AGORA – Rockhal: When art interacts with knowledge in Belval.
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Rockhal: When art interacts with knowledge in Belval.

The Rockhal is more than just a concert hall, it is a key interlocutor in Belval. “Here, art interacts with technology and knowledge, taking advantage of the good neighbourly relations with the businesses of the new economy and the University,” says Olivier Toth, CEO of the Rockhal.

In the beginning of Belval, there was the Rockhal. And since its beginnings, this founding cultural space of the quarter has contributed to defining its identity. Because culture and the research and innovation sectors have much to share, according to Olivier Toth.

AGORA: How would you define the place of the Rockhal in the quarter?

Olivier Toth: Without wishing to be pretentious, I will take the liberty of quoting my colleague Marc Shields of the National Research Fund, for whom the Rockhal enables Belval to be better known to the general public. 250,000 people come to Belval every year for concerts and other events. For me, Belval is one of the most interesting places in our country, and from my perspective of education, research, innovation, arts, music and entertainment, there is no other urban site that combines all these attributes. Here, creation and dissemination are intimately linked to the challenges of innovation, research and disruption. At the Rockhal, any concert is part of a spirit of continuous research and reassessment. And it’s not just because of our artistic vision as a cultural venue: we are an avant-garde venue precisely because of the quarter in which we are set, which defines our DNA at least as much as we define our own.

Does the Rockhal also have a key role in the urban fabric of Belval, which it helps to transform and develop?

This was certainly the case in the early years, when the Rockhal was virtually on its own on the site, and some of the urban planning and commercial development was done in its wake. Alex Fixmer, the former director of the Belval Fund strongly promoted the idea of the Rockhal being built near the station – I also thing that this is an ideal location today, in a more airy space than the other areas of the quarter, where the Rockhal is in its own little cocoon and yet continues to be part of a vibrant commercial continuum nearby. In any case, it is very visible to visitors arriving by train; it puts the quarter directly in a cultural and creative logic, for the eye seeing it for the first time.

What potential does the presence of the University nearby open up for you and the artists you host?

On the one hand, it is clear that the university population provides an extremely interesting audience because it is a committed, invested audience, curious to discover young artists. Thanks to these people, we target certain musical niches – there is a whole project to be built on this basis. But, above all, we have fruitful interactions with the University incubator, where business startup projects are used to develop artistic careers, for example.

Are startups in the quarter also part of your successful collaboration network?

I’ve said it all my life: there are may elements uniting creatives in music and creatives in the worlds of startups and research. Technoport is one of our regular contacts in this area. It is stimulating to work with them on all levels, even when the projects do not come to fruition. For example, we flirted with the idea of using blockchain to create copyright management solutions. It didn’t work in the initial form envisaged but the conversation has started and can take us a long way.

Is Technoport also the main partner for your SONIC VISION festival presentations?

It makes me particularly proud. While Sonic Vision is on the face of it a musical event promoting artists and creating a meeting and conversation space for the music industry, it has come to be seen as equal parts a space to showcase musical talent and the talent of local startup researchers. In my opinion, the mindset of artists is deeply linked to that of startuppers.

Tell us how the neighbourhood researchers inspired The Sound of Data, an event that puts science data to music?

When we started thinking about projects for Esch 2022, our first impulse was to bring together researchers and people from the Rockhal and tell them to bring to the table their wildest ideas going beyond the usual limits,. Of all the ideas put forward, the one with the most potential was The Sound of Data. In Belval, we have all the best partners for this kind of data sonification within a few square kilometres. For example, we recorded data on the volume of traffic on the motorway between Esch and Belval, with microphones that are normally used in the manufacture of electric guitars. A special microphone records the data, which is transformed by algorithms, and then transformed into music, through traditional notes or MIDI settings, or whatever.

Wouldn’t it have been possible to come up with this concept elsewhere in the country, in your opinion?

We would never have done this project in Luxembourg City. Its ambition is not only to serve geeks, but rather to create a pop and popularised approach to science and the musical avant-garde through this marriage between the worlds of science and music. The ambition is literally to reflect what Belval is all about. The project carries 100% of the site’s DNA. It showcases its potential.

The Rockhal is also fully a part of its neighbourhood when it dares to leave its walls to give open-air concerts in front of the Hauts Fourneaux, may we add. The experience will be repeated as part of Esch 2022, and probably many times in the future: be prepared for a good dose of the spectacular and for fertile crossovers of music, post-industrial settings and up-to-the minute technology.

"REGARDS CROISES" is series proposed by AGORA with the aim to tell the story of a project since its birth.

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