March 11, 2013 § 5 Comments
Over the past couple of years, the Dutch duo made up of designer Jitske Blom and sound artist & composer Thomas Rutgers has been creating quite some public hubbub (Openbaar Kabaal), by their occasional invasion of public spaces with a small army of remotely controlled ‘ticking devices’. Little percussionists, like tiny electric woodpeckers, that Jitske and Thomas stick, in the abstracted form of transparent wireless boxes, to lampposts, litter bins, traffic signs, benches, doors, shop windows, and to whatever else that through its materiality will provide an interesting sounding response to the ticking stimuli of the mechanical mini guerrilla musicians. And then they have the little buggers play… To the often not little surprise and astonishment of unsuspecting passersby.
“The pretty unobtrusive small ticking boxes (they’re almost invisible) incite us to have a new, fresh look at the space that they – and we – are in,” Thomas said, “because through their ticking, they all of a sudden make us hear that space. This public hubbub work actually started out as a fixed composition, for eight of such tickers, that was performed at each of the different locations that we installed the piece. Later on it became more of a live improvisation, in which I manipulated the ticking via a Pure Data interface.”
Openbaar Kabaal / Public hubbub was the starting point, the genesis, for The Beaters, a work devised by Jitske and Rutger for the Resonance Network, which will premiere at the ECI Cultuurfabriek in Roermond (the Netherlands), between March 15th and April 15th 2013.
What is the precise relation between your variable public interventions with the ticking boxes, and The Beaters? Is the new work a more formal version, a dynamic public intervention captured in a more static installation?
“It actually involves quite a major shift of attention,” Thomas explained. “In our work with the little boxes the goal was, so to say, the creation of a little ‘symphony’ made up from existing objects; the objects that we glued the boxes to. In The Beaters our attention has shifted from these objects to the subject: from the thing that is being ticked against, to the thing that is ticking. The focal point now is the ticker itself.”
“It is still all about materiality,” Jitske added. “But now it is about the material of the ticker itself.”
And the ticking, the beating, will be all the time agains the same object?
“Yes, for The Beaters we actually built sort of a gigantic wooden sound board. It is almost like a fake wall,” Thomas said.
“It really is like a wall,” said Jitske, “wooden boards separated by a layer of air. We made four of them, that function like modules that can be put together in different ways, depending on the space that is available. Each of them is about 2 meter and 20 centimeters by 1 meter and 20 centimers. In Roermond we will put them together into one huge rectangular panel, but elsewhere we might make two little walls out of the four boards; or even place all four of them separately in the space, like four musicians.”
Did you pick a special kind of wood?
“Not so special; it’s just wood,” Jitske explained. “We ended up choosing a type of plywood, not for some deep technical reason, but because that was what to us sounded best.”
So The Beaters are the black things that we see on the wooden panes in this picture of the work under construction? They really look like ‘stylized’ woodpeckers, don’t they? They also remind me a bit of little pumpjacks (jaknikkers).
“They are all of different dimensions, all have different sizes, and all are made from different materials,” Thomas said. “Some of them are solid, some are hollow. Some are made from plastic, others are made of wood, metal, rubber, styrofoam… They form a family. Like you have families of classical instruments: violin, viola, cello, et cetera.”
Or maybe even more like the different kinds of sticks, of different sizes and materials, that are used by a percussionist…? Did you compile this collection of sizes and materials in some sort of a systematic way?
“We wanted to use as many different ones as possible,” said Jitske. “But with the condition that they’d all have a similar visual appearance. As you can see, the beaters all look the same. Their materiality is being disguised. We don’t want the audience to be able to see what kind of material a particular beater has been made of. So that has driven our selection: use as many different materials as possible, but sticking to the condition that they all should look the same. That has been an important part of my research, experimenting with all sorts of different kinds of plastic, et cetera.”
But all the beaters are powered in the same way?
“Yes, they are all moved electrically, by small electric motors,” Thomas replied. “And it now is an essential part of the work that you actually can see the movement. The little transparent boxes of the Openbaar kabaal series all contain the same small ticker, and there is actually not much to be seen there. But in The Beaters, the visual information conveyed by the movement of the beaters is an inextricable part of the composition.”
So that the composition will actually also be sort of a choreography?
“In a way The Beaters are not unlike kinetic art,” added Jitske.
But each of them has its fixed spot on the wood. They do not move along the panes, from one spot to another, do they?
“No, each one has its fixed spot on the board,” Thomas confirmed. “And that’s where they are going back and forth. An important part of the composition consists in bouncing mouvements, like that of a ball bouncing on the floor.”
But then vertically …
“Indeed!” Thomas smiled. “So that is one little devious play: it suggests that gravity is being defied. A question that is at the heart of the work is whether it is possible to manipulate the sound, or one’s expectation of a sound, via the visual information that comes with it. If I pretend that I am going to hit you, you will startle in a backward direction already quite some time before I will actually hit you. So with the movement of the beaters, long before you hear a ‘hit’, you will feel that it is coming because you react to the visual information entering via your eyes. Also, the bouncing effect and the bouncing movement convey a sense of time. If we disregard friction, two objects on earth will bounce in the same manner. So what if things suddenly seem to be bouncing slower, or faster?”
Because you are hiding the specific materiality of the beaters, it will not be easy for a viewer to anticipate on a beater’s sound; unless he or she already has been watching and listening for a while, and formed sort of an auditive catalogue of the work…
“We use a number of ping pong balls,” Jitske replied. “Their sound is very recognizable; so these you will be able to pick out rather quickly.”
Are there more duplicates? Or are most of the beaters different?
“There are some duplicates,” Thomas said, “but most of them are different.”
How many beaters do you have beating? And why?
That question made Rutger laugh. “There are 31 beaters,” he said. “And why 31? … Well, you know that often when programming things, or putting things together with electronics and computers, you end up working with powers of two. So this is … well, it’s odd, so maybe it’ll give you one as an extra …
31 is the 5th power of 2 minus 1. So it is more than just ‘odd’. It is also a prime number. Actually it’s the 3rd Mersenne prime. OK, I guess that’s a good enough reason to pick 31… Joking apart, what I have been wondering about in the context of specifically the Resonance project, is why you decided to construct something fixed, something that is like an instrument, instead of taking the opportunity to ‘invade’ spaces like you have been doing before, and use the beaters to investigate the different locations that the work will be presented in, make use of the different materials and their different acoustic properties, etcetera.
“That has been the outcome of quite a long process,” Thomas explained. “Our starting point indeed was closer to that of the public hubbub, but while thinking and working on the project it occurred to us that for practical reasons it would be much better and far more convenient to build, say, our own wall, and bring that to the different locations. And actually, I am very curious to experience how this will work in the different places, each with its own and very different acoustic properties. In Roermond it will be in a very open, very high space, and floating freely as one large rectangular panel, at some distance from a wall. In April, at the Flanders Festival in Kortrijk, The Beaters will be in a very different space, much smaller, and far more closed; also a space that in relation to the visitors fulfills a very different function… All these are very interesting aspects, and it is in this respect that the work will still continue to be a work in progress. It is a composition. But it is also an installation. It is the relation between the two that fascinates us.”
You are still working on the details of the composition. Which will indeed be a composition, I mean, a piece that has a well defined starting point, a fixed development, and a well defined end.
“Yes,” Thomas said. “It will be a fixed composition, with a duration of about 10 minutes; a composition for clicks, and, of course, to have nothing but clicks is a major limitation for a composer. A click in itself is not short or long; it has no duration, and therefore gives you almost no means for expression. There is just the moment of ‘click’; that’s infinitely short. So what I will be investigating is whether the visual information makes it possible to add expression to this click. Can visual clues make a click last longer? Or shorter? The beaters are pulled towards the wooden panel by some sort of a gravitational force, but sometimes, halfway that movement suddenly will stop dead. This gives a kind of tension that is being released, or not released; almost like in a classical harmonic progression. So these may provide equivalents of musical building blocks that can be applied in a visual manner. This is the type of research this composition will be concerned with. Research that is situated somewhere in the borderlands between choreography and sound; somewhere between sound and music.”
Isn’t it also typically a work, a situation, in which you would expect some sort of an interactivity? Between the actions of the beaters, and those of the visitors of the installation? With the density of beatings depending on the number of onlookers? Or vice versa?
“That would of course be possible,” said Thomas. “And certainly not too complicated to implement. But of course, it would add another infinity of possibilities. And personally I am not very interested in such forms of interactivity, that necessarily imply that the music gets some sort of a generative character. I find it difficult to make that interesting, because it mostly implies a relation that is very one to one; or, if it is not one to one, the relation is unclear… so… No, my preferences lie very much with a fixed form composition.”
But does a fixed form composition, of a very limited duration, that is continuously, literally, being repeated (a sound track), not contradict the idea of an installation work, which in itself does not impose any duration, no beginning and no end? Which would suggest some form of variability or evolution (not necessarily interactivity or generativity), instead of strict and unrepentant repetition. Sometimes, also for that reason, sound installations make use of a number of fixed composed parallel tracks, each with a different duration, which upon playback therefore will result in continuously shifting layers. Which, I guess, is more of a pseudo solution than a real solution…
“For the time being I am going to stick to the fixed composition, of about ten minutes, that will be continuously repeating,” Thomas insisted. “It will be a piece with very gradual changes, and of course people can step in somewhere in the middle of it; or leave in the middle. But it will be a relatively short cycle, that’s true. It remains a fascinating problem indeed, how to compose for a sound installation. And a problem, that, I think, does not have an easy and straightforward solution. When you use such shifting layers, to me that feels like giving up control; you then already switch to another level, far more abstract and far more ‘macro’; which can be OK. If you are willing to accept that. For me it remains a challenge, to look for forms that continue to provide me with enough control, but that also allow me to make something that remains dynamic…”
Even though it was maybe not intentionally conceived as such, The Beaters is – besides many other things – also clearly an instrument, a percussion instrument. And Thomas now is writing the first score (in Q-Base) for this instrument. Could he imagine inviting other composers to write pieces for The Beaters?
“Yes, that is definitely a possibility,” Thomas replied. “For this of course is another border that we are investigating. Is The Beaters an instrument that is playing a composition? Or is it one piece in which image and sound tell one story? The fact that this is not at all clear is, we think, part of its charm and its force. And I am actually considering using The Beaters in the future in performances. One can easily imagine pieces for The Beaters and all sorts of different ensembles… That would be fantastic to do!”
… “The Beaters” has been produced for RESONANCE by Stichting Intro in situ in Maastricht, the Netherlands, with additional support from the Dutch Province of Limburg.
February 18, 2013 § 2 Comments
For the first in a new series of expositions presenting sound art works commissioned by RESONANCE, French artist Pascal Broccolichi created a next version of his Table d’Harmonie. It can be experienced as a mono-solo-exhibition entitled Invasive Harmonie, produced by RESONANCE co-organizer Le Bon Accueil at the Galerie EC’ARTS of the Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres in Rennes, France, until March 22nd. A couple of hours before Invasive Harmonie‘s opening on Thursday February 7th, Pascal gave detailed insight in the background and motivations for this impressive piece, which is a new phase and step in one of a number of continuing, evolving (research) processes that are an integral part of his method and approach in the making of art.
“With the notion, the concept, of table, comes always a scene: the scene of a meal, of things that are being discussed around it. The table’s top shapes relations among those that are gathered there. A table installs some sort of a game. A dialogue. Communication. Negotiation. A table dramatizes in and by itself. When I started to work in the EC’ARTS gallery’s space, I quite literally circumscribed a table on the floor: a surface, dimensions… Except, of course, that in the end the Table d’Harmonie is not perfectly flat. On the contrary: it has an awful lot of relief.”
“I always try to keep things evident, to keep things easily perceptible. And at the same time I try to have them border on paradox and tautology. Which is why this show is called Invasive Harmonie. Harmony is always total, always global; and invasive, almost by definition. This incites a repeat, a tautology. But you can also read Invasive Harmonie in a more indirect manner, and find two ideas that actually annihilate each other. So I am always steering near to either a ‘sur-definition’ or a ‘neutralization’. Which is also contained within the idea of a cartography. A map gives you a view of a territory that is global, but also local in its details. That allows for a circulation of energy (from the global to the local and back again) that, mind you, may very well be wasted, because in the end it leads you nowhere: while you are reading the map, you’d better stop moving; unless you want to break you neck…”
“Over the years, as part of my artistic output, there of course are what one usually calls ‘works’. But there are also a number of things, projects, that are more like research processes. Things that I started at some point and that I have continued doing ever since, without a foreseeable end. One of these processes is Table d’Harmonie, which I started as long ago as 1998. In this particular process I try to reach a way of thinking about how to organize the possible dimensions of listening along two quasi-contingent axes: one that leads to observation through the eyes – via the image – and the other to observation through the ears – via the sound. Here the interest and difficulty are not so much a differentiation, a separation of image and sound, but – on the contrary – the enrichment of an existing perceptual phenomenon. I am convinced that the majority of sonic contexts in which we find ourselves are, arguably, sonic images, sonic interpretations. An awful lot of the sounds that pass through us as part of the flux of our day-by-day environments, are intimately linked to sonic images.”
“Table d’Harmonie is a long term experiment, which means – and this is important – that each of the successive installations is like an instrumentarium through which the research advances. You will notice that I am careful not to speak of instrument. It is not a musical instrument. The sounds you hear are not being generated by the heaps of sand. In fact, you may consider the sound to be fully independent of the installation. Again this is the sort of relation that interests me. A lot. But at the same time, Table d’Harmonie – which is French for sound board – is a term that strongly refers to music and musical instruments. The sound board of a piano is an intricate architecture (maybe we should call it a theatre of operations) that makes it possible for the instrument to resonate. In its metal structure you will find these holes for the air to circulate. Similarly, in the Table d’Harmonie there’s multiple streams of sound circulating inside of the little craters.”
“In my approach to this process, memory is the dorsal spine; it’s memory’s time-lapse, the time that it takes for things to install themselves, before they either persist or disappear. Before they reveal themselves as remanent and re-appearing, or as essentially furtive, leaving nothing but an indeterminate and very vague impression. What I want to try and understand is this permanent passing from the one to the other, in more or less concomitant or in fully separate ways…”
“When you enter the gallery room, on the floor you see all these heaps of black sand, material that, by the way, is an important ingredient of my research. I made all of these heaps (there are 66 of them) from precisely the same quantity of sand. Each of the heaps has an identical, conic, form, initiated by versing the sand on the floor, at very precisely indicated spots, the location of which is also of the utmost importance to me. The visual and the sonic image – evidently – will simultaneously cooperate and work against each other… as images of lines, as images of waves…”
“Over the years the forms that I use have evolved. For Invasive Harmonie the gesture that I applied – and this is exactly what it is: a gesture – is a very simple one. When I speak about ‘inscription into memory’, I refer to the fact that there is something – quite literally – being engraved. It is the repetition that lends the gesture of my silting a temporality, which, like a metronome marking rhythm, also marks memory. Therefore, within this process, the artistic gesture is so very important. All of the time that I spent developing the installation has been marked by these gestures that, to me, are like a ritual: the pouring of always that same heap of sand on the floor, making it conic, then taking the end of a vacuum cleaner’s tube, bringing it to the cone’s summit and then going down, aspirating sand until the tube is touching the floor… The result is this little crater, the remains of something that first was erected, then reduced and aspired, dissolved. Very simple. But I like these simple repetitive rituals. A lot. This room is about 80 square meters, and it is the ritual making of the ‘drawing’ on the floor that lends it its density, its massive presence; that enables it to invade all of the space.”
“The repeating of modules – four, five, four, five … – lend it an undulation which makes it a resemble a sound drawing, a drawings of waves, some interpretation of a sonic rhythm. Well, that’s close, but no cigar! It is more like a spatial cartography, like an atlas. For I think that the essence of one’s listening is the building of a set of benchmarks, each one its own, in order to be able to resize a perceptual space. The more rigorously things have been subjected to an order, the more they all will seem to be equal… at first sight. But that is merely an impression, an hypothesis that will collapse again very quickly. Because it is untenable. Because absolutely identical things do not exist. Not in reality; and even less so in the reality of your perception.”
“When you place yourself at one of the corners of the installation, you will get the impression that the surface over which the sand craters are spread out is larger on one side than it is on the other; also the light plays a role, that comes falling through the side windows. The rhythm of the light and the relief, the thicknesses, that it creates … all are very important. The end result, as a reality, is almost paradoxical.”
“I do not favor the visual part, nor do I privilege the sonic part. It is all about the material and about the context within which the construction takes place. The precise rhythm and the repetitions are dictated by the space. In a different room (for example one that would be less formal, less rectangular) there probably would have been less regularity. But it will never become random or discontinuous. There always will be this continuity, even though I would not want the repetitive pattern of the image to prevail over the presence of the sounds. Neither should it be an illustration, like the image of the propagation of a wave. That would be too specific. One would lose the ambiguity between image and sound that I find so essential.”
“The material that I used for this version of the Table d’Harmonie is black Corundum dust. The gallery floor here has a light grey color, the walls are white. So for reasons of contrast I picked a dust that is both very abrasive and very brilliant and crystalline. At the same time it is very black, and has the massive presence that I am looking for. On the other hand, when you watch it from a distance, it creates an almost velvety atmosphere. Like if it were a sort of foam. Which is yet another thing that disrupts reality.”
“In the end, what we get is a synthesis: of the image, the physical presence of the material and of the sound. Together they constitute the cartography that corresponds to a landscape that has been imposed by the space. It is a landscape, with emerging lines of horizons that shift according to the point from where you watch it. The sonic landscape, however, eludes you. The sounds you hear are not meant to provide you with the listening comfort of a kind of sonic illustration of what you see.”
“In earlier versions of Table d’Harmonie I used granular synthesis to work with sound in ways corresponding to those in which, say, a liquid flows. But here I used exclusively recorded, untreated, sounds. And though some have a sort of watery quality, most of them, appearing outside their original context, are pretty difficult to pin down. If we manage to focus and decontextualize, in any natural environment with exceptional qualities, we will seize sonic moments that are pure abstractions. For me these are musical forms at their peak! It’s there that I find musicality at its freest, its most autonomous and with the fullest potential of power.”
“I chained my Rennes recordings together into 4 separate tracks, each of which is playing back in a loop from a CD in one of four CD players. And in 16 of the 66 little craters there’s a loud speaker at the bottom. Some of these are for the low frequencies, others for the high frequencies. So the high and the low frequencies are strictly separated, and are being projected from different places, which correspond to distinct listening points, to listening axes that will allow as to remember what we heard at another spot. This, as a matter of fact, is what for me constitutes the sonic landscape: its the thickness of the relief, that comes into play as the distance to what we heard at an earlier time.”
“For some time already I wanted to work with other phenomena of flow and fluid. And in Rennes there are canals, with locks, that are still extensively used to transport goods by boat. So this was a great opportunity to investigate what is happening under water in these canals. I spent many days recording under water sounds in Rennes, using hydrophones with several tens of meters of cable. These are usually applied to reach great depths in oceans and seas, but I used them to cover great distances, by throwing them into the canals like a fishing line, and then dragging them along, while capturing the very rich and unusual sonic universe inside the water (in fresh water, sound travels at about 1500 m/s, as opposed to its speed of about 340 m/s in dry air), including the frictions, and all of the sounds that came from the many mechanical and motorized devices functioning in and around the canals. All of it I kept just as it was recorded, but I sorted the sounds according to their color, tonality, character, and in relation to the different points of diffusion in the gallery space. Out of this black landscape of identical, black craters, sounds emerge of many different colors, and with a temporality that, because of the different lengths of the 4 looped tracks, is continuously shifting. It is a sonic landscape with no beginning, and no end. The heart of the work as a composition is the spatial distribution of the divers sonic particles. In fact, before I created the landscape of craters, I placed the 16 loud speakers on the floor, at the exact spots where you see them now, by precisely defining the space’s geometry via a grid of thin wires that I spanned across the floor. This was then followed by a rather pragmatic process of playing back the sounds and listening, thus creating, in a way, a table of depths, relief, accidents, colors, temporalities… until I arrived at a spatial distribution that convened. So I worked at placing groups, families, characters of sounds, according to what later would be the route taken by the beholder of the piece. For, as you see, the space and the disposition invite you to go around; it is like a sculpture that you walk around. That there is a part that you see, and a part that you have to imagine (a hidden part, a part that is behind) has always fascinated me in the apprehension of a sculptural piece. In the Table d’Harmonie it is the sound that functions as the hidden part. The sounds are evolving in a pretty much autonomous way, and when you walk around the crater field, you will do so with a foresight of the sounds that will come after. That’s unavoidable, it’s familiarization. The problem that I have to solve – and this is where for me the work (much like that of a sculptor) really starts – is the following: how can I create accident, fracture, misunderstanding, confusion and paradox in the midst of all this? Something that departs from the evident that one tends to imagine?”
“So Table d’Harmonie is indeed, and profoundly so, a sculptural work, as much as it is a sound work. And creating a ‘sonic landscape’ also means, in a very deep sense, that you are doing a painter’s job; besides being on top of it all, at least partly, also very cinematographic, even though there is nothing like a ‘scene’. What I mean of course is a ‘cinema for the ears’, the construction of which will strongly depend on each of the separate beholders’ psychological states. For me, there are a number of quite heavy and melancholic moments. Others, on the contrary, are almost ethereal. But somebody else may experience it in a very different way. I do think that listening encourages this type of solitary relation to the self. And whether the listening will take place for a mere couple of seconds, or for several hours, for me this does not change the way in which I approach the work as an artist. In all of the possible cases my investment and my concern will be the same.”
August 11, 2011 § 7 Comments
From August 12th until September 11th, Kunsthaus Meinblau in Berlin shows A Long Day, an installation developed by Latvian artist Evelina Deicmane during a project residency for the Resonance project. Earlier this year, while I was in Berlin performing and recording with the Dutch-French electroacoustic alliance Diktat, I met Evelina at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in the Kottbusser Straße. There she had just finished another Berlin residency, which also had given rise to an installation, then at view at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien Exhibition space: Burt Nieks (The flying lake looked down upon the village).
‘Burt’ means to bewitch, or to enchant. And ‘nieks’ stands for easy, effortless. It is a split up into two parts of Burtnieks, the name of a lake near the Latvian village where, in 1978, Evelina Deicmane was born, and which plays an important role in Latvian mythology and folklore. Like Burt Nieks, also A Long Day is inspired by the myth of the flying lake. The villagers knew that if the flying lake’s name were mentioned it would fall upon the village, submerging it and its inhabitants. A Long Day depicts the village as it now stands, indeed at the bottom of the lake. It is not necessarily a tragic tale, Evelina says, but flying lakes should not be ignored: each one of us has its own flying lake …
“In ancient times lakes flew around, looking for a place to land. Also the people of current Lake Burtnieks valley saw a lake flying as a dark cloud. It roared and howled. The day became dark as night. Petrified that it will fall down on their head, people lamented and screamed because they did not know its name. Then they went to the sorcerer and pleaded him to talk the lake away. The sorcerer just said ‘man burt nieks’ (to bewitch is easy for me), and it fell down right away. This is how the lake got its name.” Burt Nieks – Nr. 1
I found something that was quite different from what I expected, when on Monday June 20th Evelina opened up the door for Carsten Seiffarth and me, so together we could enter the room at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien where her Burt Nieks was installed. It was very ‘art’, very ‘gallery’. Quite empty (or maybe I should say: spacious) and white. One wall was covered with a great number of drawings on paper, all lined up, bare. On another wall there were a couple more drawings, framed.
There were also two wooden sculptures. Very clean sculptures, of a simple geometric shape. There was this wooden triangle, for one. It took a while before I realized that the triangle was moving; it was balancing, slowly but continuously. Inside the wooden structure one could hear the sound of the water, responsible for the back and forth movement, but so faint, that one really had to put one’s ears pretty much against it… Then there was this big rectangular wooden shape on the floor, an enormous chordophone, that looked like a blown up abstraction of an 11-string zither, a dulcimer or a cigar box guitar.
The huge instrument of course tempted me to crouch down over it, to pluck its long strings and hear what it would sound like. But when I did, the seven small motors suddenly came alive. Their ‘wings’, all simultaneously, hit the strings and made a deafening chord resound; it was as if a large boulder had suddenly materialized and, out of the blue, plunged right in the middle of the rippleless surface of, indeed: a lake on a bright summer’s day. Then it sank, and disappeared again, so that just little after one already wondered whether it was real, or merely something one imagined.
The chord was repeated every few minutes or so. There was but this one sound, that faded into oblivion no sooner than it had come into being, that could be heard while visiting Burt Nieks, an installation that needed time to discover and explore. The near to septic neatness of its presentation turned out to be a decoy; a cover-up for a fascinating turmoil of images and mystery; a text with many layers, to be read, again and again. A stubborn text, one that did not easily reveal itself, but that proved well worth the effort made to conquer it.
“In my childhood I dreamed of becoming Baron Münchhausen – a man who went to conquer the Moon sitting on a cannonball. After the teacher instructed me ‘to choose a more useful profession’ I decide to become an ice-cream seller.” Burt Nieks – Nr. 11
A little later that afternoon, in her studio Evelina made me a coffee, and we talked about her work. I started with sort of an obvious question, and maybe even a silly one. But then of course Resonance is a European network for sound art. So I simply had to ask her this:
Evelina, even though ‘sound art’ is a term and notion that is notably vague and open to a whole range of different interpretations, the Burt Nieks installation that I just visited, is not a work that on a first encounter anyone would easily classify as sound art; even though it does involve sounds. How does your work (this one, and in general) relate to sound? Would you describe yourself as a sound artist?
“No, I guess I would not describe myself as a sound artist. At least not in the way that I understand this. Because at least half of my work, a very important part, is visual. Even though there is always, of course the sound, it’s…”
What do you mean by: ‘There is always the sound?’
“Several of my works include mechanisms that were built to make sounds. They were constructed to produce sounds, but the way the mechanisms look – the visual part – is equally important. Here, as part of Burt Nieks, there are the strings, of course, and the triangle. But also in my earlier works … let me tell you about SeasonSorrow, which was at the 2009 Venice Biennale. It actually had two parts. One was a video projection in a small room, which had 12 speakers built into the floor. The video showed close ups of a group of people stuck in the snow. But much of the story was told with the sound, which included like ice cracking, and all these kind of cold sounds. The main sound was that of the person’s breathing in the cold. Because the sound of breathing in the cold is very different from the sound when one breathes in the summertime. And I recorded each person, so each of the 12 speakers was very personal. And I used this breath to make the sound of wind. The sound, like, of a very cold wind…”
“SeasonSorrow, like all my pieces, is about the people that live in my country.
Often the works are even more personal, and deal with my grand parents, or the village where I was born. It is always kind of a looking back to where I came from.
Also the piece here at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, which is based on the lake Burtnieks near my village.”
So the people we see in SeasonSorrow are not actors, but people from your village?
And they let you bury them in the snow?
Evelina laughs. “Yes! Mind you, we were very careful of course. No one got hurt. Everyone was happy. Actually, the trick was that I made a very large table… And then we choose the right position to shoot the images, matching up with the horizon…”
Ah, that is smart! So the things are not always what they seem…
“But there is no additional digital trickery, or whatever, afterwards; like in Photoshop or something… And then there is the other part of the piece, this mechanism with metal gears, cog wheels, like in mechanical clocks.”
“At the one end you see a motor. That is moving the smallest of the cog wheels, which transmits its movement on to the second, larger one, and so on, like a chain, up to the big one. And the big one is playing a vinyl record.”
A record! One that you made?
What’s on it then? What do we hear?
“It is the sound of a snow ball rolling, from very small to very heavy. Which is, of course, what is reflected in the construction of the mechanism, the series of ‘growing’ cog wheels that set the record player into motion. This is the story: sometimes someone is making a snow ball, having big goals. The person is starting from a very small thing and then is like, rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling until the ball has become so heavy that he cannot move it anymore. But then spring and summer come along. And nature will just melt the thing away. That’s very emotional. You cannot do anything about it. You can see it in the box that I use to transport the mechanism. At both sides there’s a little round window. If you look through, you will see a video. One is of a man, who is rolling the snow ball. And in the second one you see the same man in spring time. The snow ball is no longer there. It is himself now that is rolling.”
“It is what I call an ’emotional machine’. I really like to take some parts of some mechanism, and then make them play something really intimate. I built this machine because of all the wasted time and work. It doesn’t make sense that the human makes a snow ball, because always the spring will come, and the snow ball will melt away. So I built a machine. Now the work is done by a machine, and not by a human. Here is another example, that I made last year. It is called Grandfather’s Summer.”
It looks like a pair of lungs …
“I wanted to build a machine to play the instruments. There’s so many people that are going out, and try to earn a little bit of money by playing accordeon in the street. And I again found a mechanism to do that. You spin the handle, and then the accordeons are being lifted up and down, which is making the noise. And then certain buttons are pressed for the melodies … “
“So I say about myself that I am not really a sound artist. But there are some noises in my head that just do not let me in peace; and that is why the sound always comes back. Like the sound of coldness…”
Are these sounds that you remember?
“Sounds that I remember, or sounds that are in my head.” Again Evelina laughs. It’s an open and transparent laugh. Crystalline … Then she continues: “Or maybe the sounds are just in my head, I don’t now. It is certainly not only memory. It’s something… in general I get more inspired… Let me see … All things considered, when I look at what inspires me, it is often the sound, the noise, that then makes me see some kind of a visual… Let me show you…”
Evelina opened up a picture on the screen of her laptop. “See, even for this work, which is actually just a photograph, I was inspired by the noise.”
Oh my, oh my! Oh dear, oh dear! I must say, now those can not have been pretty, pretty sounds! Is this the sound that you hear inside your head?
“It was a very hot summer last year, and every morning there was a man working with a saw and things. And I remember this moment when you kind of wake up, and you still do not understand if all is just inside your head, or if things are happening in reality. It is then that I became interested in this thing… like machine sounds. It just made me so much like… maybe not in peace… but that I should make some work… early morning, and…”
And this is how you feel like when you wake up in the morning?
“Yes,” she says, “when I wake up with a drilling. Especially here in Berlin everyone likes to drill things in the summer. So…”
Evelina then laughed one more time, a third time. It was a curious, modest little laugh, into which – because of our conversation, and because of the drawings that I saw, and all that she told me – I could not but read a great many different meanings. Meanings, that now make me look forward an awful lot to seeing and hearing A Long Day.
Meanwhile, I will not lightly forget this one image, part of Burt Nieks, which, besides many other things, for me that afternoon in just a few simple lines seemed to sum up what ‘sound art’ could be all about …
“A man asked me if I wanted him to make my world smaller, this way it should be easier. I said yes. The man set out to work. He cut the world into halves and started to roll it smaller. Soon he got tired and did not finish the work. I guess sometimes men get tired of what they say.” Burt Nieks – Nr. 26
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).
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.”
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.”
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 …”
“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 …”
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.”