New media artists converge in the Twin Cities for the sixth-annual Spark Festival

The Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Art turns six years old this year. Sure, it comes at an awkward time between winter and spring when many of us students are eager for spring break, with school and work still bearing down on us; we’re tired of the dismal concert schedule and utterly worn out from the repetition of daily activities that have continued since the new year.

Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Art

WHERE West Bank Arts Quarter, Downtown Minneapolis, University East and West Bank
WHEN Feb. 26 ñ March 2
COST Most events free to public. Check schedule for more info.

Working toward a unique international festival to break up that monotony, Geers, Momeni and all the others who are helping out with Spark, create an oasis in the dark, an international experience to truly enlighten the citizens of the Twin Cities.

Spark began in 2002, under the direction of University music professor Douglas Geers, as a way to promote alternative music and art forms that incorporate technology. I contacted Geers via e-mail for comments about the festival’s inception and inspiration.

“When I came to the University in the fall of 2002, I was very interested to strengthen connections between our students and faculty and the international new media arts scene,” Geers said about Spark’s inception. “I felt that a great way to do this would be to bring some of the best artists and musicians to our campus to show their work. Hearing about new ideas can be interesting, but I think that it is far more convincing and compelling for people to experience it live.”

on the web

For a complete schedule of events, go to

Spark, in its own small way, rivals other U.S. cities in its ability to attract the big guns in a relatively obscure arts niche. Most people don’t know the artists that will be performing, but those who do understand their place in the arts and music community and those who don’t are provided with a unique opportunity to explore new music and new ways to think about their old conceptions of music.

Spark’s musicians, artists and scholars – and many of the participants are all three – are visionaries pushing the outer limits of new media. They assiduously work to create something never before seen, heard, felt or touched. With the future always seemingly just around the bend, Spark’s performers are always looking to reinterpret classical ideas through new outlets, or to create something entirely innovative and different.

“Each show is designed to push some buttons – make you feel good, possibly get you a bit confused, even make you question things like ‘What is music?’ This is our goal: To both entertain and fire up the brain,” said Geers.

With more than 30 events, including concerts, parties and lectures, spread over the festival’s six days, here are some of the highlights you shouldn’t miss from each day. But be sure to check the schedule, there is probably something left out that you won’t want to miss.


Opening up the festivities on Tuesday night at Coffman Union are a few local acts including Minneapolis circuit-bending duo Beatrix Jar and Mystery Palace, a laidback indie glitch pop band. It gets started at 7 p.m.

Later in the evening, if you are still looking to dance, or simply bob your head to electronic sounds, Temple bar and restaurant near Loring Park will be hosting local DJs James Patrick and Ryan Simatic as part of Spark Festival’s Twin Cities Showcase. Begins at 10 p.m.


If there is one thing that this city needs more of it’s bicycle-mounted graffiti projectors with laser-wielding riders. Thankfully, this is exactly what Douglas Geers and Ali Momeni have planned for this year’s Spark Festival.

Momeni is a new professor at the University and co-director of Spark this year. After hearing about the Brooklyn-based, multimedia arts collective, Graffiti Research Lab, Momeni suggested to Geers they book them straight away.

GRL’s founders James Powderly and Evan Roth explore new ways of combining technology with art. On Wednesday night, Powderly and Todd Polenberg (another member of GRL) will be biking around the city, projecting building-sized images onto Minneapolis’ downtown skyscrapers with the help of a camera and a high powered green laser.

One example of their handiwork comes from a video on their Web site (, in which they play tic-tac-toe on the side of a 25-story high-rise in Rotterdam. (The video has over a million hits on YouTube. To check it out yourself, search YouTube for “all you see is.”)

According to the Spark schedule, GRL will start the bike tour at 5 p.m. The location for the meet-up has yet to be announced, but you can find out at GRL’s 12:30 p.m. discussion at the Regis Center for Art, where they will discuss their techniques and approach to mobile graffiti art.


At the Cedar Cultural Center, Avant-garde Romanian composer Iancu Dumitrescu will be performing the world premiere of his piece “Le Silence d’Or.” Serious, weird and innovative have been used to describe his work. The performance starts at 2:30 p.m. with other Spark artists accompanying.

In the evening, Richard Devine, skater kid turned electronic music producer from Atlanta, will be hosting the “Making Music Series,” in which the University brings in talented musicians to speak about the process of creating a song or performance.

Atmosphere’s Slug was a previous speaker at the series, which takes place in the Whole music club at Coffman Union at 8 p.m.


Internationally acclaimed new-media artist and inventor Paul DeMarinis will discuss his work and career. One instance of his work involves spectators walking under a shower with an umbrella, the falling streams of water, modulated with audio signals create music when interrupted by the umbrella. The discussion starts at 12:30 p.m. in the Regis Center for Art.

At 10 p.m. Denmark’s Puzzleweasel and local artist Heckadecimal will perform at the Nomad World Pub. Puzzleweasel, real name Peter Dahlgren, has bounced around Europe’s rave scene and developed his own style of intelligent dance music. Similar to Venetian Snares and Aphex Twin, he has a couple tracks out on the Tigerbeat6 label, which is home to Kid606.


At 8 p.m. Iancu Dumitrescu will be holding another performance at the Cedar Cultural center alongside fellow electro acoustic musician David Wessel, who is currently a professor of music at the University of California – Berkeley.

Wessel completed pioneering work in the mid 1970s at IRCAM, the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique Musique, a French governmental organization based in Paris that is dedicated to research and development of music technology.

Richard Devine will hold another lecture at 12:30 pm on Saturday in Anderson Hall, discussing his work and production techniques. Later in the evening, he will be performing at the Nomad World Pub on Cedar Avenue. It gets started at 10 p.m. with opening acts.


Several experts in the issues of new media will hold a forum in Ferguson Hall room 225 for 10 minute discussions on new media arts. It starts at 11 a.m. and speakers will discuss topics, including “The Joy of a Jet Engine,” and “Networked Resources for Collaborative Improvisation.”