Throwback: The first Ars Electronica Festival

On the evening of September 18, 1979 a crowd of around 100,000 people – approximately half of the population of Linz – had gathered in the park on the banks of the Danube in front of the city’s concert hall, the Brucknerhaus. It was a mild evening after a mostly sunny early autumn day. The opening event had been the talk of the day. Traffic collapsed since nobody had expected such a huge crowd to turn up. At five minutes past eight, the sounds of the first movement of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor, “Allegro Moderato,” began to flow down the river. The event had been announced as a “cloud of sound” that would eventually cover the entire city of Linz. This was to be achieved via a massive sound system at the Danube park (Donaupark) and on the opposite bank of the river, as well as additional speaker systems at four remote, elevated positions in the city and maybe most importantly via regional radio. The two events marking the inception of the first Ars Electronica Festival were the massive “Cloud of Sound” (Klangwolke) and the arrival of the robot SPA 12, which had flown in from New Jersey, USA. He graciously greeted the population of Linz and held the opening speech at Ars Electronica on September 18. He even mingled with the crowds on the city’s main shopping street (Landstraße), responded to questions from people phoning in to a live radio broadcast, and was the star of a late night TV discussion show Club 2. The first Ars Electronica Festival was a pilot project that took the just-emerging digital revolution as an opportunity to inquire about possible futures and located this inquiry at the interface of art, technology and society. With this philosophy, which is still valid today, cyberneticist and physicist Herbert W. Franke, electronic musician Hubert Bognermayr, music producer Ulli A. Rützel and Hannes Leopoldseder, former director of the ORF regional studio in Upper Austria, laid the foundation for the success story of Ars Electronica.

Find out more about this year’ Ars Electronica Festival here.

In our Throwback series, we take a look back at past events, exhibitions, installations and other exciting happenings from the Ars Electronica universe since 1979.