January 22, 2012 § 2 Comments
The old gated building at 58, Miera ielā (Peace street), in the city of Riga, the capital of Latvia, used to be a tobacco factory. It was there that the Latvian company Rīgas Tabakas Fabrikas, and later, as of 1992, British American Tobacco, produced Elita filter cigarettes. For a very long time Rīgas Tabakas Fabrikas, founded in 1887 by Abraham Maikapar, was Latvia’s biggest tabocca plant. It was forced to close down in 2009, apparently due to vast amounts of cigarettes that were being smuggled into the country.
Following its closure, Riga’s tobacco factory became one of those former industrial spaces in which, all over the world, contemporary art can be seen (and heard) to come to blossom.
Last fall, from mid-October till beginning of November, the Rīgas Tabakas Fabrikas provided stage and scenery for four Resonance sound installations, presented by Resonance’s associated partner Skanu Mesz, as part of the 2011 Riga Sound Forest festival.
The presentation in Riga was a ‘home coming’ for Latvian artist Evelina Deicmane‘s Resonance piece A Long Day, that was conceived last summer in Berlin, and premiered there at the Kunsthaus Meinblau: A Long Day is based upon the ancient myth of a village submerged by a flying lake, that is part of the Latvian folklore that originated in the area around the lake Butnieks, not far from the city of Riga and near the village where Evelina was born and raised.
Whereas A Long Day found a small and almost hidden niche in the former tabacco factory, shown in the pictures above, that seems a perfect fit for the sweet mystery of its subject, Esther Venrooy & Ema Bonifacic’s A Shadow of A Wall, compared to the previous installment of the work in Maastricht, and, especially the one in Kortrijk, looked a bit lost within the freshly decorated factory corridor, which, on the other hand, did account for a quite stunning visual effect.
And here are some impressions of how Pierre Berthet installed his Extended Drops in Riga’s former tobacco factory:
The fourth Resonance piece on show in Riga was Maia Urstad’s “Meanwhile, in Shanghai…”, comprising 80 portable radio’s that took up their temporary residence in what used to be the tobacco factory’s garage. There, in a way, they changed places with the trucks that transported tobacco also to Maia’s home country, Norway, until no more that a few years ago… “I found that former garage space very inspiring,” Maia wrote, “especially for a work like ‘Meanwhile, in Shanghai…’. The garage was like a thin shell to the outside world, with autumn leaves swirling between the radio’s, and with Latvia’s history as part of the former Soviet Union not even a stone’s throw away. It is as Viestarts Gailitis, the exhibition’s curator, said: there was a truly wonderful symbiosis between the installation and its location, it really seemed to belong there…”
[ All the above picture of Resonance installations at the Riga tobacco factory ©Ansis Stark ]
For the fifth Resonance piece on show last fall in Riga, one had to go outside, to the boards of the Daugava river, where Stefan Rummel did the second outdoor installment of the Articulated Chambers installation, that he created last year in Maastricht. Like in Maastricht, Stefan’s piece also in Riga became an intriguing addition to the cityscape, an alien element, that nevertheless looked as if it had been placed there for some mundane, practical reason. But what reason could it have been… ?
In comparison to the Maastricht installment, the sounds were playing back a little louder in Riga. “But the tracks had the same basis as in Maastricht,” Stefan wrote. “They were a little longer, though. Also, I added a couple of recordings that I made in Riga.”
[ There is a detailed online review, in two parts (and in Latvian), of the Resonance sound art show in Riga to be found on the Arterritory web site. ]
From Latvia, Esther Venrooy & Ema Bonifacic’s A Shadow of a wall, travelled on to Poland, where it joined Paul Devens’ City Chase as Resonance’s contributions to the 2011 edition of the Audio Art Festival in Krakow, also one of the network’s associated partners. A Shadow of a wall could be experienced there, November 18th-27th, in Bunkier Sztuki, be it in a far smaller version than that of its previous installments…
Paul Devens did a second version of his intricate City Chase installation for the 2011 Krakow Audio Art Festival, which could be seen and heard in Kathedra, from November 19th till 27th, this time re-sounding a piece composed from the fieldrecordings that Paul collected while biking around the city of Krakow.
On the Audio Art Festival’s web site you will find a telling video documentary on the many things that were going on at the Krakow festival, including short impressions of Paul Devens’ and Esther Venrooy’s installations.
From Riga and Krakow, City Chase, A Long Day and “Meanwhile, in Shanghai…” moved on to Maastricht, for the December Resonance exhibition at the Jan van Eyck Academy.
The next stop is Bergen, Norway, where in February a Resonance showcase will be hosted by Lydgalleriet, yet another of the network’s associated partners.
February 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
On the evening of the day that together with Esther Venrooy and city carilloneur Frank Steijns I climbed the tower of the Maastricht town hall, at Intro in situ there was the first edition of the monthly Café In situ.
There Esther Venrooy and Pierre Berthet explained and showed us their Resonance installations, and they recounted their Werdegang. Esther told us how her parents had been convinced that their daughter was an artist, already when she was but a baby girl aged 2. Pierre, on the other hand, recounted that he picked up the guitar all by himself when he was about 11. Because he loved the Beatles. And then he mentioned the onforgettable experience he had in 1969, when he was living for six months with his parent near the Lake Michigan in the United States.
“Every day the black community of the neighborhood would meet around the lake,” Pierre told us, “and play the drums. All these drums on the lakeshore… for me that is a fantastic sound art remembrance. It was an amazing sound to experience…”
As an example of her earlier work Esther played us two of her first, very concise and condensed, computer compositions. And Pierre had us listen to the recording of a duet that he performed with Arnold Dreyblatt in Groningen, in the late 1980s.
Towards the end of the evening we came to talk about the current gradual penetration of works of sound art in the world of commercial galleries, museums and into the homes of collectors. I asked Esther whether she would sell me (a version of) A Shadow of A Wall. And I asked Pierre whether he would come over to install Extended Drops in the dungeons of the little castle that one of these days I will acquire, in a warm and deep southern part of Spain…
Now Esther was categorical about it. “Yes, of course!” she said, with a malicious smile. “You can buy my car, you can buy anything you want …” Pierre had to think a little more. He seemed to wonder what would be the interest. But then soon enough he told us that if someone really insisted and had that much interest, he would be happy to come over and install his Extended Drops.
It was a telling conclusion to an interesting evening. You can listen to a short lo-fi audio report of this first Café In situ just below…
January 25, 2011 § 1 Comment
A visit to the city carillon of Maastricht with Esther Venrooy and city carilloneur Frank Steijns
One of the interesting aspects of Esther Venrooy and Ema Bonifacic’s installation A Shadow of A Wall is that the relatively soft and slowly changing and shifting field of sounds that Esther created, will combine with the sounds of the city that come floating in from outside. In order to emphasize that side of the work, Esther had agreed with Maastricht’s city carillonneur Frank Steijns to try and arrange for a number of specially created melodies to be played regularly on the carillon of the Maastricht town hall, maybe not all the time, but at least for a part of the duration of the Resonance exposition in the workspace of Intro in situ. That of course was a wonderful idea, for indeed, as Esther explained to the visitors of the Café In situ evening in Maastricht on Tuesday January 18th, those bells are the sound of the city.
Earlier that same day, Frank took Esther and me all way up into the town hall’s belfry, to visit the carillon and explain us all about that wonderful instrument and its history.
We passed via the town hall’s attic and from there climbed ever steeper 17th century wooden ladders, higher and higher, all the way to the open, windy and rainy top where one can find the bells. The oldest among these were among the last bells founded by the legendary Hemony brothers.
At successive stages of our ascent we came across ever more modern mechanisms for the automatization of the chiming of the bells, with hammers to strike the bells on the outside. The automatic chiming has been applied in Maastricht since 1910. From that year stems the enormous solid brass drum, the speeltrommel, made by the Dutch bell founders firm Eijsbouts.
Melodies are programmed, like on the old music boxes, by setting pins on the drum, which will begin to rotate when the drum-weight is released by the tower clock. Via a system of levers and wires, each of the pins will lift a hammer, which then falls back on the sound bow of the bells as soon as the pin has passed. (Here is a link to a detailed description of the mechanism.)
The speeltrommel was last used in 1962, by Frank’s father, who was Maastricht’s city carillionneur from 1952 until 1997. In that year his son took over. As Frank explained, the position of city carillionneur often, and still, is filled by successive generations of a same family. His father at the time succeeded five generations of another Maastricht family of stadsbeiaardiers. The speeltrommel mechanism was abandoned almost fifty years ago, mainly because of the resonance (in the big entrance hall just below) of the noise produced by the rotating drum. Frank Steijns, however, intends to have the mechanism restored. If all goes according to plan, the speeltrommel should be in working order again in 2012. Due to the mechanics involved, Frank told us, the sound of course is quite different from that obtained via the current automatic playing by means of a computer interface. The idea is to then use the speeltrommel in the evening, when in the town hall below no one will be bothered by the reverberation of the grinding sounds produced by the turning of the heavy brass drum. (You may imagine, though, that personally I am much looking forward to go there one evening with Frank in order to listen to and record precisely that sound…)
One level up we came upon yet another abandoned system for automatic chiming of the bells, also produced and installed by Eijsbouts, with – as Esther obseved – a very 1970s-like look, reminiscent of the futuristic machines we all love and know from watching too much science fiction and too many Dr. Who’s.
This one, a bandspeelwerk, is an electric relay system, operated by a broad white plastic tape in which holes have been punched, much like the book organs used for the playing of mechanical street organs. The holes here, however, are all of the same size, as the bells need just to be hit: there is no sustain, other than their resonating until being hit again.
This part of the town hall’s belfry looked as if it also served as the municipal dovecot. Which of course might be a thing of great value, as pigeons could provide the last possible reliable means of communication when in time of local, national or global disaster all other means fail. The pigeons responsible for the mess, however, were not civil servants, but mere squatters, that last summer invaded the tower, though no one actually has been able to find out how and where they managed to get in. Their presence accounts for the deplorable state of the nice little machine that is used to punch the holes in order to produce the tapes that are used to operate the bandspeelwerk.
Also the bandspeelwerk is not operational. There are also no plans to restore it, Frank told us. Not only would it be very costly to restore and then maintain, but also, in fact, each of the automatized systems uses a separate set of hammers to play the bells. Three sets indeed might be overdoing things somewhat, though I could not help getting pretty excited when I imagined the possibilities that having them opens up for a music that uses the three separate mechanisms to play the bells in three independent but simultaneous voices, and then add a manual part as a fourth voice on top…
We passed another level (where four perpendicular metal axes parting from the room’s center operate the clocks that are on the four sides of the tower) and then, from the outside came through a door in the tiny room with the carillon’s baton keyboard (the stokkenklavier), from which one more ladder leads up to the bells.
Up in the ‘control room’ Frank and Esther discussed the sounds and melodies to be played each quarter hour between 8 am and 10 pm, as part of the final week of the exposition of “A Shadow of A Wall” at Stichting Intro in situ. For this, Esther had determined five central notes, based upon the dimensions of the wooden panels used in the installation. She had written them down on the first page of a small note book, that she put on the carillon keyboard’s music stand: cis-4, cis-5, d-6 (approximately), ais-5 and cis-3.
Frank then played around a bit with these notes, by hitting the corresponding batons of the keyboard. He improvised and showed a number of possible ways of playing them, in the original sequence, or as a transposed one, with or without more or less quick arpeggio’s, simulating glissandi from one cis or fis to another… I am pretty sure that out in the city people looked up and wondered about the curious patterns of sound that suddenly came chiming down from the town hall’s belfry. It was a short foretaste of what the city would sound like every fifteen minutes on the days later this month, when the carillon would become a part of “A Shadow of A Wall”.
Of course Frank himself will not be up there every day of the week from 8 am till 10 pm, to play these melodic patterns manually. The playing will be done automatic, applying the mechanism for automatic chiming that is currently in use: a computer interface, built and maintained by bell founders Petit & Fritsen, who also provided (in 1997) the most recent bells that were added to the carillon, which currently counts 49 bells.
At the very end of our little excursion, however, it turned out there was a catch. When Frank tried to get the computer to actually play the carillon, it didn’t work. Even more so, the carillon most probably had not been playing for quite a while already. Something must have gone very wrong during the recent period of pretty low temperatures, when the hammers froze stuck, and the electronic interface continued to try to get them to play. We later learned that it would take at least four weeks before the interface can be repaired and put back in working order. Until that time the city of Maastricht will have to live without the sound if its bells. It also means that, unfortunately, there will be no quarterly melodic signals coming from the town hall carillon, to complement the sounds of “A Shadow of A Wall” for the final part of the exhibition at Stichting Intro in situ…
That’s a great pity.
Mais l’idée est bonne!
There will be other cities. The next installment of “A Shadow of A Wall” will be later this year in Kortrijk, Belgium.
There is a fine carillon also in Kortrijk.
December 8, 2010 § 10 Comments
Esther Venrooy & Ema Bonifacic cast A Shadow of A Wall in Intro In Situ’s workspace in Maastricht (nl)
My present for this year’s Sinterklaas was a freezing Maastricht, all cast in white. I crackled my way through the Capucijnengang where, halfway the Markt and the Vrijthof, a former hat factory is home to the office and workspace of Intro In Situ. As the door opens a soft sustenuto organ-like sound comes whirling down the stairs and misses me by inches. It bounces, three, four times on the thin layer of ice that covers the pavement, before it is silenced by a dense stretch of snow that fills up the gutter.
On the first floor of the workspace Esther Venrooy is busy preparing her installation A Shadow of A Wall, one of two elaborate sound installations (the other is Pierre Berthet’s Extended Drops) that can be visited and experienced in Maastricht from December 10th 2010 until January 30th 2011, as part of the Resonance project.
Esther Venrooy, who is of Dutch origin, but lives and works in Ghent (Belgium), is a relative newcomer to the field of sound art. After having finished her training as a classical saxophone player, it was James Fulkerson who, during a residency in Arnhem, introduced her to the music and writings of Alvin Lucier, which incited her to start concentrating on the composition of electronic music. “Initially,” Esther says, “these were all just 2-D works. All was stereo, though already in my earliest works one can find clear reference to space and architecture: in the titles I used words like ‘modular’, or there were specific references to buildings, to constructions… But it was only in 2008 that I did my first spatial work, in collaboration with Belgian visual artist Hans Demeulenaere. For this new installation at Intro In Situ the audio-technical support is provided by Johan Vandermaelen/Amplus.”
Up in the exhibition space on the bright white upper floor of the Intro In Situ workspace, Esther is looking at the screen of her laptop. She sits behind a table and faces a large inclined patchwork of wooden panels. The plane covers the full length of the back wall and takes up about one third of the room’s surface. The sight reminds me of things Japanese. It must be because of the untreated light wooden frames and the rice paper color of the panels…
“I wanted to do an architectural intervention,” Esther explains. “I wanted to be able to have the visitors experience and see the architecture of the space in a different way. Therefore I collaborated with architect Ema Bonifacic. Our intention was to design something that intervenes in a space, without being specifically about that space. Something that is not too imposing, but which does provide me with planes that resonate sounds. The panels that you see are actually the speakers. One of the two technologies that I am applying here is that of transducing. Literally that means: the conversion of one type of energy to another. Below the panels there are cylinders that sent the energy of the sound into the planes and make them resonate, like the membrane of a loudspeaker. The result will depend on the size and the sonic properties of the plane.”
So that is why there are different kinds of panels: I see two sizes of squares (a big one and a small one), and one rectangular shape.
“Yes, all of that is connected… And then there is a second technology, that I never worked with before and that I use here for the first time. It is a bipolar system ( † ). Below the large inclined surface there are four bipolar speakers. These use the acoustics – the reflections of the walls – to spread the sound even more. Each one is directed towards a corner or towards a wall. As a result it will be impossible to tell from where the sound is coming. It should be like a huge cloud, softly floating in the space. I will try to tune it in such a way that the tone is changing when you move your head. And the sound will feel very differently when you are close to a wall. A wall absorbs the sound and a wall reflects the sound. Even more so in the corners. A corner is like a funnel, it can catch an awful lot of sound. That was the original inspiration for this project: the wall actually will cast something like a shadow on the room.”
A sonic shadow. A shadow of sound?
“It is an acoustic shadow. Instead of using a virtual filter we have the room with its specific way of reflecting and absorbing, that emphasizes certain things and hides others. A little bit. Because sound creeps everywhere. It is not like a picture. If a picture is behind a wall, you cannot see it. But if you put a sound source behind a wall, you can still hear it. That’s the idea. I also wanted to have a single perspective. In the work “Vessel” (2008) the listener had to sit on a small bench, in the dark. From there one had sort of a panoramic view. Here the idea is that the visitors will mount the inclined surface… Let me show you …”
The visitors will have to take off their shoes. Maybe there should be slippers that they can put on?
Esther shakes her head. “No, that would be too theatrical.”
She takes off her boots and jumps onto the surface.
Then she turns around, sits down and comes sliding back down again.
“The plane is pretty steep and the surface is rather smooth. So you can easily slide down. Eventually you will end up sitting below, with your back to the wall. The construction is strong enough to hold about twenty visitors simultaneously. I think that people will like it a lot, to climb up this surface and slide down again.”
It sure looks like it is fun. But it will also make sound when people are sliding up and down the wooden surface. It may even make a lot of sound.
“I don’t mind that. There are sounds in the panels, so it will allow you to make a really physical contact with the work. You will feel the vibrations, you will feel the sound. And then the experience will again be very different when you put your head on, or close to, the panels.”
Will it be like a massage?
“No, it is not that strong… But there are a couple of things that come together here. The light in the room is changing in the course of the day. It will cast changing shadows on the surface. And also the sound is changing. The sound is changing when you walk, when you go up the plane; it will change when you lie down on it. This is what the work wants to be about: the very physical impact of sound. It does not have the pretense of some big concept. What counts for me, what counts for us, and what we want to share, is this very intuitive auditive experience. And, despite the large wooden plane, you keep the original size of the space. You keep the original panoramic view. There is no wall that you will bump into. The installation is imposing: it poses itself. But it is not specifically tied to this particular space.”
In another space it will work in an entirely different way, I suppose. You would have to totally re-think the sounds.
“That is precisely the research that I now have to embark upon, when in the near future we set up the installation in other places. The experience will each time be a different one. I am very curious, for instance, how it will work in a small church or a chapel, where there is a lot of reverberation. Here the space is more that of a living room. I find that extremely fascinating. It was very interesting to determine the spots to put the bipolar speakers. Those spots were chosen very carefully, in relation to the space. And, as I already said, there is actually but one perspective when you sit down. You can look at it, and observe it from the front. Or you can sit or lie down, and then opt to experience it. And when you do, you will forget about the image. When you lie down on the plane, you will no longer notice much of the installation. That makes it rather subtle, I think.”
The sounds that you intend to use will be partly based on the sounds of the city, specifically upon those of the town carillon.
“I have now chosen the frequencies that I want to use, and what I want these frequencies to do. I would like very much to have a slow glissando, something that goes from high to low. For a while already I have been working with room tones. Of course I know the size of the room, it is somewhat less than 11 meters, so the fundamental frequency that fits is about 31 Herz. And then 62, 124, and so on.”
And then you add the overtones?
“I add overtones, but what I also do is that I choose samples that fit into these frequency ranges, and that are very dense. Or I use recordings of the space, in which I push these frequencies. Or I use frequencies based upon the sizes of the panels, that – in centimeters – are 120 x 120, 60 x 60 and 120 x 60. And all of these then come together and interfere. That is an artistic choice. It is not some system that I always apply. I am looking for sounds that are capable of interfering, that are dense and complex. Sometimes I do use sine-tones, but that is rather to add some accents here or there. Or I use them in clusters, so that it becomes a very complex sound again. And then I also have to search for the right volumes. How loud should it be? … I continue working like that, until everything has found its proper place and balance. The sounds will have themselves become like panels that are shifting and moving the one over the other… Then there will also be the correspondence to the sounds from outside. I will have a number of frequencies, and these will correspond to certain notes and to a scale. During the opening concert on friday evening, Boudewijn Zwart will improvise on the town hall carillon using these notes. Maastricht’s town carilloneur, Frank Steijns, is going to create a number of open melodies with these notes. And after Christmas time, in January, each quarter hour the town hall carillon will play one of those melodies.”
Then we should open the windows!
“Then we can open the windows. Every now and then.”
But what will the sound be like inside? What will visitors hear when they come up the stairs and find your installation?
“The sound part of A Shadow of A Wall will be much less a composition than the sound in my other work. I devise the system. Then the system runs its course. I make several modules, that each have a different length. These I will play back (from CDs and digital players) in a loop. The modules thus move independently one from the other. What I like is that in this way you have little control over what will come together and when it will come together. It will be different, all the time. The actual result will be rather subtle. One will not, and should not, be overwhelmed by the sounds. It is not meant to be a Disneyland. It needs to be experienced, but – let me put it this way – ‘not in your face’…
In order to experience A Shadow of A Wall, visitors then should stay a while, spend some time with it.
“It is an invitation. I leave it up to them.”
But what would you consider the optimal way to experience the work?
“I don’t know, really. The space here has the advantage that it is somewhat more inviting than some of the other places where I did installations. Sometimes it was cold and people just stepped onto the work with their shoes on. But here it is warm. You can take off your shoes, stay a while and approach the work in a more careful way. Personally, when I go to see an installation, I like to stay for a while. To look, to listen …”
When people go to see a concert, with but very little exceptions, they will stay for quite some time as well. Also a sound installation has that temporal dimension. It is not merely an image.
“Yes, you should lose yourself in it, surrender to it. But I will not mind when someone steps in and is gone again after just 2 seconds… No. That I don’t mind. I leave that up to them.”
[ ( † ) A bipolar speaker has two or more speakers that output sound in mulitple directions, in order to make the sound field more diffuse so that the sound location cannot be pinpointed. In a bipolar speaker, both drivers are ‘in phase’: both speakers output sound at the same time.) ]