‘Is it Music? Is it Art?’

February 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

Resonance & Sound Art at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, the Netherlands

The Jan van Eyck Academy is an internationally renowned post-academic art institute, located in the quiet and quite beautiful ancient Latin Quarter of Maastricht.

Jan van Eyck Academy

On its web site, the Jan van Eyck describes its position within the academic art world as being one that, through research and production, is characterized by a profound multidisciplinary approach, and not led by whatever predetermined leitmotivs. Research at the Academy covers a wide range of subjects, from ‘replicas as artistic strategy’ to ‘the publishing practice of the punk movement’; from ‘the transformation of urban areas’ to ‘the crossroads of art and politics’…

Given the decidedly multidisciplinary nature of a great many, if not all, sound art installations, Intro in situ‘s choice to have the second Resonance presentation in Maastricht take place not in a gallery space, but in the Jan van Eyck Academy’s building, thus was both an interesting and a logical one, as it fitted perfectedly with the Jan van Eyck’s aim at encouraging collaboration, also outside the confines of the academy.

In his opening speech, on December 9th last year, Jan van Eyck’s director Lex ter Braak stressed the importance of such cross-fertilization. “I am very glad that, during the period of the setting up of these installations in the Jan van Eyck, there indeed was a quit vivid exchange between the Resonance artists and the researchers and artists working at our institute,” he said.

Lex ter Braak

Three Resonance installations could be seen and heard in the Jan van Eyck Academy building, over the last three weeks of 2011.

At the entrance, at the very beginning of the front hall, looking “as if it had been there forever”, visitors of the Academy building were welcomed by Evelina Deicmane‘s A Long Day.

A Long Day

“When you are walking under Evelina’s work, somehow you think of a cloud that is moving,” Lex ter Braak said about the piece. “But it is not a cloud, it is a lake, that is like a carpet. A carpet that is flying above you. With this work, the artist is referring to an old Latvian tale that says that people are living under a flying lake. And if you talk about it, or even think about it, it will come down, and swallow you completely. For me, this is like thinking about all the bad things in life that can happen. As soon as you think about something bad, it is bound to happen. But if you don’t think about it, then you remain happy…”

A Long Day

This interpretation of her work made Evelina smile. “I like it,” she said. “It indeed is more or less like that, though I’d say that Lex ter Braak’s story is a bit more dramatic than what I had in mind…”

The Maastricht installment of Maia Urstad’s ‘Meanwhile, in Shanghai…’ found a nice and quiet spot in the (old) auditorium of the Academy, where the many radio’s voices softly hummed, far from the Academy’s ongoing to-and-fro.

Meanwhile in Shanghai

“My first impression of Maia’s work,” Lex ter Braak said, “was that I had entered some sort of a bazaar, where you can buy all kinds of different old radio’s. But looking a bit better, I discovered the movement of time. For there are radio’s from the 1950s, from the 1960s, from the 1970s, the 1980s and even contemporary ones. Some of them you might recognize. As a radio that you once had yourself. Or as the radio that was playing in your neigbour’s house…
In that sense, ‘Meanwhile, in Shanghai…’ is a stroll through time. You realize what is happening with yourself, with images, and with the instruments that are part of our world and our lives.”

Meanwhile in Shanghai

Whereas the Resonance presentation in Riga was a homecoming for Evelina’s A Long Day, the Resonance exhibition at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht meant a homecoming for Paul Devens’ City Chase. A double homecoming even, as not only has Paul been a Maastricht citizen ever since he was born there, in 1965, he also once was a student at the Jan van Eyck Academy. In this version of his City Chase installation, Paul presented the piece that he created from sounds recorded while biking through his hometown, at his former school.

City Chase

The ‘made while moving’ field recordings that he uses for the pieces played back in City Chase (a new one for each city to which the installation travels), have no evident ‘focus’. In City Chase, the origin of sounds always transits from one source to another. One hears these prerecorded sounds only when the speakers move along the four metal rails, with one loudspeaker for each of them. Computer-controlled motors move them according to the ‘choreography’ that Paul devised for them.

“The speakers run like little racecars along their tracks,” Lex ter Braak observed, “where they play back sounds from the everyday life in our city. Together it sums up to more than a city soundscape: it becomes music. Or rather, I’d say, sounds that remind one of music…”

This last remark, brought up an interesting point, a question that continues to recur whenever ‘sound art’ is at stake: is it ‘art’, or is it ‘music’?

In his introduction, Lex ter Braak referred to a discussion he had on the subject with Bart van Dongen, Intro in situ’s artistic director. Lex made it clear that he considers the three Resonance sound art installations mainly as art. “For me,” he said, “this is art, with sounds.” Bart van Dongen, on the other hand, explained that for him the Resonance pieces are primarily about music. The artists are working with sound as a way to deal with, and think about, music. From this point of view, sound art becomes an investigation into new ways for presenting (and making) music.

Bart van Dongen

It is an interesting, and – due to many semantic pitfalls – pretty hard discussion, though at closer inspection many of the differences-at-first-sight, in opinion and interpretation, will turn out to be due to differences in background and focus (in ‘culture’) of the beholder. The director of an art academy will obviously look at the installations with his ‘artistic’ eye, while the director of an institute that mainly focuses on the production of musical works, will hear them with his ‘musical’ ear. It was not in the least place this very difference in culture and focus, that made the meeting of two worlds, last December in Maastricht, such a valuable and fruitful one.

Lex ter Braak and Bart van Dongen both expressed their eagerness to continue these ‘meetings of worlds’ on a more regular basis. Thus, over the weekend of 10-11 February 2012, the Jan van Eyck Academy will host a co-production of Intro in situ and the Rosa Ensemble: Europa 5.1, an interactive performance in image and sound, in which musicians create their ‘own Europe’ …. including ‘all the noise, misunderstandings, brilliant ideas and megalomania’ that come with it.

Will it be ‘music’, or will it be ‘art’?

You best go, hear, see and decide for yourself…

Europa 5.1 can be experienced at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, daily from 20h00, on Friday February 10th, Saturday February 11th and Sunday February 12th. The entrance fee is €12,50.

[ The photographs of ‘Resonance at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht’ were all made by Moniek Wegdam. ]

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