Before, during and after the deluge: Sounding Kortrijk

May 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

In the beautiful, peaceful garden of the Broelmuseum in the Belgium city of Kortrijk, 4 loudspeakers projected the soundscape that renowned British wild life sound recordist Chris Watson composed for this year’s edition of Kortrijk’s Sounding City.

Watson’s piece/installation was inspired by one of the paintings in the museum’s collection: After the Deluge (Na de Zondvloed), an oil-on-panel, relatively small (the painting measures 53 by 91 centimeters), by Kortrijk’s Golden Age master Roelandt Savery (1576-1639).

In view of the image’s scenery, I readily imagined a little Chris Watson wearing top-notch headphones, holding a pricey microphone and carrying state-of-the-art digital sound recording equipment, hidden somewhere behind one of the rocks or trees in Savery’s delicous & fantastic ‘wildscape’. It is a scene that looks ‘unnaturally natural’, not unlike the way in which Watson’s filmic collages of bigger-than-nature recordings sound ‘unnaturally natural’. Linking them, then, is obvious. But it is too much so. Paintings like Savery’s are full of implicit, unhear-able, sound (as David Toop pointed out in a lecture, also in Kortrijk, after having visited last year’s Savery exhibition in the Broelmuseum). But that what is unheard I prefer to imagine, in a non-sequential, in a time-less, way. The imposed explicitation in a sequential soundscape, that re-starts every 30 minutes or so, actually annoys me. On Saturday April 28th, in the Broelmuseum’s garden, during the opening of Sounding City, the sound of Watson’s exotic 4-channel ‘Savery’ nature-scape faded in the presence of the far more modest natural soundscape given by the mere fact of being out in the open, in public space, in the small city of Kortrijk. It was a subtle but forceful pointer to the simple beauty of what this work might have been, without loudspeakers and without exotic wild life sounds: just (a copy of) Savery’s painting installed in the middle of the garden’s lawn together with a small bench to sit on and listen. Nothing more.

Chris Watson’s installation is one of the 11 sound/art works that, as part of the Festival of Flanders in Kortrijk’s Sounding City (Klinkende Stad), can be found at 11 different spots in the old Belgian town. All of them out in the open. Each one of them in ‘public space’. That’s pretty exciting. Though some of the works mainly keep their sounds ‘in a box’, the majority, like Watson’s Savery piece, are sounding out in the open. And whether they were meant to or not: the ‘art(ificial)’ sounds merge with the continuous flux of the ‘real’ small-town-sounds. As for Chris Watson’s installation, these proved to be stiff competition indeed. I was surprised at just how much the sound of each one of the Sounding City pieces made me more aware of the many other, contingent, sounds, that sur/s/ounded them.

David Helbich‘s work Public Sounds from Kortrijk and Jeruzalem thereof made explicit use: two loudspeakers, unobtrusively mounted at the top of the gate of the Begijnhof, played back recordings he made in 2011 in Nablus and Jerusalem, thus combining the sounds from these far away cities with the daily soundings at that particular spot in Belgium. A simple idea, and maybe not overly original, but I found it to be highly effective. A pity, however, that the Palestine city soundscape consisted in static, fixed recordings, repeating, over and over again. I actually had imagined the work to make use of a semi-direct transmission of sound (time-shifted, in order to account for the difference in time zones) from a corresponding spot in Jerusalem…

Helbich Helbich

The best among the ‘outside a box’ pieces at Sounding City, each on their own terms and in their own manner, managed to include & subtly transform the Kortrijk soundscape that they were being inserted in. Like David Helbich’s Kortrijk + Jerusalem piece, like Patricia Portela and Christophe De Boekck’s Hortus or Dawn Scarfe’s Tree Music. And like Evelina Deicmane‘s Becoming a Tree, one of the two Resonance contributions to Sounding City, a sequel to her earlier Resonance piece, A Long Day (that premiered in Kunsthaus Meinblau in Berlin in August 2011, and then went to Riga and Maastricht).

evelina joost

Also for Becoming a Tree Evelina found inspiration in an ancient Latvian tale, that she visually abstracted as three simple, clean, wooden constructions, surrounding three trees on the Vandaele plein, in which from a number of tiny loudspeakers various wood-y sounds, based upon documentary recordings of her father’s working in the woods, un-loudly sprang back and forth between the buildings surrounding the square.

evelina tree

evelina tree

A second Resonance contribution to Sounding City was Stefan Rummel‘s Articulated Chambers, who installed his intricate and solid construction on and off the river traversing Kortrijk, the Leie. Stefan’s work could be found on the other side of the river right opposite the Broelmuseum, where a nice stone stair case invited passers-by to step inside.

evelina tree

evelina tree

Even though the Articulated Chambers are, obviously, boxes, and the visitor, in a way, has to step out of the city to hear the soundscape that Stephan composed for it, once inside, through the open-ness of its construction, the city’s sound naturally mingles with the played back city sounds.

It thus was far less of a retreat than the little wooden garden shed that one discovered when entering, through what looked like a ‘secret corridor’, a most wonderful ancient garden in de Kleine Leiestraat. The cabin was part of and home to Gardening with John (2005), a piece by Alvin Curran, an American composer who has been living and working in Rome since 1965.

curran

This year, 2012, being John Cage’s centenary, it is difficult to avoid the inclusion, in whatever major sound art exhibition, of a tribute to the composer whose work and ideas have proven to be so very influential. Curran’s garden shed, though, is more than ‘an hommage’. The (too little) time I spent, on Saturday April 28th and Sunday April 29th inside this small cabin, looking at the old gardening tools, a couple of browned score pages, and listening to the pretty peculiar, secular & musical, sounds, that every now and then gave way to John Cage’s laughing and yodeling, was definitely among my this year’s most pleasant experiences. (Click here to listen to a short sound impression from inside Alvin Curran’s Gardening with John.)

curran

It were the touches of sudden ‘strangeness’, of slight – sonic, but also visual – alienation, that made strolling through Sounding Kortrijk such an interesting and agreeable experience: suddenly stumbling upon Evelina Deicmane’s brand new wooden packing of the three small trees; Alvin Curran’s garden shed, looking a bit silly and misplaced in the old stately garden; Stefan Rummel’s Articulated Chambers, that also in Kortrijk gave the impression of having been installed at the side of the river for some, practical, industrial reason or other; but it’s just impossible to make up one’s mind as to what precisely that ‘industrial’ reason would be.

Arguably the strangest, as well as the most unobtrusive of them all, were the some couple of tens of meters of long brass ribbon that could be seen dangling across the Tacktoren lawn near the Korte Kapucijnenstraat. Here, there was little or no sound to be heard, other than that of the rustling of the trees’ leaves, birds whistling, footsteps, far-away voices and the occasional car passing…

Leif Brush is a, by now 80 years old, sound art pioneer, living in Duluth, Minnesota, where he transformed his spacious garden into an artist’s studio. The long brass ribbon is one of his terrain instruments: the Wind Ribbon. The long brass ribbon is supplied with contact microphones. To hear the sounds captured, we had to step inside the space on the ground floor of the Budascoop building, where Guy de Bièvre and Sofia von Bustorff (who went to Duluth, to meet up with the artist) furnished a room dedicated to Brush’s work, including (an inside version of) another of his terrain instruments: the Insect Recording Studio.

brush

For the duration of Sounding City, the sounds of Leif Brush’s Wind Ribbon in Kortrijk are streamed live on the web, where you can listen to them continuously. And though Alvin Curran’s Cage piece is a good runner-up, you will probably find, like I did, that few or none of the sound-parts (mostly loop-ing) of the other pieces at Sounding City are able to match the endless variety, sonic wealth and at times – yes – sheer musicality of the Wind Ribbon.

Here are a 13 minutes and 23 seconds of the sounds that I recorded from the ribbon’s ongoing live stream, around 20h on Tuesday, May 8th, while finishing writing this article, catching, as if by magic, the Sounding City’s ribbon at a particularly tumultuous moment in time…

At the end of our rainy inaugurating tour of Sounding Kortrijk on Saturday April 28th, Leif’s story as recounted by Guy and Sofia, felt so wonderfully weird, that Touch label‘s Mike Harding’s suggestion, the next day in the Handboogstraat, where we had a coffee in the Hoochie Coochie cafe, that this ‘Brush artist’ had to be a fiction, ingeniously made up by Guy and Sofia as their Sound City project, for a while seemed plausible enough. We had quite a bit of fun later that Sunday afternoon, in the train from Kortrijk to Lille, making up the possible biography and the possible oeuvre of a female sound art pioneer, eager to cooperate with the fictional Leif on future fictional projects. But, well, also in sound art some truths are stranger than fiction. For, believe me, no one – no one, could ever ‘simply make up’ a web site like Leif Brush’s weblackwhole.net

The following vimeo clip gives an overview of the opening of the Sounding City: Public Sound sound art exhibition at this year’s Festival of Flanders in Kortrijk, Belgium, followed by an impression of the evening concert, with sound projections by Jana Winderen and Mike Harding, who stood in for Chris Watson. It all sadly will no longer be part of Kortrijk’s Public Sounding space again too soon. The complete set of installations can be viewed and heard in its entirety only two more days, over the coming weekend, on the afternoons of Saturday May 12th and Sunday May 13th.

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‘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. ]

Sound Forest & Unsound: Resonance in Riga & Krakow

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.

tobacco factory Riga

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.

A Long Day A Long Day

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.

Shadow of a Wall
Shadow of a Wall

And here are some impressions of how Pierre Berthet installed his Extended Drops in Riga’s former tobacco factory:

Extended Drops
Extended Drops

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…”

Meanwhile, in Shanghai...
Meanwhile, in Shanghai...

[ 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.”

Articulated Chambers
Articulated Chambers

[ 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…

Shadow of a Wall
Shadow of a Wall

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.

City Chase
City Chase

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.

Resonance in Maastricht

December 2, 2010 § 2 Comments

On Friday December 10th & Saturday December 11th, Resonance partners, artists and public will meet in Maastricht, on the occasion of the festive opening at Intro In Situ’s of the exhibition of two sound installations:
Pierre Berthet adapted his Extended Drops to the ground floor space of the Intro In Situ workshop. Pierre originally produced ‘Extended Drops’ at the Berlin Singuhr Hörgalerie for the smaller Wasserspeicher.
Esther Venrooy, in association with architect Erna Bonifacic, has developed “A Shadow of A Wall”, which can be experienced on the first floor of Intro In Situ’s space.

Here are some pictures of the setting up of Esther’s Maastricht installation:

ev ev
ev ev

The sounds of “A Shadow of A Wall” will provide a link with the sounds of the city of Maastricht, and specifically with those of the town carillon. Therefore, preceding the official opening of the exhibition at Intro In Situ’s, on Friday December 10th, there will be a special concert of contemporary music performed on the carillon of the Maastricht town hall.

In a program made up and arranged by Frank Steijns, carilloneur Boudewijn Zwart will play pieces by John Cage, Philip Glass and Paul Takahashi. The carillon music of course can be heard widely throughout the center of town, but the best place to enjoy it will be on the market square.

boudewijn zwart

Friday’s carillon concert starts at 20h.

The installations of Pierre Berthet and Esther Venrooy can be visited at Intro In Situ‘s (Capucijnengang 12, Maastricht) from December 11th, 2010, until January 30th, 2011. Opening hours: Wednesday till Sunday, between 12h and 17h. Entry: €3,-. Intro In Situ will be closed on Christmas days and New Year’s day. During the two months of exhibition, there will be a parallel program with performances and talks. Details on this will follow soon.

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