Something you walk into, something that surrounds you

July 21, 2011 § 5 Comments

Stefan Rummel (currently residing in Berlin) was born in Nürnberg, Germany, where he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts. For the Resonance network Stefan created Articulated Chambers, a public space installation that can be heard-seen at the Bassin in Maastricht (the Netherlands) until the end of August. Next versions of the piece will be installed in Riga (Latvia) later this year, and in Kortrijk (Belgium) as part of next year’s edition of the Flanders Festival. An adapted (indoors & dry) version of the installation was part of the Extensions exhibition, from June 17th till July 17th 2011, in the Lydgalleriet in Bergen (Norway).

stefan rummel

As a student and graduate from a fine arts academy, Stefan, you have a firm background in the visual arts.

“I was at the painting department, and the professor was really a painter. But it was interesting, and we had a lot of different ideas in this class. He was very open for different media, and we did performances, photos… With another guy I got involved in Aktionskunst, and I got more and more interested in getting away from painting. I must say that this was partly also because I didn’t have so much ideas about using colors. I didn’t like colors so much. At the time I was more into gray and stuff. So I felt somehow that it was more interesting to open up a space, like one does with installations. What fascinates me about this, is that you walk into it. And when you do, you are kind of surrounded by the work… Which is also the case with sound installations.
For me that’s the best: when a work is somehow space related, when there is something that you walk into, that surrounds you. Or you surround the thing and the thing surrounds you. You have, like, something that you can look at, and you have something that you can listen to, and you have something that you can also touch. I think this is a very important way of making art.”

And from the very beginning, already back at the academy, you began incorporating sound in your work?

“Yes, I started with sound at that time. That is somehow how I came to installations. I also worked with photos and text. I was writing text on an old typewriter that I had bought in Poland. I had a scholarship, and then I didn’t really know what to do with it. I was a bit lost, actually. But then I found a second hand store, and I bought that typewriter. And I started writing. I mean … like: tzik, tzik, tzik, tzik! … I also used all these different kind of materials. I found some shelf, and I found other things. Then, after the academy, I had a solo exhibition in a gallery in Nürnberg, and I did a work, which was like a ‘work in progress’. There I put all these things. It was a bit like … the exhibition was not like a fixed thing, it changed in the course of the four weeks that it lasted. I worked with clay on the floor, and I built the shape of the Potsdammer Platz for example; and I put some silicon things; there were tapes, sounds… You can see some of it on my web site. It was called Prototypen, back in 1996… I liked this idea of installation very much.”

And you have been pursuing this ever since. Installations. With sound?

“Yes. With sound. Mostly with sound.”

Contrary to the other installations that up until now were produced for the Resonance project, you chose to create a piece outside, in public space.

“When I came to Maastricht I kept on thinking about what I could build there; something that could then go to the other cities of the network, and function there as well. The fact that a same work is re-made at different places, in a way establishes a link between these places. I then started thinking about what other things connect them. What do they have in common? This led me to the river. There is no river in Bergen, so the version of Articulated Chambers there was a bit different – I call it the ‘dry version’. But Maastricht, Riga, Kortrijk … they all have a river that runs through them.”

“Then I began wandering around Maastricht a lot, looking for spaces that in a way connect the river and the city. I found four places that I liked, and that I thought might be useful. Eventually we settled for the spot at the Bassin, at the far end of the quay lining the Timmerfabriek. I also thought that it would be good to have something where one could go inside, then go further a little bit, and then take a step onto the water.”

“The work that I did with Anja Gerecke last year at the MAMAM (Museu de Arte Moderna Aloisio Magalhães) in Recife, Brasil – Stadtphysis – was also related to the architecture that we found there. There was this row of columns, and we put some more. Also there was sound, and we built a box inside the other, and … It always depends on the space. First I walk around and have a look what spaces are interesting. And then I try to create something at home, at my desk. I make drawings on paper. When you see a space and its surroundings, you have the first idea. Sometimes later you will have more and other ideas, and so on … but very often that first idea is actually the one that you can go on with. I then develop this thing in my mind, with the drawings … with some text also, that I write down … Here in Maastricht I ended up working more with, say, a solid form. In fact it’s just the beginning of a form; a simple form, that relates to the buildings around the Bassin, like the big factory.”

stefan rummel

It thus came about that Stefan Rummel constructed two big wooden boxes at the Bassin in Maastricht, assisted by his companion Anja Gerecke and Stichting Intro’s tech wizz Paul Caron. The boxes are almost (but not quite) cubes. One of them (the black one) is placed on the ground, at the quay. The second box (the grey one) is floating on the water; like a raft, carried by pontoons. The two are connected by means of four metal hinges and a small wooden gangplank, that permits one to pass back and forth between the one and the other.

The construction at first view seems to suit its surroundings perfectly well. Casual passers-by will consider it an integral part of the industrial and commercial activities that surely are being developed in the other buildings lining the water. Some of them, however, might start to think about it, and wonder what then its purpose might be. The black part looks somewhat like a container. It could be used for storage, but then why is its front end wide open? And what is the connected, second, part, floating there on the water? Is it a construction used to transfer a certain type of goods from the quay onto cargo boats passing? Or is it some sort of a laboratory, that is used for biological and chemical experiments with and on the water? The part out on the water might remind some passers-by of a certain kind of public lavatories. But isn’t this is rather unlikely spot for such a thing? On the other hand, given the fact that the Bassin is an inner harbour (mainly) for pleasure boats, the construction might have a recreational function. Maybe it’s a changing cubicle, with a shower for swimmers? … Quite a fascinating puzzle, really … Unless one knows, like you and me, that ‘Art’ is its solution … 😉

One can enter the two rooms, which indeed are articulated chambers. The connecting part is flexible enough to cope with the undulations and changes in the water level. Its flexibility also gives visitors an impression of movement. Inside the boxes there are six small loudspeakers, that project a soundscape. Though also when you enter the installation, it may take a while before you become aware of the speakers and the sounds that they bring forth.

“I call the piece Articulated Chambers, because the two wooden cubes are like small chambers, connected by a flexible joint. But then I also had this idea about articulated joints, like the ones used for the harmonica busses, and sometimes for trams. Somehow also this has to do with this installation; there is an articulated joint. So that is why the piece is called like this. You have two chambers, and they are connected. And they are connected also with respect to the form, and with the inside and the outside…”

Does the part inside of the first chamber (the box inside the box) correspond in dimensions to the second chamber? So that the room that is floating on the water is like an echo, like a transposition, of the inside of the room that is standing on the quay? To me it looks like that.

“They are the same forms, but one is a little smaller. The idea was more of using somehow a similar form, and then just put it … the one side to the middle of … It is the middle of the box … and then you will see different … different shapes, when you come from the one side, or when you stand there, or there … First you see the half of this room, and then you will see … The perspective always changes, you will see it differently all the time.”

stefan rummel

It is late afternoon, the monday after this year’s Kunsttour weekend in Maastricht, which included Stefan’s Articulated Chambers as part of its sound art program. The Articulated Chambers stayed on, and have since been open for the public passing at the Maastricht Bassin, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The installation will remain there until the end of August. This continuous accessibility is a fascinating aspect of the work. Not only will different types of weather and the different light at different hours account for many different possible views of the work. The work will also always sound differently, because of the ever changing sounds of the city. This city soundscape surrounds the work, and becomes a part of it. At times the city will be loud and dense, at other moments it will be far more quiet, with soft and sparse, little pretty, sounds. These will mix with Stefan’s composed soundscape inside the boxes, that is always being played back at the same volume, irrespective of the loudness of the sounds that come whirling in from the outside.
The power needed for the playing back of the piece’s soundscape comes from solar cells, thus making the installation self-sustained: it supplies its own energy; also when the available daylight is less ‘energetic’ than that of the piercing sun, spreading all over the Bassin the afternoon that I spoke there with Stefan.

We are sitting inside the first of the two wooden rooms, the black one, and profit from the shadow and relative coolness inside. We hear how the sound of the traffic outside mingles with the sounds projected by four loudspeakers inside the black chamber, and – from a bit further – the sounds coming from the two speakers that are built into the smaller, grey, room, the one that is floating on the water.

“One of the speakers in the black room is pointing towards the entrance,” Stefan explains, “and one is pointing towards the little box. Then there are the other two, which are pointing from the little box to the wall; in that way I also play with the different reflections of the sound inside the box. There is little space, but you can put your head there. More or less. I like to do things that you need to find out. You will have to spend some time to discover the installation and that is also why I put the speakers – or hide the speakers – there between the two walls.”

So visitors should stay a while, when they come here and visit your Articulated Chambers.

“Yes. Which is also the reason why I put space between the recordings that I use. Sometimes all is silent. Or slowing down, and up…” Stefan points at different spots inside the two boxes. “You will have to go there, and then there,” he says. “I think one should spend something like, at least ten minutes. Or maybe even longer. When you’ve been here for, like, ten or fifteen minutes, then you will get some idea of what the form is of the piece, and of the sound… walking through this room, than into the little room, and…”

Could you tell a bit more about the sounds that you use for the soundscape? How did you go about selecting them? What, for example, are we listening to right now?

“What you hear now is the recording of the sound of an old cargo ship. I heard its sputtering engine when I was out sound hunting, riding on my bike here in Maastricht. I went after the boat, in the direction of Belgium, all the way until it came to a halt inside a big lock, and the sputtering gradually slowed down. That was an amazing sound experience.”

How long have you been recording to collect all the material? Did you record continuously, while you were in Maastricht? Or just during certain periods? Did you record every day a bit, or did you do all the recordings in one long stretch?

“No, I do not do long stretches of recording. That is also why I don’t really talk about them as ‘field recordings’. I prefer to just speak about my ‘recordings for the installation’. They are my ‘installation recordings’. I usually make recordings that last no longer than about five minutes. In Maastricht I mostly recorded in the outskirts of town. Near the cement factory, for example. What I was looking for, were industrial sounds, mechanical sounds. Maastricht of course is a relatively quiet town. There is no subway, and there just are not so many things like that. So I had to go out, to where I could find sounds that are made by mechanical constructions. I liked a lot the sounds that were caused by the repairs of the old Saint Servatius bridge that were going on. There was this temporary iron road surface, on the part of the bridge that makes different levels for the boats. When you passed over it with the bike, or on foot, it went … djoe , djoe , djoe! … And meanwhile underneath the iron surface you could hear the hisses and sizzles of the ongoing welding. These types of sound interest me far more than the sound of people sitting in a café or dining in a restaurant. For the piece, I put several parts of the recordings that I did together; I always like to put small things together …”

stefan rummel

“So, as far as the sound is concerned, the set-up is quite simple. With this kind of installation I like to keep things very simple. These are simple recordings. But of course I do manipulate them electronically, on the computer, somehow.”

In what ways?

“Oh, just with a simple sound processing program. Whatever I need. I do not have so many filters or effects. It is more for putting things together, making it coherent; cutting the pieces, lining them up, mixing them. What I also very much like, is that when I make recordings, there always are, like, mistakes; in the recordings, or in the producing or whatever.”

What do you mean by ‘mistakes’?

“Often things are too loud, or… I also like to take a very close up look at a track on the computer, and then find little wrong things in it. These parts I then take to work on. So, in the end, all of course is mainly made digitally. But I still find it important to take the sound that is surrounding us as a starting point.”

You use several tracks, each of a slightly different length. And each is playing back as a loop, so that their ‘sounding together’ will be perceived as changing all of the time. But is there something that characterizes the different tracks? How does, for example, the track in the ‘water room’ relate to the tracks in the ‘land room’?

“Each track has a length of about ten minutes, but the precise lengths are slightly different. And each track has, like, its own soul. They also all have pauses. I wanted there to be quite a bit of silence. And I actually not only used recordings that I made here in Maastricht. Because in each new piece I always also use sounds from older exhibitions. Not complete tracks; but some small bits and pieces. Bits that I like, and that I think makes sense to use in the new installation. I make these little ‘rappels’, in order to somehow connect the older work to the new one.”

Everybody will surely agree that Articulated Chambers very nicely fits the surroundings at the Bassin, even though (or is it because?) it appears to be something of a visual paradox. It says: “Oh yes, this is where I belong!” but at the same time asks: “What the hell am I doing here?” I could easily imagine the work to be permanently installed here – especially given the cultural destination of the area and the Timmerfabriek building. What are your thoughts on that?

“I guess it could be permanent. But if it were, I would build it differently. I then probably also would not construct it myself. And a permanent version would also need other materials, I think.”

How important is the material for this work? The fact that it is made out of wood?

“Well, if I made it out of – say – metal, the sound would change. So that might then in turn influence the way in which I conceive the soundscape. Or the way in which I play back the recordings. Also, when made out of metal, the feeling of the piece obviously will be very different. So I do not know, really. It depends …”

stefan rummel

We sit quietly in the black room for a while. We smoke a cigarette, and listen to the sounds that are coming from the speakers in the black box, mingling with the sounds of the buses, trucks and motorcycles that are passing outside, as well as with the occasional slow, rhythmic squeaking and crackling of the hinges and gangplank connecting the gray and the black room. I hear the ringing of bicycle bells. At some point I also hear the faraway singing of birds. But were these birds singing outside of the Articulated Chambers, or did their song come from the inside, as a part of Stefan’s sound scape?

It will be interesting to see how Articulated Chambers will fare, throughout this summer out here in the open in Maastricht. Maybe some passers-by will find it makes a pretty good spot to spend the night. What would you say if some morning you’d arrive here, and find someone sleeping inside your work?

“I don’t know. I mean, if someone sleeps here… I don’t know … I’m not against it… I mean… If the person leaves it like it is, maybe it’s OK. I think the question is more what the people who take care of the Bassin will make of this. They seem to want very much to keep the area ‘clean’, so I imagine they will not like it when someone takes up sleeping in here. I think they would put an end to that. Rather quickly, I’m afraid.”

Stefan Rummel’s Articulated Chambers can be seen, heard and felt, day and night, 7 days a week, at the Bassin in Maastricht, until the end of August 2011. Go there, discover, feel, listen, see-hear, hear-see and enjoy!

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