Bad Ems, Kunstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral Residency

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” (

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 ( may be chosen over the proprietary BS-Contact ( 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,
Master’s Thesis.
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web 3D visualization. 21st ACM SIGPLAN conference on Object-oriented programming systems,
languages, and applications. Portland, Oregon, USA, ACM.
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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.
Foucault, M. (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge, Routledge.
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Kahn, D. (2001). Noise Water Meat, MIT Press.
Labelle, B. (2006). Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art, Continuum.
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David Toop’s Unknown Devices | The Laptop Orchestra | A View from the Guitarist’s Chair

A this article appears in Playing with words: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice Edited by Cathy Lane

A collection of responses from over 40 leading contemporary composers and artists who were invited to represent aspects of their creative practice with words, and in particular, the spoken word, for the printed page.

The book concentrates on the kinds of creative play to be found in different sound based genres such as electroacoustic music composition, text sound composition, and sound poetry while reflecting artistic practices in disciplines of such as digital arts, electronic, concrete and experimental poetry, performance art and fine art.

The contributors have chosen to represent their work in a variety of different ways which include writing, graphics, poetry, photographs and through interview.

Playing with Words is designed by Colin Sackett and published by CRiSAP in collaboration with RGAP.

Digital Archive Fever: Computers and the History of Art

CHArt Twenty Third Annual Conference
Birkbeck, University of London, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

Museums, galleries, archives, libraries and media organisations such as publishers and film and broadcast companies, have traditionally mediated and controlled access to cultural resources and knowledge. What is the future of such ‘top-down’ institutions in the age of ‘bottom-up’ access to knowledge and cultural artifacts through Web 2:0 technologies. Will such institutions respond to this threat to their cultural hegemony by resistance or adaptation? How can a museum or a gallery or, for that matter, a broadcasting company, appeal to an audience which has unprecedented access to cultural resources? How can institutions predicated on a cultural economy of scarcity compete in an emerging state of cultural abundance? The twenty-third CHArt conference will reflect upon these issues.

Essay Shortlisted for the 3D Visualisation in the Arts Network Student Award 2007

ICMC07, Copenhagen, Denmark. (International Computer Music Conference)

Welcome to the ICMC 07. This is the entrance to the Huset venue where the film program, installations and informal evening concerts were presented.

ICMC Poster Session: Co-presenters demo’ing their own projects. The nature of the shared space was good in as much as it allowed you to engage with the other people’s work, the negative aspects were due to the bleed of sound from one table to another, and the lack of relevance of one work to another. A classic sound art conundrum.

The poster presentations are great forums for demostrating your ideas, and opening up your work to an informed and tech savvy group of international practitioners. We hear sound artist Ellen Moffat adding a few comments about the proceedings.

Cathy Lane introducing the Sound Art and Design Department of LCC in the session of studio reports. LCC came across very well in comparison to the other schools being presented (including Sound and Media Studios at London Metropolitan University, SCRIME at University of Bordeaux, CNMAT at Berkeley, CCRMA at Stanford, and Hanyang University, Korea (presented by Richard Dudas) .

Cathy introduces the specialist areas of the School of Sound Art & Design at the London College of Communication and explains the context.

Cathy discussing the department’s interest in Sound and the Environment with particular regard to field recording and phonography practices.

Cathy outlines CRiSAP’s future plans.

Art of Immersive Soundscapes 2: Masterclass and Conference, Canada

A presentation at the Art of Immersive Soundscapes Conference, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

I also participated in the Creative Forum studying with some of Canada’s most innovative composers, acoustic designers and audio artists:

Darren Copeland (Toronto): Independent audio artist and Director of New Adventures in Sound Art, Toronto.
Dr. Christos Hatzis (University of Toronto): Distinguished multi-award-winning composer, whose music utilizes multimedia and sound art.
Stephen Heimbecker (Montreal): independent audio artist, with exhibited installations in Europe and North America.
Ellen Moffat (Saskatoon): Independent audio artist, with sound installation presentations across Canada.
Gordon Monahan (Berlin): Independent audio artist, with exhibitions and performances across Europe and North America.
Barry Truax (Simon Fraser University): Internationally celebrated pioneer and teacher in audio art, technology, and electroacoustic composition.
Dr. Ellen Waterman (University of Guelph): Creative sound artist, music performer and improviser.
Hildegard Westerkamp (Vancouver), Independent audio artist, former faculty member at Simon Fraser University, with exhibitions world-wide.

The Blurred Compilation Album (Track x): Bonus Hidden Track

Belmont Cinema bar, Aberdeen

Male voice,”I gave all that up”.

“Crap money”

The conference ended. People went off to get their flights. As an aside, a screening of the HERNoise film was announced. Few of the conference people made it down to the Belmont cinema.

playback > > Gentle exploratory sax improvisations.

Young men who were assisting in the conference, as technicians, welcoming participants etc are hanging out and chatting. A duo plays, reverbed out guitars with analog synth textures; a ten minute improvisation.

Male voice,” I wrote a song last week. From start to finish”.

playback > > Atonal punk guitars.

Male voice, “…Transylvania conquerors…”

“…live…” (Scottish accent).

This is not sound art. An independent cinema bar room. I go outside to smoke and chat to a fireman. Some talk about a collaboration with a member of the Canadian collective ‘Godspeed, You Black Emperor’.

Before coming here to the Belmont, I has an extended conversation with Jonty Harrison, which meant I missed the film screening. He feels ostracised by music, in the academic sense, and as if acousmatic music is being misappropriated by new media, pushing it into places he does not want it to go.

Male voice,”Do you know Angels of Light?”

After talking to Harrison, a short conversation with Dugal McKinnon who gave the presentation on vinyl. He does not own any, nor has he ever listened to music on vinyl. He comes from a background in ‘ants on a page’ composition.

Here, now, a single bearded, intense young man, on his knees, upon the floor, is creating a low distorted drone, somehow with a harmonica. The same model of Behringer desks that were present in the ‘academy’ during the conference are being used her, but attached to a string of guitar pedals. Delay, reverb, distortion. No granular synthesis here. A beautiful listening experience, a long way from the completed objects of Stollery, Harrison et al. Yet…

With a mouth harp, the tones pulse and build.

I think of tall trees, or a view over water. Breath as source, non-linguistics modulated by circuitry. The audience sits close – to performer, to each other. Active, eyes open. A small JVC camera records the action. There are framed pictures on the wall. A mono line of kazoo maintains spaced out beauty.

Neither high art or low.

But in-between. Less a blurring, more a contingent demarcation of personal experience.

Buzzzzz. Ice machine turns itself on.

The performer riffs against this. He is active in his spatial listening.

The magic has been broken.

I consider the body as the site of both oppression and agency. I feel totally alone in this town, yet sound has continued to connect me to a rich experiential sequence of intersecting aesthetic moments, punctuated by long periods of utter banality.

The acoustic, unamplified voice of the performer, a few moments ago an awkward disruption of the circuit-based abstracted beauty, now takes on its own meaning.

The entire audience is male.

“Walking through the sights” (sung)

In fact there are two women, both with partners.

“Walking through the skies on my bike”. (sung)

“Cheers. Thanks”.

“Sigh”. From behind me.

The people here are active listeners. Well lit. Serious. Joking. Present. Young and old.

This is not academic music, is it? Is this then low? Fuck you.

Active state, undissipated. For this instant.
I feel no pain. For this instant.

Beating tones eternal. Electricity. Shifting slabs and delicate colours. I sense 600 years of change from summer to autumn, winter to spring.

In its way, this performance modifies what might be possible to hear, and see, in such a place as this. It sounds like part of here. It does not sound like apart from here. It does not sound like apart from hear.
The manager is counting coins from behind the bar.

Low grade Celestion speakers with appropriate sound streaming through them in situ.

Still the bar manager, oblivious, continues to count the silver.

Electricity from the performer, studied engagement. My view of him is blocked by a pillar, which in some ways, I am grateful for.

Just sound, no gesture, no source, no human, just sound.

The Blurred Compilation Album (Track 19): 15.30hrs | Plenary Session

“This is a semi-virtual environment, later to be made available as an archive”. (male voice).

“How does sound art relate to the audience?” (The first question from the floor).

Kubisch is the first to respond to this. She discusses the audience experience of sound installations, and relates to her own experience of the works shown here, with a particular regard to the work shown by Giancarlo Toniutti, perhaps the most successful of the installations shown during the conference. In experiencing this work, she found herself lying down, in order to filter out the visual from the auditory, in what was a difficult space in which to present work. It seems important to her that sound installations are not exhibited as objects to sit down in front of and to watch. Toniutti joins the discussion with his conception of a ‘sound-site’, an immersive space to enter, intentionally distanced from a dialectical occularity. For him, the ideal environment in which to place work is ‘open and public’ and he is critical of the other installations which repeated unreconstructed visual codes of theatre/film.

The acousmatic composers enter the discussion with Harrison relating the question to the process of composition, where he assumes the role of the audience. He relates his listening during composition, his listening during performance; in public diffusion of his works, he is situated within the audience, embedded within their auditory field. For Stollery, composition is only complete when performed in public.

Keith Rowe, from the perspective of an improvising musician stresses the emotional nature of the relationship. He senses the psychology of the audience, and notes that this is crucial to what an improviser is able to due in a given situation. For Rowe, all performance is site-specific, as every moment is unique.
“In the room is everything”.

Kubisch responds to this with a comment about the visual aspects of site and evokes notions of sensitivity to place and of atmosphere.

It is interesting to hear Rowe articulate his concerns, as the performance he was part of yesterday, I found to be emotionless, self indulgent, tedious and one dimensional. For all his hyperbole about sensitivity to space, context and audience psychology, in no way were any of these in evidence in his so-called performance. He was so involved in his particular processes, in this case running a battery powered fan, that he seemed generally oblivious to not only the audience, and the space, but also to the intention of his improvising collaborators. He is not solely responsible for this, Mehta too, appeared so involved in what he finds an exciting deconstruction of his instrument, that his elephantine trumpeting into the corners of the room, left the world class musician de Saram floundering. I am sure Rowe has a justification in his interest in battery powered fans, there is without doubt some novelty value in playing a guitar with one, but if this fascination with object takes precedence over the necessary dynamics of tone, gesture and interpersonal action and reaction, then where are his strategies leading us?

Second question from the audience – “I feel titles are important in placing the audience in the work, but they also limit possible readings. What does the panel think about this?”

Kubisch: “I think it would be great not to have titles. It’s just pragmatics”.

Rowe: “ Performances don’t have titles, CDs do. For example “Hqrsch” a CD release came from a live recording. I listened to the recording 40-50 times until the title appeared”.

Relation to the experiential ‘what is in front of you’ of work

Kubisch – installation. The space can be the subject, to some extent, of the work.

Peformance as ritual. Applause at the end, reassuring. You know what to expect. Installation cannot be anticipated, and her work is open to may different interactions. For example with her water underground work and old lady, quite normal, would come everyday, lay down and listen to a particular sound.

What is the duration of performance? It begins and ends with a long continuum which can extend for months before and after the actual show.

Rowe, Zen archery example. You must know a process so intimately that you cannot make a mistake. There is no such thing as chance.

Tonuitti – disagress, there is always the accidental. In his installation the low frequencies were vibrating the room – unitended, but interesting.

Final question from audience: ”What do you take away from the conference?”

“some money”.
“some experience”
Tonuitti: “relations”
“receiving new ideas”.

Kubisch: ”Time out to connect parts of my brain. I got some ideas for some new work”.

Rowe:” I’m not going to know for a long time. There’s something there though. I’m in two minds about such places as this, either to tear them all down, or that these should be the most revered places in society”

Stollery: ”Pride at being able to attract such high calibre musicians and sound artists to our little town”.

Harrison: ”Meeting people from different areas the same field. Some are on the high ground, some are on the other ground”.

Thompson: ”I would like to express my personal gratitude to everyone”.

A gift of a boxed tuning fork is presented to each of the panel members.


The Blurred Compilation Album (Track 18): 13.30hrs | Concert Hall. Acousmatic Concert Over a multi-channel loudspeaker diffusion system

Stollery, “What you will not see are performers”.

“The diffusers are in the centre of the room”.

“The speaker system consists of stereo pairs, and will diffuse sound from all around the room, and also give the appearance of sound coming from outside the room”.

Pete Stollery | ‘scenes /rendez-vous’

The first piece presented ‘scenes /rendez-vous’ by Stollery is introduced by a film by Claude le Louche. The film was an attempt by the filmmaker to travel a certain route through Paris in a speeding Mercedes with a short period of time. As Stollery’s father was dying, father and son repeatedly watched the film. Following the death of his father Stollery visited Paris and made recordings along the route taken by LeLouche; these recordings formed the basis of the composition. It seemed anomalous, in an acousmatic presentation, to connect the work with the visual domain.

Sketches made during performance.

Washhhhhhhm of white noise sound.

Beep (car horn)

Traffic sounds moving left         to         right and             right

Car horn modified into thematic material.

Car horn filtered from all other noise acting as anchoring drone.

Very low bass hum.

Digital scrapes – like bottles being tapped by coins.

A coin spinning on a table – eternal. This is a heavily treated section.

Raw street sound. Mopeds, other vehicles. Slight treatment enhancing spativality.

Little granular chimes – unidentifiable source.

Play on the stereo field.

Thor coughs.

Street sounds.

Passing cars.


Thor coughs.

Something being shaken or pushed.

Passing             traffic             spatialised.

Door slams.
Squeak of child or cat.
Running water.

Treated background washed out texture.

Water being poured onto some different surface.

James Wyness | “Metallurgy”

He is working from a score. His piece is much more spatial, the sounds seem much more separated. He is mixing manually on an old analog mixing desk, riding the faders of the multiple stereo pairs.

For this work, the Scottish artist gained entry to a small metal working factory. During his time there he made a series of recordings of working men and machines. In addition to this he obtained off cuts of metal which he then used to create instruments, also heard in the piece.

An immersion in sculpted sound.

A fading in and out of raw source material and abstracted inner processes.

A poetic work operating on a number of levels:

An exploration of this particular room.

An exploration of a specific local context and work environment.

An investigation into the sonic properties of the material used in that workplace (various metals) – he created instruments constructed from waste obtained from the metal factory.

A investigation into the electro-acoustic techniques of transformation.

Further to this, an unexpected spontaneity of performance.

An audience member utters a small moan of appreciation.

I am unable to describe my experience of sound in this context. The material is too rich, too dynamic, too changing, too spatial and shifting to be represented by writing.

A small bat type sound flicks from the left to the right of the room, pricking my awareness, forming connections between underdeveloped synapses.

There is consummate control of sound in a positive sense.

Nothing over the past few days comes close to the sheer poetics of these pieces. What might airlines, bus companies, architects learn from these artists?

Each composer has announced themselves acoustically and succinctly proving just enough to provide an intriguing entry point into the work.

Chimes, gongs, rain.

Wind or a travelling train.

Scrunkle. Leaves?

Small chimes.

Again the physical impression of natural sound.

Modified water – which becomes more so, like a scribbling pen on paper.

Ke –             binng.
CHoin –     choing     – choing

Bloop –         bloop         woopa         wooopa

Kak cha-cha.

Shaka.            shaka.shaka.

Wopple –             whoople bloip bloip             blop blop

Woip-woip woip woip-woip bubble-bubble

Tubba                     tuba

Dzzz     Dzzz     zeeerr

Creak-creak Creak-creak  Creak-creak  Creak-creak

Dup-dup Dup-dup Dup-dup Dup-dup


Scribble                 scrubble                 scribble



D-zee-          de-ze,         d’ze


Something is now squeaking rhythmically, a mechanism turning. Not loud.

Café sounds. Birdsong. A canary?

Pans being gonged.

Indistinct conversation – male and female.

A click. (Billiard balls?)

Passing traffic, very spatialised.

An aeroplane passes overhead.

An opera singer from a radio in some kind of distance.

Sudden extreme processing. Washes of sounds – source unidentified.

Car horn type sound, very abstracted becomes a choral chant.
It is now                     fading a    w        a        y.

Whistling.         Broken     snatches of         conversation.

Claking footsteps. A crowd of people. A touch of flute. A touch of fiddle music.



Jonty Harrison | Unsound Objects

I am watching his fingers flicker over the faders of the mixing desk. It is so beautiful. Detailed. Defined. Dangerous.

Running water. So much ‘waterness’.

He rides the array of stereo pairs as a thunderclap enters. What beautiful power. Powerful beauty.

To see Jonty, clearly enjoying himself in the throes of live acousmatic performance is to understand his problems with academia. This music is intuitive. He is using no score, and he anticipates each sound object, moving them around the room. He is placed in the middle of the audience, the position of best audition. An interaction between composer-player-space-technology-representation.

He twists his head around to map the audio levels front and rear.

Ocean waves. Walking on shingle. Children’s voices. A fade to a bell-like electric tone.
To near silence.


He grins, nods his appreciation.