Martin Backes is a Berlin-based audiovisual artist. In his latest work What Do Machines Sing Of?, he asks the old question of how a computer can communicate, or rather evoke, human sentiment. An automated machine that sings 90s ballads in a digital way, but not in a way which feels distant and cold. And that is what Backes has done very skillfully: retaining the sentimental aspect of vocal intonations, while stripping the songs bare.
Christian Skjødt is a Danish artist and composer exploring temporal, spatial, as well as physical aspects of sound and aesthetics of noise. His installation works are often site-specific and include self-built electronics. Which is the case as well for his Illumination (2014): A site-specific piece for a 18th-century wine cellar in the Botanical Garden in Riga.
Illumination examines the translation of the outer circumstances, harvesting the energy from the sun, and bringing this into the cellar in the form of sound. In the cellar the sounds are spatialised, and the particular acoustics of the dome-shaped cellar are investigated.
Each circuit/speaker is tuned to 440 Hz when it’s receiving optimal sunlight. When it’s receiving less than optimal sunlight, the perfect pitch is distorted, resulting in a microtonal cluster-type of texture due to weather conditions and the rotation of the planet.
During this year’s Sonic Acts, one of the installations that stuck with me was Mario de Vega’s DOLMEN. It hung in the main hall of the Muziekgebouw and made a whole lot of noise.
Consisting of various high frequency receivers, radio scanners and custom electronics based on logarithmic detectors, it is an intervention that explores the boundaries of human perception as well as the social, political and physical impact of telecommunications technnology by making wireless signals in space audible. If you stood below it, making a call, you could hear the normally inaudible carrier wave being amplified by de Vega’s installation. In that way it was also kind of semi-interactive, and made one really aware of all the different signals we surround ourselves with. Not only the waves of cellular phones were audible, also the carrier waves of the radios of the ships floating by.
Steven White is an visual artist from Ontario. White got the idea to convert old argicultural machines into a collection of fanciful kinetic sculptures when he and his wife moved to rural Ontario, and found a lot of obsolete equipment there. Sprockets, gears and valves on many of the pieces are interactive, and when you crank them, the sculptures produce an eerie, mechanical kind of music.
Wall Street Sound Machine is an interactive, kinetic sculpture made from an old metal roofing vent, a cast-iron wheel, gears, steel, guitar strings and a large hand-lithographed Wall St. sign. The sounds produced are dissonant and somewhat random, echoing the look of the Wall Street sign; corroded, abandoned, broken, oily and wrong. Inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, this piece highlights the underside of big commerce, showing the obsolete, broken aspects of a system that is in need of change.
Herman Kolgen is a multidisciplinary artist, working and living in Montreal. He calls himself an audiokinetic sculptor. His Urban Wind installation is part of his longer running Windfields series. The installations in this series have in common that they relate to the dynamic characteristics of the wind in one way or the other.
In Urban Wind, wind sensors are installed in strategic points in the city, be it intersections, bridges, tunnels, parks rooftops, etcetera. The velocity and direction of the wind gets analyzed and transmitted by WiFi to a group of suspended accordions that emit a euphonic soundscape. This way the audience can experience the dynamics of the wind in the city through the accordion bellows, which create harmonies influenced by the wind flow.
The recurring FIBER Festival, which is happening in Amsterdam on the 15th & 16th of May presents the forefront of audiovisual performances, interactive installations, artist and company showcases and cutting-edge electronic music in one unified experience. This year, the theme is “Subterranean; Exploring Networked Tools and Matter”. With this theme, the festival researches new forms of art that offer a peek into the networked, “smart” landscape which has emerged from a worldwide explosion of digital technology. With an exposition, workshops, a symposium, a club night, and several AV & Music performances, FIBER Festival will immerse the audience in all that is the Subterranean. During FIBER, sound artist Zeno van den Broek will premiere his new AV work Divergence, a synergy between sound, vision, and space.
Zeno’s work revolves around space, spatiality and time, using both the audial and the visual to influence space and spatial awareness. Trained as an architect, Zeno explores the richness and complexity through different modes of expression. His new album and performance “Divergence” explores the tension between space and sound and the sound induced by their manipulated representation. The album is based on pure sound waves such as sine waves and white noise, manipulating these with tape or physically to create a divergence between the perception of sound and space. Real and digital spaces interact with pure and altered sound sources, resulting in an intense sensory reaction and heightened spatial awareness through four movements.
We’re very curious to Zeno’s ideas about sound, and are thus very glad to be able to a Five Sound Questions interview with Zeno!
1. What sound from your childhood made the most impression on you?
One of my strongest memories of sound is the echoing of sounds between the apartment blocks where I grew up. The sound of a motorbike or the claxon of a car was never just the pure single sound but a multiplicity of claxons and motors, moving through the neighborhood which made it often impossible to link the sound to its source.
2. How do you listen to the world around you?
Because I’ve spend so much time intensely listening and analyzing the sound in relation to its surroundings such as reverberation and reflections I have a hard time shutting of this kind of active listening. I often find myself paying more attention to the sound of a space than to the actual subject such as a concert. This does give me beautiful and interesting experiences but sometimes I wish I could just simply enjoy the music.
3. Which place in the world do you favor for its sound?
I don’t have a specific place I would like to mention but often when people warn me for ‘bad’ places to perform sound in due to things like excessive or weird reverberation. I love working with these places, using their characteristics to shape my sounds and to bring their qualities into expression.
4. How could we make sound improve our lives?
If we all would be more aware of the impact the sounds we create have for our surroundings we would be able to improve our living environment. A sound is not something you can just turn away from and it will disappear, sound infiltrates our bodies and minds and can alter our being. The spatial area sound interacts with is something that is often overlooked.
5. What sound would you like to wake up to?
Thanks Zeno! See answers by other artists in the Five Sound Questions section, and be sure to Zeno out at the FIBER Festival on the 16th of May in Amsterdam or at the Divergence release party at Vechtclub XL on the 24th of May in Utrecht!
Mira Calix is a composer, sound designer and audio sculptor, who originally established herself releasing music on Warp Records. Since some time, she’s been incorporating her classical orchestral music into her installation pieces an theatre and opera performances.
Her latest piece, Inside There Falls, is a multi-sensory installation consisting on paper, sound, music and movement. This way, she wants us to think about storytelling and it’s essence, no matter the medium. She’s created a shimmering white environment, both physical and sonic, for the audience to explore and to experience (as you can see in the documentation from 02:30 on). The landscape seamlessly blends technology and organic materials. Comprised of over a kilometre of colossal paper sheets, a salt covered floor, a sizeable sphere of decaying paper suspended above a giant bowl of cinnamon powder, bespoke sound composition and ethereal dancers weaving amongst the multi-layered space. The blend of materials is of the essence for Calix, as the processed paper acts as a speaker, the dance is an intervention, and the light is instrumental. The story is what matters.
I love seeing multidisciplinary pieces like this, although they might be hard to wrap your head around when you’re not physically there and can only experience it by video.
The inner sounds of objects and substances picked up with contact mics or hydrophones never cease to amaze. For Inner Out, Italian sound designer and artist Nicola Giannini uses contact mics frozen in ice, and performs a concert on them by playing the ice. Using different objects and techniques, such as grinding, tapping, hitting the ice, or pouring hot water, he creates the source material which he processes with live electronics to create a surround concert.
We often think of sonification as an algorithm that translates data into an often abstract, often digital sound. R x2 by Moscow-based media artist Dmitry Morozov a.k.a. ::vtol:: is different in that aspect. In the “Sonify…” series, we look at different ways of sonifying data. This time: Earthquakes!
R x2 is a kinetic sound sculpture collecting data on the shocks in the earth’s crust (earthquakes) and capturing all of them above 0.1 Richter magnitude scale. On an average day there are up to 200 of these quakes.
The data is converted into signals that control motors connected to a bunch of Thunder Drums acoustic drums. These Thunder Drums consist of a spring attached to the skin of the drum, so when it’s shaken the spring moves and creates a continuous resonance through the body of the instrument, not unlike the rumble of thunder. The rumble that sounds fits the character of an sonified earthquake quite well.