Ephemeral Sustainability 2 – Curating, Presenting, Writing

January 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

This is the 2nd in a series of reports on Ephemeral Sustainability, a conference about presenting, collecting and archiving sound based contemporary art, co-organized by the RESONANCE Network and the Lydgalleriet in Bergen, Norway, curated by Carsten Seiffarth & Jørgen Larsson. It all happened on the first three days of November 2012…

[ 1st day: Sound Art ]

Ephemeral Sustainability took place only days after Sandy, the hurricane-that-became-a-tropical-storm, hit the American East coast hard. In the after-disaster confusion, with airports closed and thousands of in- and outbound flights being cancelled, some (though not all) of the American participants had, quite understandably, thought it wiser to stay at home instead of to try and embark on a Norwegian adventure.

Was it a coincidence that they were both called Seth?

Friday, November 2nd 2012

In Towards small events – the second lecture of the conference’s second day – Nicole Gingras (a researcher, author and curator from Montreal, Canada) presented two case studies from her practice as a curator: Distance, a 2009 presentation in Montreal of work by Rolf Julius, and the exhibition Raymond Gervais 3 x 1, which provided a comprehensive overview of solo works produced between 1975 and 2001 by the Canadian artist Raymond Gervais, who over the years had been turning from music and sound towards silence.

The picture below shows ’12 + 1 =’, an installation from 1976, in which Gervais played 13 vinyl records on 13 gramophones, simultaneously. It was also part of the 2011 retrospective curated by Nicole, at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery in Montreal. There, however, the installation was not ‘re-created’. It was soundlessly represented by this photograph, made by Roland Poulin.


The flat and soundless representation, thirty-five years after its original creation, of a relatively elaborate, three dimensional and originally probably rather loud sounding work (a look at the impressive ‘Eliminator’ loudspeaker boxes behind the table allows one to imagine its decibel potential) as a photographic black-and-white print, in this case of course is indicative of the particular artist’s development from sound towards silence. But ’12 + 1 =’ also is a fine illustration of one of Ephemeral Sustainability’s major themes and questions: should we re-install such installations, and make them re-sound, again and again? Wouldn’t it be better to just leave them be? Say goodbye to works, that where made for a certain place at a certain time?

There’s the ‘should we or should we not’ (and the better/wiser). But there also is a can we [as in: are able to] or can we not. Whereas the re-creation of a work like Gervais’s ’12 + 1 =’, either with the ‘vintage technology’ seen in the picture, or using contemporary equivalents, in a technical sense (nowadays still) will be relatively straightforward, it is equally clear that coming generations will never be able to experience works of sound art that over the past couple of decades were produced and installed at locations that meanwhile have changed, disappeared or that no longer are accessible. Even in case the location is still available, it may prove undoable to identically re-create a given work at the same location, as producer and curator Carsten Seiffarth knew from experience… It will be impossible to ‘know’ (to experience) these works. It will only be possible to ‘know about’ them, via the available documentation, whether ‘official and intentional’ (in catalogues, textbooks, magazines, monographs, via authorized audio and video recordings) or ‘unofficial and accidental’ (through hear-say, or on the web, in blogs, YouTube clips, et cetera). In such cases, as some argue, it is the col-lected (or se-lected) documentation, that becomes the work. Here Raymond Gervais’s ’12 + 1 =’-as-a-picture may be a case in point.


In her contribution, Nicole showed deep respect for the perceived ‘intentions’ of the artists with whom she collaborated and whose shows she curated. Maybe even too deep? At the end of her talk, some of the conference participants protested vehemently.
– “I find it very strange,” Christina Kubisch said, “to listen to all this talk about Julius, to look at the pictures of his exhibition, but without getting to hear any of the sounds. Why didn’t you let us hear his sounds?”
– “The installation was a very complex installation,” Nicole replied, “there was a lot of silence. It was a composition in itself, that you could hear from different places, approach from different sides and directions. A very quiet work. I don’t think you should ‘play’ such a work in a situation like here at this conference. I think that it is really essential to protect the way in which Julius wished the audience to experience the work.”

Soundless sound art. Tant pis for us, for we are here. In the wrong place at the wrong time. “We should have been there…”

Yes?! Or maybe, of course, not!? Not all were convinced by Nicole’s insistence that, despite the principal role played by their sonic components, only words and images could and should be used to ‘communicate’ works like Julius’s. What makes the words, or images of such works, presented as pictures in a slideshow, ‘more real’ or ‘more faithful’? And would this not mean that, eventually, we are constructing a theory of sound art that rather is a theory of the images of sound art, as Salomé Voegelin remarked?

Parallel to his practice as an artist and researcher, the archiving of sound art related documentation for many years has been a focal point for Seth Cluett. Even though – because of Sandy – he did not make it to Bergen in person, it was Seth that opened the series of lectures and presentations on the second conference day, via a pre-recorded video registration.


In his lecture (Ephemeral, Immersive, Invasive) he focused on his archive/database of catalogues of sound art group exhibitions since the mid-1960’s. Though ‘sound art’ then was not yet presented and talked about as sound art, the use of sound in art could no longer be considered to be merely incidental.
Art had begun to embrace time, exuberantly.
In 1966 Ralph T. Coe, who then was the curator at the Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, saw ‘sound, light and silence’ as the polarities in the art of the late 1960s. As Seth argued, the exhibition that T. Coe organized (Sound, Light, Silence – Art that Performance), is a remarkable example “of the timeliness with which conscientious curators may be able to assess and assemble the work of their era for consumption by the public”.

Here is a vimeo-extract of his talk:

It is an intriguing fact that there is a considerable, growing, body of art that, if it is to ‘survive’, will have to do so almost exclusively as documentation. That is: via a (fragmented) re-presentation in a number of different media. The relative short history of the ‘sound art discipline’ notwithstanding, there already is quite a number of site specific sound art works that many, or even most of us, only ‘know’ like one knows, say, the Battle of Waterloo, or the 2010 world soccer championship final: via its – official and unofficial – documentation, the written (and sometimes highly divergent) reports, the (possibly) audio and video recordings, and from eye & ear witness accounts by those that ‘have been there’ (the ‘survivors’, the ‘lucky few’ … “The blows of the sabres on the cuirasses sounded like braziers at work,” one of the commanders on the Waterloo battlefield observed; even though no sound recordings were being made, this we know until this day.)

In the panel discussion that followed the day’s third presentation (in which Maia Urstad gave an overview of the technical and logistic intricacies and difficulties of re-creating, at a number of very different locations, her installation pieces Sound Barrier and “Meanwhile, in Shanghai…”), Friday’s moderator Christoph Cox observed that “even in really crappy documentation” there will be “some value”. Carsten Seiffarth, on the other hand, admitted to destroying the videos of many of the seminal sound art events that took place in the Berlin Singuhr sound gallery, “because they (the video registrations, not the events) were so bad”. Despite ‘the spatial and the visual’ being essential to most of the work that he curated over the past 16 years, Carsten prefers we do without such impressions. Joost Fonteyne, curator and organizer of the Flanders Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium, had an interesting proposal for a ‘by default’ manner of documenting sound art. It can be applied by curators, artists, producers and organizers alike. Reserve a shoebox for every work, Joost said, and use it to keep material that is related to the piece: photos, flyers, sketches, floor plans, sound recordings, videos, comments, press clippings, et cetera. “I’m convinced that, in a way, such a shoebox,” Joost said, “will reflect on the work!”


Even within a relatively coherent group of peers (some a bit more, some a bit less), sound art dwells like a beast with many faces; a beast with no country, a beast with no home. Which, as one of the participants (I think it was David Toop) observed, may be seen as the neurosis of sound art: it is constantly trying to justify its origin. Would it not be far more productive to let it break itself open all the time, and feed upon its own contradictions, instead of attempting in vain to talk them away?

[ Meanwhile, it seemed as if it were the sounds that went running… ]

“I cannot hear sound in any of these words around sound art,” I overheard Daniela Cascella say. She and Salomé Voegelin were the sound writers that took to the Ephemeral Sustainability stage on this Friday afternoon in Bergen (before and after Asbjørn Tiller’s Amplification and Composition of Architectural Space, a lecture on two of Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim‘s pieces: ‘The Drop’ and ‘Feast at Gløshaugen’).

Both sound writers are based in London, though neither of them was born on the British – European – island(s): Daniela is of Italian origin and Salomé is Swiss. Both of them are expats. Like sound art.

Daniela recently published En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing. An Archival Fiction, a short personal memoir that describes, evokes & investigates a number of key scenes from her past. They all come with a sound track, with music and sounds, in echoing circles, that wave-like emanate from an unattainable (‘past’) center and hit upon the slowly retreating shores of a ‘now’.

Salomé Voegelin’s Listening to Noise and Silence is a more theoretical treatise. The book counts an impressive number of occurrences of the adverbs ‘critical’ and ‘contingent’, amidst Martin Heidegger’s thing of things that go thinging, Frankfurt (Adorno) and Merleau-Ponty… But in the re-calling of very diverse works of music and sound art, for me Salomé’s philosophical meanderings function like romantic metaphor, much like the poetic metaphor that Daniela extracts from her literary roamings, reading and re-reading Melville, Pasolini …. Their books are very different, but they are also very much alike: I is central to all that I remember; the sounds that I hear include the ones that are my own; and I am always at the center, of all that I remember, of all the sounds that I have heard …

Curiously and interestingly, it were the sound writers that during these three days in Bergen continued to speak out against. Against institutionalization, against the archive as a burial place, against whatever canon (in particular against a ‘sound art canon’), against icons getting in the way of us doing, of our listening. Against the comfort of academic encapsulation, against a sound art packed in soundless (senseless) power point and common place, against a wherethereispublicfundingtherewillbe-sound art. Against, against, against against… They were spirited, they were the punks, and their message was loud, their message was clear: stop talking, stop storing, start doing, start listening… In It seemed I’d stepped…, an entry about the conference on her En Abîme sound writing blog, Daniela added: “My  problem  is not  with  [the sound artists’]  works:  it’s  in  how  they  speak  of  them,  the  words they  use,  the  trite  and  worn-­out  expressions  that  say  no  more.”

Listening is at the heart of the sound writers’ mission and concern: now-listening, a very personal and creative act, because it is – almost instantly, and for ever after – being composed with (entangled states of) a then-listening, comprising music and sounds that we recall. It is our brain-as-a-recorder, that enables both the storage and the retrieval (the ‘playing back’) of sound, as part of a very complex network. Let me call it the memory matrix. The sound writers weave tentative grids of words, words-that-are-sounds, grasping for a handle on the matrix that – being the fabric of spacetime itself – is the every essence of ‘that which can not be grasped’. For as soon as we listen, we start to remember.

[ Almost all of us stayed at the Grand Hotel Terminus, opposite the Bergen railway station. “Come and play with us…” ]


“The shower drains at the Hotel Grand Terminus sound a fluid shape. Timorous and soft it moves apart from the harsh and purposeful stream of the shower. Trickling and rolling it gathers around a metal grid that it holds on to and lets go of to drip, slowly and fast, together and alone, into the gully, dinging and ringing on its way. Not purposeful yet necessary it sounds as a thing thinging the relationship between water, shower, drain and drought without speaking its own name. Autonomous and fanciful, ringing and gurgling after the shower has long stopped. Creating discrete rhythms it hangs on to life in the warmth until as a chorus of its own shape it reaches the end of the shiny metal and falls to its death, below, into the invisible space where all sound ends.”

Salomé Voegelin – SoundWords


Listen to a chronological collage of pseudo-random snippets of lo-fi audio impressions of the second day of the Ephemeral Sustainability conference in Bergen: }}

Ephemeral Sustainability. A conference about presenting, documenting, collecting and archiving sound based contemporary art, in Bergen, Norway.
Day 2, November 2nd, 2012. [Gimle] (Moderator: Christoph Cox)
Gruenrekorder soundscapes: Lasse-Marc Riek (de).
Video lecture: Seth Cluett (us). Presentations: Nicole Gingras (ca), Maia Urstad (no), [[panel discussion 3]]
Presentations: Daniela Cascella (it), Asbjørn Tiller (no), Salomé Voegelin (ch), [[panel discussion 4]], Joost Fonteyne (be).

Ephemeral Sustainability 1 – Sound Art

December 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

This is the first in a series of reports on Ephemeral Sustainability, a conference about presenting, collecting and archiving sound based contemporary art, co-organized by the RESONANCE Network and the Lydgalleriet in Bergen, Norway, curated by Carsten Seiffarth & Jørgen Larsson. It all happened on the first three days of November 2012…

[ 2nd day: Curating, Presenting, Writing ]

« Art is unattainable, it is often said. However, it is actually not so much Art that is unattainable, but rather the dialectic – some would say the rubicon – of Art… »

Arguably the most radical of paradigm shifts in our view of the world over the past century, has been the insight that the universe – from the very small to the very large – can, in an uncannily effective way, be understood as a compound of waves, as a conglomerate of various vibrations. Sound, of course, we have always known to be vibrational in nature. Among the panoply of universal, concrete and abstract, waves and strings and things that, according to current understandings, concordate and discordate in composing our world’s myriad dimensions, it stands out because of its fundamentally material origin. In order for sound to be, some thing has to move. All that sounds, moves; all that moves, sounds. And sound, in a very literal sense, moves us.

It is also over the past century that, hesitatingly at first, but eventually with near to brute force, the use of sound as a means for artistic expression and creation, broke loose from the confines imposed by the traditional collection of tools used to generate and control it (the ‘musical instruments’). Due to the explosive combination of technological developments, that enabled both the capturing (recording) and (re-)creation (synthesis) of whatever sound one could imagine, and the profound socio-cultural changes in the West in the decades following the Second World War, the idea that potentially any sound is a musical sound took firm hold on the music side. Meanwhile visual artists continued to free themselves from the laws, traditions, conventions, materials and techniques that for many centuries had defined art within the boundaries of a number of specialized crafts. They began to adopt any imaginable material and non-material as a means for expression, and put it to use around, in, up, under and at any imaginable place.

Sound is surely the most notable among these materials, as well as the most ephemeral one.
. Sound wants to be free.
. Sound is a liberator.
Sound played a crucial role in the inextricable way in which ‘hi’ and ‘pop’ culture became and continue to be entangled, which led to the transformation of ‘art’, its transgression, from ‘craft’ to a ‘state of mind’, a warp that for some announced the ‘end of art’, while for many others it was a long awaited new start, a new beginning. Art mirrors our times, and each epoch, by definition, gets the art that it deserves… Somewhere in the eddy current of events the term Sound Art was coined, to designate a plethora of artistic activities involving sound, that were felt to be beyond ‘mere’ music, but in many cases neither (yet) did (want or tried to) fit within the galleries and musea that have the socio-economic power to keep a hold on what and what is not to eventually enter the realm of canonized Western … ‘art’…

A lot has happened since. Many doors did open. Sound art – either the one, the other or the other – became the theme of several major museal exhibitions. And despite the fact that the majority of works labeled as such hardly count as ‘collectable’, thus remaining marginal from an art-economic point of view, shows labeled as ‘sound art’ increasingly can be found also in mainstream art galleries. A growing number of galleries and institutions has specialized in what nevertheless continues to be something of a ‘(non-)genre’. For this and coming generations of young, aspiring, artists, (some form of) sound art appears as a viable career choice, even though but a minority of the many artists currently active in ‘the field’ will openly refer to themselves as being just that: ‘sound artists’. Last but not least, something equally vague as ‘sound studies’, in one way or another, became part of the academic curriculum, and has been generating an ongoing stream of (some of them, some of them less) academic books, theses and publications, in which art historians, musicologists, as well as scholars from many another breed, attempt to tie down in learned classifications and – post/French/modern, or whatever – theory, a ‘discipline’ that is both between and transcending categories.

Even though several decades of sound art history did lead to a certain consensus on a small corpus of exemplary works of sound art, what is considered as ‘sound art’ and what is not, remains open to much heated debate. Depending on the background and predilections of the practitioner and/or observer, it may or may not include practices as diverse as improvised sound performances, sound installations, sound sculptures, sound poetry, radiophonic productions, video productions, custom made acoustic or electronic sound generating devices, sonic interventions in public space, sound walks, field recordings, spatial projection of sound, modification of the acoustics of spaces, the production of modified sound carriers (vinyl, cd, etc), generative or other sound related software, certain kinds of ‘un-popular’ music, etc …

The Ephemeral Sustainability conference in Bergen brought together a large, international, group of actors in this (wide and open) field: theorists, writers, artists, musicians, organizers, curators and students. Not so much to try, for an umpteenth time, to set boundaries to what Sound Art should be, and what it should not (though this is a theme that proves pretty hard to avoid), but first of all to discuss and present questions related to the presentation, the documentation and the conservation (the sustainability) of site specific art works that, in the majority of cases, are fundamentally ephemeral in nature.

Thursday, November 1st 2012


On the conference’s first day (moderated by German music critic and radio presenter Raoul Mörchen), the tone was set by German musicologist Helga de la Motte-Haber, an avid and longtime explorer of the phenomenon of sound art, and editor of Klangkunst: Tönende Objekte und klingende Räume, a (German) guide to the history, practice, and aesthetics of sound art, published in 1999. In her presentation (Situation Specific Sound Art – Ephemeral Works) she gave an overview of the emergence of a growing body of works of art that needed to be seen and heard, in the context of developments within the visual arts in the second half of the 20th century. There, ‘sound art’ is found to arise within, most notably, the fields of performance art and site specific art (land art), incorporating strong influences of abstract art, of minimal art, early experimental music and the Fluxus movement.

Helga observed that, rather than deep involvement of a listener, sound art often primarily intends to reveal features of a space, by the setting up of conditions of perception. It subsequently led her to stress a situational aesthetics for sound installations, that in general can be experienced only for a – usually very – limited period of time, at a specific location. After that, what remains, if anything, is the documentation of the work: in the artist’s and or curator/organizer’s archives, in catalogues and in other documents, which, she insisted should – if possible – include architectural sketches. It was undoubtedly the musicologist in her that wondered why there is no notational system for ‘sound situations’, like a musical score. It would greatly facilitate the re-enactment of certain sound installations.

But on the other hand, she asked, why should we try to preserve and maybe even re-enact works that, often quite intentionally, were limited to a certain time and a certain place? And yes, even more generally: must all art survive?


A bit later that morning, in the first of a series of panel discussions, moderator Raoul Mörchen asked the panelists to oppose the listening experience proper to ‘sound art’ to the ‘analytic, structural listening’ that we practice when listening to traditional (‘classical’) forms of Western music. Do we listen to music in a way that is different from the way in which we listen to sound art, or the sounds of everyday life?
Though at first ‘sight’ this might seem to be almost trivially the case, it is an observation that on closer scrutiny quickly becomes problematic, something that was epitomized by Raoul’s own suggestion that “a Beethoven symphony in a toilet is the same as a Beethoven symphony in a concert hall”.
What is most commonly put forward as a, be it rough and fluid, demarcation between ‘sound art’ and ‘music’, is that of sound developing in ‘space’ versus sound developing in ‘time’.
“In general, sound art is characterized by sounds that are distributed in space, and which have no well defined beginning or end,” Helga de la Motte-Haber said. “Everybody can listen in his own time. But when one listens to music, in a performance or concert setting, one shares the same time with the rest of the audience. Music always has a direction, even if there is a distribution in space.”

This very first round of ‘ephemeral’ discussion provoked vehement reactions, on and off stage, from the not negligible part of participants who considered a strict, polarized, distinction between (listening to) sound art and (listening to) music to be a meaningless artefact.
“It conveys a vision of music that is só very, very tiny,” David Toop, a British musician and prolific writer on music and sound, sighed.
London based Swiss sound writer and artist Salomé Voegelin pointed out that also re-tracing the emergence of sound art near to exclusively in the context of the visual arts, fails to do justice to the so very important musical heritage that is an essential part of the field. “You can not separate music and sound art. It makes no sense to insist on a differentiation between a ‘time-based’ music, and a ‘space-based’ sound art. Any discussion opposing music and sound art is a political one,” she said. “We should not start with theory, we should start by listening. It is all stuff with sound!”

All sorts of ‘stuff with sound’ were brought to the fore (and could be listened to, though sparingly), in the series of artist’s presentations, that, like cherries on the cake, were programmed in between the ‘theory’.

Belgian artist Aernoudt Jacobs (who will create a new piece as part of the second two year round of the RESONANCE network) presented a number of his works (e.g., Miniatuur) in which he tries to explore how our perception can be influenced and how sound can be expressed physically, spatially and emotionally. Though often involving a keen and inventive use of technology, much of his work sets out from field recordings. “Making field recordings is a creative, perceptual process,” he said. “The act of recording is itself always an experience and a subjective action. In fact, maybe this is even more important than doing something with it afterwards.”

Also Norvegian artist Signe Lidén, in this new two year period, will make new work for the RESONANCE network. In her sound installations, Signe explained, she uses sound and space to examine social and cultural phenomena by means of an experiential form of research. Her presentation concentrated not so much on the creation of spaces, as on the finding of places as an essential part of her work. “I am searching and re-searching places and objects for their hidden sounds, often the inaudible ones or the potential ones.” Especially holes and cavities are places (or maybe we should call them: topologies) that fascinate Signe, exemplified by works like Rohrism I and Rohrism II, around and about the Gasometer Schöneberg in Berlin.

Accompanied by the amplified sound of an electric fan, Danish composer and sound artist SØS Gunver Ryberg took to the conference stage in Østre hitting (softly, louder, loud, véry loud…) a small gong, enthusiastically bearing witness to her passion for sound: “the timbre, its vibration, its force and – especially – its energy…”

Gunver’s performative presentation, though at times a little naive and still a bit on the bookish side, refreshingly stood out among the lectures on this first day of Ephemeral Sustainability, (too) many of which consisted in little more than the, often hesitant, reading out loud of a pre-written text, accompanied by the usual power point images. Also presenting – even reading – is an ‘art’, that, however, surprisingly few of the lecturers in Bergen, theorists and artists alike, seemed to master. When during the afternoon session American artist, writer and Projects Fellow at the Braunschweig Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Kabir Carter, seated on a settee, rushed through a handheld text which centered around the issue of site specificity as related to the work and heritage of sound art icons Max Neuhaus and Maryanne Amacher, I could not help but being struck by the fact that even the lectures at the very academic conferences on subjects among the most abstract in contemporary mathematics that I used to frequent, were livelier and more entertaining… (Come to think of it: it is the use of chalk and blackboards as presentational tools that makes a lot of ‘live mathematics’ into true feasts of sound and vison.)

It will have been a first time for some, but I found it a pity that, for significant parts, Dutch artist and researcher Edwin van der Heide‘s presentation, Sound in Space – Space in Sound, was a copy of the lecture he gave at the Budascoop in Kortrijk, as part of the Listen: Perspectives on Auditive Space symposium during the 2011 Flanders Festival. But, granted, at least Edwin is an entertaining lecturer, approaching his subjects (‘space’, ‘sound’, ‘loud/speaker’, ‘holes’ …) from a personal angle, with an interesting dose of, illustrative, metaphor.

Though it may very well have been what the organizers had asked for, most of the day’s lectures took the form of pretty dull academic surveys, and came but with little (and that’s a euphemism) attempt at producing new insights or pointing out possible new directions, neither in the study (or non-study) of Sound Art, nor with respect to its documentation and sustainability. As, on the other hand, the lecturing specialists were addressing an audience composed mainly of their peers, I’m afraid that at the end of a long day, and after a veritable tsunami of words, it must have left not only me with a nagging feeling of ‘heard it, saw it, been there before.’


It was the very last lecture that, despite its little promising title (Installation Works in Public and Private Collections) turned out to be the conference’s opening day’s highlight. In her talk, German ‘first generation’ sound artist Christina Kubisch embarked upon what she, very appropriately, called an ‘archeology’ of her own work. She provided valuable insights in the very particular problems that as an artist she encounters with respect to the maintenance of many of her works. Mainly due to the media and the electronics that are necessary to keep them working (to ‘sustain’ them), these works often need continuous surveillance and adjustment. For the artist, from a distance, and especially when there is quite a few them, it is not really feasible (for practical, technical and also financial reasons) to keep track of this, while on the other hand, those that are – theoretically – responsible for the work’s well-being, often fail to do so. As a result, it does happen that over extended periods of time an installation piece gets ‘turned off’, or, because of modifications (accidental or on purpose) in its ‘technical tuning’, becomes a mere shadow of the work that the artist had intended it to be. As an example Christina discussed some of the recurring problems with respect to her permanent (since 2006) light-sound installation Licht Himmel in the Gasometer in Oberhausen, Germany.
Even more telling was the story of her re-visiting (and restoring), after some ten years, Schlohweiß und Rabenschwarz (Snow white and raven black), a work that since 2001 had been part of the permanent collection of the Centre for International Light Art in Unna, Germany. “What I heard and saw was a shadow of what had been there ten years ago,” she said. “The CD’s that contained the sounds, well, they still were kind of round things, but there was hardly anything left on it. I had given the museum the data, and I had given them instructions to make new copies every six months. But they never did it, and they never informed me about it. So the work had gradually lost its acoustic memory. It was disappearing…”


The first day of the conference was rounded up in a second panel session. Moderator Raoul Mörchen tried to relaunch a reconnaissance of what, de facto, had been the main topos of the day, by the somewhat curious observation that “space has been neglected for a long time”. In the discussion that followed, quite a few of the usual suspects made their appearance: Derrida, Kant, Heidegger… (In a sequel to this report we might find an opportunity to come back to the suggestion that especially the last one (‘Sein und Zeit’) should more broadly be recognized as providing a valuable and quite definite theoretical reference for sound art.) Also worth citing is Helge de la Motte-Haber’s remark (reacting on the often put forward idea – cf. Bill Fontana – that ‘sound art should make us more sensitive to all the sounds that surround us’) that she would become crazy, were she to listen to all the sounds that surround her…
It had been a long day.
Christina Kubisch expressed the onset symposium fatigue, when at some point during the discussion she exclaimed that she started to feel ‘like the lady in the painting’ that decorated one of the walls of the quite beautiful Gimle conference room, in Bergen’s Kong Oscargate. “I’m tired of talking,” she said. “I’d rather do something…”


An evening session with drinks and performances in Stiftelsen 3,14 provided the brackets.

Norwegian artist Tore Honoré Bøe did a short performance, in which, crawling on his knees over Stiftelsen’s floor, he improvised with a number of what he calls acoustic laptops, amplified via contact microphones. Their description as ‘small wooden boxes containing a variety of small (re)sounding objects’ does them little justice. Bøe’s acoustic laptops are fascinating visual objects. They lay out intriguing micro-sonic geographies, that, however, are far richer and more interesting when silently contemplated for their relations and potential, than when brought to life as a run-of-the-mill set of ‘noise’ tools.

es es
es es

Archival footnotes (of sounding/ ignominious and abject; sublime and silent/ for discontinuous listening and permanence in forgetting) was but the first in a long list of bracketed labelings that accompanied David Toop‘s very personal sound lecture, full of memories, associations, time, space, images and ghosts; full of echoes and full of silence.

Sound needs sound to explain sound.

Now turn off the lights.




Listen to a chronological collage of pseudo-random snippets of lo-fi audio, recorded during the first day of the Ephemeral Sustainability conference in Bergen: }}

[ Read about the second day … ]

Ephemeral Sustainability. A conference about presenting, documenting, collecting and archiving sound based contemporary art, in Bergen, Norway.
Day 1, November 1st, 2012. (Moderator: Raoul Mörchen)
[Østre] Gruenrekorder soundscapes: Lasse-Marc Riek (de).
[Østre] Presentations: Helga de la Motta-Haber (de), Aernoudt Jacobs (be), [[panel discussion 1]], SØS Gunver Ryberg (dk).
[Gimle] Presentations: Signe Lidén (no), Kabir Carter (us), Edwin van der Heide (nl), Christina Kubisch (de), [[panel discussion 2]].
[Stiftelsen 3,14] Performances: Origami Boe (no), David Toop (uk).

Ephemeral Sustainability. A conference on Sound Art

October 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

A conference in Norway, on – what else? – sound art, is the first big, public event of the new, the second, two year round of RESONANCE activities. Organized by Lydgalleriet in Bergen (one of RESONANCE’s current co-organizers), the event goes by the name of Ephemeral Sustainability. As the buzz words that make up its title indicate, the Bergen conference invites and intends to thoroughly reflect on the presentation and documentation, the collecting and archiving of the fast growing corpus of sound based contemporary art.

“Is it only through documentation and human witness reports that this sound based, and hence fundamentally ephemeral, form of contemporary art can be appreciated in hindsight, or are there other strategies to strengthen its bonds to the past?,” the organizers ask. “Is this field of art in its nature and ideology impossible to transport, collect and re-act, or does it have a potential in more traditional art collections and museums? Do we need a new practice and new venues to collect and present it, or can this be done within the frames of already existing structures and organisations?”

On the first three days of November, a large group of ‘conveyers, artists, curators and thinkers within the field’ will gather in Bergen to look at these questions from many different angles. Together the contributors make for an impressive list indeed, too long to be clearly readable on the image above, which is a reduced version of the announcement of the Ephemeral Sustainability event in the current issue of The Wire.

Among the invited speakers we find David Toop, Edwin van der Heide, Gruenrekorder, Christina Kubisch, Origami Boe, Carsten Seifarth, Seth Cluett, Helga de la Motte-Haber, RESONANCE artists Aernoudt Jacobs, Signe Lidén, Maia Urstad, and many, many more.

The conference program for Thursday November 1st includes a performance/lecture by Seth Kim-Cohen, the author of In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art This contribution to ‘Ephemeral Sustainability’ bears the title “Knifey Through My Buttery Silence” and if the following short video of a recent performance of Seth’s at the Diapason Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, is anything to go by, we might be in for a fun surprise.

It will not be the only one…

Ephemeral Sustainability. A conference about presenting, documenting, collecting and archiving sound based contemporary art. Bergen, Norway. November 1st-3rd, 2012. Click here for the detailed program.

The ‘Panels’ Symposium – a picture book

November 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

On Friday October 29th and Sunday October 30th an impressive international group of sound artists and sound scientists gathered on the – from an architectural & acoustical point of view near to magical – upper floor of the Wiebengahal in Maastricht, home to the Bureau Europa/NAiM and (until january 16th, 2011) Paul Devens’ installation ‘Panels’, for a dense and concentrated series of lectures and performances around the themes of ‘the public, the sonic and the spatial’.

The title of Karin Bijsterveld’s lecture aptly summarized the central concern of this 2-day symposium: “Listening in Space and Space for Listening”.

The following picture book gives a succint atmospheric overview of the event. It is also sort of a teaser: for I am pretty sure that it will make you wish you had been there …

All pictures were shot by Ton Eyssen.



symposium symposium





On Sound-and-Space.

October 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

As the regular viewers of our Resonance blog by now surely will know: on October 29th and 30th, Paul Deven’s installation Panels will be the setting for a series of lectures and performances around the themes of the sonic, the public and the spatial (all of which are central themes also in Panels), co-organized by the Resonance network.

As a foretaste and in anticipation of what promises to become a rich and interesting event at the Bureau Europa/NAiM in Maastricht, below are more detailed descriptions of (most) of the many contributions that are proposed by the symposium’s participants. (A full list of lecturers and performers can be found in a previous post.)

Justin Bennett in his talk intends to present and discuss a number of his own works in order to address ideas about urban soundscapes, the acoustics of public spaces and the possibilities for, or the necessity of, artistic intervention. “The relationship between sound and architecture could include everything from noise abatement regulations up to the supposed mystical connection between music and architecture,” Justin says. “In between these extremes lies a world still to be explored. Artists working with sound do many different things; they map environments with sound recordings, intervene in public address systems, orchestrate car horns, leave pianos in public spaces, convert light patterns into sound or vice-versa, read buildings as musical scores, amplify trees, shake houses, adjust the acoustics of existing buildings, make audio tours or listening walks. Sound art, despite its debt to the conceptual art movement is practical, experiential and sensual. […] The sound-artist, above all, is a listener…”

Karin Bijsterveld‘s presentation (Listening in Space and Space for Listening:
Two Histories of Sound Mapping
) aims to historicize our knowledge about the relationship between sound, listening and space. “Today,” Karin explains, “we know how to construct spaces for listening artificially, and we know how we are naturally able to situate ourselves in space. A slight difference between the moments in which sound reaches our left and right ear helps us, for instance, to localize the distance and direction of particular sources of sound.
Many sound artists make use of such knowledge in their sound installations. Less generally known, however, are the historical roots of this knowledge. These go back to World War I: the ‘blind’ war from 1914 until 1918. It was in the context of the trenches in which soldiers could not see the enemy but only hear him that research into sound localization developed. Soldiers could only survive if they listened carefully to everything the enemy fired, and identified the distance, direction and source of what threatened them. What the soldiers did was ‘sound mapping’: assigning particular sounds to the information these sounds represent.
This process of sound mapping was similar to what engineers did, also in the 1910s, when they listened to the engines of cars in order to detect irregularities in the car engines’ functioning. Initially, they did so in order to solve the mechanical problems causing these irregularities. Yet increasingly, sound mapping aimed at silencing the car engines. It was with help of this knowledge that the engineers created one of the most unlikely spaces on earth to find silence at: the car. In fact, the combined rise of car noise control and car radio transformed the car into a highly artificial and widely used listening booth.
It is relevant to historicize our knowledge of sound, listening and space in the context of a conference on sound art, since it contextualizes and thus reduces the taken-for-granted character of such knowledge as well as of the actual spaces in which we listen. This may inspire designers and artists to open up and construct new spaces for listening, and new sound art installations. Science and technology have been source of inspiration for many composers and sound artists—may the history of science and technology be another…”

Brandon LaBelle wants to follow the challenging and enriching verve of sonic materiality and the diverse experiences of auditory phenomena. “In order to do so,” he says, “I hope to engage sound as it comes to impart meaningful exchanges around the singular body, and further, how it locates such a body within a greater social weave. From my perspective, sound operates as a community without name, stitching together individuals that do not necessarily search for each other, and bringing them into proximity. Such movements in turn come to build out a spatiality that is temporal and divergent – acoustic spatiality is a process of negotiation, for it splits apart while also mending; it disrupts the lines between an inside and outside, pulling into its thrust the private and the public to ultimately put into flux notions of difference and commonality. All these sonic movements and behaviours must be taken as indicating a particular and unique paradigmatic structure, which further generates specific spatial coordinates, social mixes, and bodily perceptions.
Following the details of this paradigmatic structure, what kind of language might begin to surface to describe or to think through where we are in the midst of sonic events?” Brandon asks.
To expose further this sonic platform, in his contribution Acoustic Territories he will map out, in the form of a mini-glossary, a set of themes or sonic figures, such as echo, vibration and rhythm. “These may function as points of departure for querying sound’s particular dynamic and how it may circulate through everyday life as a medium for social transformation. It is my feeling that these sonic figures function as micro-epistemologies, each giving way to specific perspectives onto the world, whether in the differentiating break of the echo or the mending flow of vibration. Experiences of sound may act as a force that hinges rupture and order together, to dissolve any strict duality of rationality in favor of the work of the imagination – that, as Arjun Appadurai suggests, may act as a form of new labor by which the intensities of contemporary culture are managed.”

“What constitutes our perception of a space, or a site?” wonders Eran Sachs in his contribution Sonic Modulation of Spatial Narratives. “Surely, there are physical, social, biographical and contextual factors at play,” he says. “The way by which we are situated in a space, projected in it, is contained in what Gibson calls its affordances – the attribution of one’s possibilities within a space. The government of affordances is therefore tantamount with the facilitation and manipulation of one’s explicit and implicit understanding of the scenic possible and impossible. It is this perceptual fact that tacitly permeates the writings of Constant and the LI. Now, in a society that is dominated by a prescribed or a monolith narrative – the determination of affordances is rooted in the prevalent ideology. The very perception of spaces, therefore, is given over to the narrative producing mechanisms.
Can sound be used to contravene the narratives that underline the perception of space? In recent years I have created a number of projects which have dealt with politically charged locations, working mainly (but not exclusively) in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, in an attempt to utilize Sound Art as a tool to modulate the narrative perception of particular spaces/locations and introduce the possibility of alternative narrative to these spaces. One such line of works, which will be presented here, positioned a series of faux research facilities in various locations around Jerusalem.
These works, however, have given rise to their own set of questions and difficulties which have to do with the relationship of sound and text. There is certain area of problems and concerns which seems to be inherent to the very attempt to engage in a form of art that aspires to be both essentially sonic as well as profoundly and directly critical in the aforementioned manner. In a sense, all these projects resulted in failure. I have come to realize that this line of works has led me to a somewhat of an Aporetic state (to borrow the Socratic term). I began to suspect that one cannot successfully tackle the two horns of this dilemma.
In order to elucidate the paradox, which may be called ‘the didactic paradox’, one must look at the most basic semantic nature of sound itself and the way in which sound attains meaning. A closer look at the semantics of sound and fundamentals of Sound Art reveals that a special case in point can be found in documentary audio. This, in turn, presents a set of questions as to the responsibilities and possibilities of documentary audio, and, effectively, re-introduces narrative demands on our understanding and perception of space…”

Janek Schaefer’s installations explore the spatial and architectural aspect that sound can evoke and the twisting of technology. The context of each idea is central to its development and resolution. In concert, hybrid analogue and digital techniques are used to manipulate field recordings with live modified vinyl and found sound to create evocative and involving environments. At the Symposium this weekend in Maastricht, Janek will outline his career and along the way highlight a few of his projects.

Basak Senova will talk about designing exhibition spaces as interfaces.
“When an exhibition space is designed and/or re-designed to function as an ‘interface’, the space aggregates all possible means by which the viewer interacts with the works inhabited by the space. In this respect, if the curator is considered to be ‘the designer’ of such an interface, then what constitutes the ‘skin design’ of this interface?,” Basak aks. “What are the parameters to shape the interface? What are the boundaries and connections between the conceptual framework and the formal aspects of the visual and aural design? As in Galloway’s reading of ‘protocol as an object of critical thinking’, could the design of an exhibition space be regarded as an object that generates critical thinking along with the substance and the associations of the art works?” Basak Senova will probe into these issues by navigating through her projects – including Lapses (a project developed for the Pavilion of Turkey at the 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009), Unrecorded (2008), under_ctrl (2005) and Postcapital Archive.1989-2001. Daniel G. Andujar (2010).”

Kees Tazelaar will take Terminus as his point of departure. “Terminus was the last composition that Gottfried Michael Koenig made in the electronic music studio of the Cologne Radio, in 1962,” Kees explains. “The composer called the work Terminus because he saw no further possibilities to realize his compositional goals with the manually controlled equipment of that studio. By giving techniques of sound transformation a central role in the compositional process, Koenig tried to avoid manual operations such as cutting tape and turning knobs to a minimum. And indeed, once he moved to Utrecht to be the artistic director of the Institute of Sonology, he would become the driving force behind the development of equipment for voltage control techniques, computer aided algorithmic composition and digital sound synthesis.
For Terminus, Koenig started with a single source material (a cluster of sinewave glissandi), and by systematically processing that material further and further, he ended up with a relatively large group of sound materials that shared relationships on the basis of their technical history and their common source. All those materials together formed a family tree, which then served as the starting point for the large form of the final piece. Different systematical routes through the tree structure could also lead to form variants. The technical (vertical) history of the material thereby enfolded itself in time (horizontal), while on the meso-level, the fluctuations of the source material and the processes applied to that material expressed structural characteristics.
Although the specific analog techniques used by Koenig to produce all the material for Terminus are very interesting, the compositional method as such is rather universal, and can be applied to any technique or a combination of techniques. Source material can be purely synthetic, a field recording, a series of instrumental sounds or anything else, as long as it has properties that can stay more or less recognizable during the process of sound transformation. Variety has to emerge from contrasting sound transformations and their parameter settings. Since this is a step-by-step process, the composer steers the material into a certain direction, always while listening to the results.
But most importantly, it moves the composer away from the primary orientation on a time line, that has to be filled with material in order to make a form. In instrumental music composition, the common practice is to know the sounds of a group of instruments beforehand, and then compose with those sounds while writing a score that consists of symbolic notations of those sounds. Time thereby is articulated with familiar sounds that are taken from a palette.
Although electronic music composers have claimed from the very beginning, that with the new media it was now possible to compose the sound itself, the reality was that the general way of working remained quasi instrumental. Sounds were produced in the studio by experimentation, sounds that were approved of by the composer were selected, others thrown away, until a palette of known sounds – in essence not that different from the traditional instrumental palette – could serve as the basis for the organization of material on a time line. Graphical scores usually formed the basis for the time structure, which was produced with the sounds by cutting tapes accordingly. Although nowadays, cutting tape has become an obsolete technique, it strikes me that with modern sound editing programs, the same old method has become even more of a straitjacket. The timeline is literally on the screen as the equivalent of the graphical score, and the sounds are grabbed from a region list. Structures are made by sequencing static sounds, whereas in my view, electronic music composition should aim at the expression of structure by the behavior of the sound itself. Sound synthesis techniques should not be used to only generate and process single sound events, but to create and process fluctuating sounds that are expressive forms in themselves.”
In more recent years, Kees Tazelaar came to the conclusion that the proposed compositional strategy has a spatial implication as well. “Just as sound synthesis techniques should be used to create and process fluctuating sounds that are forms in themselves, the spatial quality of the material should emerge from the sound synthesis too,” he thinks. “I am personally intrigued by the possibilities of randomness as the basis for spatial qualities at various time scales. At the micro-level, filtered noises with different random start numbers can create strong spatial illusions. On the meso-level, random deviation between the parameters of the individual layers of a multi-channel synthesis model can create spatial relationships that suggest a kind of communication between the various layers.”
Tazelaar’s lecture will include sound examples of Koenig’s Terminus, and of his own works Depths of Field, Lasciar Vibrare, Phalanxes, Lustre and Voyage dans l’Espace.

The sonic, the public, the spatial will take place on Friday October 29th and Saturday October 30th. Both days have a lecture-part (13h-18h) and a performance-part (20h30-00h). It is possible to participate, on both days, in a dinner at Ipanema at 7 p.m.


  • Full programme: € 32.50, (students: € 25.00)
  • Day programme (friday or saturday): € 17.50
  • Half a day (morning or afternoon): € 10.00
  • Participation in dinner per day:€ 15.00

You can inscribe at the Bureau-Europa website.

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