“RESONANCE 2010-2014” … You liked the blog? Then you will love the book!

August 30, 2014 § 2 Comments

On the occasion of the completion of the RESONANCE project, you can now order the richly illustrated catalogue, documenting the sound art works that were commissioned by the network in the four years of its existence.


The RESONANCE book contains, complete and unabridged, all the interviews with the participating artists, documenting their reflections about content and process at the time of their work for RESONANCE.

You will find it all together in the fine one hundred and twenty hard covered pages of the RESONANCE book…


Resonanends in Riga (lv)

July 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

The RESONANCE network’s final showcase took place in 2014’s European capital of culture, Riga (Latvia). Organized and curated by Viestarts Gailītis and Skaņu Mežs, his ‘association for adventurous music and related arts’, all works commissioned by the network in its second two year period could be experienced as the first part of the Sound Art Exhibition SKAN II, between May 30th and June 20th of this year.


All artists were assigned their own special spot in Riga’s Botanical Garden, where they re-installed the work they had created for RESONANCE. Except for Pascal Broccolichi, who re-created his Table d’harmonie in the nearby Kalnciema iela Gallery.

Also in Riga Pascal composed the corresponding sound piece with recordings that he made locally, with a hydrophonic sensor. This time they revealed the sonic patterns caused by the streaming waters in different parts of the Daugava river and the Gulf of Riga.

pb Riga

Jitske Blom and Thomas Rutgers profited from the modular construction of their Beaters. They separated the installation into a number of smaller Beater panels, that then occupied an old shed (the Pump House) in the Botanical Gardens.

Beaters Riga

Peter Bogers’s Untamed Choir and Stefan Roigk’s Bursting Confidence each took up a wing of the Wolfschmidt Estate: a wooden manor-house that – or so we were told – used to be the summer house of Albert Wolfschmidt (Volfsmits in Latvian), once the royal Dutch consul in Riga, and owner of the land on which now the Botanical Gardens stand.

Wolfschmidt Riga
Untamed Riga
Wolfschmidt Riga
Bursting Riga

As the pictures suggest, the unusual spaces and surrounding in many cases managed to open up some hitherto hidden dimension of the works. This was definitely the case for the 18th century dome-shaped former wine cellar in which Aernoudt Jacobs set up his Photophon, not in the least because of the domic space’s typical acoustics.

Photophon Riga
Photophon Riga

On the first floor of the Palm House one could visit Signe Lidén’s Writings. For this fourth and final of her RESONANCE installments, Signe set up a veritable meta-installation: an installation about her previous three installations; an archive of her Writings, a diorama, photographs, things to look at

Writings Riga

As a work to which the notion and concept of material memory is central, Signe here turned her Writings installation into an archive of itself, which thus in Riga came full circle; like the RESONANCE project as a whole.

Writings Riga

Last in the list, but of course not least: David Helbich made a Riga version of his performative soundwalk Tracks, starting from the Botanical Garden. As with the Kortrijk, Bergen and Maastricht versions of the walk, also the Riga version of Tracks is available at David’s web site. Anyone thus will be able to ‘perform’ the walk, at any time, until long after Riga has ceased to be European Capital of Culture, and long after now that the European sound art network RESONANCE became history…

Tracks Riga

[ Read an interview with SKAN II organizer and curator Viestarts Gailītis on Arterritory. ]

Stefan Roigk: ‘Bursting Confidence’

March 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

From March 14th until April 12th, RESONANCE partner Le Bon Accueil in Rennes, France, hosts the second installment of Stefan Roigk’s installation Bursting Confidence, a work that premiered last summer in Kunsthaus Meinblau in Berlin, Germany.

It was only at the end of the summer that I got the chance to talk to Stefan about his – and more specifically this – work, when we met early one rainy grey afternoon in his small studio in a nice old big school building in Prenzlauer Berg, a locality in Berlin that nowadays is the southern part of the borough of Pankow.

Then and there, all of Stefan’s Bursting Confidence was inside a pile of cardboard banana boxes…

He opened them up…

“I use papier-mâché for this piece,” Stefan explained. “That is great material and very easy to work with. And the other thing is: it is not heavy at all. All together these boxes weigh, maybe, 50 kilos… That’s really light. Fortunately. Because of course I wanted to hang them and that would have been pretty difficult had all of the objects been kind of heavy…”

Is it the first time that you work with papier-mâché? Did you have other material in mind before?

“Yes, it is the first time. Before I was thinking of silicon. But that is too heavy. It would have been really heavy to have these parts in silicon. As you can see, the thing that I did is… I used packing materials… plastic packings, wrappings, plates, cups … all sorts of packing material and stuff that I found. Actually, I have been collecting all of my trash. For two years, I kept my trash…”

You collected all of your trash for two years…!? But that’s fantastic…!

“Yes, yes, yes! But only the plastics. All the plastic forms.”

Two years of plastic trash…!? That must have been a LOT!

“Oh yes, it was a lot. All these menu boxes, chocolate things, cups for drinking, plastic plates… But it was great to have a lot of different forms. Because what interested me was the ways in which I could combine them. I combined a lot… plastic cups, and things like that… I combined all of that trash into forms. It was like firing up Pro Tools and then cutting and combining sounds.”

How did you make the papier-mâché prints?

“Let met try to explain… Take a plastic plate, the sort of thing that you get to eat from at parties, or when you’re having a pick-nick. I would take it, press it, tear it, deform it… and then put it in the papier-mâché… I used buckets filled with the papier-mâché. I would push in the forms of my trash, by hand. And then mold it. I had the whole studio full with forms and material! Originally I also wanted to make the papier-mâché myself. But, you know, that is a lot of work! If you want to make papier-mâché yourself, you first have to cut the paper. Then you need to put the slices of paper into water. Then you have to add glue. And then, after that, you have to take it, and use a lot of pressure to transform it into plates. Then it has to dry again. And then you have to shred it. It is a good work to do, but it is a bit too much. So I just went to the store, and bought the papier-mâché that they sell in boxes.”

A sort of ready-made papier-mâché?

“Yes! It is ready made. You only need to add water. And it’s really, really nice! A bit like plaster. You can get very thin forms. They remind me… of distortions. It is a lot like distortion on audio material! And though it looks like plaster: it doesn’t break like plaster. When you throw it to the ground, it doesn’t break. So I could hang it just with little holes in it. We drilled holes in the papier-mâché prints, and they didn’t break…”

“Combining the forms was a lot like doing music. I first wanted a lot of forms. Like when you do music, you want a lot of sounds. The real structure of the piece then emerged when I hung it in the room. So I prepared sets of smaller structures in the papier-mâché. We combined these, in the end, in the gallery space. We used nylon strings to hang the forms. You know, the nylon strings that one uses for catching fish. In the fishing shop they also showed us how to make the special knots that we needed, because we had to get all the knots in one single piece of string, in order to be able to do it while the string was already hanging. That was not easy. But in the shop they learned us a knot that made that possible. So we first did a lot of knots,” Stefan laughed… “And then we hung the forms.”

“My first idea for the piece was to create a structure like a storm. Something that is coming from the ground, and then flies up to the top. But what I really wanted was to built something like a musical structure. And that does not fit with a structure that originates at the ground, and then goes up. Because that would be something that you could only walk around. And not a structure in which you can follow the lines. You would mainly see the ground part, and the rest would be far away.”

So you wanted a temporality? A timeline?

“Yes. The strings had to be fixed from one wall to the other. So the idea is that you can follow such a string. Which is like a timeline. Time starts in one point, and while you walk through the room, you will see how the pieces change. How the relations between the forms change all the time. There are many different points of view. The strings change, The direction changes. Sometimes the forms together will add up to a sub-structure. And sometimes they will seem separated, just because you take another point of view. That again reminded me a lot of music. It is like walking inside a musical piece when it is presented in a sound editor: you can separate the tracks or choose to see them mixed together.”

Then the sculpture is like a 3-dimensional musical score.

“Yes. The molds combine into small structures. Like musical themes. And there are repetitions. Like with these plastic things that they use to put your salad in at the kiosk. It becomes like a rhythm. And it changes… first there’s 2 parts, then there are 3, again 3 parts, 4 parts, … 3 … and then 1, and it hits the wall… It is actually easier to discern these kind of rhythms when you look down at the installation, from above. And of course the idea was also that the lines are somehow like the lines on note paper.”

“Two trash things I used very often, because I really like them: these plastic plates and the cups. First of all, because they were easy to recombine when I did the moldings. They were really nice to cut and then to make something out of it. For the idea was: first I have these structures, and then I put some of them together. It is like when you record single sounds and then, afterwards, in your sound processing software you combine the sounds. And then it becomes one.”

They are also very recognizable, as forms.

“Yeah. Funny thing: many people asked me whether my idea was to make a work about trash… Well, maybe it was. But it was mainly forced, because I actually very often use these kind of sounds. And this time I wanted to have them also as sculptures…”

“There are 8 little loud speakers that play back 4 different stereo tracks in between the papier-mâché forms. The speakers hang inside of the structure. They are part of it. Just like the speaker cables. Often I use a sort of electricity cable as speaker cables, but this time I used normal speaker cables. Because they look more like the nylon strings. And I let them just follow the lines. They built lines, comparable to the lines that the nylon strings build. The loudspeaker itself is grey. When you stand inside the installation you can of course see that it is a loudspeaker. But because of its color it becomes part of the structure.”

“The sound itself is really concrete. They all come from microphone recordings, of paper and of all of these plastic things that I molded; the plastic cups, the plates and other stuff like that. Afterwards I selected parts, and did some digital treatment, for example by shifting the pitch. But not very much. I didn’t change the sounds very much.”

So a lot of the sound originates in the same plastic objects, the same trash that you used to make the papier-mâché forms. And the paper? Different kinds of paper may make very different kinds of sound.

“That of course is true. But I actually used mainly cardboard; and cardboard objects, like cups. And then indeed the plastic things. I played all of them with me hands, and recorded a whole night long. The material that I recorded lasted, maybe, I think, 10 hours.”

“The actual sound of the installation comes from an 8 track loop, made out of 4 stereo tracks. After one hour the sound piece repeats. One of the stereo tracks indeed lasts one hour, but it is pitched; originally it maybe was ten minutes. The other three stereo tracks last 20 minutes, so for the one hour loop these are already tripled. They are loops inside the loop.”

“In my previous works, the sculptures often had a somewhat artificial look, I think. They were like minimal art or something. But the sounds were concrete sounds, like in this work; it was concrete sound material. So the combination of a sound with the objects was more conceptual. There remained some sort of a gap between the sculptures and the sound. This time my idea was to bring the sounds and the sculpture really together, by letting them come from the same source. It actually was a big step for me.”

But the link between the sounds and the sculpture – the idea of a ‘music’ and a ‘score’ – remains abstract. That is a concept. That is not concrete

“It is not a real score, no. But the idea of 3 dimensional and graphical scores is central in my work. For this I was, I think, inspired by artists like Jackson Pollock. When I saw Jackson Pollock, for me that was like a graphical score. A score which you can think of as having an endless time. It transcends the borders of the frame. It is really like a sound installation! And I wanted to put these kind of structures and forms in the room, in a space.”

Did you ever consider asking musicians to interpret your works? And then look at the sculpture as graphical scores, and play them?

“Oh yes, of course I did. And it is kind of nice. But, for myself, I have no real interest in producing music out of it. It is rather the idea of a score that interests me. On the one hand I like to produce graphics, on the other hand I produce sounds. And sometimes I like to combine them. Then it is an installation. And when you visit an installation and focus on one point, that is the now. The spot where you focus is now. And then, when you move, as a viewer, you are making a timeline for the piece. Because of your moving and the your shifting focus.”

So each viewer is putting her own time into the piece?

“Yeah, sure. Of course. I like to say: the viewer becomes a mixing board for the piece. Because the piece is continuously changing while the viewer is walking inside.”

But will not also the soundtrack suggest certain movements to the viewer? People tend to react to sounds. They might be tempted to walk from little speaker to little speaker, in order to ‘close listen’ to each of the channels, one after the other.

“That may be true. But the sound actually is changing very slowly. You can have the experience a little bit slower as well. You do not have to hurry to get to the sounds!”

“It is a main theme, I think, of sound art, that you fill the room with one structure. Which is not repeated all the time, but still, in a way, the dynamics and the proportions of the sound will be mostly the same all the time. When you go to a Rolf Julius piece, it is certainly not the same all the time. But after a minute, you will know what it sounds like… So the idea for my sculptures is, in a way, related to that of drawing: how do you fill the paper?”

“All the sonic material for this piece has more or less the same frequency shape. There is not too much droning stuff. And there are not many high frequencies. I use these sounds because I think that their materiality fits the papier-mâché. With its white, or light grey, color. For me sounds have a kind of color, and a structure and a form. Like sculptures. So all the sounds that I use here are quite light; but not too much. They are all grey. Light grey. And not too dramatical. The sounds are not very haunting, or stuff. And I did not use real voices.”

“The night that I recorded the sounds, I played them with some sort of a dramaturgy. Like this sound of a plastic bag, I wanted to have it playing very slowly in the beginning, with a very low volume; and then getting louder. So I recorded these types of dramaturgical sequences. And afterwards I did not cut in the dramaturgy. What also was important for me, was that a certain sound would only be represented in one place. (Or in two places, because everything is in stereo.) I did not want sounds to change places; the sounds are just in one spot.”

“Originally I wanted to make a very dynamical and cut up piece, with a lot of changes. I was considering something really haunting; psychedelic sounds, really heavy, like the soundtrack of a horror movie. And I thought of using a lot of singing as well, a bit like Nurse with Wound, or stuff like that. But when I saw the light grey material hanging, I knew that this was wrong. This wouldn’t fit. It would have been too… yes, let’s say: too much! Because the sculpture is not so different in all of its pieces. And it is a very light thing. Hanging, even…”

“So that is why I called the work Bursting Confidence: at first I was thinking of this really mind-changing, maybe even frightening, psychic installation. Of something exploding; and it should be an exploding mind!”

The piece still gives you the impression of an explosion. Frozen at some point in time. Like a still from a movie.

“Yes, but as I started working more on the piece and on the idea, it got softer and softer… It still is an explosion, but it is not so dangerous anymore. It became more like a molecule, where you zoom into with a microscope, and then encounter all of these smaller structures, of atoms, stuff and things…
It still is an explosion.
But it is soft.
It is more soft…”

Stefan Roigk – Bursting Confidence. Sound installation at Le Bon Accueil, 74 Canal Saint-Martin, Rennes, France. From March 14th until April 12th, 2014. Vernissage: March 13th, 18h30.

Exploring the almost-impossibilities between art and science.

September 9, 2013 § 4 Comments

Last in the series of new sound art works commissioned by the RESONANCE Network in the 2012-2014 period is Photophon, an installation by the Belgian artist Aernoudt Jacobs. As small and fragile as it laborious, Photophon will premiere as part of the RESONANCE-in-Maastricht showcase that is taking place between September 13th and 29th at Intro in situ’s. (The exhibition in Maastricht will also include a new installment of Signe Lidén’s Writings and another presentation of The Beaters by Thomas Rutgers and Jitske Blom. Peter Bogers will present a second version of his Untamed Choir and David Helbich made an arrangement of the performative soundwalk that he composed for the Flanders Festival in Kortrijk, for the streets and squares of Maastricht.)

Photophon is based upon the so-called photoacoustic effect, that was discovered in the late nineteenth century by the brilliant Scottish scientist, inventor and innovator Alexander Graham Bell, who probably is best known as the inventor of the telephone. As a teenager Alexander Bell witnessed how his mother slowly grew deaf, which aroused his very special interest in all things related to speech, hearing and sound. In 1880, together with his assistant Charles Tainter, he developed a device that transmitted sounds wirelessly, on a beam of light: the photophone. It reflected sunlight from a flexible flat mirror that actually served as a microphone. When somebody talked against the mirror’s back, the variations in air pressure caused by the soundwaves of the voice moved the flexible material, and were literally reflected in variations of the brightness of the mirrored sunlight. One then ‘only’ needed to translate these back into sound…

It was while working on this receiving end of his photophone that Bell discovered the optoacoustic or photoacoustic effect. He found that solid materials that were exposed to a beam of sunlight that was interrupted by a fast turning wheel with slots (thus giving rise to a very rapid series of light pulses), started to produce sounds. The main (though not sole) reason for this is photothermal. The physical explanation goes roughly like this: the material is heated by the light energy that it absorbs, which causes it to contract and expand; these ‘movements’ of the material then give rise to pressure changes in the surrounding air; but that of course means that there will be sound!

It was this use of strictly ephemeral phenomena to create sonic events that inspired Aernoudt’s artistic re-interpretation and development of Bell’s discovery. “I was mesmerized by the idea,” he says, “that sounds around us can be created with light. From Bell’s research notes I learned that any material comes with a sonority that will be revealed by hitting it with a strong enough beam of light. Every material has a resonant frequency, but every material can also be ‘sonically activated’. And its sound is directly related to its resonant frequencies. For me this was a revelation, touching the world of sounds in its very essence!”

Aernoudt’s work is a fine example of a combination of artistic and scientific research. He has been developing his Photophon installation in close collaboration with the Laboratory of Acoustics and Thermal Physics of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. I saw a prototype (picture above) of the elegant and intriguing horn-like object that is to become the sounding heart of the installation, when earlier this year, at the IMAL in Brussels, I visited an exhibition of Overtoon, the Brussels based platform for research, production and distribution of sound and media art that is directed by Aernoudt and Christoph de Boeck.

“The horn is the last in the chain of elements that together make up the photophonic object that I imagined,” Aernoudt explained. “It acts as a loudspeaker. Because of its specific dimensions, it will amplify some of the frequencies produced by the photoacoustic cell that I built. That cell is a kind of Helmholtz resonator, placed at the narrow end of the horn. Eventually, the horns will be between 60 and 70 centimeters long, very narrow at the one end (about 3 millimeters), and then widening to some 22 centimeters at the other end. The precise dimensions are related to the resonance frequency that I work with.”

“In the very first version I used the horn of an old gramophone that I bought on a flea market. The light source was a green laser. That Photophon produced a soft buzzing sound. The subsequent versions use customized horns, that are adapted to the cell. All is centered on one specific frequency, with its corresponding over- and undertones. I started with a plastic horn, realized in one piece using a 3D printer. But that was too fragile. It broke rather quickly. The model at the IMAL exhibition also has a plastic horn made with a 3D printer, but that was done in 3 separate parts, that I then glued together.”

At the IMAL I saw light, I saw movement, but I did not hear any sounds.

“True. But that’s because the light source was a led, which is not intense enough to produce a sound that is audible with your bare ears. There is a sound, but you would need to use a stethoscope to hear it. With a laser source, that I can use in my studio, the sound becomes audible. So for the RESONANCE installation in Maastricht, I will use laser sources.”

And you will use glass horns. Glass surely has acoustic properties that are quite different from those of the plastic you used for the earlier versions. This will also influence the sound, I presume.

“Yes, it will influence the sound. The glass will resonate more than the plastic. And of course there is the visual, the aesthetic aspect. The transparent glass horns will make for a far more delicate look than that of the the opaque white plastic objects.”

How did your collaboration with the Laboratory of Acoustics and Thermal Physics at the KUL, the Catholic University in Leuven, come about?

“We have been working together for about one year and a half now. Our collaboration started after I had invited them to come to one of my earlier exhibitions. At the time I already was researching the sonic and acoustic investigations that were done in the 19th century, and the empirical sound theories that were developed at that time by people like Hermann von Helmholtz, Rudolph Koenig, Jules Lissajous, and so on. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that in many cases those investigations were based only on acoustic phenomena, with no electronics involved. They analyzed everything with analog, mechanical devices. It makes their findings very palpable and understandable. Christ Glorieux, who is the head of the Leuven Acoustics Lab, introduced me to Bell’s photophone, that they were working with a lot at the laboratory. And this then gave rise to the idea of making an installation based on the photophone.”

“Art-science collaboration are sort of a trend these days. So my case is surely not unique. It is very interesting though. Also, because it is not always easy to really work together. Unlike a scientist, as an artist I am all the time groping around in the dark. As an artist, that is where you want to be. Where you need to be. You will always want to try out things that are deemed to be ‘impossible’. Putting a horn on a photophone was one of those ‘impossibilities’… The scientists at the lab would never use a horn. They put tiny microphones inside the acoustic cell. Which, from their point of view, is far more manageable. It is what they need for their scientific approach. But still, sometimes there are holes in their research…”

Which then will allow you to jump right in.

“Indeed. And we can talk about it. That makes for very interesting conversations.”

Do you have a scientific background yourself? Or is your scientific knowledge self-taught?

“Most of it is self-taught. But I did study architecture, which introduced me to many different subjects. A lot of technology. But also mathematics and mechanics. So that makes for quite a broad background. Even though I never finished my studies. I failed the fourth year, after which I stopped and decided to concentrate on music and art. But also as a musician and an artist, I never stopped thinking about space.”

What is the role of space in the Photophon installation?

“It is important that the space be as quiet as possible. It also will be important in the sense that it will determine the way in which visitors approach the installation.”

In Maastricht the Photophon installation will be made of three of Arnoudt’s photophonic objects. Each of them will have a laser light source, with the intensity necessary to produce audible sounds. “The continuous laser light is interrupted by two rotating slotted wheels. These wheels are the second element in the construction,” Aernoudt explained. “Each of the wheels is moved by a small electric motor. There are two of them (separated by a distance of about 5 centimeters), in order to provide two distinct modulations of the laser light. If the first wheel is rotating at a very high speed, the sound produced by the photoacoustic cell will be a continuous túúúúúúúúúúúúúúttt. The second wheel is meant to interrupt that continuous sound, so as to produce a kind of rhythm: túúútt – túúútt – túúútt – túúútt – túúútt … The third element of the object, after the laser and the wheels, is the photoacoustic cell that I designed, and which – as I explained before – is based on the idea of a Helmholtz resonator. It is a small sphere, containing a black disc. Because of the series of light pulses that is hitting the disc, the photoacoustic effect will give rise to a sound. Now the shape of the cell, the globe, is important because it will strengthen certain of the frequencies. What you will hear, then is determined by the rotating wheels, and by the properties of the photoacoustic cell. The Helmholtz resonance and the acoustic properties of the glass horn, the fourth and final element in the construction, take care of some form of amplification of the sound.”

I guess it would be possible to add some sort of a controller to the electric motors that drive the wheels, to change the speed of their rotation in real time, and thus vary the resulting sound in real time. You might then play the Photophon like a musical instrument.

“I absolutely intend to provide a certain kind of ‘musicality’. But in the form of an installation, not in the form of a playable instrument. The musicality is latent. It is present, but hidden. The electric motors are driven in real time by a micro controller, which will give variations and rhythms to the tones. And each of the glass horns will actually have slightly different dimensions. Being handmade, it was impossible for the glassblower to make them perfectly identical. I still have to try them out, but I suspect that volume and resonance frequency will be different for each of them.”

So the sounding result will be like a microtonal chord?

“That is difficult to say at this point. A lot will also depend on the precision and the stability of the electric motors that I am going to use. Only if these can be adjusted very precisely will I be able to produce truly microtonal structures. But as things are looking now, that will not yet be the case in Maastricht. I hope, though, to be able to develop the work further in the near future.”

“As I said before and although this may not be immediately apparent: the musical, the compositional element, is very important to me. But I will only be able to fully exploit this in some next phase of the project. I am already planning a sequel for next year, which would be an outdoors installation. It will be based on the use of sunlight, but combined with new technologies that will enable me to track the sun, and then add artificial light as a compensation as soon as the intensity of the sun becomes insufficient. This confrontation of 19th century technologies with the top technology of our times is, of course, already evident in this version of the work: the laser, the drive of the wheels, the cutting of the wheels… All of this is based on very contemporary technologies, that then combine with these pure, non-electric, analog ideas from the 19th century. That’s amazing, I think. It’s a meeting of two very different worlds and two very different times…”

Aernoudt Jacobs’s Photophon can be experienced at Intro in situ (Capucijnengang 12, Maastricht, the Netherlands), as part of a RESONANCE showcase including works by Peter Bogers, Signe Lidén, David Helbich and Thomas Ruthers & Jitske Blom.
The opening will take place on Friday September 13th, 2013, at 17h00.
The RESONANCE exhibition at Intro in situ can be visited daily from Saturday September 14th until Sunday September 29th, between 11h and 17h.
There will two special guided tours by Harold Schellinx (on Thursday September 26th and Friday September 27th, at 19h30), and a lecture on sound art by Armeno Alberts, on Thursday September 26th, at 21h30.

PL “Phonophon” was produced for RESONANCE by Stichting Intro in situ in Maastricht, the Netherlands, with additional support from the Dutch Province of Limburg.
KUL The work was developed by Aernoudt Jacobs in collaboration with the Laboratorium voor Akoestiek en Thermische Fysica (Laboratory of Acoustics and Thermal Physics) of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Catholic University of Leuven).

Peter Bogers’s “Untamed Choir”

July 25, 2013 § 3 Comments

The past couple of weeks in Østre (the Lydgalleriet’s new space for sound art and electronic music in Bergen, Norway), Dutch artist Peter Bogers has been working on the installation and fine tuning of Untamed Choir, a new work that he produced for RESONANCE, and which will premiere as part of a short summer-exposition at Østre (from July 25th until August 11th, 2013), also featuring The Beaters, by Jitske Blom and Thomas Rutgers.

Peter Bogers’s new work is a spatial composition that uses 30 vocal tracks, played back through a set of 40 small loudspeakers that are hanging from the ceiling of the room into which the piece is projected. 20 of these are positioned on a large circle, with their cones pointing inwards. The others are spread over the rest of the projection space.

The following picture shows a sketch of a possible positioning of the loudspeakers, but the precise distribution of the speakers will obviously depend on the properties and dimensions of the room in which Untamed Choir is presented.

“Up until now the installations that I made, were more like sculptures; visual things; things that are,” Peter said. “The visitors might contemplate them and listen to them for as long as they liked. This is sort of a first time that I present a work that actually has a definite beginning and a definite end. Untamed Choir is a composition, a thing with a fixed duration. Of fifteen minutes.”

“The installation nevertheless does have a strong visual component. It consists in a projection of images of noise, moving between white dots on a black background and black dots on a white background, that illuminate the space into which the piece is projected. These images are of a ‘positive’ and of a ‘negative’ kind, just like one might consider ‘screaming’ to be the ‘sonic negative’ of ‘singing’ or ‘chanting’. The projection thus reflects the transformations: from ‘screaming’ and ‘crying’ to ‘chanting’ and ‘singing’ to ‘screaming’ and ‘crying’.”

How did you go about collecting the vocal material that you needed for the work?

“Much of the material consists in samples. Of singing, of choirs… I took anything that I could get hold of and that I thought might be useful. And then there are parts that I sung myself, and parts that I asked friends and acquaintances to sing. Originally I had planned to do a lot of the necessary vocal recordings in Bergen, in cooperation with a number of students here. But unfortunately, due to several changes in the work schedules, that has not been possible. So I ended up doing most of the recording and collecting of the sound in Amsterdam.”

“The things that I recorded myself were primarily related to the many transitions that I needed, in various tonal pitches, between the crying/screaming and chanting/singing. Often such transitions had to be very, very gradual. So gradual, that it becomes impossible to pinpoint the precise moment of change… In the singing parts I aimed at a very stylized… eh… well, yes, I may indeed just say: at a kind of ‘beauty’. I wanted it to be the sort of thing capable to seduce the listeners.”

Many of the fragments that I heard, in your preview video (which you will find embedded at the end of this article), struck me as almost Wagnerian in atmosphere…

“The singing had to be beautiful. Parts of it – including the end – are indeed kind of ‘dark’, kind of ‘heavy’. And some parts get kind of ‘psychedelic’… The piece has been conceived as a single, continuous, expiration. I removed all the breathing from the samples and the recordings. And I distribute the 30 vocal tracks over the 40 loudspeakers. This allows me to actually move sounds in the space. I can make them go round in a circle; and I can freeze them, keep them in one specific spot. Most of the singing is located everywhere in the space, including the circle; but the screaming is concentrated within the circle. When the chanting turns into screaming, the transformation initially takes places within all of the channels. But then gradually it is pulled towards the center. Until the scream occupies nothing but the middle of the room, where it literally is running around in circles. At varying speeds. So it is a pretty … yes … physical work.”

And with the extensive spatial configuration, the listener, when moving around, will experience a continuously changing perspective?

“The idea indeed is that one moves through the space, and that one will encounter changes in the sound on, say, every square meter. But these changes and these shifts are very subtle. They do ask for some concentration, so it may help if one closes one’s eyes… I am actually very happy with the acoustic conditions that I have been given here in Østre. My studio in Amsterdam is a bare space, with a lot of reflections. Here the sound is muted. And that is what this piece needs, because it allows for a far more precise localization of each of the sounds.”

Along with the noisy images that illuminate the space, also a running time code is projected. What do the numbers refer to?

“The numbers actually do not refer to anything specific. It is just a counter that is running, all through the piece.”

Like the transitioning noise images, they seem to suggest, though, that there is also something rather formal about the piece; in contrast maybe with the expressionistic – the untamed – ‘romanticism’ of the singing; ánd of the shouting…

“Maybe… I have to confess that I still have my doubts about the use of the counter. It will be part of the show here in Bergen, but I have not yet made up my mind as to whether I will also include it in the subsequent renderings of the piece… But there is a system to the numbers. When screaming transits into singing, the noisy projection simultaneously transits from positive to negative. So if at first the images are very light (white noise on a black background), then during a transformation from screaming to singing the picture will gradually turn into something very dark (black noise on a white backgrond). And the tipping point will correspond to the counter’s transition from plus to minus. Via zero. The counter also indicates the beginning and the end. When the work begins, the noisy image will just show you the dots, standing still. The dots do not move. And the counter is at 0. Untamed Choir then starts with a scream. And at the same time the counter starts running. The piece ends fifteen minutes later with a transition from low singing to very low screaming, which eventually turns into a kind of sigh, while the counter runs to 0. There it stops, in a still image of noise…”

“So there is a beginning. Then there is an end. And in between it is a cycle.
Like a life cycle.”

“My earliest fascination, in the 1970’s, was for performance art, with its very challenging physicality and direct confrontation with the audience. Around that same time, the first handy video cameras became available, and I realized that I actually preferred this use of technology, as an intermediary, between myself and the audience. I specifically remember one of these early works, of which no documentation has survived, but which was crucial in my development. I was sitting on a chair, surrounded by lights, making sounds with my mouth directly in front of a camera. The close up image of the lighted inside of my mouth then was shown on a monitor above my head, along with the amplified sounds – I started with baby like gurgling and vocal noises – that I was producing. That was how I began apply technology as a means to put up a separation between myself and the onlookers.”

It also shows a very early fascination for the human voice.

“I did an awful lot of recording of the vocal sounds of my first born son. Babies just begin to make noises. It’s a very free form of vocal experimentation, something that I find absolutely admirable, really. And then language starts sneaking in. This transition I find extremely fascinating. I made a work in which I imitate the sounds he made. There are two images, on two monitors. One showing his sounds, and on the one above there’s me. And the alternation of the two produced this very strong rhythmicity… So, yes, the human voice has continued to be a focal point.”

Your background is quite obviously in the visual arts, but do you consider yourself to be, nevertheless, in some sense, a composer?

“Actually I think that music is the best there is. So, to be honest, I really would have liked to be a musician…”

Do you play an instrument?

“Ah, well, a little bit of everything, one might say. I have a pretty good sense for rhythm, so I can do some drumming, play a bit of mouth organ. Nothing properly, though. But sound always had a strong presence in my work. It is only now though, with this work, that some sort of composing is involved. That I find myself being concerned with decisions about pitch, frequencies, timing, the combination of voices, and so on. With real musical components. Before, my point of departure always were the images. But when you turn on a camera to capture images, you also get the sounds. And I always have used this immediate link between image and sound. I would never add a soundtrack to images just to create a certain atmosphere. Sound that is being used to manipulate the viewer into a certain mood while looking at images usually makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. There has to be a connection between the two, a natural link.”

There is quite a long tradition within music and sound art of works that quite specifically address the distribution of sound sources and musicians within a space. Is this something that you have looked into?

“No, not really. I have to admit that my historical knowledge is pretty limited. Especially when it comes to this field of ‘sound art’, which as a matter of fact is sort of new to me. Even though some of my works, in hindsight, actually might very well be labelled as such. ‘Heaven’, for example, a work from 1995, installed in a little working-class house in the center of Utrecht. I had a great many of these old, small black and white surveillance video monitors, which were scattered around the three rooms. And each of the monitors showed an image lasting no more than one second, playing forwards and then backwards. With the corresponding sound, playing forward one second, and then in reverse for one second, on and on and on, in endless repetition. These were all sorts of images of small things, that you might see happen in such a house. Someone’s neck that is turning this way, one second, and then back the other second. And the second hand of a clock, going one tick forward and then one tick backwards again. A baby sucking milk from his mother’s breast. All the time there’s this repetition, this back and forth, and it becomes like a machine, something very rhythmic, going… ta-duh ta-duh… ta-duh ta-duh… which makes it, in a way, highly oppressive. So like ‘Untamed Choir’ this was a piece in which the spatial distribution was central, and the visitors had to walk through the piece.”

“The title ‘Heaven’ is that of a Talking Heads song. Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens. That’s a wonderful image. When this kiss is over it will start again. It will not be any different, it will be exactly the same. Heaven is a place where events do not devalue. Here on earth, for us, that is not the case. And maybe that is indeed our problem.
Things continue and repeat.
But they will hardly remain fun.”

Peter Bogers – Untamed Choir | Thomas Rutgers & Jitske Blom – The Beaters. Two RESONANCE sound art installations presented by Lydgalleriet at Østre, Skostredet 3, Bergen (Norway). From July 25th until August 11th, 2013.

The following YouTube clip gives you a 4’50” preview / walk-through in stereo, of Peter Bogers’s Untamed Choir.