Stefan Rummel – Articulated Chambers, in Maastricht and Bergen

June 17, 2011 § 4 Comments

There was no official opening…

Stefan Rummel’s Articulated Chambers suddenly were there. Or so it seemed.
The installation by the German sound artist is the first Resonance installation that was constructed and set up, not inside, but outside: in public space. You may continue to find it over the next couple of months at the Bassin in Maastricht, at the far end of the quay lining the Timmerfabriek, where the connected chambers have been standing at least since the first day of the twelfth Kunsttour, that took place in the capital of the Dutch province of Limburg on May 28th and 29th.

But had they not been there already before?

articulated chambers

The two big wooden boxes that Stefan constructed in Maastricht, one black and one gray, fit in very nicely with the industrial buildings that are boarding the small port. One might think them part of some construction work or other, that is going on there. Or they could be containers of some sort, with merchandise that needs to be shifted on board of a boat, that probably will pass any minute now…

Only upon closer inspection visitors and passers-by will come to realize that, contrary to appearance, there is no obvious industrial function that comes with the two wooden structures, one of which is posed upon land, while the other, connected to it via a passage that is like a little bridge, is floating on the water. They probably will wonder what these might be, and only then become aware of the sounds that coming floating from inside. Sounds that blend with the sounds from the environment, but – again – are just that little bit different …

articulated chambers

For his Resonance installation Stefan Rummel was inspired by one obvious thing the different cities that will host the work have in common: there is a river running through each of them, and, in a way, his piece connects the city’s land with the city’s water. You can read much more on the construction of Articulated Chambers, and Stefan Rummel’s other works, in an upcoming extensive interview with the artist, soon here on the Resonance blog.

Articulated Chambers will remain at the Maastricht Bassin, until the end of August. The sound installation, which is solar cell powered, can be visited and experienced there, out in the open, be rain or be it shine, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, next to the Timmerfabriek, which this year, from June 25th until December 18th, is meant to become the ‘biggest temporary European art museum’: Out of Storage will show, for almost half a year, hundreds of works from the collection of the French Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain (FRAC) Nord-Pas de Calais (by artists like Pawel Althamer, Superflex, Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt, Vito Acconci, Christian Boltanski, as well as Hedi Slimane, Atelier van Lieshout, Barbara Visser, Claire Fontaine and Liam Gillick) in Maastricht. This prestigious, European, project was initiated by Guus Beumer (Marres, Center for Contemporary culture in Maastricht), and curated by Hide Teerlinck (FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais).

It makes for an interesting coincidence and opportunity indeed: curious visitors that come to see the flood of art inside the Timmerfabriek, outside the building (on its parking lot, as it were) will be able to stumble upon Stefan’s installation: a little oasis of sound art, that they may enter, experience and reflect upon, when coming ‘out of storage’.

articulated chambers

Meanwhile in Bergen, Norway, Stefan Rummel made a second version of the Articulated Chambers. It is part of Extensions, a sound art exhibition at the Lydgalleriet curated by Carsten Seiffarth. Extensions will be showing Alvin Lucier’s classic piece Music on a Long Thin Wire, as well as sound installations by Resonance artists Pierre Berthet and Stefan Rummel. Pierre presents his Extended Speakers, one of the components of his Resonance piece Extended Drops.
The Bergen version of Stefan Rummel’s Articulated Chambers is, as he puts it, the ‘dry version’. In Bergen the piece has been set up inside the gallery space, and the second of the two chambers is not floating in the water. Also in this version, though, it is movable, as Stefan has placed the second box on metal springs.

stefan bergen

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.
The Extensions sound art exhibition in Bergen, Norway, opens on June 17th, and can visited there until July 17th.
Out of Storage, in the Timmerfabriek in Maastricht, opens on June 25th. It stays until December 18th.

The Human Measure

April 29, 2011 § 5 Comments

Paul Devens on essentials, control, dead kittens and sound mapping the city of Kortrijk.

City Chase is the title of a new Resonance installation produced for the upcoming Festival van Vlaanderen in Kortrijk, Belgium (from May 5th until May 22nd) by Dutch sound artist Paul Devens. I visited Paul in his little white home, a bit outside the center of Maastricht, at the border of the Caberg neighborhood. It was a very sunny day in March. The weather had decided to settle for spring. Paul had just returned to base, after several weeks of travel that took him to the east: to the Estonian city of Tallinn (one of this year’s European Capitals of Culture); and to the west: to Brooklyn, New York. In Tallinn he performed at the radio art festival Radiaator. In Brooklyn, Michael J. Schumacher’s Diapason Gallery showed his Probe, a site specific work developed especially for the exposition space of Diapason. It was on show there in March.

Paul and I have quite a few things common. Both of us were born and raised in the Dutch city of Maastricht. And when we were young, we both were fascinated by the many small wonders of technology that surrounded us. Paul told me how as a kid he used to take radio’s apart, put them back together again, while attempting to find out what would happen if on the way one changes something here or there. I used to be a pretty fanatic young de-constructor as well, with a liking, also for radios and other things electric, but very specifically for mechanical clocks. Contrary to Paul, though, I have little remembrance of ever having succeeded in even approximately putting back together again the collections of loose parts that were the result of my pre-teen deconstructive efforts.
So that then is a difference.
It might explain the fact that eventually I left Maastricth, while Paul stayed.
Which is another difference.
Paul Devens has been living, studying, researching and working in Maastricht until this very day.

“When I entered art school,“ he said, “this technical bricolage gradually became less haphazard. It took on a more focused form. It was also in art school that I became interested in the peculiarities and possibilities of ‘sound’. I embarked upon the artistic research that I pursue until this very day, in which research into ‘the sound itself’ became more and more central. This then led me to create installation pieces, even though I started out as a painter. But already for my graduation work, though, I did installations that make sound.”

Several of Paul Devens’ recent works, such as Panels or Probe, investigate and re-sound specific locations and the corresponding architecture by means of the sound of the space itself, often using audio feedback as sound material. Both also involve meticulously produced and well thought out electro-mechanical devices, that impress by their effectiveness and (apparent) simplicity. Panels, as you may remember, was pretty large, while Probe is relatively small. But both witness Paul’s keen eye for materials and his love for construction, in the broadest sense of the term.


“For ‘Probe’ I asked Michael to send me an architectural drawing of the space where the installation was to be,” Paul explained. “I then used that drawing to make a 3D model of the space in Google SketchUp. As I could not just hop over to Brooklyn to have a look, this virtual model enabled me to get a first feeling for the circumstances as I would find them there. I then had a physical scale model made of the space. The real space has a length of about 20 meters. The model is about 50 centimeters long. It was made in stainless steel. With a waterjet the doors, windows and pillars were cut out, and then bead blasting was used to get a specific surface texture. More than a maquette, I wanted it to emanate a certain functionality. To have it look like a little machine.”

It is also a sculpture.

“Yes, it is a sculpture, of course. A replica of the space. And for the installation at the gallery, I placed this replica of the space inside the space itself. It is partially filled with water, and a probe is moving through the model, like someone erring through the real space. Six spots on the bottom of the model correspond to six fixed loudspeakers in the gallery, and whenever the probe comes near one of the spots, you will hear the sound coming from the corresponding spot in the gallery. You can see how it works in this short video.”

“As you see, the model thus acts as a potentiometer which uses the conductivity properties of the water, for the panning of the sound, its division among the six loudspeakers.”

You once told me that, when it comes to sound and sound art, you see yourself as ‘a purist’: when you create a work for a specific space, you try to reveal the sonic properties, the sound of the space, and its relation to the specific architecture, the materials and the geometry. In doing so, you avoid adding or imposing whatever accessory or incidental sound events in the process.

“Yes. Even though it regularly happens that I am tempted to also consider the esthetics in and by itself as a point of departure, I have until now always managed to restrain myself in that respect. Like in Probe, or in Panels, I work with little else but the Larsen effects of a space, with audio feedback. It is of course true, that the feedback of a microphone placed at a certain distance from a loudspeaker in a room can be rather unpleasant to listen to. So I could make it more agreeable to the ear by adding harmonies, by using techniques like, for example, pitch shifting. But I do not do that, because in the end this is little more than decoration, without conceptual connection to the piece itself. It is possible that this makes some of my works somewhat hermetic. Maybe. But it does assure that everything fits, which I find essential. Because that is how I think I can achieve the broadest possible artistic range. For me this is a necessity, as I want avoid at all cost that a work in the end is little more than a first encounter, a mere gimmick. It should be coherent, in all of its aspects. It is this internal coherence that emanates a strong interrelation and interaction with all that what one sees and what one hears. I want to be very strict about this.”

The work becomes, let’s say: ‘pretty’, because you avoid trying to make it seem prettier than it really is… Does this approach make your work ‘abstract’? Or is it, on the contrary, very ‘concrete’?

“What would you say is ‘abstract’ about it? I often hear people use that term in relation to my work: ‘abstract’. But I don’t know …”

‘Abstract’ maybe in the sense that you keep things bare. The materials are bare, the sounds are bare. You strip it all down to the essentials, and do not add something like a ‘narrative layer’, a ‘story. You see what you see, you hear what you hear…?

“But is that ‘abstract’? Is it ‘concrete’? As far as I see it, there always is a ‘story’. A very clear story, even. An evident one. No, I feel pretty uncomfortable with all of these terms: ‘abstract’, ‘concrete’, ‘figurative’… A work results from a certain conditionality, that is based on a given reality. This conditionality represents the reality, ‘the way that things are’, in a situation that transforms, with and by the work. This enables one to see, to experience, that piece of reality (a given space) in a different manner. In order to achieve this I probably do apply strategies that can be associated with terms like ‘abstract’, ‘concrete’ or whatever; strategies that I put to work depending on their functionality, in certain circumstances, at certain times. In other situations I may find a certain narrative envelope, or social-cultural facts that are related to the place, of utmost importance for the production of a work.”

The installation in Kortrijk also will be different in this respect. Your point of departure is a different type of space.

“Yes. In City Chase it is not so much the given room for the exhibition (which in Kortrijk is the topfloor of the Budatoren) that I take as my point of departure, but the space of the city itself. The idea is to create a ‘city sound scape’ by applying – to use a fashionable term – a mapping technique: I will be mapping the city. The sound material consists in field recordings that I will make in the streets of different parts of Kortrijk at the end of April. I will go to different areas, with different sonic characteristics, and put together a collection of recordings that will constitute a cross-section of the many different sounds that can be heard there: sounds in residential areas, in the more industrial areas, shopping areas, and so on. But I will not record these snippets of the city sound scape by going to different places, then placing myself here and there, put down my digital recorder and then statically record. What I aim for are recordings with a strong dynamic component, in the sense that there is no ‘focus’ to the recording. There is no static, single ‘point of hear’, no fixed spot for the listener. For this, I will record the city while riding on a bicycle.”

Riding the bicycle through the city will by itself already be an impressive & dynamic sonic event. There might be a lot of wind, also… I guess you’ll have to limit your speed…?

“Well, I just got my ‘dead kitten’… I will use a double protection: inside the ‘dead kitten’ there is another windshield. I hope that will do to minimize the noise of the wind in the microphone. I’ll have to see for that. I just received it, so I did not yet try it out. With these recordings I then will compile a library of fragments of the sound of the city.”


“This library of dynamic, unfocused, city sound recordings is the material for a four channel composition. There will be four voices. And each of the voices is linked to the installation, via a computer. The installation itself consists in a long, self-supporting wall, that is now being built, and that I will position within the space in the Budatoren. Along the wall, at a little distance, there is a range of benches that visitors can sit upon and listen. Onto the wall four metal rails have been mounted horizontally. Each of these serves as the track for a little motorized wagon – a little gondola, a ‘gondolette’ – on which a small loudspeaker has been mounted. These gondolettes can move along the full length of the wall, in both directions. Each loudspeaker corresponds to one of the four sound tracks; each is one of the voices. The installation is variable in size. It is conceived in a modular way, put together from a number of identical parts. So I can adapt it to the size of the available space. In Kortrijk I will use the full length; that is about 10 meters. In other spaces it will be possible to use different lenghts, down to 2 meters. And then of course whatever there is in between.”


For next installments of City Chase, like in Bergen or in Maastricht, will you replace the Kortrijk library with another library of sounds, recorded in the corresponding city? Will the sound part be specific to each of the different cities?

“No, I want City Chase to evolve with each subsequent version. It will grow as it goes from town to town. So in each of the next cities that will host the installation, I will not replace the sounds, but add new recordings to the library of sounds.”

And how are the movements of the gondolettes determined? What will make the little speakers move the way they move?

“The gondolettes will move when there is sound on their track; they move as soon as they have a voice. When there is no sound, they don’t move.”


How do they move? What will make them move in the one, rather than in the other direction?

“That will be a matter of choreography. I am going to compose the movements: when a little wagon will move, in which direction it will go, whether it will go fast or go slow… This I will program, so eventually the choreography will be a fixed thing. I really want to determine this, and not leave it up to chance, or some algorithm or other. Because, as I see it, not all movements will be equally good. An algorithm would reduce the choreography to a set of mere mathematical relations. That I do not want. I want to stay in control.”

“In the very end, in all of this, it is the human size that matters. The human measure. Are things bigger than you are? Or are they smaller? And these questions in turn, of course, eventually also evoke a relation with ‘power’.
Who is it, that is in charge?”

The Festival van Vlaanderen Kortrijk 2011 takes place in Kortrijk, Belgium, between May 5th and 22nd. Sound City (Klinkende Stad) is the title of the Resonance exhibition (with sound installations by Pierre Berthet, Esther Venrooy, Paul Devens and Maia Urstad) that is part of the Festival. The exhibition’s opening (in the Budatoren, Korte Kapucijnenstraat), will take place on Saturday May 7th.

Sound/Spaces in, and of, art

February 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

For the official finissage on sunday January 30th that wrapped up nearly two months of Resonance in Maastricht, Stichting Intro in situ invited Peter Kiefer. The German sound artist and scholar presented his book Klangräume der Kunst (Sound spaces of art) in the Selexyz bookstore in the Dominicanen church. Kiefer (who originally is from Aachen in Germany, some 30 kilometers from Maastricht) is a classically trained percussionist and composer. He has been working as a sound artist for nearly 20 years. Kiefer taught for 15 years at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, where he set up the sound lab. Currently he is teaching at the University in Mainz, which has a college of music.

“In Cologne I was bringing music into new media. In Mainz I bring technology and new media into music,” Peter told us. “Since 2010 Mainz University has a master program in sound art composition, which is the first studies focused exclusively on sound art at a college of music in Germany.”


Klangräume der Kunst appeared in May 2010. It looks and feels like a bible or similar holy book. The work has nearly 400 pages, weighs more than 3 pounds, comes with a DVD that has over 1,5 hours of video and sound material. And – not very usual for a work focusing on the art of sound – there are near to 300 images in it.

“One of the notable differences between sound and the visual is that one perceives sounds unconsciously. That is because sound touches much more our emotions,” Kiefer explained. “Our listening is connected to the eldest brain part. It is an organ for alerting, a sense for alerting us. That is why you cannot close your ears. It is a warning sense, which creates a social space. If you sit in a cinema, watching a movie and you just have a look at your mobile phone, nobody will be disturbed. But if the mobile phone is ringing the people around you will get very annoyed. Because the sound is creating a social space. That makes sounds very different from images. We are continuously living inside a soundscape. Sound is created in space, and the way in which our brain locates sound within the space is very complicated. There is a horizontal level, left, right. Then the next level is up and down. And then, is it in front of you or in the back? On the neurological level one actually finds that the brain already knows where the sound comes from before you get aware that you are hearing it.”

Klangräume der Kunst found its origin in an exhibition that Peter Kiefer curated in Cologne in the summer of 2004. Klangraum/Raumklangbook cover started out as a quest for a possible – or impossible – museum of sounds, and came with a two day expert meeting and symposium on sound art.
“The symposium was very well received and it is an academic tradition that such a symposium is documented in a book: the symposium book. Usually that means a lot of text on a great many pages that take quite a bit of persistence to go and read through. I also experienced that the research in sound art, basically, came from musicology, which makes it difficult to explain to curators, which are often exclusively concentrating on the visual arts,” Peter said. “I therefore decided to make a book that would be more than just a report of the symposium, but which includes many other aspects and which has a lot of examples: visual examples. I think of sound art really as a combination of sound and (visual) art. It therefore should be placed also within the theoretical frameworks used by those working within the visual arts. This then really started my ongoing research into the relation between art and space and sound, and the uncovering of a lot of interesting examples, which show that already since thousands of years sound and image have been thought of as one union.”


More than just looking at sound art’s ways of melting sound and vision, Klangräume der Kunst thoroughly investigates different ways in which sound relates to space. Space of course is the ‘container of reality’: it provides a stage for all that we hear and for all that we see. The bulk of the 20 articles by 19 different authors that together make the book, cover the wide and varied ways in which sound determines space, and space is shaping sound. The complex and multifaceted relation of space and sound indeed is central to Peter Kiefer’s view on sound art. Klangräume der Kunst offers a useful, a practical, framework for discussing a great many, though obviously not all, works that generally are classified as ‘sound art’, without attempting to tie them down within a rigid, a for-once-and-for-all, theoretical construction. The view is kaleidoscopic. Reading the book, one is led through architectural sound spaces, musical sound spaces, museal sound spaces, public sound spaces and virtual (media) sound spaces, via a varied collection of fascinating historical examples (several of which were new to me), extensive descriptions of a number of recent works, many pictures, interviews, artists’ descriptions of and reflections on their work, and a number of more general theoretical and philosophical ponderings.

Most curious among the many contributions is Martin Carlé’s dia-lyrical report of an expedition that in the autumn of 2003 set out to Li Galli (also known as Le Sirenuse), an archipelago of little islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, the largest of which has the form of a whale. A research team (comprising among others a media-philosopher, a conductor, a biologist specializing in animal sounds and a musicologist) took opera singers and amplifiers to the islands as their tools for an experiment in acoustic archaeology, aiming to re-construct the sound of Homer’s Sirens as it might have been heard by the blind bard’s sailing hero. Though for me, even on repeated reading, the precise results of this acoustic excavation remain hidden somewhere between the Pythagorean comma’s in the article’s whirling and near to never-ending German sentences, this is a fascinating paper. If nothing else, it managed to make me re-think these phrases from James Joyce’s book of the Sirens (the 11th episode of Ulysses), which is so brimful of musics and sounds: “The sea they think they hear. Singing. A roar. The blood is it. Souse in the ear sometimes. Well, it’s a sea. Corpuscle islands.”


As sound waves unfold and propagate through one space or another, when hearing the sounds we always experience a passing of time. Sound of course is intimately linked to both space and time. Peter Kiefer refers to these as the ‘Einstein parameters’ of sound. Projecting the four physical dimensions onto a two dimensional space-time grid provides an interesting means to intuitively position specific works involving sounds with respect to the weight given to the respective ‘coordinates’.
“Music compositions will be positioned primarily along the time-axis,” Kiefer explained. “They start, and they have an end: these are what we call ‘musical pieces’. Sound space compositions will be primarily positioned along the space-axis: you can walk in and walk out, there is no end and no beginning. As a listener you may yourself decide what are the bounds. In the lower left corner we place ‘signals’: very short sounds, with nearly no time or space. And in the upper right corner we would put, for example, surround music compositions: music which also involves space in its compositional process. Now basically all works of sound art can be positioned somewhere in this plane, between sound space composition and surround music composition.”

Time was flying that afternoon in the vast, old space of the Dominicanen church in Maastricht, where Peter took us on a dazzling tour of the many subjects and sound works discussed in Klangräume der Kunst. We heard music written for the Cologne town house carillon, Jens Brand explaining his Global Player (which uses the live-data of satellites in order to play back the earth’s surface as if it were a CD) and Christina Kubisch talking about her Electrical Walks (sounding the city and other public spaces via the omnipresent electromagnetic fields). We learned how thinking about sound spaces in architecture appears to be something of a forgotten knowledge, as witnessed for example by the acoustical vases that were used to manipulate the sound in churches and the brass vases that funcioned like amplifiers in amphitheaters, and that we only know about through written accounts of the different phases in sound construction in Greek theaters. We visited whispering galleries, saw how kings used the simple physical properties of the reflection and propagation of sound to eavesdrop on their guests, and learned that the very first transmissions of the live sound of concerts and performances (in 1881 in Paris) were, as a matter of fact, stereophonic.


Based upon a more abstract aesthetics are Xenakis’ architecture and music, derived from mathematical forms like the hyperbolic paraboloid. But also Traverse Frequenz, one of Peter Kiefer’s own works, an installation inside the Deutzer Brücke, a bridge in Cologne. In differently sized spaces within the concrete bridge he placed large wooden resonance sculptures, with a microphone inside. “The resonance frequency of the bridge is about 2.8 Hz,” Peter said. “You cannot hear it, but of course it is creating overtones and it’s creating octaves. The microphone is recording all the time the sounds which are resonating in the wooden resonating chamber inside the huge concrete resonance chamber of the bridge. If there would be no noise, you would hear nothing at all. But it is a bridge. There are cars going over, there are electric trams going over, which are continuously making sounds. These are then recorded and played back by speakers inside the bridge. This creates something like a feedback, which is only correlated to the dimensions of the space. It is creating a standing wave. That means that the wave in the space will have valleys: silent knots. And if you walk through the space, at some places you hear really nothing of the sound. But at other spots you will hear a very, very deep and impressive noise. It really sent a shiver through your entire body, and a lot of people had to walk out because they couldn’t stand it…”

Yes. Sound is physical. It not only acts on one’s brain. Sound acts on the whole of one’s body. This is why even the most abstract of music and sound art is able to (and should) evoke direct and intuitive reactions from whoever is present in its ‘sounding space’ to hear. This is not always, or merely, a matter of loudness or volume. One of the works that was part of Klangraum/Raumklang, the sound art exhibition in Cologne that was the basis for Klangräume der Kunst, was by Thomas Ankersmit. It was called Inverse. “In this piece Thomas was working only with the space,” Peter Kiefer told us. “He had just put a microphone in a space of a gallery. And then there was a computer system that was reversing the time. So this installation was a very pure installation. There was not really a lot to see and it was quite intellectual to grasp what precisely was going on there. At the end of the show, we had organized a small breakfast at the gallery on sunday morning. The people were sitting at the front, and the installation was running in the back. Now someone had brought a dog, and this dog was running in the space. He was barking, like wroe-wroe-wroe-wroe-wroefff. And when he did, of course he heard fffeorw-eorw-eorw-eorw-eorw. Backwards. Because Thomas Ankersmit’s installation was reversing the time. Now at first the dog was running completely like crazy, because he could not understand what was going on. But at some point, he suddenly got it. And he was going back and started to play with the time-reversed echo of his own barks. He was barking, listening, running out, going back again…”

Remembering the performing dog on that sunday morning in Cologne, almost seven years ago, brought a broad smile upon Peter’s face. “So, there you see,” he said. “The installation may have seemed to be something pretty much intellectual, but if even a dog can understand it, then the audience should have no problems at all…”

Peter Kiefer (editor) – Klangräume der Kunst. Texts by Barbara Barthelmes, Helga de la Motte-Haber, Volker Straebel, Marc Crunelle, Michael Harenberg, Wulf Herzogenrath, Paul de Marinis et al. (in German). With DVD. Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg 2010. ISBN 978-3-936636-80-2.

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…

The Bells are the Sound of the City

January 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

A visit to the city carillon of Maastricht with Esther Venrooy and city carilloneur Frank Steijns

One of the interesting aspects of Esther Venrooy and Ema Bonifacic’s installation A Shadow of A Wall is that the relatively soft and slowly changing and shifting field of sounds that Esther created, will combine with the sounds of the city that come floating in from outside. In order to emphasize that side of the work, Esther had agreed with Maastricht’s city carillonneur Frank Steijns to try and arrange for a number of specially created melodies to be played regularly on the carillon of the Maastricht town hall, maybe not all the time, but at least for a part of the duration of the Resonance exposition in the workspace of Intro in situ. That of course was a wonderful idea, for indeed, as Esther explained to the visitors of the Café In situ evening in Maastricht on Tuesday January 18th, those bells are the sound of the city.

Earlier that same day, Frank took Esther and me all way up into the town hall’s belfry, to visit the carillon and explain us all about that wonderful instrument and its history.

bell tower

We passed via the town hall’s attic and from there climbed ever steeper 17th century wooden ladders, higher and higher, all the way to the open, windy and rainy top where one can find the bells. The oldest among these were among the last bells founded by the legendary Hemony brothers.

At successive stages of our ascent we came across ever more modern mechanisms for the automatization of the chiming of the bells, with hammers to strike the bells on the outside. The automatic chiming has been applied in Maastricht since 1910. From that year stems the enormous solid brass drum, the speeltrommel, made by the Dutch bell founders firm Eijsbouts.


Melodies are programmed, like on the old music boxes, by setting pins on the drum, which will begin to rotate when the drum-weight is released by the tower clock. Via a system of levers and wires, each of the pins will lift a hammer, which then falls back on the sound bow of the bells as soon as the pin has passed. (Here is a link to a detailed description of the mechanism.)

The speeltrommel was last used in 1962, by Frank’s father, who was Maastricht’s city carillionneur from 1952 until 1997. In that year his son took over. As Frank explained, the position of city carillionneur often, and still, is filled by successive generations of a same family. His father at the time succeeded five generations of another Maastricht family of stadsbeiaardiers. The speeltrommel mechanism was abandoned almost fifty years ago, mainly because of the resonance (in the big entrance hall just below) of the noise produced by the rotating drum. Frank Steijns, however, intends to have the mechanism restored. If all goes according to plan, the speeltrommel should be in working order again in 2012. Due to the mechanics involved, Frank told us, the sound of course is quite different from that obtained via the current automatic playing by means of a computer interface. The idea is to then use the speeltrommel in the evening, when in the town hall below no one will be bothered by the reverberation of the grinding sounds produced by the turning of the heavy brass drum. (You may imagine, though, that personally I am much looking forward to go there one evening with Frank in order to listen to and record precisely that sound…)

One level up we came upon yet another abandoned system for automatic chiming of the bells, also produced and installed by Eijsbouts, with – as Esther obseved – a very 1970s-like look, reminiscent of the futuristic machines we all love and know from watching too much science fiction and too many Dr. Who’s.


This one, a bandspeelwerk, is an electric relay system, operated by a broad white plastic tape in which holes have been punched, much like the book organs used for the playing of mechanical street organs. The holes here, however, are all of the same size, as the bells need just to be hit: there is no sustain, other than their resonating until being hit again.

This part of the town hall’s belfry looked as if it also served as the municipal dovecot. Which of course might be a thing of great value, as pigeons could provide the last possible reliable means of communication when in time of local, national or global disaster all other means fail. The pigeons responsible for the mess, however, were not civil servants, but mere squatters, that last summer invaded the tower, though no one actually has been able to find out how and where they managed to get in. Their presence accounts for the deplorable state of the nice little machine that is used to punch the holes in order to produce the tapes that are used to operate the bandspeelwerk.


Also the bandspeelwerk is not operational. There are also no plans to restore it, Frank told us. Not only would it be very costly to restore and then maintain, but also, in fact, each of the automatized systems uses a separate set of hammers to play the bells. Three sets indeed might be overdoing things somewhat, though I could not help getting pretty excited when I imagined the possibilities that having them opens up for a music that uses the three separate mechanisms to play the bells in three independent but simultaneous voices, and then add a manual part as a fourth voice on top…

We passed another level (where four perpendicular metal axes parting from the room’s center operate the clocks that are on the four sides of the tower) and then, from the outside came through a door in the tiny room with the carillon’s baton keyboard (the stokkenklavier), from which one more ladder leads up to the bells.

Frank Steijns

Up in the ‘control room’ Frank and Esther discussed the sounds and melodies to be played each quarter hour between 8 am and 10 pm, as part of the final week of the exposition of “A Shadow of A Wall” at Stichting Intro in situ. For this, Esther had determined five central notes, based upon the dimensions of the wooden panels used in the installation. She had written them down on the first page of a small note book, that she put on the carillon keyboard’s music stand: cis-4, cis-5, d-6 (approximately), ais-5 and cis-3.

Frank and Esther

Frank then played around a bit with these notes, by hitting the corresponding batons of the keyboard. He improvised and showed a number of possible ways of playing them, in the original sequence, or as a transposed one, with or without more or less quick arpeggio’s, simulating glissandi from one cis or fis to another… I am pretty sure that out in the city people looked up and wondered about the curious patterns of sound that suddenly came chiming down from the town hall’s belfry. It was a short foretaste of what the city would sound like every fifteen minutes on the days later this month, when the carillon would become a part of “A Shadow of A Wall”.

Of course Frank himself will not be up there every day of the week from 8 am till 10 pm, to play these melodic patterns manually. The playing will be done automatic, applying the mechanism for automatic chiming that is currently in use: a computer interface, built and maintained by bell founders Petit & Fritsen, who also provided (in 1997) the most recent bells that were added to the carillon, which currently counts 49 bells.


At the very end of our little excursion, however, it turned out there was a catch. When Frank tried to get the computer to actually play the carillon, it didn’t work. Even more so, the carillon most probably had not been playing for quite a while already. Something must have gone very wrong during the recent period of pretty low temperatures, when the hammers froze stuck, and the electronic interface continued to try to get them to play. We later learned that it would take at least four weeks before the interface can be repaired and put back in working order. Until that time the city of Maastricht will have to live without the sound if its bells. It also means that, unfortunately, there will be no quarterly melodic signals coming from the town hall carillon, to complement the sounds of “A Shadow of A Wall” for the final part of the exhibition at Stichting Intro in situ…

That’s a great pity.
Mais l’idée est bonne!
There will be other cities. The next installment of “A Shadow of A Wall” will be later this year in Kortrijk, Belgium.

There is a fine carillon also in Kortrijk.

Esther Venrooy‘s and Pierre Berthet‘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,-.
On Sunday January 30th Peter Kiefer will talk about sound art and his recent book Klangräme der Kunst (Sound spaces of art), at Bookshop Selexyz, Dominicanenkerk, Maastricht. 13h30. After Peter’s talk all are invited to come over to the Intro in situ workspace for a drink and to visit the Resonance exposition.

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