), who laid the groundwork for the early ‘90s trip hop movement as the powerful voice of London outfit, Attica Blues. Channeling ancestral energy from her Egyptian heritage and unparalleled love of jazz, Roba brings a unique sonic viewpoint.
“As It Should Be” is the first song that brought Roba out of her 20-year hiatus. Powerful words combined with the electronic textures creates an aural document for the ages. Bathe in the sound of liberation.
Yvette Janine Jackson
Yvette Janine Jackson is a composer and sound installation artist focused on bringing attention to historical events and social issues through her radio operas. She developed Radio Opera Workshop, an adaptable ensemble, as part of the 2021 Fromm Players Concert II. Recent projects include “Fear Is Their Alibi” for soprano, bassoon, and electronics commissioned for the Prototype Festival’s “MODULATION” series co-presented with LA Opera, Carolina Performing Arts, and Opera Omaha; her album, “Freedom,” released in January by the Fridman Gallery; and “Remembering 1619” for violin and tape being presented by Teju Cole and Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Jackson is an assistant professor in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry in the Department of Music and teaches for the theater, dance & media program at Harvard University.
Shannon Sea is a Bahamian-American composer, sound artist, and sonic activist. Sea’s compositions are deeply influenced by the avant-garde aesthetic, electronic music, Taoism, and their Afro-Caribbean roots. Their works explore themes of nature, spirituality, Afrofuturism, and self-exploration and they seek to create sound worlds that fuse together acoustic and electronic means of expression.
Sea views listening as a form of activism and meditation and believes that sound can heal and expand one's consciousness. Largely self-taught, Sea began studying music theory and composition in 2017 after a career in law and launched their music career in 2019, composing for theatre and dance. They are currently working on their debut EP, which will be released in 2022.
Stephen James Taylor
“Music From the Other Wakanda” (2019)
Stephen James Taylor has a unique musical identity. His Afrofuturist style represents a blend of classical, rock, blues, gospel, world music, homemade instruments, and avant-garde. His 55-minute microtonal surround suite, “Music From the Other Wakanda” (2019), premiered in 2019 at the Glendale College Planetarium.
Taylor’s past projects include providing music for Richard Tanne’s 2020 Amazon film “Chemical Hearts,” the “Star Wars Cantina at Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge” (2019; the first microtonal music ever in rotation at Disneyland), and Marvel’s television series, “The Black Panther.” He has composed scores for many of Robert Townsend’s films, such as “The Making of the Five Heartbeats” (2017), “Of Boys and Men” (2008), and “Holiday Heart” (2000). Taylor’s various chamber works have been performed throughout the country and he has done composing in surround sound.
COVID-19 forced the cancellation of Cube Fest 2020 and a reimagining the 2021 and 2022 festivals. These works featured in Cube Fest 2021 and others will be presented at Cube Fest 2022 as in-person experiences that fully realize the artists’ visions.