Kubisch, “…normally I improvise. This time I have been writing. An interesting process.”
“I was asked how everything was starting…”
“No-one invented sound art…”
“Trace the roots…”
Kubisch is tracing a personal history of sound art, using examples from her own work, alongside the work of two long standing colleagues, Bernhard Leitner, and Hans Peter Kuhn.
Her narrative is linear and begins in the nineteenth century, a period where scientists, engineers and inventors were developing the technologies that were to become so important to sound art practice in the twentieth century. She then jumps forward in time to the 1970s, and argues that a similar period of invention and innovation was occurring at this time within the domain of new media.
In this way, she connects practice to technological development within broader society. Leading up to this period, she cites certain technological inventions, which she sees as important as both facilitating and limiting tools available, to varying degrees at varying times, to those involved in creative sound practice.
1958 – First stereo vinyl.
1963 – The first compact cassette.
1964 – The first stereo cassette.
1967 – The colour television.
1971 – The first microprocessor.
1975 – Portable video recorder.
1976 – Prototype of first Apple computer.
1979 – Compact disc.
Interesting in this is her focus on technologies not purely related to sound. Her inclusion of audio-visual and computing technologies highlight themes perhaps better understood as:
– Machine readable processing.
She now moves on to showing projections of work created in the 1970s. Digitised representations of her work, Leitner’s and Kuhn’s.
Projector picking up Mac.
She is introducing the early work of Leitner, who, in 1973, had moved to New York and was working as an architect.
Sound tube. 32 speakers. Only four at a time. Tape
Sound chair. Duration defined by tape length. Intimate, physical exploration.
Hans Peter Kuhn was approaching sound from the direction of theatre, and had been working with Robert Wilson.
Death, Destruction and Detroit – 1978
Body mics amplified into a room
4 channel tape
In preparing for this presentation, Kubisch requested pictures and sound files from both Kuhn and Leitner. Though both were prepared to provide pictures, neither were comfortable in providing sound. Kuhn especially connects the sound with the specifics of the site, and does not allow decontextualised representation of sound work. What is the distinction he is making here between visual and sonic material?
She is describing her early career. She was trained as a flutist, and early work dealt with extending her instrument along Cageian lines. She was working with deconstructing her musical practice; playing with boxing gloves metal thimbles, or contact microphones on her fingers.
“People were wanting to break out of traditional set-ups, such as this lecture. I now have to perform for you all”.
This is a pertinent moment of self reflectivity.
She describes her uncomfortable position at this time. She felt unlocated, most sound artists, like her colleagues Leiter and Kuhn, were not from a background in music. Their concerns were architectural (Leitner), and theatrical (Kuhn). Anecdotally she refers to a gathering of 100 artists for a sound art festival in Berlin 1996. Of this group, only 6 formally identified themselves with conservatoire styled musical training.
As the 1970s progressed, her distance from music, in a formal sense, grew, although she remained performance based, and entered an extended period of collaboration with video artists. The use of video works, and associated hardware, along with multi-channel speaker setups provided different possibilities for performer and audience, some distance from the institutionally supported, and culturally assimilated norms of serious music.
“The role of multimedia is to break up reality”.
playback > > A recording of such a performance.
Weoo Weeo Weeoo Weoo
Oscillating siren flute.
“In performances we placed speakers around the room in different places”.
She finds it strange to hear the playback of these recordings in this clinical environment. What were spatialised, contextualized, emotional and visceral performances, are now being experienced through two Genelec speakers, supported only by a PowerPoint slide, and her words.
By the 1980s, many artists who had been working independently, more or less in isolation, during the 1970s, began to meet each other, and some form of exchange and dialogue began. Technological developments, as outlined above, opened up new possibilities and many artists were creating their own equipment, wiring circuitry, developing their own tools, raising important questions about the artist as a technological designer, and the location and process of art-making.
She shows a slide of a Leitner piece from 1980, an 8 channel sound room for one person. She recalls being impressed by the simplicity, and subtlety of the work.
In 1987, she was invited to a university studio, and was able to use a computer for the first time. It was used to manipulate sound material, and the 24 hour wait, while the machine processed her data, obtained results that excited her hugely.
Le cylinder sonore
“In this kind of magic space, natural sounds, slightly modified are mixed with everyday sounds from the garden and the street”.
Speakers and lights were installed in waste piles of industrial glass. A nearby warehouse was once used to house artworks forbidden and confiscated by the Nazis. A large speaker was installed on the top of the building reciting this same, previously banned, Expressionist poetry.
Still at this point, there were few places where she had the opportunity to exhibit. Her work was seen as fine art by musical discourse, and as being too musical from the perspective of the fine art world. As a consequence, she found herself travelling a great deal, and she, and her work, toured many festivals (get specifics). This had a positive effect in bringing artists together, and a (small) network of practitioners began to grow.
Accompanying this economic and creative necessity was the growing importance of site-specific work. It is from this period that she developed a rigorous understanding of site-specific sound installation.
Her engagement with this type of work inscribes a line of flight from her conservatoire background. She became interested in creating spaces for people to listen to music without duration. She left the conservatoire and spent 2 years studying electronics. She discovered electromagnetic induction during this time, and presented her first induction piece in Sicily.
In this piece, cables were used to electromagnetically transduce two sound recordings made on a local beach. Audience members were given small cubes containing receivers and speakers, which allowed them to hear the dematerialized sound. As they moved around the space, they were also moving within, around and between two sound fields, mixing the sources through physical movement.
“The audience became active”.
By 1987, Kubisch, had developed wireless headphones, that provided the audience with a sonically more immersive experience of her invisible sound fields, and she presented work in an outdoor installation at Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria.
playback > > ‘On Air’. Cassette published 1983.
Sine wave falling. Loop.
Electronic squeals like seagulls.
Lower pitch signal.
“The aim was to create sounds that could not be identified.”
“There was another piece made with little toy computers”
playback > >
“Why” – digitally synthesized voice.
Delayed ‘primitive’ synth tone. Loop.
|—-| |—-| |—-| |—-| |—-| |—-| |—-| |—-|
At this time, in the late 1980s, Kubisch was working laboriously with tape. This type of work is familiar to the older generation of electro-acoustic composers present. Acknowledgement of shared technological and physical historic processes passes unspoken between the sound artist and the composers (Stollery, Harrison, Wyness).
As the 1990s began (and Kubisch takes care to highlight the artificiality of categorizing historical narratives into 10 year blocks), so started, what she calls, the “era of high definition”. The profound technological developments of this period, created new modalities.
“Virtual, imagined spaces, became more important than reality”.
New works became worked out in virtual spaces (the web, within software, within hardware) rather than originating within the analogue specifics of a room. Whilst sound installations would be fine-tuned once placed in the site of reception, much work was created at distance, both in a physical and metaphysical technological sense.
“Throughout the 1990s, there was a tendency to create large spaces with power and beauty.”
1999 Bernhard Leitner – ‘Acoustic Architecture’
“…like a sound forest…very dense…very beautiful.”
Kubisch found herself working in the context of theatre due to financial pressures, as well as continuing her installation work.
Listening to the Light – Tokyo.
Solar – key theme in her work
Ultrasonic speakers – to keep animals away.
When connected to solar power, they malfunction and sound like crickets.
By the turn of the millennia, developments in sound art had become so rapidly changing, as to make it difficult for a practicing artist, such as Kubisch, to keep abreast of the shifting terrain. She cites web music, and web art in a more general sense, to be very important 21st century innovations. With the involvement of many younger artists, curators, festivals and sympathetic institutions, so definitions of sound art, became much looser. She mentions sound installation as a case in point.
Leitner – 2000 – Sound serpent.
Kubisch had given up her electromagnetic induction work at this point, she had become interested in other areas of work. The cost of mounting such installations had also had also made exhibition problematic. However, the support offered by a sponsor encouraged her to reengage with induction work, and she developed a large scale work in 200x
-underground garage. Go though water soundfields, when took off headphones, heard real water sounds. 200 electromagnetic headphones.
Hans Peter Kuhn : Sound carpet.
Visitors walk on a soft carpet, but the sound creates a sense of rapid motion.
“the technology is so cheap, we have to use it.”
In developing this new work, she discovered a startling change in her environment. During the 1980s, she found some occasional electro-magnetic interference from neighbouring sites that would, on occasion, encroach upon her designed sound fields. All of these polluting frequencies were between 50-60 hertz. By the time of her ‘underground garage’ installation she was picking up new sounds, from the electromagnetic spectrum, that she had not experienced up to this point. As she researched this phenomena further, experimenting in different environments (transport systems, shops, offices) and different cities, so she found that more new sounds were coming. This research led to her ‘Electrical Walks’ series of work.
“Nothing sounds as it looks.”
“…as I walk wearing my induction headphones, I am in a different world.”
She notes how the activity of listening modifies the behaviour of the listeners, businessmen listening on one of her ‘Electrical Walks’ can be seen to behave in very un-businessman-like ways.
Electro-magnetic activity sounds very different from day to night, and each city has its own signature. Cities in Romania and Bulgaria for example, who are investing heavily in new technology, with, for example, wi-fi hotspots throughout city centres, sound “very nervous’. New York is so saturated, so dense, so heavy with signal, that Kubisch had to adjust her equipment, as the volume level was unbearable.
There are also global sounds that appear everywhere. One example of this are the scanners placed at the doors of shops to prevent shoplifting. Trans-national chains tend to use the same model, regardless of which country the shop is situated in; these have the same signature.
playback > > ‘Homage with Minimal Disinformation’
A piece based upon sounds sourced from the electromagnetic environment of New York. It was an attempt to create a work inspired by New York minimalism, which was a great influence early on in her career.
Well defined electronic pulse. Hard Attack. Movement through stereo field. Desynchronous dialog between speakers.
Low buzz – suggestion of harmony.
Rapid higher pulse.
Pure tones. Click.
Boomp. Boomp. Boomp…Boooomp.
Subtle high frequencies.
Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop. Booomp
Gdik dik dik.
Gdik dik dik
Snick ik ik ik
Tok tok Tok
Everyone is listening intently. The camera operator shrugs his shoulders at me, as if to say “Like what am I supposed to film, dude?
After about 4mins Troxler seems to want to turn the work off. Kubisch gently defends her turf, with a gentle wave of the hand. The piece continues.
Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop. Boop.
Kubisch, “We should have bigger speakers.”
In making her closing remarks, Kubisch provides an interesting insight into the economics of sound art. For her, her work is not object based. It is not something to be bought and displayed by art institutions. The nature of her work means that she has to make repeated installations, which are, as discussed above, temporary. This ephemeral, changing, site-specific approach, originating in a period where galleries and music halls were unreceptive to sound work, coupled with the necessity of travel to ‘marginal’ sites, is perhaps a vital dynamic in the generation of theory, practice, and discourse, undocumented within institutional archives, but existing as informal discussions and correspondences between practitioners, at a time when ‘sound art’, as reified object, had yet to appear. She is encouraged by the recent upswing in interest in her work, as funding support necessary for the continuation of her explorations, have, so far, remained minimal.
Questions from the Audience.
The first question is about Lamonte Young.
Kubisch replies that influence of the New York scene was very important in her finding her own voice. Not only Young, but female artists Pauline Oliveros and Annea Lockwood helped her develop confidence, in what was a misunderstood and marginalised practice.
“I was a failed artist, a failed composer, I didn’t know. They helped me.”
Second question is about the U.K. Health and Safety man. Has Kubisch had difficulties installing her work due to such concerns?
“We just did things without asking.”
The third question is regarding the piece constructed from the New York electro-magnetic recordings (‘Homage with Minimal Disinformation’).
“Is it important that people know where it comes from?”
She answers, that documentation, of installation work, is problematic, and so this type of background context is important.
“I just want to have fun. Not just to make spaces, but experiences of spaces [for the audience].”
“I’ve always found that men are more interested in how you make it, women are more interested in how it sounds (jokingly).”
The final question is about how Kubisch works out the relation between what she gives to the audience to complete, and how much control she maintains herself. Kubisch seems slightly annoyed by this question and speaks about improvisation in high art German orchestras in the 1970s.
“I found it stupid.”
“It [should be] a natural process.”
Her earlier work using cables, used to be very neat and orderly. She contrasts this with her recent work, which gives a surface impression of disorder (Below this surface however is a evolved and evolving personal language of carefully created sounds, all the more effective, hidden below a mass a tangled wires). The work is completed by people, who in recent shows have been playing quite freely with the cabling, wrapping themselves up in it, and interacting with the work in a physical and unselfconscious manner. Kubisch ends with saying that she is not interested in control per se, but on how interesting the experience is for the audience.
“I am more interested in chaos [than control].”
“Thank you Christina”.
“We will now have a coffee break for 15 minutes, as we tech the next speakers.”
Bonus Track 1) Conversation insert with Joyce Shintani.
Merleau-Ponty. embodiment. electro-acousticians now searching for physicality following the mental abstractions of the structuralists / serialists