Exploring the almost-impossibilities between art and science.

September 9, 2013 § 4 Comments

Last in the series of new sound art works commissioned by the RESONANCE Network in the 2012-2014 period is Photophon, an installation by the Belgian artist Aernoudt Jacobs. As small and fragile as it laborious, Photophon will premiere as part of the RESONANCE-in-Maastricht showcase that is taking place between September 13th and 29th at Intro in situ’s. (The exhibition in Maastricht will also include a new installment of Signe Lidén’s Writings and another presentation of The Beaters by Thomas Rutgers and Jitske Blom. Peter Bogers will present a second version of his Untamed Choir and David Helbich made an arrangement of the performative soundwalk that he composed for the Flanders Festival in Kortrijk, for the streets and squares of Maastricht.)

Photophon is based upon the so-called photoacoustic effect, that was discovered in the late nineteenth century by the brilliant Scottish scientist, inventor and innovator Alexander Graham Bell, who probably is best known as the inventor of the telephone. As a teenager Alexander Bell witnessed how his mother slowly grew deaf, which aroused his very special interest in all things related to speech, hearing and sound. In 1880, together with his assistant Charles Tainter, he developed a device that transmitted sounds wirelessly, on a beam of light: the photophone. It reflected sunlight from a flexible flat mirror that actually served as a microphone. When somebody talked against the mirror’s back, the variations in air pressure caused by the soundwaves of the voice moved the flexible material, and were literally reflected in variations of the brightness of the mirrored sunlight. One then ‘only’ needed to translate these back into sound…

It was while working on this receiving end of his photophone that Bell discovered the optoacoustic or photoacoustic effect. He found that solid materials that were exposed to a beam of sunlight that was interrupted by a fast turning wheel with slots (thus giving rise to a very rapid series of light pulses), started to produce sounds. The main (though not sole) reason for this is photothermal. The physical explanation goes roughly like this: the material is heated by the light energy that it absorbs, which causes it to contract and expand; these ‘movements’ of the material then give rise to pressure changes in the surrounding air; but that of course means that there will be sound!

It was this use of strictly ephemeral phenomena to create sonic events that inspired Aernoudt’s artistic re-interpretation and development of Bell’s discovery. “I was mesmerized by the idea,” he says, “that sounds around us can be created with light. From Bell’s research notes I learned that any material comes with a sonority that will be revealed by hitting it with a strong enough beam of light. Every material has a resonant frequency, but every material can also be ‘sonically activated’. And its sound is directly related to its resonant frequencies. For me this was a revelation, touching the world of sounds in its very essence!”

Aernoudt’s work is a fine example of a combination of artistic and scientific research. He has been developing his Photophon installation in close collaboration with the Laboratory of Acoustics and Thermal Physics of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. I saw a prototype (picture above) of the elegant and intriguing horn-like object that is to become the sounding heart of the installation, when earlier this year, at the IMAL in Brussels, I visited an exhibition of Overtoon, the Brussels based platform for research, production and distribution of sound and media art that is directed by Aernoudt and Christoph de Boeck.

“The horn is the last in the chain of elements that together make up the photophonic object that I imagined,” Aernoudt explained. “It acts as a loudspeaker. Because of its specific dimensions, it will amplify some of the frequencies produced by the photoacoustic cell that I built. That cell is a kind of Helmholtz resonator, placed at the narrow end of the horn. Eventually, the horns will be between 60 and 70 centimeters long, very narrow at the one end (about 3 millimeters), and then widening to some 22 centimeters at the other end. The precise dimensions are related to the resonance frequency that I work with.”

“In the very first version I used the horn of an old gramophone that I bought on a flea market. The light source was a green laser. That Photophon produced a soft buzzing sound. The subsequent versions use customized horns, that are adapted to the cell. All is centered on one specific frequency, with its corresponding over- and undertones. I started with a plastic horn, realized in one piece using a 3D printer. But that was too fragile. It broke rather quickly. The model at the IMAL exhibition also has a plastic horn made with a 3D printer, but that was done in 3 separate parts, that I then glued together.”

At the IMAL I saw light, I saw movement, but I did not hear any sounds.

“True. But that’s because the light source was a led, which is not intense enough to produce a sound that is audible with your bare ears. There is a sound, but you would need to use a stethoscope to hear it. With a laser source, that I can use in my studio, the sound becomes audible. So for the RESONANCE installation in Maastricht, I will use laser sources.”

And you will use glass horns. Glass surely has acoustic properties that are quite different from those of the plastic you used for the earlier versions. This will also influence the sound, I presume.

“Yes, it will influence the sound. The glass will resonate more than the plastic. And of course there is the visual, the aesthetic aspect. The transparent glass horns will make for a far more delicate look than that of the the opaque white plastic objects.”

How did your collaboration with the Laboratory of Acoustics and Thermal Physics at the KUL, the Catholic University in Leuven, come about?

“We have been working together for about one year and a half now. Our collaboration started after I had invited them to come to one of my earlier exhibitions. At the time I already was researching the sonic and acoustic investigations that were done in the 19th century, and the empirical sound theories that were developed at that time by people like Hermann von Helmholtz, Rudolph Koenig, Jules Lissajous, and so on. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that in many cases those investigations were based only on acoustic phenomena, with no electronics involved. They analyzed everything with analog, mechanical devices. It makes their findings very palpable and understandable. Christ Glorieux, who is the head of the Leuven Acoustics Lab, introduced me to Bell’s photophone, that they were working with a lot at the laboratory. And this then gave rise to the idea of making an installation based on the photophone.”

“Art-science collaboration are sort of a trend these days. So my case is surely not unique. It is very interesting though. Also, because it is not always easy to really work together. Unlike a scientist, as an artist I am all the time groping around in the dark. As an artist, that is where you want to be. Where you need to be. You will always want to try out things that are deemed to be ‘impossible’. Putting a horn on a photophone was one of those ‘impossibilities’… The scientists at the lab would never use a horn. They put tiny microphones inside the acoustic cell. Which, from their point of view, is far more manageable. It is what they need for their scientific approach. But still, sometimes there are holes in their research…”

Which then will allow you to jump right in.

“Indeed. And we can talk about it. That makes for very interesting conversations.”

Do you have a scientific background yourself? Or is your scientific knowledge self-taught?

“Most of it is self-taught. But I did study architecture, which introduced me to many different subjects. A lot of technology. But also mathematics and mechanics. So that makes for quite a broad background. Even though I never finished my studies. I failed the fourth year, after which I stopped and decided to concentrate on music and art. But also as a musician and an artist, I never stopped thinking about space.”

What is the role of space in the Photophon installation?

“It is important that the space be as quiet as possible. It also will be important in the sense that it will determine the way in which visitors approach the installation.”

In Maastricht the Photophon installation will be made of three of Arnoudt’s photophonic objects. Each of them will have a laser light source, with the intensity necessary to produce audible sounds. “The continuous laser light is interrupted by two rotating slotted wheels. These wheels are the second element in the construction,” Aernoudt explained. “Each of the wheels is moved by a small electric motor. There are two of them (separated by a distance of about 5 centimeters), in order to provide two distinct modulations of the laser light. If the first wheel is rotating at a very high speed, the sound produced by the photoacoustic cell will be a continuous túúúúúúúúúúúúúúttt. The second wheel is meant to interrupt that continuous sound, so as to produce a kind of rhythm: túúútt – túúútt – túúútt – túúútt – túúútt … The third element of the object, after the laser and the wheels, is the photoacoustic cell that I designed, and which – as I explained before – is based on the idea of a Helmholtz resonator. It is a small sphere, containing a black disc. Because of the series of light pulses that is hitting the disc, the photoacoustic effect will give rise to a sound. Now the shape of the cell, the globe, is important because it will strengthen certain of the frequencies. What you will hear, then is determined by the rotating wheels, and by the properties of the photoacoustic cell. The Helmholtz resonance and the acoustic properties of the glass horn, the fourth and final element in the construction, take care of some form of amplification of the sound.”

I guess it would be possible to add some sort of a controller to the electric motors that drive the wheels, to change the speed of their rotation in real time, and thus vary the resulting sound in real time. You might then play the Photophon like a musical instrument.

“I absolutely intend to provide a certain kind of ‘musicality’. But in the form of an installation, not in the form of a playable instrument. The musicality is latent. It is present, but hidden. The electric motors are driven in real time by a micro controller, which will give variations and rhythms to the tones. And each of the glass horns will actually have slightly different dimensions. Being handmade, it was impossible for the glassblower to make them perfectly identical. I still have to try them out, but I suspect that volume and resonance frequency will be different for each of them.”

So the sounding result will be like a microtonal chord?

“That is difficult to say at this point. A lot will also depend on the precision and the stability of the electric motors that I am going to use. Only if these can be adjusted very precisely will I be able to produce truly microtonal structures. But as things are looking now, that will not yet be the case in Maastricht. I hope, though, to be able to develop the work further in the near future.”

“As I said before and although this may not be immediately apparent: the musical, the compositional element, is very important to me. But I will only be able to fully exploit this in some next phase of the project. I am already planning a sequel for next year, which would be an outdoors installation. It will be based on the use of sunlight, but combined with new technologies that will enable me to track the sun, and then add artificial light as a compensation as soon as the intensity of the sun becomes insufficient. This confrontation of 19th century technologies with the top technology of our times is, of course, already evident in this version of the work: the laser, the drive of the wheels, the cutting of the wheels… All of this is based on very contemporary technologies, that then combine with these pure, non-electric, analog ideas from the 19th century. That’s amazing, I think. It’s a meeting of two very different worlds and two very different times…”

Aernoudt Jacobs’s Photophon can be experienced at Intro in situ (Capucijnengang 12, Maastricht, the Netherlands), as part of a RESONANCE showcase including works by Peter Bogers, Signe Lidén, David Helbich and Thomas Ruthers & Jitske Blom.
The opening will take place on Friday September 13th, 2013, at 17h00.
The RESONANCE exhibition at Intro in situ can be visited daily from Saturday September 14th until Sunday September 29th, between 11h and 17h.
There will two special guided tours by Harold Schellinx (on Thursday September 26th and Friday September 27th, at 19h30), and a lecture on sound art by Armeno Alberts, on Thursday September 26th, at 21h30.

PL “Phonophon” was produced for RESONANCE by Stichting Intro in situ in Maastricht, the Netherlands, with additional support from the Dutch Province of Limburg.
KUL The work was developed by Aernoudt Jacobs in collaboration with the Laboratorium voor Akoestiek en Thermische Fysica (Laboratory of Acoustics and Thermal Physics) of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Catholic University of Leuven).

‘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. ]

Resonance in Maastricht – 2nd edition

December 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

Like last year, also this December month in Maastricht Resonance will showcase a selection of the sound art works that were produced for the network. There are three of them, all hosted by the Jan van Eyck Academy, at the Academieplein 1. No more premieres, this time, as all eight works that were planned as part of this phase of the Resonance project, by now have been finalized. Still, for many visitors it will be a first encounter. And those that did see earlier installments of some or all of the works, will be able to investigate and experience how these pieces change and evolve from one space to the other.

The opening of this second edition of Resonance in Maastricht will take place on Friday December 9th, at 16h, at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht.

VeenendaalOn Sunday December 18th, as part of the Resonance in Maastricht events, Dutch pianist Albert van Veenendaal, who recently released a new solo CD, Minimal Damage, will perform a special prepared piano concert at the Jan Van Eyck Academy, at 17h.
Entrance for the exhibition, as well as for the concert, is free.

The pieces included in the exhibition, are those by Evelina Deicmane, Paul Devens and Maia Urstad.

Evelina Deicmane‘s A long Day premiered in Kunsthaus Meinblau in Berlin, last August, then travelled to Riga, where it was part of this autumn’s presentation of Resonance works by the network’s associated partner Skanu Mesz.

a long day

The second work on show this time in Maastricht, is City Chase, by native Maastricht sound artist Paul Devens. City Chase premiered at the Resonance presentation Sound City (De Klinkende Stad), as part of this year’s Festival of Flanders in Kortrijk, Belgium. Paul did a second presentation of the work in November in Krakow, Poland, at the Audio Art Festival 2011, another of the Resonance network’s associated partners. In this third installment of the work, Paul will chase and map the city of Maastricht, where he was born and raised, and has lived and worked ever since.

city chase

The third work to (re-)discover as part of the December Resonance presentation at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, is Maia Urstad’s “Meanwhile, in Shanghai …” which, like Paul Devens’ work, premiered at Sound City (De Klinkende Stad) in Kortrijk, Belgium. Also Maia Urstad did a second installment of her work this autumn in Riga. Here is a visual impression of “Meanwhile, in Shanghai …”, as it could be seen and heard earlier this year in Riga, the capital of Latvia …

city chase

Meanwhile at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, another bunch of transistor radio’s is deligently being installed for a third rendition of this fascinating, ethereal work, that, like the pieces by Evelina Deicmane and Paul Devens can be seen, heard and experienced all of this December month as part of the Resonance network’s showcase in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

city chase

This year’s edition of Resonance in Maastricht opens on December 9th, 16h, at the Jan van Eyck Academy, Academieplein 1, Maastricht (the Netherlands).
Albert van Veenendaal will perform a special prepared piano concert, on December 18th, 17h, also at the Jan van Eyck Academy.
The pieces by Evelina Deicmane, Paul Devens and Maia Urstad can be visited there every week from Wednesday until Sunday, between 11h and 17h, until December 30th (except on December 24th and 25th). Entrance is free.

In Maastricht, in Berlin; then on to Riga …

August 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

Maastricht was hit by stormy weather, with thunder, rain and lightning, and covered by at times frightingly thick and dark clouds, when early in the morning of Friday August 26th I arrived at the Bassin, and once again entered Stefan Rummel’s Articulated Chambers installation. It felt a little magic, indeed, to find that during the 3 months out there in open space, at the far end of the quay next to the Timmerfabriek, Stefan’s installation had remained in perfect working condition.

The only proof of the time that had passed since the installation’s inauguration in May was provided by a few little spiders that had woven webs in some of the chambers’ corners…


It was the very last time that I – and anybody else – could experience Stefan’s work in Maastricht: I had come to witness the dismantling of the installation, a little later that morning. Not an easy task, as you may imagine. But once again, Intro in situ’s technical staff did a truly admirable job.

dismantling dismantling

Paul and Michael disconnected the two chambers. Then a lift truck pulled the second one out of the water, and placed it on the quay, while I shot a bit of video, that I subsequently edited into the following short impression of Articulated Chambers’ dismantling.

Next week the dismantled Articulated Chambers will be transported to Riga, where Stefan is going to put them together again. There a second installment of the piece can be experienced, between Thursday September 15th and Sunday November 6th, 2011. In October no less than four more installations will join the Resonance presentation in Riga: Pierre Berthet’s Extended Drops, Esther Venrooy’s A Shadow of A Wall, Maia Urstad’s “Meanwhile, in Shanghai…” and Evelina Deicmane‘s A Long Day.

Evelina’s installation will travel to Riga from Berlin, where it is on show, until September 11th, at the Kunsthaus Meinblau. A Long Day is partially inspired by a Latvian myth about an underwater village. You can read more about the myth of the flying lake in the interview with Evelina that I did in Berlin, in June.

Here are two pictures of A Long Day, as it can be seen now in Berlin: mechanical swings with speakers sway above the heads of the visitors, who thus share the perspective of the submerged villagers as an old lady tells her version of the story of the flying lake …

a long day
a long day

[ Photos of ‘A Long Day’: © Roman März & Singuhr ]

Evelina Deicmane’s installation A Long Day can be visited in Berlin until September 11th from Wednesday till Sunday, between 14h and 20h. Long night: September 11th, until midight. Entrance is free.
Kunsthaus Meinblau.
Auf dem Pfefferberg, Haus 5
Christinenstraße 18-19
10119 BERLIN.
More information on RESONANCE in RIGA to follow soon …

Something you walk into, something that surrounds you

July 21, 2011 § 5 Comments

Stefan Rummel (currently residing in Berlin) was born in Nürnberg, Germany, where he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts. For the Resonance network Stefan created Articulated Chambers, a public space installation that can be heard-seen at the Bassin in Maastricht (the Netherlands) until the end of August. Next versions of the piece will be installed in Riga (Latvia) later this year, and in Kortrijk (Belgium) as part of next year’s edition of the Flanders Festival. An adapted (indoors & dry) version of the installation was part of the Extensions exhibition, from June 17th till July 17th 2011, in the Lydgalleriet in Bergen (Norway).

stefan rummel

As a student and graduate from a fine arts academy, Stefan, you have a firm background in the visual arts.

“I was at the painting department, and the professor was really a painter. But it was interesting, and we had a lot of different ideas in this class. He was very open for different media, and we did performances, photos… With another guy I got involved in Aktionskunst, and I got more and more interested in getting away from painting. I must say that this was partly also because I didn’t have so much ideas about using colors. I didn’t like colors so much. At the time I was more into gray and stuff. So I felt somehow that it was more interesting to open up a space, like one does with installations. What fascinates me about this, is that you walk into it. And when you do, you are kind of surrounded by the work… Which is also the case with sound installations.
For me that’s the best: when a work is somehow space related, when there is something that you walk into, that surrounds you. Or you surround the thing and the thing surrounds you. You have, like, something that you can look at, and you have something that you can listen to, and you have something that you can also touch. I think this is a very important way of making art.”

And from the very beginning, already back at the academy, you began incorporating sound in your work?

“Yes, I started with sound at that time. That is somehow how I came to installations. I also worked with photos and text. I was writing text on an old typewriter that I had bought in Poland. I had a scholarship, and then I didn’t really know what to do with it. I was a bit lost, actually. But then I found a second hand store, and I bought that typewriter. And I started writing. I mean … like: tzik, tzik, tzik, tzik! … I also used all these different kind of materials. I found some shelf, and I found other things. Then, after the academy, I had a solo exhibition in a gallery in Nürnberg, and I did a work, which was like a ‘work in progress’. There I put all these things. It was a bit like … the exhibition was not like a fixed thing, it changed in the course of the four weeks that it lasted. I worked with clay on the floor, and I built the shape of the Potsdammer Platz for example; and I put some silicon things; there were tapes, sounds… You can see some of it on my web site. It was called Prototypen, back in 1996… I liked this idea of installation very much.”

And you have been pursuing this ever since. Installations. With sound?

“Yes. With sound. Mostly with sound.”

Contrary to the other installations that up until now were produced for the Resonance project, you chose to create a piece outside, in public space.

“When I came to Maastricht I kept on thinking about what I could build there; something that could then go to the other cities of the network, and function there as well. The fact that a same work is re-made at different places, in a way establishes a link between these places. I then started thinking about what other things connect them. What do they have in common? This led me to the river. There is no river in Bergen, so the version of Articulated Chambers there was a bit different – I call it the ‘dry version’. But Maastricht, Riga, Kortrijk … they all have a river that runs through them.”

“Then I began wandering around Maastricht a lot, looking for spaces that in a way connect the river and the city. I found four places that I liked, and that I thought might be useful. Eventually we settled for the spot at the Bassin, at the far end of the quay lining the Timmerfabriek. I also thought that it would be good to have something where one could go inside, then go further a little bit, and then take a step onto the water.”

“The work that I did with Anja Gerecke last year at the MAMAM (Museu de Arte Moderna Aloisio Magalhães) in Recife, Brasil – Stadtphysis – was also related to the architecture that we found there. There was this row of columns, and we put some more. Also there was sound, and we built a box inside the other, and … It always depends on the space. First I walk around and have a look what spaces are interesting. And then I try to create something at home, at my desk. I make drawings on paper. When you see a space and its surroundings, you have the first idea. Sometimes later you will have more and other ideas, and so on … but very often that first idea is actually the one that you can go on with. I then develop this thing in my mind, with the drawings … with some text also, that I write down … Here in Maastricht I ended up working more with, say, a solid form. In fact it’s just the beginning of a form; a simple form, that relates to the buildings around the Bassin, like the big factory.”

stefan rummel

It thus came about that Stefan Rummel constructed two big wooden boxes at the Bassin in Maastricht, assisted by his companion Anja Gerecke and Stichting Intro’s tech wizz Paul Caron. The boxes are almost (but not quite) cubes. One of them (the black one) is placed on the ground, at the quay. The second box (the grey one) is floating on the water; like a raft, carried by pontoons. The two are connected by means of four metal hinges and a small wooden gangplank, that permits one to pass back and forth between the one and the other.

The construction at first view seems to suit its surroundings perfectly well. Casual passers-by will consider it an integral part of the industrial and commercial activities that surely are being developed in the other buildings lining the water. Some of them, however, might start to think about it, and wonder what then its purpose might be. The black part looks somewhat like a container. It could be used for storage, but then why is its front end wide open? And what is the connected, second, part, floating there on the water? Is it a construction used to transfer a certain type of goods from the quay onto cargo boats passing? Or is it some sort of a laboratory, that is used for biological and chemical experiments with and on the water? The part out on the water might remind some passers-by of a certain kind of public lavatories. But isn’t this is rather unlikely spot for such a thing? On the other hand, given the fact that the Bassin is an inner harbour (mainly) for pleasure boats, the construction might have a recreational function. Maybe it’s a changing cubicle, with a shower for swimmers? … Quite a fascinating puzzle, really … Unless one knows, like you and me, that ‘Art’ is its solution … 😉

One can enter the two rooms, which indeed are articulated chambers. The connecting part is flexible enough to cope with the undulations and changes in the water level. Its flexibility also gives visitors an impression of movement. Inside the boxes there are six small loudspeakers, that project a soundscape. Though also when you enter the installation, it may take a while before you become aware of the speakers and the sounds that they bring forth.

“I call the piece Articulated Chambers, because the two wooden cubes are like small chambers, connected by a flexible joint. But then I also had this idea about articulated joints, like the ones used for the harmonica busses, and sometimes for trams. Somehow also this has to do with this installation; there is an articulated joint. So that is why the piece is called like this. You have two chambers, and they are connected. And they are connected also with respect to the form, and with the inside and the outside…”

Does the part inside of the first chamber (the box inside the box) correspond in dimensions to the second chamber? So that the room that is floating on the water is like an echo, like a transposition, of the inside of the room that is standing on the quay? To me it looks like that.

“They are the same forms, but one is a little smaller. The idea was more of using somehow a similar form, and then just put it … the one side to the middle of … It is the middle of the box … and then you will see different … different shapes, when you come from the one side, or when you stand there, or there … First you see the half of this room, and then you will see … The perspective always changes, you will see it differently all the time.”

stefan rummel

It is late afternoon, the monday after this year’s Kunsttour weekend in Maastricht, which included Stefan’s Articulated Chambers as part of its sound art program. The Articulated Chambers stayed on, and have since been open for the public passing at the Maastricht Bassin, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The installation will remain there until the end of August. This continuous accessibility is a fascinating aspect of the work. Not only will different types of weather and the different light at different hours account for many different possible views of the work. The work will also always sound differently, because of the ever changing sounds of the city. This city soundscape surrounds the work, and becomes a part of it. At times the city will be loud and dense, at other moments it will be far more quiet, with soft and sparse, little pretty, sounds. These will mix with Stefan’s composed soundscape inside the boxes, that is always being played back at the same volume, irrespective of the loudness of the sounds that come whirling in from the outside.
The power needed for the playing back of the piece’s soundscape comes from solar cells, thus making the installation self-sustained: it supplies its own energy; also when the available daylight is less ‘energetic’ than that of the piercing sun, spreading all over the Bassin the afternoon that I spoke there with Stefan.

We are sitting inside the first of the two wooden rooms, the black one, and profit from the shadow and relative coolness inside. We hear how the sound of the traffic outside mingles with the sounds projected by four loudspeakers inside the black chamber, and – from a bit further – the sounds coming from the two speakers that are built into the smaller, grey, room, the one that is floating on the water.

“One of the speakers in the black room is pointing towards the entrance,” Stefan explains, “and one is pointing towards the little box. Then there are the other two, which are pointing from the little box to the wall; in that way I also play with the different reflections of the sound inside the box. There is little space, but you can put your head there. More or less. I like to do things that you need to find out. You will have to spend some time to discover the installation and that is also why I put the speakers – or hide the speakers – there between the two walls.”

So visitors should stay a while, when they come here and visit your Articulated Chambers.

“Yes. Which is also the reason why I put space between the recordings that I use. Sometimes all is silent. Or slowing down, and up…” Stefan points at different spots inside the two boxes. “You will have to go there, and then there,” he says. “I think one should spend something like, at least ten minutes. Or maybe even longer. When you’ve been here for, like, ten or fifteen minutes, then you will get some idea of what the form is of the piece, and of the sound… walking through this room, than into the little room, and…”

Could you tell a bit more about the sounds that you use for the soundscape? How did you go about selecting them? What, for example, are we listening to right now?

“What you hear now is the recording of the sound of an old cargo ship. I heard its sputtering engine when I was out sound hunting, riding on my bike here in Maastricht. I went after the boat, in the direction of Belgium, all the way until it came to a halt inside a big lock, and the sputtering gradually slowed down. That was an amazing sound experience.”

How long have you been recording to collect all the material? Did you record continuously, while you were in Maastricht? Or just during certain periods? Did you record every day a bit, or did you do all the recordings in one long stretch?

“No, I do not do long stretches of recording. That is also why I don’t really talk about them as ‘field recordings’. I prefer to just speak about my ‘recordings for the installation’. They are my ‘installation recordings’. I usually make recordings that last no longer than about five minutes. In Maastricht I mostly recorded in the outskirts of town. Near the cement factory, for example. What I was looking for, were industrial sounds, mechanical sounds. Maastricht of course is a relatively quiet town. There is no subway, and there just are not so many things like that. So I had to go out, to where I could find sounds that are made by mechanical constructions. I liked a lot the sounds that were caused by the repairs of the old Saint Servatius bridge that were going on. There was this temporary iron road surface, on the part of the bridge that makes different levels for the boats. When you passed over it with the bike, or on foot, it went … djoe , djoe , djoe! … And meanwhile underneath the iron surface you could hear the hisses and sizzles of the ongoing welding. These types of sound interest me far more than the sound of people sitting in a café or dining in a restaurant. For the piece, I put several parts of the recordings that I did together; I always like to put small things together …”

stefan rummel

“So, as far as the sound is concerned, the set-up is quite simple. With this kind of installation I like to keep things very simple. These are simple recordings. But of course I do manipulate them electronically, on the computer, somehow.”

In what ways?

“Oh, just with a simple sound processing program. Whatever I need. I do not have so many filters or effects. It is more for putting things together, making it coherent; cutting the pieces, lining them up, mixing them. What I also very much like, is that when I make recordings, there always are, like, mistakes; in the recordings, or in the producing or whatever.”

What do you mean by ‘mistakes’?

“Often things are too loud, or… I also like to take a very close up look at a track on the computer, and then find little wrong things in it. These parts I then take to work on. So, in the end, all of course is mainly made digitally. But I still find it important to take the sound that is surrounding us as a starting point.”

You use several tracks, each of a slightly different length. And each is playing back as a loop, so that their ‘sounding together’ will be perceived as changing all of the time. But is there something that characterizes the different tracks? How does, for example, the track in the ‘water room’ relate to the tracks in the ‘land room’?

“Each track has a length of about ten minutes, but the precise lengths are slightly different. And each track has, like, its own soul. They also all have pauses. I wanted there to be quite a bit of silence. And I actually not only used recordings that I made here in Maastricht. Because in each new piece I always also use sounds from older exhibitions. Not complete tracks; but some small bits and pieces. Bits that I like, and that I think makes sense to use in the new installation. I make these little ‘rappels’, in order to somehow connect the older work to the new one.”

Everybody will surely agree that Articulated Chambers very nicely fits the surroundings at the Bassin, even though (or is it because?) it appears to be something of a visual paradox. It says: “Oh yes, this is where I belong!” but at the same time asks: “What the hell am I doing here?” I could easily imagine the work to be permanently installed here – especially given the cultural destination of the area and the Timmerfabriek building. What are your thoughts on that?

“I guess it could be permanent. But if it were, I would build it differently. I then probably also would not construct it myself. And a permanent version would also need other materials, I think.”

How important is the material for this work? The fact that it is made out of wood?

“Well, if I made it out of – say – metal, the sound would change. So that might then in turn influence the way in which I conceive the soundscape. Or the way in which I play back the recordings. Also, when made out of metal, the feeling of the piece obviously will be very different. So I do not know, really. It depends …”

stefan rummel

We sit quietly in the black room for a while. We smoke a cigarette, and listen to the sounds that are coming from the speakers in the black box, mingling with the sounds of the buses, trucks and motorcycles that are passing outside, as well as with the occasional slow, rhythmic squeaking and crackling of the hinges and gangplank connecting the gray and the black room. I hear the ringing of bicycle bells. At some point I also hear the faraway singing of birds. But were these birds singing outside of the Articulated Chambers, or did their song come from the inside, as a part of Stefan’s sound scape?

It will be interesting to see how Articulated Chambers will fare, throughout this summer out here in the open in Maastricht. Maybe some passers-by will find it makes a pretty good spot to spend the night. What would you say if some morning you’d arrive here, and find someone sleeping inside your work?

“I don’t know. I mean, if someone sleeps here… I don’t know … I’m not against it… I mean… If the person leaves it like it is, maybe it’s OK. I think the question is more what the people who take care of the Bassin will make of this. They seem to want very much to keep the area ‘clean’, so I imagine they will not like it when someone takes up sleeping in here. I think they would put an end to that. Rather quickly, I’m afraid.”

Stefan Rummel’s Articulated Chambers can be seen, heard and felt, day and night, 7 days a week, at the Bassin in Maastricht, until the end of August 2011. Go there, discover, feel, listen, see-hear, hear-see and enjoy!

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