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EMPAC Holds 10-Year Anniversary Festival 

click to enlarge A scene from Moved by the Motion’s Sudden Rise, a collaboration between Wu Tsang, boychild, Patrick Belaga, Josh Johnson, Asma Maroof, and Fred Moten that will be perfomred this month at EMPAC.
  • A scene from Moved by the Motion’s Sudden Rise, a collaboration between Wu Tsang, boychild, Patrick Belaga, Josh Johnson, Asma Maroof, and Fred Moten that will be perfomred this month at EMPAC.

It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since the opening of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's state-of-the-art Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center—better known as EMPAC. This month, to mark the sleek, futuristic, multi-venue center's first decade, the facility will present 10YEARS, a three-day, interdisciplinary celebration of time-based music, dance, visual art, theater, and installations. The featured artists and works include the Formosa Quartet; "Moved by the Motion," a collaboration by Wu Tsang, boychild, Patrick Belaga, Josh Johnson, and Asma Maroof; Trajal Harrell; Maria Hassabi; Olga Neuwirth and the International Contemporary Ensemble performing selections from Neuwirth's opera Lost Highway Suite (based on David Lynch's film Lost Highway); and more. Also set is a talk about the ethics of time-based art in the digital age by EMPAC director Johannes Goebel, who answered the questions below via email. The 10YEARS festival will take place at EMPAC in Troy on October 11, 12, and 13.

Congratulations on EMPAC's 10th anniversary! As its director, what feelings come up for you personally when you consider this milestone?

"Ten years" is an arbitrary time span. If we had a different mathematical system, like "base 12," we would wait for another two years. Having been hired to contribute to building EMPAC in the literal sense as well as in its programming and production potential, has been incredible. Incredible, in that I was entrusted with doing it—and incredible in looking at the building and the program. I still go through the building, sit in one of the venues or get surprised by a new project as if I had nothing to do with all this, like being a visitor looking at it for the first time.

When we spoke in January 2009 about the opening of the center, you talked about the design effort, saying, "Some people might ask why it's so important to put so much money and effort into something like getting the acoustics to be as perfect as they can be and doing whatever we can do to make the spaces as silent as scientifically possible. To them I would say that they should step back and take a look at the world, to consider just how much noise there is in it, and to think about how distracting that can be." Clearly, the world has gotten noisier since then. Has EMPAC, in turn, gotten more silent? If so, how has this been achieved?

Well, EMPAC did not get only more silent, but also full of life, with jumping and moving, sounds and images, with technology and without. Indeed, once a building is "delivered," it still takes years to actually finish all details. As far as silence goes, we accomplished a much more silent silence than we had planned for. The real goal for EMPAC has been reached: four venues, where each one serves, simultaneously, seeing, hearing, and using the whole volume of the space for whatever you want to put or do wherever in the venue, in the greatest possible quality. This quality is defined by the full range of sensitivity of our senses. And from there we are invited to make sense from what we experience.

In what other ways has EMPAC changed over the last decade?

The members of the curatorial team have changed, as certainly have other members of the team. And as the curators individually and as a group take the responsibility of shaping the program and select the artists in residence and their projects, the emphasis each one develops and again changes over their own tenures, creates the landscape of EMPAC's programming. My own perspectives come into play when a new curator is hired. And from there on, it's all in the constant exchange between individual focus and collaboration, analysis and critique. Our production teams (stage technologies, video, audio, IT) have gained an incredible experience in operating the building and putting everything to work and expanding into new areas. For example, they gained experience in 3-D film shoots or spatial audio systems, which offer many more experiences than stereo or surround sound.

In what ways, technically and/or idealistically, do you see EMPAC evolving in the future?

There is no future without presence. Actually, we never reach the future.

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