Pierre Berthet – Sketches for ‘Extended Drops’

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

The series of artist drawings below, by Pierre Berthet, give a comprehensive view of Pierre’s Resonance installation Extended Drops.

Extended Drops currently can be heard and see at the Archéoforum de Liège, Belgium, from March 30th until April 29th, every day (except on Mondays), from 10h – 17h.

Pierre Berthet this spring also does a number of concerts. In Germany. He will perform on April 21st in Kunsthaus Kloster Gravenhorst, in Hörstel (Staubsauger und Tropfen – Two sound performances with air & water, 19h), on May 4th in the Maschinenzentrale/Lohnhalle Zeche Westfalen, Ahlen (Staubsauger, Messertisch und Blumentöpfe, 19h) and on May 5th in the LWL-Industriemuseum / TextilWerk Bocholt / Spinnerei, Bocholt (Staubsauger, Messertisch und Blumentöpfe, 19h). Details can be found on the Kunsthaus Kloster Gravenhors web site.

extended drops

‘Extended Drops’ in Liège

March 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

While the first two year-phase of the European Renonance project is drawing to an end (the ‘final’ – with works by Evelina Deicmane & Stefan Rummel – will be part of this year’s Sound City at the Flanders Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium), this April month provides a chance to once again experience Pierre Berthet‘s Resonance installation Extended Drops.

Pierre’s piece will be on show at the Archéoforum de Liège, Belgium, from March 30th until April 29th, every day (except on Mondays), from 10h – 17h.
The opening is on Thursday March 29th, starting at 18h.

You are all invited, cordially …

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.

Sound City – De Klinkende Stad

May 16, 2011 § 3 Comments

Resonance at the Festival of Flanders in Kortrijk, Belgium

The Resonance Network celebrates its first anniversary at this year’s Flanders Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium, with Sound City (De Klinkende Stad). It is the network’s biggest showcase to date, bringing together the four sound installations that were realized during the first year of the network’s existence. For those who saw the earlier versions of some of the installations, the exhibition in Kortrijk provides a great opportunity to see and hear how these works evolve and ‘resonate’, when they are re-built and adapted to a different kind of space, which, indeed, is one of the motivating ideas that underly the Resonance project.

Pierre Berthet presents a third version of his Extended Drops. This work was first realized at the Singuhr Hörgalerie in Berlin (Germany). There it could be seen and heard from July till September 2010. Pierre did a second installment of the installation at Intro in situ in Maastricht (December 2010 – February 2011).
Esther Venrooy brings A Shadow of A Wall to Kortrijk, her joint work with Ema Bonifacic that was first realized and shown in Maastricht (December 2010 – February 2011). The installation for Sound City is the work’s second realization.
The remaining two installations are premieres. They were finalized in Kortrijk, in the weeks preceding the opening of Sound City: Maia Urstad spent several weeks in the small Belgian city working on her Meanwhile, in Shanghai…, while Paul Devens was touring the town on a bicycle, recording the sounds for his City Chase.

budatoren budatoren

_It was a hot and very sunny day, when I arrived in Kortrijk on Saturday May 7th for Sound City’s opening. As fas as I can remember (and I can remember pretty far), it was the first time ever that I visited this old Belgian city, which sprang from a Gallo-Roman settlement at a crossroad near the river Leie and two Roman roads. I walked the short distance from the railway station to the Grote Markt, where I dropped my luggage at the hotel, and then walked on to the Buda-eiland, the old part of town (named after the western part of the Hungarian city of Budapest) where the Sound City events are taking place.

The Resonance installations can be found in, and next to, the Buda-toren, the tower of a former brewery, that in the 1990’s was converted into a production house for the arts.

_Maia Urstad installed her “Meanwhile, in Shanghai…” on the tower’s ground floor.


Some 80 radio’s, radio cassette players, and some other radio-like machines are hanging motionless, just slightly off the floor, in long lines stretching across the crepuscular space. They are all facing the (obscured) windows. My first impression was that of a regiment of soldiers, lined up for inspection. When I entered the lines, this curious army seemed to be a silent one, until I became aware of the soft static that, in short bursts, came whirling like a mist, like whisper, along the floor. Every now and then, from this side or other, a voice arose, speaking a short message. But when I turned to try and locate where precisely the voice was coming from, it mostly had gone silent again. Sometimes the language spoken was familiar. Sometimes it was not. Such is the short multilayered piece that Maia Urstad composed. Each of the layers is transmitted via a short range FM transmitter to a corresponding group of radio’s.

The soft, crackling and ghostlike voices soon gave rise to a different image: that of a graveyard, where each of the old and pretty much obsolete machines acts both as a thombstone and an – almost but not quite yet – corpse, ‘speaking in tongues’ … I only wished there would have been quite a bit more of these voices …

The following few minutes of audio give an (of course highly approximative) impression of what I heard when I walked up and down the lines that make up Meanwhile, in Shanghai…

_The fifth floor is the top floor of the Buda-toren. It is where one finds Paul Devens’ new work, City Chase. When I talked to Paul late March in Maastricht, the piece was little more yet than a soundless drawing that resided on his laptop. Meanwhile the drawings had materialized, and four gondolettes were moving small loudspeakers back and forth along a long metal rack with four parallel tracks.

city chase

Shortly before the exhibition’s opening, Paul was still busy adjusting the mechanics and lubricating the tracks. Which was necessary to assure an as smooth as possible movement of the little wagons carrying the speakers, so that none of them will get stuck during the four-part linear choreography of the eight minute dynamic city sound scape that comprises the current, first version, of City Chase.

Here’s is a short sound fragment, that I recorded during one of the City Chase‘s test rides early that Saturday afternoon:

city chase

The soundscape of the city of Kortrijk was very loud and very prominent on the day of Sound City’s opening: these were the final days of the yearly Kortrijkse Paasfoor, a mega-fair that could be seen cramming many of the center’s old squares with blinking lights and metallic constructions, some reaching as high as 52 meters. As the afternoon advanced, the sonic excitement of the fair that came drifting across the river Leie to the Buda-eiland continued to grow. The swooshing, shrieking, clanking, beeping and the mingling of up-tempo bumpings of very deep basses of multiple musics, made for a densely ondulating sonic texture that enveloped the city center of Kortrijk throughout the day, and that was pretty difficult to ignore. For, as you will know, one may shut one’s eyes, but it is a pretty tough task to shut one’s ears…

Also on the fifth floor of the Buda-toren, with its marvelous view on the city, it was hard to lock that day’s “sounding city” out, even when the doors and windows were all closed. And given the fact that in City Chase this very same “sounding city” is framed (it is tamed, in a way), the proximity and presence of the Paasfoor‘s wild, unleashed sounds, made it a rather strange experience to hear the recorded city sound fragments of Kortrijk’s City Chase parade before my ears, watching the gondolettes glide back and forth along the bare metal tracks, at times providing past-time echoes of the fair sounds that meanwhile, outside, continued to rage in real-time random force and abundance. It almost felt as if the “sounding city” was taking revenge …

city chase

It had me wonder whether City Chase should not be taken away from the city, out to the country side. And then, maybe, there be experienced out in the open? Somewhere up in the mountains, where the real-time soundscape is of an entirely different type?

An essential part of City Chase is the idea of a ‘double movement’ of the recorded sound sources: a first movement while recording, and a second one during playback. But most city sounds are highly complex, and in many cases, indeed, the (multiple) sound sources in the recording are themselves also moving, thus severely testing the limits of our ability to perceive and distinguish the different kinds of movement of the sounds that are involved. I’m curious to find out how, over the coming months, City Chase will evolve, and how the work will sound when, in its upcoming installments, the collection of fragments used in its composition has become larger. The range of the current pallette of Kortrijk sounds struck me as being somewhat too limited for a full appreciation of the idea of the work, and of the ingenious construction that underlies its realization.

_Pierre Berthet installed the Kortrijk version of his Extended Drops in a former stable of the brewery, just opposite of the Buda-toren. It is a pretty long, but relatively narrow, space, shaped as a simple rectangular box, quite different from the spaces in Berlin and Maastricht, where the previous versions of the work were made. Pierre told me that he actually would have preferred such a simple space to start with, as it makes the setting up and tuning (of, for example, the intricate network of wires) of the installation quite a bit easier. It is maybe one of the reasons why Extended Drops in the long rectangular Kortrijk stable makes for such an impressively balanced, and very spatial sonic experience.

Here is a short impression of how Extended Drops sounded there on the day of the opening:

extended drops

On the other hand, I also found that the rectangular stable space, enabling one to overlook the entire installation, as it were, in a single glance, made Extended Drops lose some of the visual attraction (and with that some of the mystery) that it had in the Intro in situ space, and in the obscure and almost labyrinthine rooms of the Berlin Singuhr Hörgalerie, a historic waterreservoir in Prenzlauer Berg.

_Esther Venrooy & Ema Bonifacic’s A Shadow of A Wall, a work that premiered in Maastricht and in Kortrijk’s Sound City has its second rendition, can be found on the third floor of the Buda-toren. The original inclined wall, which is the heart of the installation (a patchwork of differently sized rectangular panels), was adjusted: a part of it had to be removed, in order for it to fit into the space. The decision to do so was a very good one. The low and not too large brick room with its wooden ceiling and floor appears to be near to perfect for the work.

shadow of a wall

More than in the very bright and white living room type space in Maastricht, here the inclined surface indeed acts as the ‘architectural intervention’ it was intended to be. Whereas in Maastricht the light, whiteness, and the relative small surface, but bigger height, of the room somehow seemed to keep the slope from thoroughly imposing itself, in the Buda-toren it does succeed to transform the space. Also at Intro in situ the slope was an intruder, very much so, yes; but in the Buda-toren the intruder really manages to, be it ever so gently, take control.

Though the work did not give up on any of its introvert serenity, it seemed to have grown up. I found it to be powerfully self-contained, and an easy match for the outside sounds that, from time to time, in intermittent waves, came drifting in through the door, that Esther had left open. On purpose.

shadow of a wall

_Following the official opening and reception in the Budascoop, around 17h30, visitors were led on a tour of the four installations. Then, after dinner, there were the evening performances, one by each of the participating artists.

Two of the concerts took place inside the artist’s installation, and two were done on stage, in one of the Budascoop’s concert halls.

The evening program began with a very varied, dynamic – and at times also very loud – duo performance by Esther Venrooy (on electronics & laptop) and a young, and equally versatile, Belgian percussionist: Lander Gyselinck.

esther performance

We then walked over to the ground floor of the Buda-toren, where Maia asked each member of the audience to take place behind one of the radio’s. It made for an interesting way of experiencing the short, quiet and reflective radioscape that she presented.

maia performance

Next we moved to the stable, for a performance by Pierre Berthet. Expirateurs et Gouttes is a two-part ‘concerto’. First part for drops, the second for vacuum cleaners. In the manipulation and control of both, Pierre Berthet undeniably is a master. The gradual building up of ever more intricate rhythmic drop patterns, giving way to the forceful swiping of vacuum cleaner tubes, and then onto the grand finale of an ecstatically trumpeting ensemble of Filter Queens, doesn’t cease to intrigue.

pierre performance

For the evening’s final concert, we returned to the Budascoop, where Paul Devens performed his Storm, for live electronics and fieldrecordings, based on John Cage’s Variations VII. At the end of his performance Paul managed to rest sound- and motionless for a very long time, thus forcing all of the audience to hold their breath equally long… until he finally relaxed, and invited applause. It was a forceful and worthy conclusion of a fine evening of music and sound.

paul performance

Especially for those who were not there: the following ten-minute audio track is a succession of four short fragments from the evening’s performances:

_When, after a couple of last drinks, I walked back to the hotel, the Kortrijkse Paasfoor was still going strong. While contemplating all that I had heard and all I had seen that day, I strolled along the Leie and on over the Grote Markt, where I watched with quiet amazement the quite monstrous (but many no less ingenious) machines, that were created to sell mere minutes of adrenaline pumping excitement.
With all windows of my room wide open I fell asleep, listening to the loud, excited and piercing screams of bunches of young fair-goers, that continued to fall from the Kortrijk sky.

Sound is a very funny thing, for I slept like a rose.

Sound City (Klinkende Stad) is the Resonance exhibition (with sound installations by Pierre Berthet, Esther Venrooy, Paul Devens and Maia Urstad) that is part of the Flanders Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium. The exhibition can be visited on the afternoons of Saturdays and Sundays, between May 7th and May 22nd. Entrance is free. On Saturdays at 15h there are guided tours (participation: €2,-).
On May 18th-20th an international symposium (with performances) is taking place, entitled Listen. Perspectives on Auditive Space, curated by Esther Venrooy. Locations are the Witte Zaal, in Gent (Belgium) on May 18th and 19th, and the Budascoop in Kortrijk (Belgium) on May 20th.

Café In situ – January 18th, 2011

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…”

in situ

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…

in situ

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.
For free…

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…

Caught in the flux of history

January 11, 2011 § 8 Comments

Pierre Berthet on hitting things, Filter Queens, drops on tin cans and extending deliberately broken speakers

Liège is a major city in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium. It is situated in the valley of the Meuse river near the borders with Germany and the Netherlands, at just a little over 30 kilometers from Maastricht. I remember Liège from dreary and rainy sunday mornings, when I went there with my parents to visit the market. In those days, the most curious and exotic things could be freely found and bought there: from the test tubes, Bunsen burners, mortar and pestle’s, Erlenmeyers, pipettes, tweezers, tools and bits of metal that I badly needed for my alchemical experimentations, to all sorts of old and intriguing electrical equipment, motorcycles, rusty machine guns, flamethrowers, cats and dogs and French speaking parrots. It was a slightly disturbing and foreign place, but therefore also a very thrilling one to be.

Liège is home to Belgian musician and sound artist Pierre Berthet, whose installation Extended Drops currently is part of the Resonance presentation at Stichting Intro in situ in Maastricht. Pierre’s work for me invokes an atmosphere that is not unlike the one that I recall and cherish from the strange adventures of Bram Vingerling ( † ). And from my long ago visits to the market in Liège: slightly disturbing but thrilling…


“I am originally from Brussels,” Pierre told me, “but I have been based now in Liège for about 20 years. I came there to do my civil service, at the Centre de Recherche Musicale, and then studied with Henri Pousseur, Garrett List and Frederic Rzewski. Back then the Liège Conservatory was a great place to be! I always loved sounds and I always loved music. So from an early age on I began to learn music. First at the music school, and then later as a percussionist at the conservatory. For even though I tried hard to find good alternatives, I did end up being at the conservatory… As a performer I was part of the ensemble Fusion, led by the late André van Belle’s, who used to teach at the Brussels Conservatory. Towards the end of the 1960s Van Belle began to collect exotic instruments, like gongs and chinese tam-tams. His wife played the zheng. He then put together an ensemble that could play pieces written for this collection of instruments. That was at a time when nobody yet talked about things as ‘world music’. Around the same time I learned to play the carillon, in Wavre, and Van Belle composed two carillon pieces for me. I haven’t played the carillon for a long time, though, for lack of time…”

It is an amazing instrument …

“Yes it is! Unfortunately though it is an instrument that still is too little used. It is not often used à sa propre valeur, as one says in French, in ways that really do justice to its potential.”

Your work rather early developed in the direction of… well, let me call it ‘sonic bricolage’. How did that happen?

“In parallel to my studies, I started to make music with whatever I could lie my hands on. Percussion of course lends itself very much to the use of a wide range of different objects, for, obviously, on peut taper sur n’importe quoi … you can hit anything in order to make it sound. I liked doing that so much, that eventually I found myself spending more and more time pursuing my own little musical research, and less and less performing somebody else’s music.”

Do you continue to perform as a percussionist?

“Not really, no. But sometimes people call me when something really bizarre needs to be done. Currently I am doing a piece by Tom Johnson for five sonic pendulums. These are brass bars attached to wires. They swing like a pendulum, and one has to hit them in time. The lengths of the wires have been calculated in order to account for specific polyrhythms. The piece is called Galileo, as it was Galileo Galilei who discovered the simple relationship between the length and the frequency of a pendulum. It is on this relationship that Tom based his composition and instrument. He then asked me to play it for him, for he himself is too old now. Maybe not so much for playing, but especially for traveling around with the instrument. This of course I find an honor to do. In principle anyone may play the composition. But you have to build it. The longest of the pendulums is some 3 meters and 40 centimeters, one needs something to suspend it from, et cetera. So that is not always easy. And it’s not an easy piece. It took me a full winter, to learn to perform it by heart.


I think that your training and background as a percussionist do show up quite clearly in your performances sound installations. Percussion and rhythm are obviously at the heart of the dropping of the drops in “Drops”. But also the vacuum cleaner pieces I find very ‘percussive’ in nature. There is the fierce – almost agressive – sweeping of the tubes along the floor and…

“But that’s all mostly wind blowing, I’d say… No?”

Maybe it’s just my peculiar way of hearing, but I do experience much of it as ‘rhythmic investigations’. For example the vacuum cleaner installation you did for the 2008 Best Before Klankkunsttour in Maastricht. Or the performance that you did later that year at Stichting Intro. The vacuum cleaner, by the way, is one of the elements in your work that over time continue to recur, again and again, always in different constellations. What was it that originally led you to the vacuum cleaner?

“I was asked to do the music for Баня (The Bathhouse), a theater play by Mayakovski. This was the last piece he wrote, before committing suicide. It deals with the Soviet philistinism and bureaucracy. So the décor shows offices and all kinds of office material. I then tried to sonorize that stage scenery, making music with office cabinets, with papers, and the like. And part of the décor was a vacuum cleaner of the marque Filter Queen, which can both aspire and blow. That’s where it started. Also, there is sort of a tradition in the use of vacuum cleaners in contemporary music and art, isn’t there? And did you know that Captain Beefheart used to worked as a door-to-door Filter Queen salesman? Or maybe it was another marque, but he has been selling vacuum cleaners for a while…”

Oh, really? That’s interesting. He was at high school together with Frank Zappa, and my first encounter with a non-standard use of vacuum cleaners must have been in some of the earlier Frank Zappa work. But I think that Zappa was mainly interested in the erotic potential of the vacuum cleaner as a sucking machine, not so much in the sounds it makes… Are you a collector? Of vacuum cleaners? I always see an awful lot of them lying outside with the garbage, in the streets of big cities. And you? If you’d see one, would you take it?

“No, no, I buy them! There is a shop in Liège that specializes in Filter Queens. The specific type that I use is no longer made, but the shop collects and repairs old ones. I now have five of them. These form my current ensemble. And they are pretty solid, really. The motor may wear out, though, also because of the pretty rough stuff that I make them do. For many years I had just a single one. But now that I have quite a few of them, I can also use them in installations. Then their functioning is automatized. The only thing that is a bit complicated, is that once has to assure oneself that when it starts, the sweeping of the tube will not be blocked. So the floor has to be pretty smooth. If it is not, there has to be someone around to unblock them every now and again. That’s the drawback of these ‘automatic installations’. But, on the other hand, the fact that the things are not completely stable and somewhat imprecise of course also is part of the charm of the ‘bricolage’.”


“So the vacuum cleaner is one of these elements that I continue to come back to. Like the drops, like the extended speakers … Because … well, I just do not have that many ideas, really. So I re-do the old ones …”

But there’s always a development? It is not just a matter of merely re-making the same, is it?

“Well, it is rather that the things develop all by themselves. I often say to myself: ‘Okay, now let me do this one or that one again’ … But then, when I try, I find that I am actually not capable of doing the same thing over again. And so it becomes something else. That is because the way all of it is put together is much too unstable. Nothing is very precise, and the things are not exact enough to be reproducible. And because I am not capable of reproducing that what I did before, the works end up showing a development over time.”

In the Extended Drops installation – that you originally set up for the Singuhr Hörgalerie in Berlin, and that now you have adapted for the workspace of Intro in situ – you combine two other recurring elements from your work: the “Drops” and the “Extended Speakers”.

“Yes. It is already for some 30 years now that I have been letting drops of water fall on suspended tin cans, from a height of about 2 meters. And also, for 15 years or so, I have been breaking loudspeakers, by removing as much of the membrane as possible (in order to hear them as little as possible). And then I attach thin steel wire to the remains. The other end of the wire I attach to a net of steel wires, each of which ends in a resonating can. These cans are then distributed over the space. The loudspeakers are no longer used for playing back sounds. They are used to make this net of steel wires vibrate. So the net of wires with the resonating cans extend the loudspeaker. That is why I call them ‘extended loudspeakers’. Usually I then apply sine frequencies as a sound source. But the sounding result is something completely different.”


How do you decide what frequencies to use?

“I try. It will depend on the specific space, which determines the lengths of the wires that I use. So once the network has been put into place, I try it out. And then I will use those frequencies that I like best. With these I create a short sound piece. Depending on the place in the space where I put the resonating cans, the length of the wires will vary. And so will their natural frequencies. That takes a little bit of searching and testing, though in practice it turns out that almost anything will go. And then, once I have chosen the spots, I have obtained a certain ‘palette’ of sounds. Next the work is a bit like that of painter, who is using the divers colors that he has available to fill his canvas. Which in this case is the given space and a certain span of time.”

So the result is actually a composition for the extended speakers in that particular space?

“Yes. Often what I end up with are a certain number of loops, which I then play back from the computer. And in ‘Extended Drops’ I combine the ‘extended speakers’ with ‘drops’. This was partly inspired by a work of the French sound artist Arno Fabre, that I heard about, though I never actually saw it. It is an installation called Composition pour trois radios. He lets drops of salted water fall upon the cut loudspeaker wires of the radios. When a drop of salted water falls upon the wire, it briefly re-establishes the contact and thus one briefly hears a sound. “


The drops act like a switch…

“Exactly. The description and pictures of Arno Fabre’s installation gave me the idea to adapt the same principle to my extended speakers. So I add a bit of chloridic acid to the water, which then drops onto the cut wires. From there it drops on, into the tin cans below. These now are somewhat bigger than usual. I want to make sure that they make a sound, as I have contact microphones attached to them. The sound may be sent back into the extended loudspeakers, but the main function of the piezo’s is that they enable the computer to ‘hear’ the rhythm, the frequency, of the drops. Thus we can instruct the computer, for example, to release 60 drops per minute. The computer then commands a number of small servomotors that open the tubes more, or less, in order to have the drops fall faster, or slower. But there will always be a certain irregularity in the rhythm of the drops. For example, let’s say that the computer needs to arrange a rhythm of one drop every four seconds. It will tell the servomotors to open the tubes more, or open them less, and this adjustment will take some time. Thus the drops will not fall synchronously everywhere. This accounts for the complex rhythmic patterns that you hear.”


Visually the installation gives the impression of something quite simple, something purely mechanical. But it actually takes rather sophisticated digital steering to make it tick.

“For this I have the help of Patrick Delges, who also is living in Liège and with whom I have been collaborating already for a number of years. Patrick does the programming in Max/MSP. It enables us to program transitions. So, for instance, we can ask that the frequency increases from 60 drops per minute to 80 drops per minute, over a certain period of time. Apart from that, there are a number of other ‘drops machines’, that do not activate the loudspeakers. These just let drops fall into small tins.”

And you pass every day to poor the water from the tins?

“We use two tanks of 70 liters … but, yes, some regular emptying and filling work needs to be done …”

Do you think of yourself as a sound artist, Pierre?

“I rather think of myself as a musician. I do not wake up in the morning saying to myself, ‘OK, now let me do some sound art…’ But I am very interested in the history of the ‘discipline’. I also like to follow what other artists in the domain are up to… So… talking about sound art, yes, I guess I do find myself being caught in that particular flux of history.”

On January 18th, 2011 Harold Schellinx will talk with Pierre Berthet and Esther Venrooy about their work, about music, about sound art and its relation to the world, to time and to space, in Café in situ (Intro in situ, Maastricht). The evening starts at 20h30.
Pierre Berthet’s and Esther Vernooy‘s Resonance installations can be visited at Intro In Situ (Capucijnengang 12, Maastricht) until January 30th, 2011. Opening hours: Wednesday till Sunday, between 12h and 17h. Entry: €3,-.

[ ( † ) Bram Vingerling is the protagonist in a series of Dutch (and, as far as I know, never translated) mystery novels for teenage boys, written by Leonard Roggeveen. Roughly from the 1930s up to the early 1970s, the Bram Vingerling books (a fine brew of patriotism, mystery, heroism, morality, technology and science) were very popular in the Netherlands. ]

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:

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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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