Common Sensoria

tara busch
tara busch

TO SAY that the Sensoria team has pulled out all the stops this year would be a huge understatement.

Sheffield’s annual international festival of music, film and all things digital spans countries, venues, art forms, venues, cultures and headphones.

Opening the festival is American experimental artist, sculptor and musician Laurie Anderson, whose Another Day in America tells tales of life in contemporary America. In her set Anderson uses manipulated voice effects, film, installation, photography and sculpture as vehicles for stories about politics, city living and people. “She’s a very good inventor and uses the texture of different types of music to tell her stories,” says Nigel Humberstone, the festival’s music director. “This is the UK premiere of her show so we’re really excited to have her perform.”

Other events include the Headphones Gig with Michael Eden, who complained that his voice could never be heard at gigs and in doing so prompted the globe’s inaugural amp-free gig at Sensoria. Humberstone says: “I love the idea of people wearing wireless headphones at a gig, it’s been done before at discos but never at a gig.”

The headphones concert takes place in a rather unusual setting - the train station. “I just hope people aren’t too perplexed by what’s happening as they arrive at the station. But we wanted to spread the festival across the city. We are always looking for unusual venues to host events.”

It is just one of a handful of unlikely places to hear music including other headphone gigs in the shop window of Debenhams. “We’ve also got an event, which is sponsored by Bose, in the Upper Chapel in Norfolk Street, which is a beautiful building and one that most of us have probably walked past dozens of times without even noticing,” says Humberstone.

Bill Drummond – the brains behind Eighties British dance sensation the KLF - will also be exhibiting across the city. His latest work – Ragworts, named after flowering weed found in South Yorkshire wasteland – sees the artist transferring sound scores to visual art, or ‘posters’, as he calls them. These ‘posters’ will be on display at pertinent points across the city, though it is not clear where. The theme of Ragworts, which will also be on show at the Site Gallery, is about exploring disillusionment in modern society, or as Drummond puts it “suppressing the urge to firebomb the new Tescos”.

Equally ambitious is Tara Busch’s I Speak Machine in which the artist, who was handpicked after performing at last year’s Tramlines festival, performs an electronic symphony on a machine that she has built herself. The piece looks at the development of artificial intelligence and her relationship with the machine.

Putting the festival together is a year-long affair, according to Humberstone. “We’re already looking at funding applications for next year’s festival and Jo (Wingate – director) spends up to a year planning the event.”

The festival has international allure. “We get lots of applications to feature in the exhibition from artists across the world,” says Humberstone. “This year we’ve had applications from Brazil, Japan and America.”

This year has been tougher than previous, as a result of government funding, but Humberstone says the cuts haven’t stopped the festival from happening. “We were never reliant on hand-outs anyway and it makes you think more creatively about where you get money from. Jo works really hard on securing funding but we also work hard to make the festival work and pay.”

And while the reach of Sensoria is wide – spanning art forms, countries and cultures – its underlying philosophy is simple, as Humberstone explains. “We want to put forward mavericks, pioneers – people that are doing something a bit different.”

Sensoria opens with Laurie Anderson at City Hall on Saturday at 8pm, Ragworts runs from April 20 to May 5 at Site Gallery and its posters will appear at various points across the city, Tara Busch’s I Speak Machine: A Sonic History of a Dark AI Romance’ is on Sunday at 4pm at SensoriaSpace, Trafalgar House. For full Sensoria listings please visit