Location: London, Vienna, Edinburgh
Worktype: Improvisation Duo
Info: Collaboration with William Huckerby
Location: London, Vienna, Edinburgh
Worktype: Improvisation Duo
Info: Collaboration with William Huckerby
Lead Belly was born in Louisiana somewhere around 1888. Living the often violent life of an itinerate musician he found himself twice imprisoned for murder. In 1933 his reputation reached the Lomax family, who, after no small personal tragedy of their own, were traveling the Southern states, recording American work songs, ballads and blues in prisons, penitentiaries, and brothels. Moving around the country in their Ford sedan, John, and his sons John Jr. and Alan, set about recording such artists as Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters and Jelly Roll Morton. They came across Lead Belly in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and with their state-of-the-art acetate disc recorder they cut several sides together over the next few months. They soon parted ways; Lead Belly to a fifteen year career as a solo artist, and the Lomax’s continuing their collection of folk musics for the archives of the Library of Congress, and the Works Progress Administration. Despite the difficult relationship between the academic Lomax’s and the hard-living blues artist, it is through this short-lived collaboration that Lead Belly’s work reached a wider audience, of which I count myself a part. My father, following a period of time working in the Caribbean after leaving school in 1964, had become interested in what was still at that time called ‘negro music’. A Presto vinyl record (PRE 689, 1965) containing a selection of Lead Belly’s early Lomax recordings, is one of the earliest artifacts of any kind that I remember from my childhood. For this project, I was interested in engaging with a populist folk tradition, in the hope such a strategy would enable me to think about electroacoustic composition in a new way. The sound material selected, was by necessity, lo-fidelity (A short promotional film made by Lomax and Lead Belly, found on YouTube). The surface noise in the piece, the glitches, and crackles, are inherent to the source material, and are intended to reference the sounds of old blues records, and to address issues of the value of distribution of heavily compressed audio on the internet, thought of here, as a repository of cultural memory. The piece was entirely constructed from Lead Belly’s voice and signature 12-string guitar.
A talk/presentation to the general public. Sound Art and Digital Media.
Materials: Recorded Media (Stereo Audio)
My sense of disconnection from the people of Bad Ems as a consequence of language and the reverberant nature of the Kunstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral architecture. I was working in a disembodied and digital process, where, despite my actual presence in Bad Ems, much of my time was spent online and isolated from the real-world context around me. Although this time was highly productive I decided to counter such work with a piece intended to connect me more closely with the people and environment around me.
I had made the acquaintance of Rainer Hoffman, administrator of the Kunstlerhaus, a few days earlier, we had managed an interesting conversation, and I had noticed that he had difficulties with his hearing, and spends the day with hearing aids (specifics of this?). I myself was experiencing a restricted access to auditory world around me, due to the building’s sonic characteristics, and my own poor understanding of German. I had for a long time wanted to try a version of Alvin Lucier’s ‘I Am Sitting in a Room’ (1970) and so proposed a collaborative work to Rainer.
‘I am Sitting in a Room’ is one of Lucier’s most well known works, and he has always encouraged interpretations of the piece. It is a work based in a short piece of spoken text, originally spoken by Lucier himself. The complete text of this original version is presented below:
“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of r-r-r-rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity nnnnnot so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to s-s-smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”
This short piece of text explains the work quite succinctly, and the final work was originally presented as a forty minute recording. I asked Rainer to translate the text into German, and whether he would be prepared to have his voice recorded for the purposes of the piece. He was initially hesitant, selfconscious about the way he speaks German, saying that people often comment that he speaks his mother tongue in a strange way as a result of his hearing disability. When however I explained Lucier’s own problems with speech, and that his own experience would add to the work, he readily agreed. Rainer’s translation of Lucier is as follows:
“Ich sitze in einem Raum, der anders is als der Raum, in dem Sie sich gerade befinden. Ich nehme meine Sprechstimme auf und spiele sie ab, nehme sie auf und spiele sie ab, immer wieder – bis die Resonanzschwingungen des Raum sich selbst verstäken, so dass jede Ähnlichkeit mit dem Sprechen, auxer vielleicht mit dem Sprechrhythmus, ausgelöscht wird. Was Sie dann noch hören, sind die natürlichen Resonanzschwingungen des Raumes, gegliedert durch das Sprechen. Diese Handlung ist für mich weniger die Demonstration eines physikalischen Sachverhaltes, als vielmehr ein Weg, alle UnregelmäXigkeiten, die meine Sprache möglicherweise aufweist, zu glätten.”
The full iterative realisation of this work was carried out in the KHSB on the evening of 20th April 2008. The work is significantly different from Lucier’s, and the openness of his original intentions should be credited. My aims in attempting this work were met in the process of carrying out this work. I wanted a way to engage with the acoustic space of the KHSB, I needed some means of communication across a language barrier, I wanted to address my inability to speak or understand German and also to explore issues of authenticity with spoken German, interestingly fore grounded by Rainer’s inhibited access to the auditory. I would take this opportunity to thank Rainer for his participation in this work, and to hope that he enjoys listening to the transformation of his voice manifested by the acoustics of his daily place of work.
Year : 2008
Location : Germany
Worktype : Sound Installation
Materials : appropriated sculpture, digital recording, mp3 player, male to female conversation (failed)
Worktype: Light and Sound Installation
Materials: 12 P.C. speakers, 2 P.C micro sub-bass channels, plastic, water, kaospad, diodes.
Obstruction Placed: Position 1: (Distant from Art) (exterior)
Obstruction Placed: Position 2: (Approaching the Kunstlerhaus) (exterior)
Obstruction Placed: Position 3: (Inside the “Waterbugs” installation) (interior)
Obstruction Placed: Position 4: (Kunstlerhaus Downstrairs Hallway: In-between the “Waterbugs”, “Skype Glitch.voices (remodelled)” and “Dissolving Ghost Piano” installations) (interior)
Obstruction Placed: Position 5: (Kunstlerhaus Stairwell: Ground/First Floor: “Waterbugs” and “Dissolving Ghost Piano” installations audible) (interior)
Obstruction Placed: Position 6: (Kunstlerhaus First Floor) (interior)
Obstruction Placed: Position 7: (Kunstlerhaus Second Floor Stairwell – leading to open door to “Cat’s Cradle”) (liminal)
Obstruction Placed: Position 8: (Having Crossed the Border) (exterior)
Obstruction Placed: Position 9: Overlooking (Higher Up in the Wooded Hillside Listening Down and Around (exterior)
Materials: white cotton thread, interior, exterior and liminal space, 7 kitchen knives, 7 electric guitar strings, white spray paint,
Of the works created during the residency, ‘Cat’s Cradle’ is perhaps the most complex piece, and the hardest to describe, both in terms of process and in its final form. There are several strands of thought running through this piece, and is the most conceptual and non-sound related work I have created to date. The initial concept for the piece was a direct result of my being detained at the hands of the British Transport Police when leaving King’s Cross Eurostar. I was thinking of a way of evoking an idea of a journey, and a means of expressing obstacles placed in the way of the traveller. This idea came from the concrete experience, but took on a different meaning as I explored the KHSB.
Year : 2008
Location : Bad Ems, Germany
Worktype : Sculpture.
Materials: industrial glue, solar cell, sugar, instant coffee, canvas, string, antique book excepts, steel sieve, cake tin, black spray paint, harmonica parts, mp3 player.
This writing is begun the evening of April 4th 2008, a short time after the closing of the first day of the Open Studios. Persons present over the last few days have been Danielle Perrier, Director of the Kunstlerhaus Balmoral, Sigune Hartman, the organiser of the exchange residency from Camberwell College of Art UAL, my fellow guest artists Eva Bensasson and Nico Rocha, various supporters of the Kunstlerhaus and visitors from the general public. It is a time for reflection, analysis and comment upon my experience here. I will discuss my working methods, work I have produced during my stay, overall impressions of the experience, and thoughts of future work.
The first few days of my time at Bad Ems, were in some way coloured by my rather difficult journey from London. At London Eurostar I was arrested and detained in a police cell for three hours. I was
interviewed, fingerprinted and detained for this time for carrying a knife with me, that is classed as an illegal weapon. This farcical experience, though angering me at the time, soon became a source for creative thought. I was thinking about borders, travel, prohibited objects and behaviours, power relations and authority. Notions of obstruction, blockage, repetition, irreverence, paranoia and control were areas that interested me during my (delayed) journey from London to Bad Ems. Many of these thoughts were documented in a written diary which contains cartoons, diagrams, and ‘seismograms’ recording the rhythms, and images of travel through a corporatised and homogenised Europe. The specifics of locality are viewed voyeuristically through the screen of the train’s glass window, smeared with the detritus of a thousand travellers passing before. Unusual sounds are captured upon hard disc recorders, pinned for eternity in virtualised space, like butterflies on a display board. Decontextualised, digitised, and deadened. Upon my arrival, late at night, my first impressions of the Kunstlerhaus were of the building’s reverberance and the town’s sense of peace and quietitude. The studio assigned to me was clean, white and spacious. Referring to the sounds around me, I found the environment’s general sound pressure vastly below that which I was used to in central London. A kind of sonic vertigo took hold of me and and I walked around the town for a few days in a daze. My method at this point was to make no recordings whatsoever, not to relate to the local through a mediated relation. I was to explore the town, experientially, phenomenologically and directly through my senses.
The river valley on which Bad Ems is located acts as a kind of resonant channel. The KHSB lies between two churches, both of which are active and living sites of community worship. Each has a bell tower, and bells ring out marking the passage of time throughout the day. Sunday has a special sound, as do weddings; there were around 5 of these during the stay here. Weddings are also marked, should they fall upon weekends, by a parade of cars around the town, horns beeping, signalling the importance of the day. I would guess that funerals are also marked by this carillion. Continuing this bell theme, there is an automated bell system built onto the front of the music school, which plays out melodies at various times during the day. The chiming of the town is further underlined by a permanent public sound sculpture located on the xxxxstrasse, and is often sounded by the general public, children and adults alike (myself included). When this is sounded, its chimes can be clearly heard from the KHSB. It took me a good few days to separate out all this metallic chiming and to accurately associate the separate sounds with their respective sources
The steep sides of the valley, populated by dense woodland, whose trees at this time of year are yet to have leaves, are occupied by a rich variety of birdlife, whose songs, alarm cries (there’s a cat), and
chatterings provide a backdrop of tapestry sound. Dividing the town is the fast-flowing Lahn River, its presence permanent, and ever-changing. Swirls and eddies, vortexes of energy flows move through its body. Further downstream, a weir adds a background layer of white noise to the soundscape of the city.
“Bad Ems is like a beautiful woman who has aged, so there is nothing left of her beauty but her makeup”.
(Udo Bockmuehl. Director Galerie-U7, Frankfurt)
Of the other keynote sounds of town, one must include the trains, either small local passenger trains, at most two carriages long, or very lengthy cargo trains carrying trees cut from the forest, (—what
else?). The train track passes close to the river, the only area flat enough in the valleys of the Lahn-Rhine; this, squeezed in next to the winding roads, could contribute to a rather intrusive experience of sound for those houses located on the valley floor. On our several trips out of Bad Ems, one could see many nearby towns, where long sections of the housing are delineated on one side by the road, and on the other by the railway. A strange contrast, in an area of such natural beauty, to have the sonic consequences of industry pushed so close to those living and working in the area. Such characteristics of the region were to inform one of the installation pieces I created during my time in KHSB; the idea of the line, and of demarcations again seemed pertinent to me.
One of the most important, and evident key sounds of Bad Ems, is of course the tonality of the language spoken by the population. As a non-German speaker, I found this barrier quite insurmountable, despite the willingness and clear ability of my residents to engage with an English speaker. If one understands a context as a repository of information and knowledge, I found that I lacked a key means of accessing this databank. For me, a convincing exploration of the history and culture of Bad Ems, would be impossible. Should I have decided to engage with such a narrative, I feared the results could potentially be superficial at best, and incoherent and erroneous at worst. For these reasons, and a couple of strange synchronicities that occurred, I decided my work would engage in a sensory, spatial and philosophical exploration of the site of the Kunstlerhaus Balmoral itself. The reverberance of the building seemed to preclude any form of acousmatic type diffusion as a final presentation format, and I feared that such a dematerialised and academic form would fail to connect with the type of fine art audience expected during the open studio. I did not want to make any claims about representing the broader context, and the town of Bed Ems itself remained something of a closed box to me. However, I got to know the architecture and idiosyncrasies of the building in which I was staying, and this smaller scale project, seemed to me to be deliverable.
Early Concepts: Contact Mics and The ‘Waterbugs’ Installation
The KHSB is a well equipped, well maintained and organised facility. Though staff numbers are low, the effort made by them, ensures a welcoming and supportive atmosphere. The emphasis is though, upon
traditional fine art forms. Given KHSB’s position within the German art context, it is surprising to me, that more contemporary, one might say, experimental, art forms are not given greater prominence. This may be due in part, to the expectations of the local audience, but I would argue that this should not preclude more adventurous works being presented. On a technical level, everything I requested was made available to me, and in the early stages of my stay, I attempted a quadraphonic speaker set-up in my studio room, and made some experiments with spatialisation of the many recordings of water sounds that I made from 14th March onwards. Primary amongst these, were a series of recordings made with contact and condenser microphones on the slanted skylight windows on the roof of the studio space (Fig 1). This period was a time of relatively heavy rainfall, which at times became hail, and there were several days of reasonably heavy snowfall. These sounds of water falling, in different forms, and the window panes acting as a form of twin resonators provided occasion for an extended recording documentation of this intersection of architecture and environmental indeterminacy. That the contact microphones also picked up various noises of the KHSB itself (ground hums, ventilation sounds) only served to underline this point of contact between interior and exterior, natural and artificial forms.
While on headphones the recordings made good listening, the nature of the final presentation of such works remained problematic in the context of the KHSB, due to the reverberance of the gallery space.
Although a large number of digital recordings were made (as documented in Appendix 1), few of these were actually used in the exhibition. This was a liminal period, where I was still searching out a means of a suitable response; I knew I was dissatisfied with my initial proposal, yet felt there was still something that a method based in sound had something to contribute. A number of concepts were sketched out, ranging from a stereo piece based upon rising and falling tones, inspired by the Kurlwaldbahn trolley train, a collective performative session of minigolf, where each of the proximate minigolf’s semi-sculptural ‘holes’ were to be recorded by contact microphones, along with the conversations of the participants. This recording was to have been the basis for a multi-channel audio composition. As another strategy, I also considered developing a musical theme based around the deliberately reductive translation of the letters B, A, D and E(ms) into musical notes. All of these ideas, along with a concept for an indeterminate installation using pure sine tones recorded at all possible variations of these frequencies burnt on CD , and played back at random by a number of boom-box type CD players distributed through out the gallery, were rejected.
I had come to the conclusion that though the speakers provided me for mixing purposes were inadequate for my needs, they were interesting for other reasons. There were 2 pairs of Typhoon Design Speakers 1040, and a Logitech 2.1 R-20 set up. These are PC-type speakers and are perfectly adequate for the casual computer user who wants to listen to YouTube movies and the like. They are however extremely limiting for the audio artist who requires full bandwidth reproduction, no colouring etc. in order to deliver a quality sound mix. It is at this point that I cannot accurately describe my thinking, other than to say a number of divergent strands of thoughts, experiences, knowledge, impressions and intuitions converged to suggest an interesting (to me) line of enquiry. I had been considering the phenomena of resonance, the materiality of water and the context of the KHSB. I knew anecdotally of what are known as Chladni patterns, created when standing waves create quasi-stable nodes within a given volume or surface (ref required). I had these low grade speakers as a resource to use, and while I don’t recall the exact process by which I decided this, I made the choice to put these speakers inside a plastic bin that was in the studio, placed a glass saucer on its inverted base, and with contact mics experimented with creating feedback tones of different frequencies, with the aim of generating some Chladni Patterns.
These initial experiments were encouraging. Though the patterns I were generating were not as stable as the figure above, and the feedback unpredictable, there was something pleasing about the water’s dynamic and fluid(sic) response to the sound’s vibrations. The process was transparent, related to materiality, and a particular material, water, for which Bad Ems is most well known, and, by spreading a number of bins around the room, engaged with the specifics of space. This combination of factors pushed me further along this direction, and this work eventually resulted in the installation ‘Waterbugs’ presented during the final exhibition. The final realisation of ‘WaterBugs’ happened in a dedicated and darkened room on the ground floor of KHSB. 5 blue plastic bins were purchased, along with 5 battery-powered white LED lights. One of each of these lights, along with a single speaker were installed in the up-turned bins. Holes and abstract forms suggestive of pond life were cut into the base of the upturned bins, and a thin plastic membrane stretched across them. The five ‘bugs’ were suspended throughout the room, and a small quantity of water poured onto the transparent membrane. This had the effect of creating a refractive projection of the liquid onto the ceiling of the exhibition space, which was activated by the speakers contained within the body of the bugs. A mini synthesiser (Korg KP-2) was used as a more reliable source of sound than contact microphone feedback, and the general sound of the piece was a low pitched drone, filtered by the dimensions of the ‘bugs’ themselves and their position in space.
The effect of entering the darkened space, from the otherwise well-lit gallery, was disorientating. Visitors could hear a rumble from inside the room, but had no idea what to expect; they were encouraged to close the door behind them and to spend a little time with the bugs. I can only speak from my experience, and the comments received from gallery visitors, and the work felt somewhere between sinister, dreamlike, contemplative and magical.
I was reasonably satisfied with this piece, and have a number of ideas about how it could be further developed. For example, the sculptural use of lenses to focus the water projections more clearly, using multichannel sound sources to create differential Chladni resonances in the individual projections, the development of a composition towards this end, and the possibility of adding digital interactivity via PureData hardware/software.
Embedded Simultaneity: Process, Object and Consequence
By this time, I had found an entry point into my creative dialogue with the specifics of the residency experience. The ongoing development of ‘Waterbugs’, despite the usual operational anxiety of the artist about how/if the final piece would work, provided me with an axis from which to extrapolate my thinking. I should make clear at this point that several processes were operating simultaneously. It is only due to the format of print in which this document is being (de)ciphered that such processes are presented in such an uncomfortable linearity.
Concomitant to the development of ‘Waterbugs’, the sourcing of materials and continued studio experimentation, were at least two other significant themes;
1. Formal research focused upon sound art discourse and practice from a post-modern, digitised perspective. The development of a digital application for the articulation of such, the development of a digital archive of international sound art material, and academic writing reviewing the field and recording the evolution of my research methodology.
2. Continued generation of additional creative responses to Bad Ems with a view to the public presentation of artworks.
I will briefly discuss each in turn.
1. Formal Research Outputs: Sound Art, Klangkunst and the ImmApp
My doctoral research involves the development of an immersive digital environment based upon a database of sound art material. This material has been gathered over the two and a half years of my PhD program. The overall methodology has been a three-stage process of abstraction. Beginning with a formal print-based literature review of the field, my work compares discourse resulting from such an approach, to results obtained from firstly a method based in relational database technologies, and finally in a synthetic and immersive dataspace that presents such material experientially within a spatialised installation context. The title of the software environment being built is ‘ImmApp’ (Immersive Mapping Application).
The key texts I have been reviewing are ‘Sound by Artists’ (Lander 1990), ‘Noise, Water, Meat’ (Kahn 2001) and ‘Background Noise : Perspectives on Sound Art’ (Labelle 2006). Much of the write-up of the later two books has been completed, it is only the first title that requires significant attention. One of my goals for the residency was to complete the writing for this section of my final thesis. ‘Sound by Artists’ is an anthology of writings consisting of contributions from a number of practitioners and theorists. I met several of these last summer while participating in the ‘Art of Immersive Soundscapes’ Masterclasses and Conference held at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada in June 2007. Reviews of Kahn and Labelle are numerous and these provided me with material with which to analyse these later publications. The reception of ‘Sound by Artists’ however, published that bit earlier, is less clear. While for the later books I wrote a traditional review, for ‘Sound by Artists’ I thought to try a different strategy, and contacted people who had originally made contributions to the book and their artist colleagues who were familiar with the text. There followed an email exchange with acoustic ecologist Hildegarde Westerkamp, a telephone interview with sound artist Gordon Monahan who are both published in the book, and another series of emails to and from fellow Canadian sound artist Steve Heimbecker, who was active as an artist at the time and well aware of the book’s importance. Writing up these exchanges, contextualising ‘Sound by Artists’ and its relation to the other two texts, and to broader art practice is something I have been involved with during the residency, and this theoretical work was further enhanced by an unplanned, but tremendously valuable discovery made in KHSB’s extensive library.
My effectiveness as a researcher is, in important ways, limited by the languages in which I am proficient. My position as an English speaker has been addressed in writing describing my evolving research methodology, yet I am aware of the over-emphasis my work has upon sound art soley within the English speaking world. I have made efforts to counter this through research into the Japanese tradition of sound work, and have discussed the importance of the French musique concrète tradition, there are notable and well known Germanic artists already present within the scope of the project (Christina Kubisch, Stockhausen, Bernard Leitner, Hans Peter Kuhn and others), yet it is clear that it is only those transnational artists who have reached an some degree of international prestige, and been translated into English, who are accessible to me as an English speaker. The reasons behind the differential diffusion of one particular artist over others, are complex and one must note that even in the contemporary digital era the barriers to cultural exchange that result from differences in language are remain difficult to overcome. The existence and tradition of klangkunst, which I had already understood to be distinct from British, or American, French or Japanese sound art practice was revealed to me though the presence of an important German publication that is simply not available in the United Kingdom. Even if it were available, that it is written solely in German, means that it would have been difficult for me to engage with, while on native soil. That I found ‘Klangkunst’ (de la Motte-Haber 1996) in the library of KHSB at the very time that I was attempting to relate to the Germanic culture around me, was timely, unexpected and immensely valuable to my research project.
The book and CD documents the ‘Sonambiente Festival für Hören und Sehen’ which occurred in Berlin’s Mitte district in 1996. The festival, “was part of the Academy of Arts’ tricentennial celebration and presented the most comprehensive survey to date of contemporary international sound art. During the four weeks of that festival, some 50,000 visitors experienced sound art projects by more than 100 participating artists at more than 20 venues” (http://www.sonambiente.net)
What was especially interesting to me, was that while my project goals, and the aim of the festival organisers clearly coincided, i.e. “a survey of contemporary international sound art”, there were significant differences in the artists presented. At this time, the ImmApp database contained around 200 artists drawn from over a 100 year period with 27 different countries of origin represented. The database, I consider a theoretically open text, and the fact that ‘Klangkunst’, the book, presented around 20 artists unknown to my established methodology, demanded a response that would move the ImmApp from a theoretically open text, towards an open text in actuality. That is to say, although the ImmApp is only the results of my own efforts, and cannot ever be totally comprehensive, the shock of finding so many significant artists working in sound, who were not represented in any way in the application dictated to me a redesign of the ImmApp interface to allow the incorporation of this rich, newly found material.
That there were other demands upon my time, namely the upcoming exhibition at KHSB , and the write-up of the Canadian context discussed above, as well as the expectation that the future would probably present the discovery of more artists, pushed me in the direction of developing a more sophisticated interface for entering material into the application. A trade-off between the time required to develop this new interface against the time needed to assimilate this new material in the rather crude way I had worked previously, was worked through, and a decision was made to commit to developing the interface. This would result in faster access to, and update of, information and move the ImmApp’s theoretical goals closer towards a demonstrable reality. This decision has turned out to be the correct one, the time spent on the interface development, resulted in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, and it has opened the way forward to the development of the runtime and immersive aspects of the ImmApp application itself
This should be understood as distinct from both populating the dataset with relevant information, and the means by which this is achieved. The application development involves the realtime generation of immersive datascapes in response to database queries, the matter of incorporating the klangkunstlers being discussed here, is a separate activity.
The objectives of these activities, generated by the two texts, ‘Sound by Artists’ (Lander 1990), and ‘Klangkunst’ (de la Motte-Haber 1996), namely a survey of international sound art, also required two other intensive and related activities. Firstly, the organisation and update of bibliographic material, and secondly the addition of an important further section of the ImmApp database. An explicitly stated focus of the project has, so far, been upon individual artists and their works. These were taken as initial starting points for a project informed by Foucauldian notions of discourse analysis (Foucault 1972), (Foucault 1974). Soundworks are understood as statements, and a key point in the research is the relation of sound art practice to Foucault’s idea of discursive formation. Now that a useable dataset of artists (200) and works (over 3000) had been assembled, it was an appropriate time to begin to unpick the role of institutions, publications, funding bodies and so on in ‘the discourse of an art of sound’ in a strict Foucauldian sense. To achieve this, I approach texts, say for example Lander and de la Motte-Haber, and as well as evaluating the explicit content, (artists and works presented, audio samples, images etc) a second level of analysis takes place where the publisher for example will be investigated. In the case of the Lander text, the book’s co-publishers, Art Metropole, and the Walter Phillips Gallery, are important sites, the study of which enriches an understanding of sound art discourse. It must also be noted, that in fine Foucauldian tradition, this may also serve to problematicise such a discourse in ways rendered silent in the texts themselves (i.e. Lander, de la Motte-Haber), or in reviews and apparent critiques of such texts (Reitzenstein 1991; England 1993; Duguid 1998), which can often fall into rather tedious formalistic discussion, or the pedantry of perceived omissions in taxonomy.
In the case of ‘Klangkunst’, associated as it is with a festival, the situation is more complex. It is perhaps useful to ask how the interests and agendas of the individual artists (generally, though far from exclusively, from the Germanic countries), the volume editor, (Helga de la Motte-Haber), the publishing house (Prestel-Verlag) and the Akademie der Kunst, Berlin are in accord or otherwise. Each of these bodies will clearly have divergent goals and purposes In order to open up this type of analysis, from within the ImmApp, it was necessary to develop a new combination of relational database tables, linking artists and works to sites and institutions (festivals, galleries, record labels etc), and to finally connect these to various funding bodies.
It is too early to reach any conclusions, but my presence in the KHSB raised some interesting issues for me. Is the redistribution of wealth into the cultural sector by industry a means of social control? What are the implications of this for artists and audiences? Is this, on the other hand, beneficial to all parties involved, and a win-win social good? This seems to be a particularly difficult area and not one where artists themselves seem particularly keen to comment, dependant as many of them are upon the contributions of state or industry. Representatives of industry seem equally reluctant to take these issues on. Does money buy silence? Is silence indeed, worth its weight in gold? What is then, the true value of an art of sound? And to whom?
It is to speculatively open up such an area of discussion that the title of this section Object, Process and Consequence was intended. I have found that fine art discourse, a discourse from which I maintain some distance, seems well able to deal with the first two aspects of this triumvirate – Object and Process. Both of these concepts will be familiar to any practising artists, especially those schooled in an art ‘academy’ of whatever kind. It is really to the idea of Consequence that I wish to turn. This discussion was first presented to me by London-based performance artist, Lennie Lee. To me, he asks a fundamentally simple question; Why are so many artists caught up in considerations of the two former elements, and so few able to articulate the latter? The process of ‘learning art’ focuses upon practical and/or conceptual skills for the creation, primarily, and traditionally, of the ART OBJECT (a photograph, a sculpture, an installation). Postmodern societies, and the institutions therein, allow an artist the exploration, and representation of the PROCESS of art making. As Lee was making this point to me, I thought, “How right he is, I have seldom thought of the CONSEQUENCES of my art making. Does he mean on a personal level, a social level? Is this political? Financial? Physical? Metaphysical?” An obscure essay found in Sound by Artists illuminates three strategies utilised by sound artists, and a short discussion of these, although failing to adequately respond to this question, at least opens out the rather restricted options available to artists who work with sound.
Bruce Barber, a proponent of relational aesthetics (ref required), in the postscript of his essay “Radio: Audio Art’s Frightful Parent, centers his discussion on the key problematic of distribution. Writing between 1988-1991, Barber identifies three market models of distribution / sale adopted by sound artists.
• Hollywood Model. Artists following this route emulate models established by major capitalist institutions and address the conditions of “the so-called free market” (p131 (Lander 1990)). Examples of artists working in this way include Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, and to a lesser extent such figures as Louis and Bebe Barron, Kim Cascone, and Tod Dockstader.
• High Culture Model. With aspirations to the first option, artists working with this strategy produce work conforming to the tastes of a small, specialist and informed elite. While this market constituency may be relatively small, compared to the mass market of option 1, it is of significant and growing proportions. A large number of sound artists work in this way, examples range from Vito Acconci, to Joe Banks, Andres Bosshard, Richard Chartier, Beth Coleman, Tacita Dean, one might say the majority of sound artists engage, at least in part, with this model.
• Underground Model. This third option is characterized by an extremely small market and a relatively closed system of production. In many ways it mirrors and has developed from such precedents as independent record labels, tape distribution networks, short-run print publishers, alternative radio broadcasts and so on. Here we might include artists coming from a punk/post-punk industrial heritage (Throbbing Gristle, Zoviet France, Nigel Ayers, Brown Sierra, Stephan Weisser), free improvisation (David Toop, Max Eastley, Peter Cusack), radio art (Heidi Grundman et al) and other significant areas of sound art activity.
To these three options, we must also add, what might be called the Public Model, and the Institutional Model, which are both important strategies adopted by a significant number of sound artists, and it is a clear oversight on the part of Barber that the following are not discussed.
• Public Model. One might argue that sound art in public space is one of the defining characteristics of an ‘authentic’ art of sound. Be it Arseni Avraamov’s Symphony for Factory Sirens, performed throughout the city of Baku in 1923, or the public works of Max Neuhaus, Bill Fontana, Achim Wollscheid, David Chesworth and Sonia Leber, Llorenç Barber3 and so on, the relation of sound art, especially installation works, to public space is clear.
The number of sound artists using the Public Model are really too numerous to list here, but are well presented within the synthetic 3D space of the ImmApp environment. public agencies (state representatives, local councils, civil society) and creating populist work accessible to the general public.
• Institutional Model. A large number of sound artists are connected to specific institutions, these may be academic in nature (e.g. Simon Fraser University), or organised along the lines of a research institute (e.g. IRCAM, WDR). Sound artists working in the electro-acoustic (Pierre Schaeffer, Francois Bayle, Bernard Parmegiani, Jonty Harrison, Trevor Wishart, Dennis Smalley et al), and soundscape traditions (R. Murray Schaffer, Hildegard Westerkamp, Barry Truax) are commonly found embedded within such organisations. These affiliations are desirable for these artists for a combination of factors.
a. Prohibitive Cost of Technological Audio Art. At least in a historical sense, access to sophisticated audio technology (multi-channel audio systems, tape records, signal
processing equipment) was restricted to those sites with the financial resources to purchase, and maintain such equipment.
b. Issues of Reception. Works produced in such a manner require an educated and informed audience. These have often been associated with the institutions where such work was produced. In addition, and related to the first point, is that it is often only such institutions that possess suitable sites for the presentation of works produced in this way.
c. Political Legitimation. An association with an established institution bestows some degree of political weight to the personal agendas of individuals. In the case of acoustic ecology, for example the association of the movement with universities added credibility to the agendas of the respective individuals involved at the movement’s genesis.
Clearly these are not exclusive categories, and many artists will utilise some or all of these at different times in order to secure distribution of their work. We must also note that Barber was writing at a time before the internet, and the effect of this now ubiquitous distribution network upon each of the above models must surely be significant.
Barber is however, clear on one thing, and that is of the relative powerlessness of artists working at the current time, and it is here that he provides some kind of an answer to the question of the consequence of ‘making sound art’. In his discussion of Vito Acconci’s ‘Other Voices of a Second Sight’ (1974) and Samuel Beckett’s ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ (1958), Barber concludes that both these works address the ‘efficacy of art’, and conclude that the artist is,
“forced into a position of either aggrandizing his persona, renewing the stereotypes of the neo-avant garde and/or finally capitulating to the safety of the art market…producing the products that will secure the autonomy of the institution art and deny its potential to achieve, through the aims of its authors as producers, a critical praxis.” (p129 Barber in (Lander 1990))
question? —-Barber’s own later development, consequences? – re: littoral art
To conclude this section then, my residency at the KHSB set various processes in motion with regards to my formal research goals:
• The continued investigation of the Canadian context of sound art, with reference to ‘Sound by Artists’ (Lander 1990), and the artists and theorists associated with this text, specifically Gordon Monahan, Hildegard Westerkamp and Steve Heimbecker.
• My presence in Bad Ems demonstrated the clear bias towards the English-speaking world evident in my established methodology, and consequently…
• Demanded a response to the Germanic tradition of klangkunst, which resulted in a modification of the ImmApp data interface, and the inclusion of the significant number of artists presented within the ‘Klangkunst’ publication (de la Motte-Haber 1996) into the dataset.
The following artists were added to the database: Micheal Jüllich, Richard Chartier, Bernhard Gunter, Terry Fox, Peter Vögel, Thomas Körner, Paul Panhuysen, Llorenç Barber, Paul DeMarinis, Gunter Demnig, Gun, Josephine Gunschell, Matt Heckert, Felix Hess, Stephan von Huene, Robert Jacobsen, Andreas Oldorp, Pe Lang and Zimoun, Nobert Walter Peters, Maurico Kagel, Daniel Ott, Georg Ulrich Eller, Limpe Fuchs, Erwin Stache and Florian Dombois.
• Through the KHSB’s emphasis upon traditional fine art practice, and the generous efforts made by Danielle Perrier to introduce us to a number of key art institutions in Frankfurt and Cologne5, the scope and nature of my study of sound art was expanded in response to this increased familiarity with these norms of fine art practice, and the interrelationships between artist, curator, gallery, collector, public and wider civil society. This had the consequence of an extensive bibliographic review, and the restructuring and organisation of this material.
• Development of the ImmApp 3D generative environment itself. It is perhaps outside the scope of this paper to discuss these technical developments, they related to the activity touched on in footnote 2 and involve specialist digital skills and knowledge based in XML, XLST and X3D programming languages. A new Integrated Development Environment (IDE) was adopted (NetBeans) a Java-enabled development platform. This was done on the recommendation of Craig Anslow, a central figure in X3D discourse (Anslow 2006; Anslow 2006; Anslow 2007; Anslow 2007; Anslow 2007). Work done in this area suggests a number of alternative development strategies for the ImmApp. Initial investigation into the Netbeans IDE suggest that audio handling within ImmApp may be possible with the Java-based JSyn library, which may prove preferable to PureData. Should this be the case, and research is ongoing in this area, the open-source, Java-based XJ3D browser (http://www.xj3d.org/) may be chosen over the proprietary BS-Contact (http://www.bitmanagement.com/) system currently being installed at the CRiSAP Research Unit.
Anslow, C. (2006). “Web 3D Software Visualisation.” IET Short Papers Competition, Wellington, New
Anslow, C. (2007). Evaluating X3D For Use in Software Visualisation, http://www.mcs.vuw.ac.nz/.
Anslow, C., Noble James, Biddle Robert, and Marshall Stuart (2006). VET3D: a tool for execution trace
web 3D visualization. 21st ACM SIGPLAN conference on Object-oriented programming systems,
languages, and applications. Portland, Oregon, USA, ACM.
Anslow, C., Noble, James., Biddle Robert, and Marshall Stuart (2007). “X3D Software Visualization.”
Proceedings of the New Zealand Computer Science Students Research Conference.
Anslow, C. N., James; Biddle, Robert; Marshall ,Stuart ; (2007). “X3D Web Based Algorithm Animation.”
School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Computer Science Technical Report.
de la Motte-Haber, H. E. b. (1996). Klangkunst [Sound art]. Munich; New York:, Prestel.
Duguid, B. (1998). “Sound By Artists (review).” from
England, P. (1993). Sound by Artists (review). Varient: 43.
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Foucault, M. (1974). The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Routledge.
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Kahn, D. (2001). Noise Water Meat, MIT Press.
Labelle, B. (2006). Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art, Continuum.
Lander, D. (1990). Sound by Artists. Toronto, Art Metropole & Walter Philips Gallery.
Reitzenstein, R. (1991). Sound by Artists (review). MusicWorks.