Writing this at the end of a gloomy year, when the world is in the shadow of Covid 19, it’s hard not to feel envy for London diarist Samuel Pepys. I miss that feeling of being swept away by music in a shared space. Pepys was writing in 1668, only two years after The Plague had forced theatres to close across London. Even in the seventeenth century, people knew social distancing could stall an outbreak. This year more than any other, I can imagine how Pepys must have treasured such a rapturous live performance once the city had reopened for business.
“…to the King’s House to see ‘The Virgin Martyr’…that which did please me beyond any thing in the whole world was the wind-musique when the angel comes down, which is so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home, and at home, I was able to think of any thing, but remained all night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any musick hath that real command over the soul of a man as this did upon me:’’
Samuel Pepys, London diarist, 27 February 1668
Pepys describes his night at the King’s House (a theatre in London’s Drury Lane) so vividly. I recognise that feeling of being transported by a passage of music and obsessing about it endlessly afterwards. I’m particularly struck by the language Pepys uses about this experience. The emotions that wrapped his soul made him feel ‘really sick’. He compares this feeling to love sickness, rather than the grave sickness which must have been within all too recent memory.
‘Sickness’ is such a revealing description. With it comes the suggestion of something out of control, perilous – perhaps a contagion: a sickness that spreads from person to person. As a performer or listener, I’m always chasing that moment in a show: the musical inflection, juxtaposition of sounds or harmonic progression that causes an intense emotion to flood the room, overwhelming everyone present. Writing in 2013, music psychologist Stephen Davies uses the term ‘emotional contagion’ to describe such an event. I’d say the most memorable and engaging live music events are also remarkable emotion transmitters. The music enables the performer to share emotions within a room, without the need for words – and the sense of communion can be spellbinding. Of course this infection is a scattergun and imprecise affair. One person’s song of yearning is another person’s song of elation or foreboding (or boredom). The gap between affect and its analysis is huge and therein lies the art. Clockwork explanations of these feelings always feel inadequate. Nevertheless, in case they are of interest, here are some concepts I’ve drawn on over the last few years:
My own work encompasses both electronic and acoustic instruments. And as an ‘analogue native’, brought up on the UK folk scene, I find it easiest to fathom how emotions are conjured and transmitted by singers and acoustic instrumentalists. When a guitarist plays, she embodies emotion with her arms, hands and fingers – something happens to the forcefulness, speed, evenness and many other qualities of her gestures. Every gestural nuance has an impact on the resulting sound. Thus the instrument acts as a gesture transmitter. The finest acoustic instrument, in the best possible hands, could even be described as a gesture amplifier. It enables the most introspective feelings and subtle intentions to be sonified and heard throughout a room. On hearing the music – and seeing the player – we can’t help mirroring her feelings. We experience echoes of the player’s emotion in our own mind and body. A lot has been conjectured about the mechanism for this. One popular (but still hotly debated) explanation invokes mirror neurons. These postulated brain cells fire when we observe someone performing an action; just as they would do if we performed the action ourselves. This firing enables us to empathise – to feel gestures and coupled emotions, as though they are our own.
Although I started my performing career as an instrumentalist, I have also had a lifelong interest in electronics. And by 2005 (as soon as I could afford the gear), I started to venture out, performing compositions on a laptop. I soon discovered music which sounded engaging in my studio rarely translated to the stage. The laptop seemed an impoverished gestural encoder compared to the instruments I’d played for many years, gestural devices which had evolved over centuries. While I know there are many fine laptop performers, in my own laptop-based work, something was missing.
Responding to this, I decided to design and build robotic instruments which could give the algorithmic elements of my work a more compelling physical presence. These included The Ealing Feeder, a 28-note polyphonic, robotic carillon. This instrument can play automatically, leaving my hands free for other musical duties (for instance playing a keyboard, or a theremin). It can perform at lighting speed – way outside the capabilities of a flesh-and-blood performer – creating a haze of metallic sound. It can play from a midi score or perform algorithmic patterns to create endless variations on the fly.
When I perform with the Ealing Feeder, its many imperfections introduce an unexpected charm of their own. The carillon can never play perfectly evenly as the bell’s beaters are held on springs. These springs have sagged and stretched over time, giving the instrument a slight unevenness of execution. As it plays, the whole machine sways slightly and creaks so no two performances are the same. There are sympathetic resonances between the bells and these vary with position – this instrument has a distinctive spatial footprint. A robotic carillon built into a virtual sample library would be a lot easier to lug to gigs but wouldn’t have the same impact as these imperfections would be so difficult to model. As roboticist Rodney Brooks commented: ‘the world is its own best model—always exactly up to date and complete in every detail.’ I want to continue exploring hybrid modes of performance where the laptop is exploited for its ability to create algorithmic patterns but those patterns are physically embodied. I want to keep laptop music – but with all the acoustic richness of physical objects moving and colliding in the real world.
Robotic instruments can add a sense of jeopardy to a show. When you watch the Ealing Feeder in motion, for example, you might be wondering if it will make it to the end of the piece. There is of course considerable jeopardy in many laptop-based performances too. But I’m interested in the heightened attentiveness that occurs when an audience can see a mechanical device working close to the edge of its capabilities (one which by the end of a tour, is partly held together with electrical tape).
My earliest robotic instruments, such as the robot theremin-playing doll Clara 2.0, and Hugo, the 1930s, robotic ventriloquist’s dummy, were figurative- they wouldn’t look out of place in cabaret. These early experiments are now retired (although Hugo happily performed a guest spot under the Sonoscopia umbrella for FIMP’20 in October). I soon discovered these figurative pieces forced a certain interpretation. I’m now focussing on more abstract robotic instruments. I want to explore the minimal requirements for emotionally engaging live digital performance. Of course robotic instruments are only one way to engage an audience. And my own are only a partial answer to the concerns I have with laptop performance. They may be physically embodied sound makers but they don’t respond in real-time to gestures. In general, I think a successful set needs an answer to the question: ‘Why should we experiencing this music here, in a shared space, rather than simply listening to it at home?’
I honestly don’t know what’s necessary to answer the question above. And in a summer when I was marooned on the settee, watching live gigs on Zoom while recovering from Covid 19, I found myself challenging every one of the statements I’ve written in this article. I’d always subscribed to the Renaissance idea of Grace – that emergent phenomenon that descends on a room, between performer and the audience, when all the necessary musical conditions are aligned. But over the last few weeks I’ve had plenty of moments of Grace watching musicians on a pixellated connection as they stream their performance from a living room or an empty auditorium. Listening is about something far more than the reception of sound. In a live setting we can see a performer, feel the heat of the room, sense the presence of other listeners and more – all our senses contribute to the experience. Thankfully though, in this most dreadful of years, we’ve also confirmed that music is the most rugged of emotion transmitters. It can transport us, even when we experience it alone and remotely, over a lousy connection during lockdown. Music is certainly about more than the perception of sound waves. I’m still trying to fathom the other ingredients.
Video recorded live at CCOP, Porto, Portugal, at Festival Internacional de Marionetas do Porto (FIMP).
Sarah Angliss: composition, theremin, flute, voice and electronics
Stephen Hiscock: percussion
Some encounters seem inevitable. More than a simple aesthetic affinity, this recording mirrors a way of being and a particular view of the world that characterises the entities involved in this collaboration. Jim Strong is an American artist, instrument builder and one of Vox Populi’s gallery programmers. In his instruments there is a point of contact with Sonoscopia’s universe – the interest in randomness, the eccentricity of some sounds and the visual complementarity that frames them. These three elements end up being the main guidelines of the music that was created, in a particularly strange and beautiful context: a huge house, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, where various objects accumulate with a carefully chaotic methodology.
ARTIST: JIM STRONG & SONOSCOPIA
TITLE: JIM STRONG & SONOSCOPIA
A1. Mixed Blind Cuts
A2. Just For Cycles
A3. The Road Inside
A4. Three Passages
A5. One Night Running Tales
B1. Blessed Are The Shadows
B2. Sunset and Seventh Light
B3. This Is a Wire
B4. Body Razor
Gustavo Costa - Drums and Percussion
Tiago Ângelo - Trumpet and Objects
Recorded by Gustavo Costa at Dead Roses, Philadelphia.
I am neither nor an academic researcher, scientist, theorist, musicologist, writer or philosopher. So I can only write about this topic based from my subjective view point. This is a collection of observations and experiences within the past years of moving in the so-called „experimental music scene“. First as a growing up spectator, then as learning student and finally as a professional practitioner.
BACKGROUND/CHILDHOOD – Anarchy and islands of free thought in the country side of Lower Bavaria
I was born and grew up in rural Bavaria, which in the late sixties, early seventies and throughout the 80ies become a perfect retreat for anarchists, free thinkers, outsiders, communards or artists. Many of whom were linked to or frustrated by the after effects of the 1960ies left wing student revolts mostly taking place in larger cities all over Germany. Those of them with a non-destructive attitude and new ideas about social living came there with their utopian ideas and started converting old given up farms into small alternative hubs which became birth cells for this new ideas. A big fashion were communes, the farms were ideal for such projects, and in many of them this new communities started rethinking life (social and political), relationship, family, sex, sustainability, agriculture, ecology, art and they questioned the way conservative society was acting and organized. These „farms“ were spread out all over Bavaria. My family had moved there around 1968/1969 and we were loosely connected to this „scene“ in the otherwise quite conservative and catholic area. The alternative farms created a grid which was sometimes more, or less loosely forming a gridlike web and was interconnected on social level like sharing news and experiences. Sometimes the next „island“ would be 2-10 km away, others 10-20km up to 50 or 100 km. When somebody new moved there these people would usually make a round of introduction visits and thus everybody knew that like minded people had arrived. Some connections became close and tight, others stayed friendly but distant for simple reasons like sympathy or interests. I still remember that from early on as a child I grew up with the understanding that there were this two kinds of worlds existing around me. A) the „normal“ conservative catholic farmers and villagers with who we mostly interacted with for simple daily life matters like farming (tools, materials, but also selling our products) and of course my brother and me going to school meeting the neighbor kids. B) were the free thinking islands of the alternative scene.
Early on I very quickly and often also painfully learned that in B) I could act and speak freely of what I thought or heard at my parents house while in A) such openess could quickly lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, defamation, social exclusion or even legal actions or disputes.
When I entered school the first thing I learned was that I was different and did not really fit the normal. Almost everything I was wearing or consuming was homemade: the clothes, my school bag or my sandwiches. This was pigeonholed as not normal, strange, weird and many fellow school kids, supposedly the „normal ones“ started to tease and mob me. Or let’s say they were trying for a while. Nevertheless for me this was a painful experience, because I could at first not understand why. Why did I not fit into their social group or community? All the classic mechanisms of discrimination I would experience here. Worst was the defamation based on what the kids has picked up from their parents talking about us. So luckily from very early on I started moving in B), the alternative islands, as behaviors here were much looser and free. Of course here there many unwritten codes, rules and conventions as well. More than you would assume, but they were constantly evaluated and questioned, often consciously provoked, and thus more dynamic and in a flux.
As one could expect many of the communes did not work out or last long. Free love/sex was an illusion and too many cased of bed hopping broke up relationships and soon in the communes many returned to more classic relation- and partnerships. Also many but luckily not all soon gave up the idea of self sustained living utopies and especially farming once they realized that it needed a lot of time, hard work, persistence and patience to achieve good results. Some already in the early eighties and most finally in the late 80ies with the fall of the wall in East Germany became pretty demoralized and frustrated, many even thought they had failed. As they full illusion in the beginning now they were not seeing what seeds they had planted for the next generation, not necessarily with their own kids, but more so for quite some younger ones born to the conservative farmers and villagers described in A). Quite some of the conventional farms got turned into organic farms by the next generation once they realized that conventional farming for certain sized farms would be a dead end. Many of the before mentioned people as described in B) still live in their places, some of there are still shared community houses, quite some of them are now working as artists, with more or less visible success.
(AFRO-)AMERICAN JAZZ AND ITS IMPACT IN EUROPE in the 1970ies and 1980ies.
Short before my 12th birthday a good friend of our family, a visual artist, former communard and music collector invited me to join him for a camping trip to a jazz festival in the Austrian mountains. Initially I was very curious about the mountains and less about the music. When we arrived everyone wanted to go for a swim but I decided to skip that and to already check out the festival tent. When I came in they were resetting the stage and soon after a relaxed black guy with sunglasses started to move around the stage which was set with nothing else than percussion, drums, gongs, cymbals or timpanis and he was performing occasional whooshes, bangs, splashes and rolls. This was the most extreme music I had every heard. I was surprised and in my naive childish way I thought wow, I did not know that there exists such an abstract music in Africa. It later turned out that I had witnessed one of the rare solo concerts of Andrew Cyrille. I saw that beside the stage there were many more interesting looking people and so I decided to check out the backstage zone.
Next was a Japanese trio and I started to dance, right on stage, as I knew it and as we were used to do with all kids when there was a band playing at one of the rare parties at the alternative farms described before. Soon this started to get me into trouble with the organizers who thought that I was disturbing the music. At one point this skinny, friendly black guy who was dressed in colorful selfmade clothes and wearing a funny hat was dancing with me there. He asked me a lot of questions about my parents, the farm and we had a really good time showing each other dance steps and different moves. I was not aware who this guy was, I only realized that suddenly the organizers got very friendly and accepted me there. When this guy started playing his pocket trumpet, it was a revelation, a sound and music I had never heard before, and music had found me.
It was not only the deep spiritual component of his and his peers music, it was also this very special community of people who I had found and met. It was for the first time that I did not feel in the wrong place, or that I was being acting wrong. Don and his peer musicians accepted me as I was, and through my dancing talent as one of them. Don introduced to all the other musicians at the festival, explained me their art or what was special about them and as he knew everybody I met a lot of people and outstanding musicians. I went back home, started music and started learning about the history of this music and its people. I was deeply into the avantgarde from 1959 onwards, studied the music and the who is who of who played and worked with whom, but also the tradition and where it came from. A really interesting revelation for me was to learn about the interconnectedness of all the different musicians involved in this music. An important role of course played the big hubs like New York City or Chicago, but equally important was the European festival circuit which brought musicians over and journalists, audience and fans together.
While being often neglected in their turbo capitalistic home country, playing under horrible conditions and often struggling to leave the ghetto, in Europe their art, skill and value was received with enthusiasm, appreciation and respect. They created a scene or community of likeminded.
BERLIN AFTER THE WALL
I came to Berlin for the first time in the summer of 1990 after the wall had come down, right before the official unification during my school holidays. I had heard a lot of stories about the uniqueness of Berlin from my parents who met each therein the 1960ies and who witnessed the beginnings of the leftwing student movement. They never returned after they left in 1968/1969 and again from older colleagues and friends like Sven Åke-Johansson, Wolfgang Seidel, Peter Hollinger or Klaus Kürvers I heard about the 1970ies and 1980ies in West Berlin and similar from Johannes Bauer, Dietmar Diesner, Conny Bauer or Assi Glöde about the same time period in East Berlin. About how special these days were on both sides. But it was in 1989/1990 that all this myth and island like status was heavily shaken over night, questioned and the rules completely reshuffled. Up until then this two islands, West and East Berlin, which where artificially kept alive with enormous fundings, were like two opposing role models next to each other trying to prove: it is our system which is the right one. This special situation attracted a lot of free thinkers, alternative people, artists, musicians to Berlin on both sides of the iron curtain to live their ideas. For the music scenes it meant a lot of privileges, like very good funding, cheap living costs or the freedom to tour (to the West) for some of the East German musicians.
When I came to visit I directly dived into the East Berlin squat scene, which was really exciting and very free. As there were many empty buildings in the Eastern part of town and an unclear political situation, a lot of young people from not only West Berlin used this vacuum and squatted houses and apartments in the East. Very fast they became zones of free thinking, autonomous life and social experiment. I was staying in a house in Friedrichshain for free, met a lot of interesting people and did several concerts with musicians like Marc Weiser, Bob Rutman and Marc Boukouya. The houses not only attracted people who were not willing to pay rent, left wing utopists or radical anarchists from the black block, but also many artists and musicians who were using the opportunity to get hold of empty cheap space to set up their studios, rehearsal rooms and concerts. While the established experimental music scene at that time was mostly controlled (via funding) by two „mafias“, the West Berlin mafia and the East Berlin mafia, it was extremely difficult for young musicians to get accepted or have the opportunity to perform in the established venues.
In the meantime for the young generation it was much easier and faster to set-up concerts in the squats who were mostly busy holding plenums to organize the often chaotic house communities with often very random and disparate characters. In plus they were under permanent danger of being evicted or aggressed by neo-fascist skinheads. They had space and often no interest in their storefront shops or backyard former craft/factory spaces. All you needed to do was to show up at one of the many and frequent plenums, listen a few hours to the often repeating and senseless discussions (who is gonna clean the community kitchen or the toilets for the next week), finally present your idea/venture and get the approval from those present and get going. Then everything would be self organized, you would design and your own posters, glue them all over town, clean or build the stage, set up the technical gear, put somebody at the door, buy beers and finally perform (usually completely exhausted from all the preparations), pay the musicians, and get drunk.
Especially interesting were this plenums as there were constantly some going on: first floor plenum, second floor plenum, third floor plenum, fourth floor plenum, back house plenum, front house plenum, whole house plenum, street plenum, district plenum, entire city plenum, … When I came the first time, I was attending a lot of them, because I found them so absurd, only sometimes interesting and most of the times frustrating and more often than not leading to any result. They also explain why later in my projects I like to work on music collectively but why I prefer to work alone or with clear roles when it comes to organization. In the time the plenum or involved group has agreed on something most of work can be already be done. Most fascinating was and I witnessed this many times, that finally after hours of listening to everyones opinion, hours of discussing where you accept even the most crazy view points and characters, when you finally and very slowly get to the decision making and finding consensus, one person who came in late starts opposing and everyone needs to start the discussion all over again. Still I have to say that in this early squat days they were way more open to any non mainstream position or movement than any of the established spots around town.
After this extraordinary summer 1990 I returned back to Bavaria to finish my school, very short after Mainzerstrasse was brutally evicted. I only came back to Berlin briefly for concerts and a couple of weeks after my final exams at school. I moved to Munich for 3-4 years to study visual arts, worked with a composer and started developing my ideas. When I finally settled in Berlin in 1995 the squat scene from 1990 had changed a lot. Most of the houses now had contracts or were negotiating such, some started buying and renovating the properties. And, more important, there were now many other like minded young musicians from my generation. Many of the before mentioned unused former stores were now used as communal bars, concert venues or for cinema screenings and community theatre. And this meant for us many performing opportunities.
As our generation was still mostly kept out of established venues, our generation happily used the free zones of the former squats to experiment and to present the results of this experimentations. As we did not fit anywhere else we were kind of accepted or tolerated. As long as the punks could drink beer, they mostly left us alone. Also some people from the squats who basically never heard of this music or its history got involved in organizing, which had its pros and cons. And slowly also a small but loyal crowd of people started becoming interested in what we were doing and started coming to our concerts. With big ups and downs in the beginning but with a much more stable development from around 2000. An important factor always was and played a huge role from the beginning was the one of self-organization. First concerts in squats with photocopied posters, later the first festivals, labels and concert tours. As we were initially not accepted or invited by the generation before we were forced to do so, otherwise we would have never had a chance. Like this quite early on reliable network started to build.
There were big changes in Berlin around 2000 when for the first time space started to be more rare. A lot of venues disappeared after the first renovation phase in Berlin and as a reaction some musicians started organizing house concerts in their small apartments. At the same time international attention recognition started and many of the musicians attracted interest from journalists, magazines, promoters, festivals and international like minded musicians who started to come and visit. Many of us got invited, and worldwide touring activity rapidly increased. This sometimes created its own problems within the community: who gets the visibility, and who not. People from outside (labels, promoters, journalists) were attempting to control the scene by whom they invited or simply with money. There were some bitter moments, but over time this problem was solving by itself. The musicians are still there while many of those „influencers“ have disappeared or are not anymore into this kind of music. From 2005 onwards several new generations started to arrive in Berlin, an almost endless stream of mew people expanding the scene. Younger musicians with their own ideas and approaches finally asking us similar questions as we did to the older ones back in the early 1990ies and sometimes calling us“ „established“. Even if they are to some extend right, I still think the overall climate in Berlins has really changed. New and younger positions are finding their way into he scene much more easily by just simply getting involved. Nobody from the experimental scene will be „consciously“ kept out, people will be able to advertise their concerts on the Echtzeitmusik calendar and will be able to perform in one of the many existing underground venues. In the meantime the community of musicians has grown so massively that it is difficult to keep the overview and to know who is doing what. The only big threaten besides Covid tight now is the frightening development of the real estate market with its exploding prices.
DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES [OBSERVATIONS]
– Early 2000s in Europe [France, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, UK]
– USA 2001
– Eastern Europe around 2004-2006 [Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, Russia, …]
– USA 2004
– Baltics, Scandinavia 2004, 2006, 2007
– Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia ca. 2007-2008
– Europe again. 2007-2010 [Italy, France, Portugal, Baltic States, Hungary, Czech Republic
– Berlin/Paris 2009
– Canada & USA 2010
– USA 2015
– Paris and Mexico 2016
– South East Asia 2017 +2019 [Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan]
– Los Angeles + Mexico 2017
– Istanbul 2018
– Mexico 2020
Before I was mainly talking about the socio-political climate I grew up in and my first years of formation which was mainly dealing with trying to understand in which community background I was raised and coming from. That slowly transformed into a process of actively taking part in shaping a new community, One which I could identify with in generational aspects and questions and which I kind of wanted to consider myself being a part of. This was not an easy task. I was very often disappointed, hurt or frustrated by behaviors and actions from friends and colleagues with actions which I did not expected in such a community. But in the end of the day I started to accept, that maybe there is not really something you could call a like-minded community and that I got mostly disappointed as I had too many expectations myself. I finally revised and learned to reduce my expectations. I decided that as long as there is capitalism nothing such like „community“ as I understand it can exist. More so a collection of egos who sometimes collaborate but they then usually return to their singular ego capsules. And that communities (or maybe better call it interest groups) often only work for a short while before they start reorganizing and re-forming. Some people arrive new, others drop out, again others return. You mostly only go a certain shared path together and then part again.
Of course you have an audience, but also this is under constant flux. Some people come to concerts when they are young or new in the city, or when they expect something from the scene, when they want to become part of it, wanting to become involved (also as musicologists, curators, etc.…) and this kind of music than can become a career starter for some. When they finally settle (in their work, or family life) they suddenly disappear and might not be seen again. Same for all active in a scene you can not speak of a homogenic group, it is constantly changing.
From the early efforts of community building in a local scene this expanded and through my work I got the chance to travel and thus I was often an invited guest for sharing my music with other communities (audiences) and started interacting with more and more international musicians and thus their small networks (audiences, more musicians). What I noticed from early on was, that most, if not 80% of all activity worldwide is being organized by fellow musicians or some enthusiasts, who are fans of this kind of music. They will set up concerts in the community they live in and very often the audience mainly consists of their friends and the friends of friends. If this is an open minded group of people (and if the invited musicians are doing good job in playing good music) such communities can grow word by mouth. On festivals audiences can reach a capacity of 100-300 people which already is a lot for this kind of music. If no funding is involved much a turn out can still create an almost self-sustainable system just by ticket and merchandise sales. But most of the times such communities need to rely on financial sponsorship (mostly public funding) to pay significant fees and to cover all other costs.
When I started touring internationally around 1999/2000 with my own electro-acoustic music, the first invitations came from France. In France there had existed a very good funding structure for the arts plus the famous social status for all artists which is backing up all freelancers in times when they have no work. There are many points where we can be critical about this status. For example the aspect that many French musicians have no big interest in touring outside of France as this is not benefitting their status. One good thing is that the financial independence generates a certain climate for the arts in general. Artists are officially recognized by the state (at least until now) and this also creates a huge community of people who are involved and who come to events and festivals. I have to point out though, that my first invitations to perform in France came through the recommendations of a very dedicated activist who is a musician himself and who for many years was running one of the best mailorders and distributions for experimental music. He heard our music and handed it on to promotors telling them „check it out, you should get them over, this is fresh“.
Coming out of the rough and very often cold Berlin squat atmosphere arriving there in France at first was a shock. Amazing treatment (hospitality, food, …), fantastic technical conditions (good sound systems, dedicated, respectful and knowledgeable technicians) and finally fantastic and large audiences with many musicians amongst, but not only. What at first seemed to be a wonderful dreamland then also soon showed its shadowy sides. We were invited because somehow over we had become the new hip shit, the new phenomena. As fast as we were raised to the high plateau they were trying to kick some of us off it again. First of all because we could become to powerful, second because local musicians got jealous and were claiming „ we can do that too“ and last not least by older generations who were fearing the new competition. Soon I started to learn about the downside of the French system. Which is that maybe for a certain centralized history there is a group of very few and well connected people who are pulling the strings behind the curtains and who are making the decisions. Which reminded me of the Berlin of the early 90ies. We can call it the French mafia. If you would not be approved by these people or being nice to them, it could get very difficult to get the important gigs. Several respected French colleagues stated that they were feeling bored and sick of the fact that certain festivals over the years were inviting the same 25 or so musicians over and over again. As much as we were celebrated for a short period of time in France I felt dumped right after and it took some years to be able to come back.
My first tours in Europe were with the still active electro-acoustic trio Perlonex. Perlonex was musically always an amazing chameleon fusing all kinds of styles and approaches of experimental music and thus never fitting into categories like improvisation, new music, electro-acoustic, pure noise, pure industrial, drone, etc. It was always all this and more and that lead to a lot of interest and invitations from very different scenes. We would play one night in drip dry improv venues, next night in a punk rock club, another evening in a classical concert hall in front of contemporary music academics and next in an electronic techno club. This usually worked out as we could adapt our program without compromising our overall aesthetics by sometimes just boosting the volume, or sparseing out our material. But of course it often also lead to irritations from audiences who came in with expectations when reading our names and what they thought they would stand for.
With this cross-genre approach at the beginning of our touring and during the early years we were able to see a lot of different communities in different European countries, soon also in the USA, and other overseas countries.
For example in the Netherlands and in Belgium back in the day I observed that it seemed relatively easy for artists, collectives or all kinds of activists to get hold of a building and then receive government funding for operating it as a non-profit association. A good example amongst many would be Extrapol Nijmegen. Here you could basically for see what would become the future of many squats in Berlin too: institutionalization.
You squat a place, make it more and more legal by talking to the city, use arts and culture to justify its existence, institutionalize yourself and then you have a certain save structure which can even create paid jobs and careers. The funding which such places in end they have for content usually is not very high, you are mainly serving the structure. Similar in Belgium, where you have heaps of associations who receive heaps of public funding. For us in Berlin this seemed to be dreamland, but very soon we would understand that content production was not necessarily the primary interest but a necessity for such institutions for having a public face. Same for Worm Rotterdam which was when we came there for the first time a sympathetic small record store run by enthusiasts who were also hosting concerts. Next time I came to perform Worm it was massive building with something like 10-15 or more people working in artificially created jobs supported by public money. Impressive but also somewhat sad.
Way more healthy initiatives in my opinion were and still are places like Cave12 in Genève or Le102 in Grenoble (to just name a few) who both came out of the squat movement. In both cases there were dedicated people involved who started to organize concerts of experimental music out of interest. Cave12 in the meantime and after a longer period of nomadic homelessness have managed to build their own venue, are supported by the city and still run 3-4 concerts per week without compromising their idea.They still manage to pay the musicians, cook a nice dinner and are able to pull a significant audience.
Born out of certain frustrating experiences with recording labels around 1999/2000 I had started my own imprint releasing a few CDRs and CDs, with the first run being quite DIY made of handprinted silk-screen covers and self burned CDRs. One of the effects besides being invited to perform a few clubs and festivals in France was an invitation to tour the US with Perlonex. I was contacted by Manny Theiner who had reviewed the releases in some American magazines. He actually smashed them, but obviously still found the music interesting enough to offer us a 35-40 gig tour cross country coast to coast. The conditions were worrisome, but I had failed to book sense making US tours twice, so we decided to go along with it. 35-40 gigs in the US where none of has had previously performed before. It meant buying expensive flight tickets, renting a van to be shared with another Australian band we did not know, buying additional gear, smuggling in 100s of CDs and merchandise, and finally sharing the nights with the other „noise“ act. What was waiting for us was a constant up and down of experiences in a completely rough underground but well connected DIY experimental noise scene. Hours of driving, hours of carrying, learning to play without soundcheck, learning to play night after night and still functioning after more than 10 gigs on a row. Learning how to sleep with earplugs between snoring drunken colleagues, between fridges, ventilators, dog pissed clothes, filthy mattraces, cockroaches, on rooftops or what would be luxury: on stage or in the club we just performed where sometimes people from the audience were still partying. More hours of driving, many moments of getting lost and still finding the venue, waiting for the promotor or person in charge, living from toasted cream cheese bagels topped with garlic for breakfast and cheap pizza slices for dinner, and horrible malt liquor instead of beer after the gig. Sometimes being kicked out of the venue for drinking beer, or next night being kicked into the venue for drinking outside the venue.
All the concerts were door money, and as a big surprise all the concerts Manny booked were indeed happening except for those which fell through due to a flood in Texas. Many of the concerts were attended by rather small crowds (if they were happening in mythic cities like New York or if there were no local support bands), but the more remote and provincial the places became where we played, the more interesting, open minded and welcoming the audiences, the promoters and their friends were to us. We had an amazing time in Cincinatti/Ohio, Louisville/Kentucky, St.Louis/Missouri or Champaign/Urbana/Illinois. Most of the concerts were booked into were noise shows, some of them quite dull with local performers wearing masks running contact mics through distortion pedals. But we also heard some interesting stuff. What surprised me was this sense of community and interconnectedness the US underground scene definitely had. And certain unspoken rules which keep that absolutely non-funded music alive (or at least did so for a certain while): a) everybody pays donations at the door, often more than the suggested minimum b) all the money goes to the touring bands/artists, even if the locals usually bring the audience they don’t take any money c) almost everyone in the audience buys merchandise. Like this we were actually able to break even in the end of the tour. Those of us who had enough merge even made a nice plus just on CD sales. Also because we went to every local record store every morning before we left town and sold them our merch on wholesale price.
There are still a few things I never understood:
1) How can it be that none of the promotors except for a few exceptions never ever thinks about the fact that a touring artist will need food and a place to stay, especially when performing under such conditions. Very soon we learned „ask, otherwise we will be homeless“.
2) How can it be that one of the most developed and rich countries in the world has so shitty sound systems and such horrible food?!!?
Of course we were were quite impressed by this massive network of possible gigs and venues, but the downside of it definitely is the lack quality of many of the initiatives existing (at least speaking of the noise scene). Here you can clearly see what is left when capitalism hits hard, and when this marginalized music does not get government/funding support. The 2001 US-tour experience completely disrupted my ideas about an utopia of self-organized or self-sustaining systems in the underground of music. I learned a lot on this tour. How to stay cool in difficult situations, how to deal with the worst conditions, how to still keep the integrity in your music under such conditions. Also to appreciate even more good financial and technical concert conditions like we still have them in Europe. And to also show this appreciation to the organizers, because if you don’t they will be the next to burn out.
I was so worn out and tired when I returned from the US that I could hardly handle and was completely overwhelmed by the amazing conditions of my next gig on a nice summer festival in Bourgogne/France. Amazing music, nice colleagues, fantastic attentive audience, good food + wine, hotel shuttles, great sound, and on top an outstanding fee.
Around 2002 and 2003 I had fallen into a crisis. It was partly due to the fact that I did not know how to handle the early attention the Berlin young scene suddenly received internationally. Another reason was that there were suddenly certain „influencers“ on the scene who were trying to tell us what we were supposed to play or how the music was supposed to sound like. It was the phase of religious reductionism. I had been part of a certain research and found minimalistic, reduced or focussed strategies quite interesting (formally, sonically, texturally). For that I was fine to eliminate or reduce certain parameters (melody, rhythm, emotion, etc.), but I was not into reducing parameters like volume, or density. Everything became quite religious for a while. I felt that this was getting too rigid for me. On top I was disappointed by some friends and colleagues who obviously thought that there would be a big career in this kind of music and who started acting selfish, opportunistic and non-solidary towards me and others. I even lost the belief that something like a healthy community could exist, that even in our scene the capitalistic and egoist system of growth and personal gain had taken over, that people were not aware of this.
For a moment I was that frustrated that I was thinking of quitting music, but then I realized that it was not my „mistake“ or „problem“, that I just needed to rethink the parameters of how I wanted to do music, with whom, and why. My new rule was „I will only keep and perform projects which I deeply enjoy, which are fun. Everything else, no!“ I went through the list of my projects and actually onlyor two remained.
I stated to bring back full on noise and volume into my music, I stopped using a laptop on stage and instead I decided for turntables as my main tool and I started having a lot of fun with them, on stage, in the rehearsal room or in the studio. People could feel that and after two sour years invitations started coming back. Many of them now in Poland, where I had performed first In Warsaw around 2003 and where I had met a wonderful community of electronic, noise and experimental musicians. As I had not much to do in Berlin around that time in 2003 I stayed a couple of weeks longer after my concert and really enjoyed the welcoming down to earth atmosphere there. I enjoyed the hospitality, the existential simplicity which reminded me of my upbringing, the deep knowledge of music by many colleagues and journalists, the black humor, the respect for my work, and that I could speak my thoughts without people being afraid of that.
So from 2003 and throughout the following years I worked a lot in Poland, brought Polish musicians over to Berlin or on tour in Germany and collaborated with a lot of different musicians like Sebastian Buczek, Kamil Kowalczyk, Zbigniew Karkowski, Robert Piotrowicz, Maciek Sienkiewicz, Jacek Staniszewski, Dawid Szczeny and many more. These musicians were considered more or less the first generation of noise and experimental electronic music in Poland. One thing I observed was something I have seen in other countries but never that extreme like in Poland: when experimental music was new (also when I came the first time to Warsaw) huge audiences came out to concerts. I assume out of sheer curiosity, but numbers then dropped down fast and recently the scene performs in front of the same few insider people like in other places. I have never understood this phenomena, maybe there is a lack of communication, translation and education from the knowledgable to the newbies. Also I noticed that in Poland and similar in other Eastern European countries that activists, musicians and audience drop out of the scene once they reach a certain age. They become serious, have kids, pick up a decent job, and live a normal family life. The latter can happen in Berlin too, but it is way more rare. Experimental music and family seems less a contradiction in Berlin or certain Western European countries than in other regions. Maybe because of the social welfare and the monetary funding system, but that can’t be the only reason.
Around 2004/2005 I started getting quite busy, more than ever before. I was playing very physical cut-up noise music sets, had some attention as experimental turntablsim came strongly into focus for a while and probably because audiences and promoters could just feel the fun I had performing with my rotating surfaces set-up. I had a few successful tours with the Canadian turntable legend Martin Tetréault in Europe, I collaborated with the breakcore maverick Jason Forrest in a noise band and in Perlonex we started working with Charlemagne Palestine which gave us some extra attention. From 2004 to 2006 or 2007 I also worked for the label, record store and mail-order Staalplaat (which quite soon turned out to be a horrible job) but I met a few interesting people through this, like the Russian underground legend Alexei Borisov. And I had more opportunities to tour and meet different communities.
Like in 2004 the Bay Area Improvisor scene. I was Invited by Ernest-Diaz Infante to come to California to perform the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival and I got some travel funding from the Berlin Senate to pay for the flights. I was boarding the flight to the US with mixed feelings after the 2001 US experience, but meeting the Bay Area scene was a completely different story. The hospitality, curiosity and openess towards visiting overseas artist was overwhelming and touching. I was received with such warmth and support, it was really something I had not expected and many friendships and connections are lasting until today.
What stroke me was how many things aesthetically were happening in parallel. Some people would play jazz, improvised music and contemporary classical stuff but would not exclude others who would be into electronic, noise and hardcore music. Others were into installation, sound art and conceptual minimalism. Maybe the scene could not afford to exclude others, maybe it was because of the warm friendly climate that makes people more generous or laid-back. It is hard to say. Of course there were/are animosities between certain people too, that’s normal, but my impression was that these were more on a personal level than on an aesthetic or artistic one. Or maybe the scene was small enough that they could simply not afford to fight. I had a great time, super nice concerts and I bought boxes full of cheap amazing vinyls and tons of books in the wonderful SF book stores. When I came back to Berlin I felt sad beause I thought „why can’t we also be so relaxed in positive with each other in Berlin“. The Bay experience was important for me also to learn that there exists a different kind of America than what we witnessed back in 2001.
In Berlin finally I started to receive more recognition for my work, which I could feel audience wise, but also from fundings which I would receive more often than before for small festivals or projects. A nice stipend allowed me to build a few sound installations. Another important moment in 2003/2004 for me was that I found a 60m studio space in east of Friedrichshain on a beautiful forgotten site of a former GDR construction company. The site was wild, there was an illegal bar on Thursdays and illegal parties on the weekends. Plus a random selection of artists, architects and fellow musicians using the left behind rooms. First time ever I had a studio space where I could experiment, rehearse, record, built, think and explore or just store gear and material. It lasted until 2010 and was quite a stable situation for me before the real estate prices started exploding so that we got kicked out within short notice. Again I made the experience that it is not wise to just throw together a heterogenic group of highly individualistic people who have nothing more in common than the interest in cheap space. There were all kinds of activities and crazy plans proclaimed which of course never happened. There also were many intrigues and finally frustrations from people but I did not care too much about all this as I had made it clear from the beginning: I was not interested in a communal art project nor a commune, all I wanted was space to work.
Between 2004-2006 we performed a few concerts and tours around Scandinavia, the Baltics and Russia with Perlonex, other bands or alone. It was interesting to see the really small communities in Sweden, Norway or Finland which were mostly highly funded and which was pretty much out ratio with the amount of audience finally coming to the concerts. In Russia and the Baltics it was completely different. No money (Russia), but thousands of people at the festival completely freaking out on the music, in Latvia a very well organized festival, with ok money, but also an amazingly curious and crazy audience.
In 2007 or 2008 we toured Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. It was my first time to fly so far, I was terribly worried about jet lag and friends from Australia gave us the tip to interrupt the flight in KL oder Singapore for a couple of days, play a gig, get a massage and then travel on. We followed the advice and it worked out well. For the first time I arrived in a place where everything was completely unfamiliar and new. The air, heat, humidity, the food, smells, noises on the street, everything. The tropical rain at 6pm which seems to refresh but just makes the steaming worse right after. Plus a completely excited young crowd at the concert. With a kid jumping up holding our drummers bass drum when it started slipping for the rest of the concert. I became really curious about Asia, but it took another 10 years that I finally could go there again and travel more thoroughly. In KL you could still feel that then everything was at its beginnings. People were proud about a punk concert at a private house which they called a squat, but in the end it was a teenie hardcore band sounding like a US grunge band, and teen boys and girls in short pants were standing around drinking beer. Finally the police came because of neighbors who had complained about too many people standing outside on the street. Still, we enjoyed it and had a good time, but you could not talk about a community of experimental music there, and it sadly never became one, more about that later.
Our next stop was New Zealand, another place I had never been, and we performed in three cities, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. All the cities there had healthy small communities of experimental music which again were organized by a small and dedicated group of individuals who were deeply into experimental music and who often were musicians themselves. Thus in each place we met a small but dedicated audience, and were welcomed with big hospitality and often stayed with musicians or private people who generously opened their homes for us. It would be too long to talk about all the different concerts, venues, organizers, etc. but one thing I will never forget. In Wellington we got invited by an audience member to one or their frequent (Sunday) meetings where many different people from their community would meet up and play music together. Our drummer thought it would be a jam session and said nope, but my guitar player and I were curious, we had nothing to do the next day and decided to go. The meeting was in an old big wooden former church building and musicians slowly started to arrive. There was coffee, tee, juices, cookies and cakes which everyone brought and after some chit-chat and greetings people started to set-up and plug their instruments and the music started to take off. What surprised me was the generosity with which the people involved managed to include everyone with his/her personal ideas. All this completely independent from skill level or fame.
There were professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs playing on different skill level. All this did not matter, all what mattered was that the people of this community wanted to have a good time playing music together and were curious to explore. Whoever had an idea would describe it and the group would try to realize it. My guitar player joined in on a guitar they borrowed to him. I just enjoyed a wonderful warm and communal afternoon in the best sense of the word. And this afternoon confirmed once more my decision from 2004 (to do only what is fun and joy).
Australia in many ways reminded me of the US in terms of the extremely difficult economical situation many Australian artists especially in experimental music seem to be struggling with. Still there exists an outstanding experimental music community and highly individual musicians, many of them we know in Europe and I am sure the tradition will continue to grow. Many have to have side jobs, work in exile in Europe or in the academic field in order to be able to sustain themselves financially. We were very fortunate to tour an amazing sound art festival taking place in different cities across the country (Brisbane, Castlemaine, Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, Sydney). I am always fascinated with the incredible unique music coming out of Australia and fortunately we have a very connection between the Australian and Berlin scene with many ongoing collaborations.
Back in Europe between 2007-2010 my touring continuously intensified, a lot of interesting new artists and musicians in the mean time had moved to Berlin from all over Europe and other countries. Starting projects with many of them also means traveling to their countries of origin. So I would suddenly tour again in France, Italy, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary, to just name a few, under often difficult and sometimes precarious conditions. In those days I would often be on tour for 10 days, come back to pay my bills, and after a couple of days go on tour again. I started feeling the toll this life took. Constant lack of sleep, hours of traveling in buses, trains or planes. Arriving, small time to set-up, give everything, and finally party with the usually nice people you would meet. Then again lack of sleep, lack of privacy due to missing budget for hotel rooms, more traveling. I noticed especially that in Italy the whole system of underground music runs in former squats and under financially devastating conditions with almost no public funding. People will always treat you nice, good food, free alcohol, great hangs and parties but you go out with very little money. This forces you to often take regional trains for keeping expenses low and you often deal with rough technical situations. Another problem I experienced in Italy is that concerts can be cancelled very short notice.
While when coming to Portugal for the first time I experienced some of the warmest, calm and most supportive people I have ever met in my career. I travelled there the first time in 2010 completely worn out after organizing a four weeks festival in Berlin for a residency in the mountain region of Nodar working on a conceptual sound art piece. I will never forget the concentrated and peaceful atmosphere by not only the people, but also the landscape, even the goats and live-stock. Every time I cam back, I had the same great experience. The experimental music and sound art scene back then was still at its beginnings but has continued to grow eversincme.
In 2009 i was commuting between Paris and Berlin as I had a girl friend there. It was a time I was again a bit tired from the rough conditions in Berlin. You could never relax or have a steady situation even though I did have a well-funded orchestra project with turntablists from all around but nothing that was ever guaranteed to stay stable. Going to visit my partner in Paris was a very enjoyable and welcome change. She had a day job and so I would recover from my Berlin lack of sleep in the mornings, cook lunch for her and then work on my projects in the afternoon, stroll Paris a bit, connect with a few people and finally check out mostly African music in the evenings. Only rarely experimental music as I was at the time bored by it and not so interested by what was going on in Paris at the time. But African music, from all the different countries and regions of West and Central Africa, wow, I loved it! Something we do not really have in Berlin and after a short while people from the different African communities would even recognize and greet me on the street and give me tips, where to go and what was on. One way was to go to African shops in Barbés or Montreuil and pick up some flyers or take a photo from the posters in the grocery stores. Another trick was to frequently go to some of the many African restaurants and just ask. I miss it, the music, the joy, the dance. A bit sad for me though was to see how strongly segregated the different African communities were. Only Cote D’Ivoire people if a Cote D’Ivoire singer was on or mostly Malians if it was a Mali band playing. And mostly no white French people except if it would be a famous superstar. More than once I was the only white person at such concerts.
2009 and 2010 after five years I had another US and Canadian tour, but this time in selected larger cities like New York City, Chicago and the Bay Area again. It was en entirely different experience this time. I had nice places to stay at with friends or artists in New York and Chicago, also in San Francisco.
I had much better connections and much better concerts in all the cities, with local musicians and people who were coming through town at the same time. I had technical support from friends lending me their turntable and a beautiful residency in Chicago in a loft called „The Enemy“ run by a bunch of experimental noise musicians. I could stay and work there for a certain time before I would travel on. I also had financial support from Berlin again and I was earning better fees because of teaching several guest lecture at different universities. While New York and Chicago felt more relaxed to me, the Bay Area scene seemed to be in a financial/survival struggle. Audiences were much better than in 2001 because somehow over the years some people had heard about me and came out to see the shows.
One of the most touching moments was the reconnection with Mwata Bowden, an Afroamerican reeds player from the AACM who I had met as a teenager in Austria who in 2009 performed with the AACM-big band at the Velvet Lounge. We I approached him and told him my name he was so happy to meet that we decided to meet up for playing/rehearsing and recording at The Enemy. The resulting experience was memorial for me, two seemingly musical worlds and approached, from my past and the present, coming together. Interesting here also that in Chicago the black and the white music communities are still segregated and seem to not really interact much except for a few exceptions.
After an intense work period in 2011 and 2012 with performances at the Ferienkurse für Musik in Darmstadt and short appearance at Documenta Kassel I decided to take a break and sabbatical from touring. I was tired and burned out and I decided to only perform concerts in Berlin for a while, but not on the road. I brought back the saxophone, painting and drawing, and most important: composing. Also I used the time to engage in new musical partnerships and projects, with musicians from the jazz scene like Oliver Steidle, Christian Lillinger or Achim Kaufmann, and around 2013 I started a new ensemble called Circuit Training which was conceived as a workshop ensemble investigating scores and structured concepts brought in by the individual members of the group.
It was only in 2015 that I started traveling again. The scene had definitely changed, not only with different promoters, festivals and musicians who came up, but also from a monetary aspect as I could witness in another Bay Area visit in early 2015. I was preparing a graphic score for an evening at SF Sound, but it was complicated to get the musicians together for even one rehearsal and I could feel the financial stress that was oppressing everyone from the creative communities, a tendency I could also observe during my next visit in the USA in 2017. A nice exception would be the experience at the No Idea Festival in Austin also in 2015. Austin being a big exception in the general struggle of the US underground music communities who are in constant fight against this big monster capitalism and with continuously raising real estate prices and living costs. The reason that Austin is being in contrast to all other cities in the US is that it has cultural funding which is coming out of a hotel tax the city charges tourists with. Like this music and arts can thrive, and a lot of interesting musicians have good opportunities to get paid work, in plus there are labels, venues, festivals and a continuously growing audience. From 2016 I started traveling again but this time with residencies and stipends and not with a touring routine like in the old days. The residencies gave me the chance to stay in a city/country and to deeply engage with the people & daily life. First six months in Paris with a two weeks interrupting visit in Mexico in 2016, then 3 months across South East Asia in early 2017 visiting Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia and another three months in Los Angeles followed by a whole month of Mexico the same year. In 2018 I spend 4 months in Istanbul, then another 3 in Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Myanmar and Malaysia and finally another 4 weeks divided between Manila and Tokyo. In early 2020 I got rejected entry in the USA and right after went straight to Mexico for another stay of 4 weeks collaborating with different projects.
After touring and traveling Western capitalistic countries for so many years finally my stays in Mexico and especially South East Asia were a revelation and mind opener. When in 2008 I visited Malaysia there was only a marginal experimental music scene, but in the 10 years in-between something had really taken off. Especially the still young scenes in Vietnam and Indonesia were fresh and astonishing, same for Myanmar and Taiwan. Sadly in Malaysia the potential I had felt in 2008 was not anymore blossoming and the whole scene had fractured into different opposing camps which were dominated by different musicians who were not collaborating nor communicating with each other. A completely different situation is in Indonesia where I found an exploding and interconnected young noise scene who are setting up festivals, tours, labels and zines and who organize events which are sometimes attended by 100s of people. While in Vietnam or Myanmar the audiences are smaller, the inventiveness of the participating musicians is sheer endless. They incorporate musical influences from outside (which enter from Western countries like electronic music, extended techniques or noise) and mix them up with traditional and national instruments. The outcome is a really exploratory approach and a highly unique music based on their own traditions. Similar tendencies can be heard in Taiwan and the Philippines. When I was traveling South East Asia I started to regret that I had wasted so much time in Western countries and not visited this amazing places earlier, places where monetary questions are less important and subordinate to those of community. An experience I have strongly missed since my childhood days and which I sadly miss even in the Berlin experimental music communities.
The relationship between video maker Inti Gallardo and Sonoscopia began a few months before this recording, at the Tsonami meetings, in Valparaíso, Chile. In yet another particularly troubled moment in Chilean history, freedom and justice were in demand for a people in a state of resistance. The sound and visual environment captured during this period by the end of 2019, was thus transported to another reality, now on the other side of the ocean, at Sonoscopia’s operations base. This recording was made during a live presentation of the images captured in Chile. Interestingly, it was the last public presentation made at Sonoscopia’s space, precisely on the day the first infections of a new virus were announced, what would end up changing the course of history and relaunching, even more, the debate on freedom and control.
ARTIST: INTI GALLARDO & SONOSCOPIA
TITLE: INTI GALLARDO & SONOSCOPIA
A1. Mnemo(c)yne Nómada
Alberto Lopes - Objects
João Ricardo - Electronics
Gustavo Costa - Percussion and Acoustic Laptop
Henrique Fernandes - Objects and Hydrophones
Recorded by Gustavo Costa at Sonoscopia, Porto.
Som Desorganizado is an annual event organized by Sonoscopia, dedicated to the exploration and critical reflection on sound and the multiple ways it can be transformed into musical artifacts. This encounter is part of the association’s activities and it focus on the potential of improvisation and collaborative composition, news instruments, technologies, forms of expression and the relationship to the public. The second volumes includes two CDs which showcase results of two artistic residencies by the French saxophone player Bertrand Denzler and the American guitar player and instrument creator Stephen Dorocke. Like 2018’s box, this one includes a set of 139 illustrations created by a group of amateurs from all around the world who are in no way connected to Sonoscopia – the so-called Microworkers; their work was based on detailed textual instructions drafted by Ilan Manouach during the event. The photographs that come with the box were also taken by Rui Pinheiro, whose close collaboration with Sonoscopia allows him to translate into images some of the sound details of all the work produced by artists in the event.
BOX SET WITH:
– 2 CD’s
– 138 Illustrations by Ilan Manouach / Microworkers (12×12 cm)
– 6 Photographies by Rui Pinheiro (12×12 cm)
CD1 – Sonoscopie
Bertrand Denzler – Saxophone and Composition
Henrique Fernandes – Objects
Gustavo Costa – Percussion
Alberto Lopes – Electric Guitar
CD2 – Aeroles
Stephen Dorocke – Rhyzophon
Alberto Lopes – Electric Guitar
Henrique Fernandes – Objects
João Ricardo – Electronics
Gustavo Costa – Percussion
Adriana Sá / Gamut Ensemble / Gijs Gieskes / Ilan Manouach / José Alberto Gomes / Mateo Mena / Miguel Carvalhais / Paulo Rodrigues / Rodrigo Costanzo / Tiago Fróis / Victor Gama / Wade Matthews
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Gustavo Costa at Sonoscopia, Porto (CD1)
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by João Ricardo at Sonoscopia, Porto / Additional Editing by Gustavo Costa (CD2)
llustration by Ilan Manouach / Microworkers
Photography by Rui Pinheiro
In August 2018, together with sound engineer Ladislav Mirvald and the mappa music label, we realized a series of sound mappings of selected churches situated on the Gothic Route in southern Slovakia, working under the auspices of the residency series UŠAMI: Sound mapping camp.
The Gothic Route connects cultural and historical heritage from the regions of Gemer, Spiš and Malohont. In the past, these places were important centers of art and crafts in Central Europe due their rich mineral deposits and deposits of non-ferrous metals and iron. Natural resources and mining created the social and economic conditions for the development of arts, crafts and education in these regions. Their economic prosperity during the Gothic period significantly contributed to the expansion of their cultural life. Thanks to the iron trade, these areas became a crossroads of many artistic directions, especially from Italy. With the rise of mining and metallurgy, the regions became rapidly rich and this can be seen on local Gothic churches which show artistically rich paintings and artefacts. At that time, churches were an important center for cultural exchange. This does not correspond to their current image. The buildings have lost their social and cultural status which is also reflected in their physical condition.
How do I change the space if I start to consider it in the terms of sound, its form and its relevance? In a society that prefers to see than to hear, where the eye is understood as the most important sense-organ for collecting information, can the shift in attention from seeing to hearing provide new approaches to perceiving the everyday social reality? Unlike the visual, the auditory perception cannot be reduced to a specific image. The listening experience always takes place in a space in which it interacts with the acoustic world surrounding it. When I listen to loud music on headphones while walking through the city, it is the sonic spectrum around my headphones that keeps me informed about the passing tram or car. Despite of the isolation of the headphones, the reproduced music comes into direct contact with the space outside them. The sound manifests itself as vibration, a dynamic relation between the external and the internal, mediated through the ear and it allows the external phenomenon to get into the body and provide information. The sound that travels from its source into my body passes through a series of events between the object, the subject and the space between
them. This provides a sense of presence and transmits a variety of information about the sound source and the space in which it travels. Information transmitted sonically contains a psychological and emotional message. This forms an environment for creating relations (LaBelle, 2009). Sound is a register of temporary exchanges, experiences and sharing. The relation between the sound and the space become the subject of interest for mapping selected localities of the Gothic Route. We focused our attention on representative objects located within the route. The aim was to reflect the place’s current state and its relation to the past, rather than to create an exact analysis of the sound environment of select places. For this reason, three churches were selected as objects representing the region’s past. The mapped churches were The Gothic Protestant Church in Štítnik from the 14th and 15th century, the late Gothic Protestant Church in Dobšíná from the end of the 15th century and the rural Protestant Church in Brdárka with Gothic and Renaissance elements from the late 17th century. During the scouting process, we took into account the buildings’ locations – the structures should stand outside the industrialised parts of the country, isolated from motorways, factories, airports and other sources of anthropogenic sounds. The selection of the mapped churches is a compromise based on location of the spaces, their availability and their cultural and historical importance.
The church in Štítnik is situated in the middle of a small village. The church in Dobšíná is located near the center of the former mining town. Both churches are located in the valleys between the national park Slovak Karst and the Slovak Paradise mountain range. These two churches are still active and regularly host religious ceremonies. The last mapped church was in Brdárka. The village stands on the outskirts, in isolation, on the slopes of the mountain Veľký Radzim in the north-eastern part of the Revúcka Highlands, and is home to around seventy inhabitants. The Brdárka church is also active, but the religious ceremonies take place irregularly and only during important Christian holidays. This church will be used in the following text to describe the theoretical background, motivations and methods of the sound interventions. We stayed in each of the mapped churches for two to three days, depending on the character and difficulty of production and logistics of the project. The interventions took place always during night and in the early morning hours. The sound environment of the night landscape is quieter, with no excessive acoustic pollution caused by the air transport and traffic. Sonic events, musical or others, cannot be isolated from the spatial conditions of their physical transmission. Night interventions provided more acoustically attractive situations for mapping and working with sound in order to capture the sonic environment without sonic situations caused by the mechanics of the anthropogenic world.
Brdárka is a small village located in a valley in the Revúcka Highlands. The village has no railway connection and only one dirt road leads to it, which also ends there. This is the only official road for supplying around forty houses in the village. The countryside around is surrounded by meadows, pastures and hilly forest terrain. The village location and its isolation from the industrialised land makes its sound environment well protected from the noises of the anthropogenic world. The local soundscape consists mainly of sounds typical for the climate and geographical location of Brdárka. The soundscape of the daytime is shaped mostly by the sounds of surrounding forests and pastures, birds, insects and the flock of sheep from a nearby farm. The dominant feature of the night soundscape is silence defined by the isolation of the surrounding hills, disturbed only by the pervasive singing of crickets from the nearby meadows.1 These sounds represent the fundamental sonic spectrum which has archetypal significance for the place. Despite the fact that the sounds created by the surrounding landscape may not be always consciously perceived, they are constantly present and thus it is not possible to ignore their significance. They affect human behaviour and the possible absence of them can result in a behavioural and organisational change for people who listen to them. These sounds allow to define the nature of the individual and the society living in such an environment (Schafer, 1994).
At the forefront of the ambience created by the landscape, there appear sound signals made by man and his activity, which are consciously heard and mediate symbolic values. They are often organised into logical codes offering meaning to those who can interpret them. Such a code was the sound of church bells from the village’s protestant church built in 1696 on the site of the former wooden church. The construction is a typical example of simple rural church with Renaissance and Baroque elements which was later extended by a bell tower, wooden altar with spiral columns and a cornice fitted with angels’ figures and moulding with gilded plastic acanthus ornaments. The
1 The heard sounds were affected by the season in which the mapped place was visited.
church has a longitudinal main nave with a floor of quarried stone and a wooden triforium on carved pillars on which stands a pipe organ.
The sound environment of the past rural landscape was quiet and calm, the most significant acoustic manifestation being the sound of the sacred space. At the time of its origins the church represented an important institution for the organisation and formation of everyday life in the village and its surroundings. The church parish was an acoustic space that was created and bounded by the sonic horizon of the bell tower. It represented a medium which through the sound of ringing bells informed the community about activities of the religious institution and the community it served, as well as about possible threats and dangers. Church bells are a significant acoustic symbol of Christian life. Their sounds represent an important communication tool. The symbolic experience from listening to the church bells is shaped subjectively, depending on the hearing capacity and the psychological, cultural and social background of the listener. There is no universal approach to the listening process, each culture listens in its own way (Augoyard and Torgue, 2005). In Christianity, the divine is signalised by the sound of a sacred place – the church, which is the formation place of religious identity (Kvíčalová, 2019). The sacral was shared not only by the voice of the preachers, prayers and songs of the faithful and the sound of the pipe organ, but also by the loudest instrument of that time, the church bell. All in order to lead to listening to the sacred. Sound was not perceived as a background of religious life only, but as an active factor that mediated and organised social events. Bell-ringing announced religious ceremonies, deaths, weddings, time, weather changes and the threats of the war. The sound of bells co-creates and organises the social life in the village and its surrounding. The church bell has a centripetal acoustic quality, unites and connects the community on the social level in the same way as it unites and connects the individual with the sacred.
In many regions, it was customary to ring the bells in honour of the arrival of ecclesiastical authority. Ringing as a tool of honour became attractive even outside of the religious hierarchies, as when the bell rang in favour of local nobility. This act was legitimized through sponsorship and co-financing of the bell’s production where the bell’s relief often contains the name of such person or a phrase representing the title of the nobility and its relation to God. In the age when people believe that the sound of the bells and bell bronze has purifying qualities and can invite angels to participate on the prayers or chase away demons causing plague and episodic disasters such as bad
harvest and droughts, ringing in honour of an individual or family was a welcome mechanism of power structure (Corbin, 2004). Thus, the church bells strengthened the existing social division. At a time when the church was one of the primary sources of information and one of the establishments creating social structures, sound was used as a political tool.
The bell sound was a tool for sharing information as well as a qualitative indicator of time. In the time of origin of the mapped churches, time was not understood as a continuous and measurable flow of unique intervals as it is today. The mechanical clocks were a luxurious artefact which were not available to everyone. Bell-ringing announced only several entitled moments within the day, week and year. The bell was a tool for measuring the qualitative time; an acoustic calendar. Sunday’s act of dressing and later attendance at the Christian ceremony was organised by the sound of the bells. The sonic perception of measurable time was firmly in the hands of those who had the access to the church bells. The bell as a time indicator had the advantage over the mechanical clock in the fact that it was not necessary to face it directly. The bell emits an acoustic pressure that spread evenly in all directions. One type of sound regularly resonated above the sound spectrum and organised the life of the community. The association of the bells with time was not accidental. In the Christian tradition, ringing in the regular intervals was associated with understanding time as a cleric by its sacralization, where the bell indicates the beginning of the day (creation of the world and light), regular calls for prayer (as an indicator of Christ) and the end of the day (the end of light, apocalypse). In the 7th century, Pope Sabinian decided that the monastery bells should ring seven times a day, which later defined the canonical hours (Schafer, 1994). In the life of a Christian community the acoustic signal defined by the bell represented a continuous rhythm in the daily activities, which gave qualitative properties to time.
In addition to liturgical and canonical contents, bell-ringing served to inform about imminent dangers such as fires or weather changes, as well as about community and social events. In everyday life, the sound of the bells’ acoustic signals called the community to devoutness, mourning, joy and warned of impending danger. The difference between various ways of ringing and the values they indicated was generally known. No matter how intense the religious belief was, the sound of the bells symbolically represented the institution organising the local community (Corbin, 1998). The bells formed a culture of the senses and the community’s habitus. The emotional
impact of the ringing bells formed a sense for territorial identity based on affiliation with the local religious organisation and its community. While the sound was to be heard throughout specific territories the sound of the bells became a tool for constructing and structuring space.
Beyond the sacral and social content, sound was used as a tool for navigation in space, specifically in highland and coastal areas. The sound of the bells allowed to find the right direction for the wandering travellers. In the coastlands with no lighthouses, the bell sound was one of the navigation tools. The bell ringing framed the space by defining the sonic horizon of home. The sound of the bells was one of the greatest sonic events for the rural population in their civil life (Corbin, 1998).
The mapped churches were built between the 14th and the 17th century, during a time with no acoustic pollution, when the sonic landscape was not disturbed by the sound of industrialised society and the anthropogenic world. The symbolic meaning of the auditory signals has changed and the sound of the bells gradually became desacralized. The mapped objects still fulfil their religious role, but the radical change in the rhythm of everyday life, habits and culture of senses raises the question of how to conserve the historical significance of these sounds. For the current time it is difficult to grasp the complexity of meanings of the bell sound and its impact on the social reality of an individual and their community. The sound helped to localize one in space and time and defined the social structures in which the life of an individual and community took place. In the rural country, the sound of the bells was an important tool for mass-communication. Learning the original meanings and what the sacral sound defined in the everyday social reality of the past provided the basis for designing the sound interventions. The aim was not to reconstruct their previous meanings but to critically reflect their current condition; to present the state in which the original meanings changed or were transformed. The church as a physical object remained, but its symbolic values were deconstructed. The secular mythologies that shaped the social reality became quiet. Factors that formed the ideas, structures and hierarchies disappeared. The only thing left was the physical substance, space itself. How to reflect the situation in which the sound of transmitted messages lost its original meaning and what is the role of the space in which the sound had resonated? The method of the intervention, which was based on the composition practice of avant-garde music, was subordinated to this.
In the late 1960s, composer Alvin Lucier left conventional musical instruments, as many of his colleagues did at that time, and sought the inspiration out of the framework of traditional composition. Lucier started to think of sound as a measurable wavelength. This turn symbolises radical change in thinking about musical composition and its relation to physical space. The wavelength, as a distance between repeated wave intervals, enables one to get a functional image of the space by travelling through, passing through and rebounding from the objects situated within the space. Using simple noises that Lucier had reproduced in various spaces allowed the place and its architectural solution to participate on the sonic experience. The intention of such composed works was to draw attention to the space itself and its exploration using one’s own hearing (Lucier, 1995). The interest has spread from the two-dimensional tradition into the three-dimensional world.2
One of the important aspects of capturing the physical world is to listen to it. This experience can provide information on its size and used materials. When the possibility to hear the space is not available, one can feel isolated and disoriented. It is common practice of sound technicians to clap in the room before they set up. The invoked echo can provide information about the room’s acoustic character, the distances, materials used and resonators in the space. Despite space itself not being the source of sound, it can manifest its presence.
In 1969, Alvin Lucier presented one of his key works I Am Sitting in a Room composed for space, human voice and tape. In it, Lucier reads the following text into the microphone placed in the room where the piece is performed. The text reads as follows:
“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 rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”3
The performance corresponds to its description, the voice was recorded on a tape and played back into the room. The piece proceeded in a loop; voice leaves the body – microphone – recorder – amplifier – speaker – space – microphone – recorder – … This process was repeated several times. With each layer, Lucier’s voice was disintegrating from the original recording. This process can be repeated according to the performer’s interest. During the first realisation of the composition Lucier repeated the loop fifteen times. Later, in 1981, the cycle was repeated thirty-two times for the purpose of making a record. During the 45 minutes of recording, Lucier’s voice and its imperfections gradually become absorbed by the space. After ten repetitions, the speech imperfections are smoothed out and the voices, now turned into sharp, metallic sound, are pervaded by a long drone which deforms by the increasing number of repetitions. What begins as a first-person speech turns into anonymous sound absorbing the performer. The meaning and identity dissolve in the space (Cox, 2018). The text addressed to the room is a practical description of the process. The descriptiveness is intentional. Poetic language and aestheticization of the text could lead to a shift in attention from the deconstruction of the sound to the meaning of the words being spoken. The sounds of the later layers represented the resonant frequencies of the room in which the piece was performed and recorded. I Am Sitting in a Room experiments with the fundamental principles of acoustic and resonant frequencies of a space in order to create music. What can be heard in the piece is the sound of transformation from iteration to iteration. As the resonant frequencies gradually become louder witch each repetition of the process, they slowly erase the dominant position of the human performer. The specifics of speech become less recognizable with each new layer of the process. The sound of speech was replaced by the sound arise by the amplification of the resonant frequencies of the room. The speech did not stop and was not replaced by the sound. The speech cadence, as well as its phonetic and syntactic structure, remained (Kahn, 2009). The composition points to the dynamic development of speech even when its intelligibility disappears with layers of repetition. For his compositions Lucier frequently used basic instruments, independent on the architectural dispositions of the space, with no need to use specific equipment for amplification. I Am Sitting in a Room is important for the way it works with the space in the context of musical composition. The main concept is to radically disprove the logic of musical structure. Instead of using traditional musical methods, Lucier used the technological process and the fundamental laws of acoustics. The music is here presented as a physical phenomenon that is material and provides a spatial experience, one where the architecture of the space is an inherent part of the piece. The aesthetics of the composition lie in their feasibility across spaces without any specific need of reciprocity or resonant qualities of the space. The form varies depending on the variability of the space, the used material, surface, humidity, weather conditions, temperature, used equipment and on the objects located in the space. Each repetition has its own temporality, is an original artefact with a unique relation to the time and space in which it sounds.
The evolution of the final form can vary from room to room, depending on the acoustics of the space. Frequencies that naturally resonates within the space can appear in the recording much later, depending on the place where the piece is performed. The recorded speech is amplified if its frequencies match with the resonant frequencies of the space. Resonance as an amplification or extension of the sound by its reflection from the surface is an important aspect of a sound’s transmission in space (Kelly, 2017). The finding of the resonance frequencies of space can be achieved by a number of exact methods. As Lucier points out, in the process of making the composition he was not interested in the scientific origin of the resonances but rather in presenting the space as a substance that can be heard (1995). The process cannot be reduced only to a playback or recording system. I Am Sitting in a Room is a representation of a fundamental problem of communication. The transmission of a message in one point and its perceiving at another underline the role of the space that acoustically modulates the sound and thus the broadcasted information (Kahn, 2009). Lucier created a do-it- yourself modular system without the need to develop or manufacture a new instrument, but having the same impact. In this sense, the space becomes a modular system that allows information transduction between electromagnetic signal, the acoustics of the space and the recorder. The composition cannot be repeated without the use of amplification and recording technology and therefore its critical reflection is not possible without taking this into account. What is heard has not only been shaped by space and its elements, but also by the recording and amplifying technology and its features. In addition to the acoustic properties of the room, the recorder and playback system and its technological qualities also contribute on the final composition (Hainge, 2013).
Lucier’s compositional practice of the late 1960s was based on the acceptance of space as a legitimate musical body capable of constructing complex meanings. This act has transformed the attitude towards musical composition from “what I can put into the room” to “what I can use the room for” (Kahn, 2013: 105).
Looking at an image can evoke an immediate impression on the viewer. There is no element in sonography that can affect the viewer in the same way as an image. With the camera, it is possible to create an immediate impression by capturing the visual elements of the panorama. The audio recorder does not work this way. It can capture detail, but not in the same way as optics-based systems. The sound environment of the mapped churches consists of events that can be heard rather than seen. While from the visual materials it is possible to find out how the landscape has visually changed, the acoustic changes need to be traced in historical, anthropological and ethnographical research and literature (Schafer, 1994). Rather than to reflect the conceptualisation of aural history or provide an exact description of the sounds of the past, the aim of the sound mapping in Brdárka, Dobšína and Štítnik was to give the space a voice. A voice able to present the current state of the space as resulting from historical, cultural and social changes. The aspects associated with the sonic environment did not consist only of the sounds themselves, but also from the living and non-living actors producing these sounds. The role of acoustic space is established by the society that perceives it. This makes it a discipline that is in the process of constant construction and change. What does it mean to hear a space? The sound can be described using musical terminology as rhythm, length, dynamics and tone colour or by using spatial parameters as distance, direction and location. When I start to understand the sound as a source of social information, the acoustic terrain changes into a symbolic space for communication. In the context of the mapped structures, the sound played an important role in the formation of cultural knowledge. The church in Brdárka is a cultural form that allows its members to mediate the presence of God. In the interventions, the performative part is transferred from God to the object itself by using recording equipment, amplification and organised sound. A voice is given to the space in a way that is formally based on the compositional process of Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room. Unlike the original composition, it does not try to sound the space by human voice even though the voice was an important element of communication in sacral space. The sound mapping is giving a voice to the space itself without any sound input of the human performer. The intervention begins with the recording of silence, the ambience of the space disturbed only by the sounds of the surrounding night landscape. This recording is then played back into the space, recorded and the whole process in repeated several times.
The church has to be entered by massive wooden double doors through the bell tower that leads under the wooden triforium to the nave. The nave is lined with wooden pews that lead to a Baroque altar dating to 1795. Throughout the sound intervention, the triforium was used for placing the recording and monitoring equipment. The set for amplification was placed in the line of the altar. The aim was to preserve the original acoustic disposition of the place where the sound was transmitted from the altar to the triforium and back, while following Lucier’s instructions in which sound is placed as far from its source as possible. The final form of the sound intervention was affected by the equipment used. Despite the fact that during the intervention each individual layer of the recording was cleared from the noise caused by the electroacoustic qualities of the equipment used, the spatial orientation of the recorder and loudspeakers play a part in the final composition. All the sounds that passed through this system, from the loudspeakers to the microphone, were acoustically processed by the physical qualities of the space and the objects placed within it. The wooden pews, triforium, stone paving, altar, pipe organ, recording equipment, its qualities and our bodies formed the final form of the piece. The process was repeated nine times over the span of two nights. The technical and temporal complexity of the intervention did not allow us to repeat the process in a larger number of cycles. The original recording of silence gradually deformed during the several hours of recording and playing back to a continuous drone similar to the sound of Tibetan singing bowls. The clear and easily identified sound from the first layer turned into a blurred, 30-minute drone that took over the mapped space with its intensity and loudness. The past meanings disappeared in layers of noise. The space speaks, but it cannot be understood. The reverberations structure the space and the objects contained within it. This process does not change objects or spaces but puts them in a relation which creates an immersive experience. A connection is established where, on the one side is a sound source to which the other side responds by resonating, creating a spatial duet (LaBelle, 2009). The final piece explores the sound, space and their relation which creates an environment for imagination. The church bells defined the cultural, social and religious framework of the territory in which it was possible to hear their sound. The previous meanings disappeared but the physical space stayed and provided the base for the intervention liberated from the symbolic language of the past. This mapping disrupts the binary of the present – absent and the audible – inaudible. The results of the intervention were presented as a part of the UŠAMI compilation as a music CD and as a digital release by the mappa label, published in 2019.4 At this point, is necessary to mention the difference between the experience of direct listening to soundscapes and listening mediated by its mechanical reproduction. The auditory perception does not have to be different. The same perceptual apparatus is used to perceive both experiences. It has been too short a time since the invention of the audio recorder for the human body to develop a new mechanism of perception. However, the human body is well acquainted with the specific qualities of different communication media through their acceptance as tools of everyday reality (Ingold, 2007). The CD mediates the audio recording in three layers. As a recording of the space, as post-production and editing of the record, and as a recording affected by the used medium, the playback system and the space in which it sounds. Defining the levels of mediation of the audio CD provides a model for the structure of sound in relation to its perception within a medium (Chapman, 2017). The recording of the sound intervention in Brdárka offers an accurate documentation of the sound experience, which is transmitted to the listener via an audio medium. The recorded sound has not been aesthetically modified in order to preserve the sonic experience as accurately as possible; to preserve the relation between the medium, the space and the listening body. The documentation of the intervention creates an independent existence of the place by its archiving. Audio recording offers a return to the space at the cost of separating the sound from its original source. However, I cannot understand the recorded sound as being necessarily disembodied, as the record replaced one body with another. The body of the sacral space is replaced by the body of the recording equipment, audio medium, CD player, amplifier, loudspeakers and the place where the sound is played. Without knowing the background and the context, technology speaks by the voice of the mapped object, over and over, even at the moment when the walls of the church turn to dust. It thus offers and archives an audio experience that escapes physicality.
(Translated from Slovak original)
1 The heard sounds were affected by the season in which the mapped place was visited.
2 The two-dimensional tradition is understood as the perception of space in the x, y axis (length, width).
3 Detailed instructions on how to realize the composition can be found at http://www.ubu.com/sound/lucier.html (cited 20. 04. 2020).
4 The whole compilation is published on mappa’s Bandcamp profile https://mappa.bandcamp.com/album/
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Sublumia: liquid aesthesia is a performance/sound installation created by Henrique Fernandes and Jorge Quintela. It was premiered in September 2018, at the Patriarchal Reservoir, in the context of the Lisboa Soa festival.
In 2020 João Ricardo joins the project in the scope of the edition in cassette format of Sublumia-Liquid Aesthesia by the label Skupina.
Sublumia is composed by a set of sound objects/visual devices, distributed through the space of the performance. These objects/devices might characterize as inducers and facilitators a symbiotic relationship between the emitter/object and the receiver/ space.
It is idealized as a vehicle for manipulation and enhancement of plastic and sound imagery, and associated with the characteristics of an underground space, be it natural or of human construction.
The objects that integrate it use the sound recordings and light projection over water and on several electromechanical elements, such as air pumps, dc motors and sound induction devices, without resorting to manipulation or any type of artificialization of the sound and light sources.
Festival Dar a Ouvir, 5th September 2020
Composed and performed by
Video by Augusto Lado
In the middle of a two-week residency at Sonoscopia by American saxophonist and composer Lea Bertucci, the first national state of emergency is declared. Circulation restrictions, canceled concerts and flights, and above all, an awakening to a completely new reality. In an almost apocalyptic scenario, where uncertainty and fear were complemented with some fascination for living in a science fiction scenario, the first days of isolation were spent recording and rethinking a large part of our lives as musicians. These recordings, the result of that initial confinement, carry that weight with them. To the instrumental density a time diluted from the past is added, which slightly fluctuates over the uncertainties of the future.
ARTIST: LEA BERTUCCI & SONOSCOPIA
TITLE: LEA BERTUCCI & SONOSCOPIA
A1. Swords On All Flesh, I Have Begotten
A2. A White Horse
B1. Black Horses
João Ricardo - Electronics
Alberto Lopes - Guitar
Gustavo Costa - Percussion
Henrique Fernandes - Electric Doublebass
Recorded by Gustavo Costa at Sonoscopia, Porto.
The relationship between the physical gesture of a performer and his sonic materialization through a musical instrument took, until the advent of electricity, a clear form where the codes of perception of the intervening parts were rooted and produced generalized conceptions about what is sound and music. With due exceptions, one of the most notable being that of the pipe organ, the sound production was based on a well-defined system, which included the musical language, the manual execution of a performer and a sound emission device close to him / her – the instrument. In these situations, a physical gesture, in the act of blowing, an arcade or the percussion of an idiophone, translates into a result easily understood and deciphered by the listener. However, this relationship, perfected over centuries, has also produced a number of side effects. Gesture and physicality associated with instrumental execution also came to be understood as an articulation of measurable degrees of difficulty and in which the higher levels are valued.
This obsession, justified by the evolution of Western music, has been subliminally introducing norms for the appreciation, analysis and approval of musical works not only for their musical content, but also for the degree of technical difficulty, in the compositional and instrumental levels. During the transition to the twentieth century, the introduction of electricity and the opening to noise as a fundamental element in musical construction appeared as the great promise of a music that could really be free and concentrated in its essence – sound. Not only was the sound freed, but its representation became multiple, moving away from the typical two-dimensional stage / audience relationship and linear time sequences. But also this promise, accentuated by the constant incisions of electrical and electronic innovations and revolutions, ended up being consumed and producing its own paradoxes. Some of the problems have been reversed, and technology has revealed itself, perhaps more than ever, as a simple artifact that through various evolutionary forms served only as a mediator of the complex processing and materialization of musical thought. Combining the physical viscerality of percussion with an electronic perspective that is complementary to it, this piece uses these properties as expressive elements and where the sublime strength of sound gestures is reinforced, in the way we feel it and how we perceive it. More than trying to solve specific problems, we seek to meet the starting point of any work – the organization of sound and its meanings.
Festival Circular | Teatro Municipal de Vila do Conde
25th September 2020
Miquel Bernat, percussion
João Dias, percussion
Gustavo Costa, percussion and electronics
Photos by Rui Pinheiro
On a platform, earth is transported from the hills, on which it is distributed and takes shape. Several electro-mechanical elements are added and distributed in the plane (motors, loudspeakers and electromagnetic inductors): tension elements, which in turn excite strings, springs and induce vibrations in the matter. Field recordings are reproduced through loudspeakers, acoustically conditioned by their submersion.
Conception: Henrique Fernandes and Jorge Quíntela
Video by Jorge Quintela
Phobos is a set of small robots and automatic music generation devices that form a Dysfunctional Robotic Orchestra, an orchestra with strange instruments with defects, genetic mutations and erratic behaviors. In this portable version, capable of being carried in two suitcases across the Atlantic, several places on the North American East coast were visited, which are crucial for the maintenance of the underground circuit of experimental music. In the devotion and militancy that persistently renews the webs of this network, there is a tangible beauty – the music that unites us.
Gustavo Costa and Tiago Ângelo
14 / 02 / 20 | Somerville / Washingston Street Arts
15 / 02 / 20 | Brattleboro / Epsilon Spires
16 / 02 / 20 | Portland / Apohadion Theater
19 / 02 / 20 | Brooklyn / Park Church Co-Op
21 / 02 / 20 | Philadelphia / Vox Populi Gallery
22 / 02 / 20 | Baltimore / The Red Room
23 / 02 / 20 | Washington DC / Rhyzome DC
In 2001, David Hargreaves and Adrian North co-edited a book entitled “Musical Development and Learning: The International perspective”. At the time, the aim of the authors was to present a broad outlook concerning children’s’ musical development from the perspective of the practical, theoretical and legal potentialities and constraints of the advancements of music education across the world. Mota, the author of the chapter “Portugal”, when discussing school music education practices in the 2nd cycle of education , namely those related with the implementation of vocal and instrumental groups within the classroom, at a certain point states that:
“Two further critical points should be made, however: first, a great many of these instrumental groups are strongly bound to the Orff tradition; this, combined with a lack of teacher expertise as well as limited access to different instruments and to music technology (Mota, 1997), leads to a restricted repertoire. Secondly, although the curriculum clearly prescribes the three areas of composing, listening and performing, composition is largely excluded. Children, instead, do a lot of notation, music reading and aural-training activities which often diminish their motivation to continue learning music” (Mota, 2001, p. 155).
When reading these words, it seems to me imperative to remember that the 2nd cycle of education is the only period of schooling where music education is taught by a specialist music teacher. In fact, although music education is, since 1986 , a mandatory curriculum subject both in the 1st and 2nd cycles of education, in the 1st cycle – corresponding to what is commonly known as primary school – music is, most of the times, taught by a primary teacher. And as it has been largely documented nationally and internationally (Mota, 2001, 2007, 2015; De Vries, 2013, 2014; Tejada, Thayer & Arenas, 2019), most primary teachers feel unconfident to teach music, arguing that their teacher training didn’t give them sufficient preparation in what regards music teaching and learning. This is a timeless problem, and one that doesn’t seem to have a clear ending in the near future. Therefore, the 2nd cycle of education remains the only period in Portuguese state schools where children might benefit from robust and meaningful music projects and activities, taught by a teacher with professional training in the field.
Here, it seems to me that it is necessary to add three crucial points to the discussion: First, every child has the fundamental right to education. Second, education is ensured to all by the Portuguese government through the means of state formal education. And third, music plays a key role in the development and education of all people, and should, therefore, be a part on its’ own right of general state schooling.
Following these pivotal remarks and looking again to the initial Mota’s statement, what strikes me the most is that much of the criticism she makes in this paragraph is still valid nowadays, in 2020, two decades later. As easily noticed by anyone who regularly frequents a school – teachers, parents, children – there is still a very significant number of music education teachers that organize musical activities around music theory (notation, conceptualization, history) and music performance, with instrumental performance being most of the times associated to Orff instruments and the recorder. A few teachers, and especially since the publication of the two seminal books of Lucy Green (2002, 2008) and the implementation of the project Musical Futures , have begun to promote a different repertoire, related to pop-rock and to diverse musical instruments such as electric guitars, keyboards, or drums. Moreover, these teachers also began to implement in their classrooms some projects that involve creative activities such as improvisation or composition. Still, this is not enough. The truth is that these creative activities are nonetheless very scarce and fragile in the context of general state schools. Besides, music and musical practices continue to be confined to conventional music instruments (Hardjowirigo, 2017; Seedorf & Schultz, 2017), and therefore, mostly to the tonal paradigm, that prevails in western music for centuries now.
This is, at least, awkward. In our contemporary world, music composition has been invaded by new ways of seeing and perceiving what is or is not musically valid. Nowadays, composers from a variety of backgrounds include in their music sounds from conventional music instruments, from invented non-conventional instruments and sounding objects, from the soundscapes that surround us, and, of course, from electronic and digital sources. This music, that crosses genres, styles and currents, is, therefore, open to the whole sound pallet that surrounds us, moving, thus, in the direction of what can be seen as a step towards a “democracy and inclusion” of all sounds. However, the advancements made among music composers and performers in contemporary music scenes do not seem to have a parallel when it comes to the practice of music in schools. I am not forgetting the great efforts that were made in the past to include a progressive approach to music in school curricula. On the contrary. Actually, my own pedagogical practice has been greatly influenced by educators/composers such as Brian Dennis (1975), Murray Schafer (1976), or John Paynter (Paynter and Aston, 1970), that stood fiercely for a music education in which creativity occupied a broad and significant space in children’s musical experiences. These authors, that are part of what was then named as the creative music movement, developed a new philosophy based on the active exploration of sounding objects and musical instruments by the pupils, the use of techniques similar to those adopted by contemporary composers and a vision of the teacher as a guide and facilitator. These innovations were truly revolutionary and their work had a great influence in the development of creative music education projects throughout the world (Finney, 2011). Even though, and specifically in Portugal, this openness has not prevailed as a common practice in our schools. There is, therefore, the need to persist, developing projects that might include teachers, pupils, performers, composers or improvisers towards this common goal. And it is exactly here that the need to create new musical instruments arises. Instruments that encompass all these different sound sources in an isolated or hybrid way, and that might thus enhance the creation of what I would call an “open music”, foreseeing a journey of never-ending possibilities.
The pedagogical value of such an approach seems to me unquestionable: First of all these experiences would open the minds of the young to an immense set of sonorous possibilities, offering them the opportunity to make music informed by contemporary practices, and that moves beyond what they are already familiar with. This alone would already validate this approach, both pedagogically and artistically. However, what I also find truly innovative is that these new instruments, due to their characteristics, might act as a step towards a pedagogy that involves students in deep and significant ways. The point is that these new instruments, being often built with objects and materials that do not have an immediate correlate to sound in our daily lives, are repeatedly the cause of a genuine curiosity, that leads, in turn, to feelings such as surprise and wonder. And as it has been widely documented by several researchers across a field of disciplines, such emotions have a decisive role in fostering our attention and our desire to think and reflect on what surrounds us, and are, thus, essential to learning (Damásio, 2000, 2001; Teruel, 2013; Piersol, 2014; Veloso, 2017; Veloso, 2020). Motivated by strong feelings of surprise and wonder, students direct their attention and thinking processes towards what is being explored. This is the beginning of learning and transformation. Slowly, old perspectives are replaced by new ones, and the familiar is relooked and reshaped imaginatively in a new journey through worlds yet to be explored. In addition, the immediate interaction afforded by many of these new musical instruments also allows children to overcome a series of barriers often posed by music leaning within formal contexts, such as problems related to the use of notation and musical theory or the use of certain skills and techniques.
In this way, music becomes a practice available to everyone, independent of age, skills, or physical condition. Complexity comes with time, with more demanding practices, challenging students and teachers to move beyond these initial steps. The important thing to stress at this point is that these new instruments and sounding objects strongly enable children to create and play music collaboratively from the very beginning. This is of boundless value, as it gives students the opportunity to engage immediately in meaningful musical practices, evolving in time through the ways these practices are then explored in the classroom.
Finally, and also justifying our attention, I would like to make brief comment about the ways these new instruments connect children and youth to a new “audio culture”, as Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner would put it (2017). The digital age has enriched and transformed music making through unique and appealing resources. What we cannot forget is that nowadays, children and youth are very familiar with electronic and digital tools in other realms of their experience. Why shouldn’t teachers enhance those skills in their music education classrooms? As noted by Seedorf & Schultz (2017, p. 189-169):
“We understand electronic instruments as the contemporary continuation of the historical development of musical instruments and therefore they do not conflict, but relate. (…) Music education should consider the potential of teaching these skills at a young age analogous to the training of a classical instrument. Not only is this an opportunity for music education to catch up on recent cultural development, but it could assist young people in their confrontation with the contemporary music culture. It could contribute to their media literacy and offer them skills to actively shape their digitalized music culture”.
This would be an excellent way not only to strengthen children’s expertise on electronic and digital devices and means, but also to promote the development of music projects where they may combine acoustic and digital resources, acknowledging students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, and opening them to other creative possibilities.
Summarizing what has been discussed so far, it seems to me that we might now assert that the invention and construction of new musical instruments and their use in the classroom would boost a sound based music pedagogy genuinely committed and opened to the diversity of sonorous possibilities that are part of our contemporary soundscape. At the same time this pedagogy, by encouraging exploration, creativity and critical thinking, could enhance the students’ agency, giving them back the power to choose and decide in a real emancipatory and transformative learning journey.
Cox, C., & Warner, D. (Eds.). (2017). Audio Culture, Revised Edition: Readings in Modern Music (2 edition). New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.
Damasio, A. (2000). O Sentimento de Si: O Corpo, a Emoção e a Neurobiologia da Consciência. Mem Martins, PT: Publicações Europa América.
Damasio, A. (2001). O Erro de Descartes: Emoção, Razão, e Cérebro Humano. Mem Martins, PT: Publicações Europa América.
Dennis, B. (1975). Projects in Sound. Universal Edition.
Finney, J. (2011a). Music Education in England, 1950-2010: The Child-Centred Progressive Tradition (1 edition). Farnham, Surrey, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Green, L. (2002). How Popular Musicians Learn: A Way Ahead for Music Education. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
Hardjowirogo, S.-I. (2017). Instrumentality. On the Construction of Instrumental Identity. In T. Bovermann, A. de Campo, H. Egermann, S.-I. Hardjowirogo, & S. Weinzierl (Eds.), Musical Instruments in the 21st Century: Identities, Configurations, Practices (pp. 9–24). Singapore: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2951-6_2
Hargreaves, D., & North, A. (Eds.). (2001). Musical Development and Learning: The International Perspective. Continuum.
Mota, G. (2015). A educação musical em Portugal – uma história plena de contradições. DEBATES – Cadernos do Programa de Pós-Graduação em Música, 0(13), 41–50.
Mota, G. (2007). A música no 1º ciclo do ensino básico: Contributo para uma reflexão sobre o conceito de enriquecimento curricular. Revista de Educação Musical, APEM, Vol. 129-129, 16-21.
Mota, G. (2001). Portugal. In: D. Hargreaves & A. North (Ed.), Musical development and learning: the international perspective. Londres: Continuum.
Paynter, J., & Aston, P. (1970). Sound and silence: Classroom projects in creative music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Piersol, L. (2014). Our Hearts Leao Up: Awakening Wonder Within the Clasroom. In K. Egan, A. Cant, & G. Judson (Eds.), Wonder-Full Education: The Centralaty of Wonder in Teaching and Learning Across the Curriculum (pp. 3–21). New York: Routledge.
Schafer, R. M. (1976). Creative music education: A handbook for the modern music teacher. New York: Schirmer Books.
Seedorf, M., & Schultz, C. M. (2017). Digital Media and Electronic Music in the Classroom—The Loop Ensemble. In T. Bovermann, A. de Campo, H. Egermann, S.-I. Hardjowirogo, & S. Weinzierl (Eds.), Musical Instruments in the 21st Century: Identities, Configurations, Practices (pp. 167–179). Singapore: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2951-6_12
Tejada, J., Thayer, T., & Arenas, M. (2020). El desempeño docente en Educación Musical del profesorado generalista de Chile. Un estudio mixto exploratorio. Didacticae: Revista de Investigación en Didácticas Específicas, 0(7), 30–56. https://doi.org/10.1344/did.2020.7.30-56
Teruel, F. M. (2013). Neuroeducación: Solo se puede aprender aquello que se ama. Retrieved from https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/libro?codigo=591661
Veloso, A. L. (2017). Composing music, developing dialogues: An enactive perspective on children’s collaborative creativity. British Journal of Music Education, 34(3), 259–276. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0265051717000055
Veloso, A. L. (2020). Rethinking experimental music within music education: Thoughts and feelings after a voyage through the Project INsono. Revista Electrónica de LEEME, 0(46), 49–67. https://doi.org/10.7203/LEEME.46.17409
Vries, P. de. (2013). Generalist teachers’ self-efficacy in primary school music teaching. Music Education Research, 15(4), 375–391. https://doi.org/10.1080/14613808.2013.829427
 Children with 10 and 11 years old. Corresponds to the first years of middle school.
 Publication date of the “Lei de Bases do Sistema Educativo” (Basic Law of the Educational System)
Sculpted in the mountains by the force of water, Castelo Novo is a symbol of life and a synonym for human endurance and perseverance. From its innumerable fountains and springs, several paths are traced, shaped by a distant past and the desire for a promising future. The water, omnipresent in its sound and freshness in all corners of the granite beauty that was built between the bed of the hills, flows down its slopes, irrigating the fields and bodies and purifying the souls of its inhabitants. And it is in their deviations, caused by natural conditions or interferences that are humanly and communally introduced in their path, that we find the charm and poetry of Castelo Novo.
In this mapping of deviations, we go through an imaginary story of Castelo Novo, told from the sound of the water. Due to its abstract and tangible way of communicating, we set out in search of our scale and place, celebrating this gift offered by the mountain and that accompanies us during work, leisure and spirituality.
Conception: Gustavo Costa and Henrique Fernandes
Audio recording and assistance: Vicente Mateus
Video: Augusto Lado
Echoplastos, sound installation where resonance (echo) is shaped (plastos) by synthetic, toxic and polluting materials. Being a paradox of contemporary society, the urban conception of social ecology is confronted with the need to liberate the environment it aspires to – large-scale communion. We aspire to the frenzy of silence and the tranquillity of the crowds, while contemplating nature in a park enclosed between concrete walls. Even so, it is the small gestures that often point us in new directions and more sustainable alternatives in the face of an impending catastrophic future. We take it one step at a time, as possible and as necessary. We walk, listen, feel and change.
Conception: Henrique Fernandes and Tiago Ângelo
Video: Joana Linda
Audio: Mestre André
Som Desorganizado is an annual event organized by Sonoscopia, dedicated to the exploration and critical reflection on sound and the multiple ways it can be transformed into musical artifacts. This encounter is part of the association’s activities and it focus on the potential of improvisation and collaborative composition, news instruments, technologies, forms of expression and the relationship to the public. This first volume compiles some of the initiatives we have undertaken in previous years, with two CDs resulting from the collaboration between Sonoscopia and e Marcello Magliocchi, João Pedro Viegas, Mathias Boss, Maresuke Okamoto, Julius Gabriel and Constantin Herzog. The box also includes a real-time drawing made by Mazen Kerbaj during the event and a set of photographs by Rui Pinheiro.
BOX SET WITH:
– 2 CD’s
– 1 Illustration by Mazen Kerbaj (12×144 cm)
– 6 Photographies by Rui Pinheiro (12×12 cm)
CD1 – Transhumants
Marcello Magliocchi – Drums
Mathias Boss – Violin
João Pedro Viegas – Bass Clarinet
Maresuke Okamoto – Cello
Alberto Lopes – Electric Guitar
Henrique Fernandes – Electric Double Bass
Gustavo Costa – Drums and Percussion
CD2 – Voix Céleste
Julius Gabriel – Saxophone
Constantin Herzog – Double Bass
Gustavo Costa – Drums
André Gonçalves / Beat the Odds: Elisabeth Coudoux, Ricardo Jacinto, Pascal Niggenkemper & Nuno Torres / Gilberto Bernardes / João Ricardo Barros de Oliveira / José Alberto Gomes / Kaffe Mathews / Mário Azevedo / Mazen Kerbaj / MSHR: Birch Cooper & Brenna Murphy / Pedro Santos / Pedro Tudela / Pierre Berthet / Rie Nakajima / Sonoscopia
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Gustavo Costa at Sonoscopia, Porto
Real Time Illustration by Mazen Kerbaj
Photography by Rui Pinheiro
Concert with live transmission on the 12th December, 19H, through Eira platform: 101.0 MHz in Caldas da Rainha area or at Osso Associação´s website: www.osso.pt
Preto Mate is an electroacoustic chamber improvisation trio that combines the two cellos of Ricardo Jacinto and Joana Guerra with drums and percussions by Pedro Melo Alves, supported by an electronic web that crosses the three instruments. Over the unpredictability of dialogues and instrumental landscapes comes the voice of Joana Guerra. They debuted this year at O´culto da Ajuda_Lisboa and Casa da Música_Porto.
Ricardo Jacinto, cello and electronics
Joana Guerra, cello and voice
Any instrumentalist will know that developing a relationship with their instrument over years of practice will have the effect of making that instrument an extension not only of their body but also of their mind. Since a computer might also be imagined to have “a mind of its own”, in the sense of being able to make autonomous decisions, even if it obviously lacks the desire that motivates decisions made by human minds, one might expect the “mind-extension” aspect of instrumentalism to have a somewhat different quality than in the case of a traditional instrument. Added to this is the fact that one’s physical relationship to a computer-instrument isn’t provided in advance by something analogous to the strings and bow of a violin, but has to be devised by the player alongside the kinds of sounds and sound-forms the player wants to be able to deploy. In this way, working with a computer-based instrument erases the distinctions to a greater or lesser extent between instrument-building, composition and performance, activities which with traditional instruments have been quite distinct from one another and indeed have often been carried out by different people.
My own preference in thinking about such issues is to gather them all under the single heading of musical creation or composition, which includes within itself such methods as improvisation or notation on the one hand, and the design of programs and interfaces on the other. Conceiving and designing a computer instrument and its physical interface is a compositional act. This means that (for me at least) it should involve a high degree of openness, so as to allow for the evolution of one’s musical thinking and practice over an extended period of time. I’ve been playing the same instrument for 23 years (and indeed it’s based on ideas that go back considerably further in time), even though both software and hardware have developed and indeed been completely replaced several times during that period. The development, such as it is, of my performative skills on this instrument has been a continuous process rather than having had to start again each time a new setup is devised. This is because my conception of the instrument has always focused firmly on an intimate physical relationship with sound, rather than on the elegance of my interface or of the code running on the computer. My priority has always been that the technology should enable the maximum degree of freedom in getting the sound into my hands and shaping it in real time.
I’ve written elsewhere  about how I think digital instruments are particularly suited to an improvisatory approach to creating music, in terms of the way the demands of the improvisatory moment can be seen as a particularly appropriate context for solving the problem of what specific thing is to be done when anything is possible, and in terms of expressing the excitement of discovery that motivates an involvement in electronic music by enacting it, audibly and in real time. Another way of looking at the suitability of the computer to an improvisatory approach is to look at the quasi-collaborative aspect of working with an instrument with its own “brain”. Of course this might be viewed as a difference in degree rather than in kind between a computer and an acoustic instrument, since the latter will also have its idiosyncrasies, its instabilities and its embodiment of perhaps centuries of musical thinking and practice. But with the computer those idiosyncrasies and instabilities might have been purposely expanded and enhanced, with some more or less controllable constellation of random, deterministic and/or statistical variables taking on a critical mass to the point where it’s more productive to think of it as a personality rather than as a tool.
One of the aspects of the improvisational method of composition that I find most compelling, in fact, is the aspect of collaboration, the way in which one’s fellow performers bring about a change in oneself, thus expanding one’s own musicality to include possibilities one wouldn’t have thought of alone. This means that solo performance has never been a main focus of my creative work, while, on the other hand, my work as a “solo” composer of notated or fixed-media music has often focused on developing compositional processes and systems which provide a context for reaction as well as action, almost as if each composition evolves from the conception and realisation of a virtual musical persona with which I can then interact in a more or less improvisatory way.
I’m not going to go into detail here about how my computer instrument is constructed except to say that it involves accessing precomposed (sampled) sounds in diverse ways, from simple playback/pause operations to treatments that might change the character of the original material to a radical and barely recognisable degree. At the same time, various aspects of the instrument might be subject to more or less controllable randomisation, which might function on the one hand to create complexly changing textures whose overall evolution might be under performative control without every detail having to be put there “by hand” (though that is also possible), or on the other hand to create a degree of unpredictability to which I can then respond spontaneously, in the process perhaps discovering new musical pathways that might be worth pursuing (both by myself and by my fellow performers). Currently I have around sixteen hours of sound materials available for use at any moment, some of which date back almost to the first version of the instrument realised in 1997, while others are new to the point of being as yet relatively unfamiliar. These materials take the form of five-minute soundfiles, some consisting of slowly evolving and highly consistent sounds while others are complex collages of diverse brief sound-fragments; some derive from untreated acoustic recordings and others from multiple processes of digital transformation. Some, as we’ll see, might be regarded as “compositions” in their own right even before their deployment as the basis of improvisational performance, while others are more explicitly “raw material” with no discernible form of their own. Many of them have been constructed for use in specific situations and have then gone on to be used in quite different contexts. Some derive from work on fixed-media compositions, while others might function as materials for fixed-media compositions long after their original construction.
For my relatively infrequent solo performances, I’ve generally created a “spine” of precomposed material that runs through the performance and is manipulated only by pausing and restarting, and changes in volume which might include fading in and out from and to silence. This serves two functions: to act as a stimulus for real-time actions and reactions, and to outline a structure for the performance so that those actions and reactions can be as spontaneous as possible. It’s a technique that’s been used and developed in performances by FURT (my duo with Paul Obermayer) for many years. It also serves to determine an approximate duration for the performance, which in general will be around twice the duration of the “spine”. When listening back to a recording of such a performance it isn’t possible most of the time to determine whether one is hearing the live contribution or the precomposed one or a combination of the two. This is the result of specific ways of composing the “spine”, a greater or lesser degree of commonality between its constituent sound materials and those used to interact in real time with it, and how it’s used in the performance. Of course, as previously mentioned, incorporating simple playback/pause operations in a performance is just one end of a spectrum which also encompasses much more “interventionist” approaches to the sound materials (the quasi-physical “materials” of which the instrument in a real sense consists), rather than being different in kind.
The recording that accompanies this text is an unedited performance of my solo piece hylozoon, which was conceived as an element in a concert programme for various combinations of harps and electronics with which harpist Milana Zarić and I toured the UK in the autumn of 2019. The present recording was made in a single take in my studio on 18 September 2020.
Hylozoism is the philosophical idea that the basic substance of matter is in some sense alive. A “hylozoon”, therefore, is a living being composed of this basic substance – in the case of this piece, a living being which is made of sound-substance. What makes it different from my previous solo performances is that the “spine” and the sound-material used for the spontaneous live interactions don’t just have features in common but are identical. In a sense the structure of the instrument, as constituted for this occasion, and the structure of the composition itself are the same thing.
Most of its sound materials were composed using a digital reconstruction (from Arturia) of the EMS Synthi A analogue synthesizer, whose capabilities I was investigating at the time of composition. The rest derive from a recording of my composition book of caverns  for E flat clarinet, performed by Richard Haynes. Eventually, hylozoon is intended to be one component of an extended work in progress entitled PSYCHE, which will also feature an instrumental ensemble and fixed-media electronic music and have a total duration of around three hours. This is currently planned to be premiered by the ELISION ensemble in 2022. (The aforementioned clarinet piece is also tangentially related to this project.)
One way in which the 5-minute soundfiles which form the central part of my computer instrument are often organised is a division into twelve 25-second segments, which can then be accessed individually by the twelve keys of the second octave of my keyboard, with further controllers to determine exactly how and at what point along its 25-second length each segment is heard. (The other octaves access the soundfile in other ways.) The “spine” of hylozoon is thus organised in exactly this way, although of course its temporal regularity is broken up by pauses and resumptions in its playback which sometimes alternate very rapidly. (These operations are controlled by one of the keys on the keyboard, and playback volume by the modulation wheel, bringing them as close as possible to the other physical activities of performing with the instrument and its interface.) The twelve segments are combined into a three groups: one of three segments (containing continuous sounds), followed by a group of four (with a transition from continuous to fragmented sounds) and a group of five (with a transition from electronic to acoustic (clarinet) sounds). Each segment involves a crossfade over its 25 seconds between two different sound types, and the transition between one segment and the next might be smooth (continuing from the endpoint of the previous crossfade, using its destination sound as the departure point for the next crossfade) or abrupt (starting a new and different sound).
This description might make the whole idea sound rather schematic, and unrelated to improvisation, but it should be borne in mind here that what I’m describing is as much an instrument as a composition, albeit an instrument with certain temporal tendencies built into it – in other words, an instrument that emulates a living organism (a “hylozoon”) to the extent of incorporating birth, metamorphosis and death. In this context I’m reminded of an instrument devised by the Australian composer and violinist John Rodgers for incorporation into one of his works: an oboe made of ice, which would gradually become less controllable over a more or less defined timeframe as the player’s breath and fingers caused it to melt, eventually falling apart at unpredictable points along its length. The functions of instrument, as sound-producer, and score, as determinant of the temporal evolution of the music, are combined in a single ephemeral object.
I’ve found, in performances of hylozoon, that the “precompositional” scheme described above is completely forgotten in performance, where all I’m doing is using the “live” part of the instrument to react, from one unprepared moment to the next, to whatever the “precomposed” part throws out from the constant pause/resume actions that themselves are integrated into my spontaneous physical activity. The present recording was made during a period when I was practising and performing (though for virtual audiences, this being 2020) regularly but hadn’t performed this particular piece for many months. I sat down, emptied my mind as far as I could, pressed “record” and played what you hear. The result was to my mind more successful than the ones I’d produced almost a year previously with much more preparation. I entered something resembling a meditative state during the performance and a state of exhaustion as soon as it was over. Paradoxically, the best way to perform this “composition” was to forget about it as far as possible, to exclude it from conscious thought. How much, I wonder, does this process have in common with improvisational performance in a more general sense? Probably a great deal. The use of a computer as improvising instrument, then, has another potential value: to expose and analyse, and therefore perhaps better to understand, the mysterious processes of musical improvisation.
 in my book Music of Possibility (Vision Edition, 2019)
Assuming the invisibility of the electronic gesture as an element of musical and scenic exploration, a device was created that starts from the conventional concept of ensemble and concert as a means of dramaturgical-musical materialization. The digital electronics of the duo of Miguel Carvalhais and Pedro Tudela (@C) is complemented by Gustavo Costa’s customized percussive instruments and by Rodrigo Guedes de Carvalho’s light and real-time video. On stage, musical perspectives that have experimentation as a common point intersect, giving rise to a luminous, intense and invisibly expressive space.
Festival Música Viva | O´Culto da Ajuda, Lisbon, Portugal
7th November 2020
Gustavo Costa: percussion
Miguel Carvalhais: electronics
Pedro Tudela: electronics
Rodrigo Guedes de Carvalho: light and video
Photos by Nuno Martins
Drawings by Pedro Tudela
What is Sound? According to the dictionary sound is a group of vibrations that travel through the air or another medium and can be heard when they reach a person’s or animal ear . According to this defenition, at a first look with a superficial approach, sound is a physical phenomenon. Sound became an object of study in Classical Greece through studies and reflections by Pythagoras and Aristotle . Those first approaches were mainly from a musical practice point of view, with a profound relation between math and musical intervals. Those theories also had great philosophical reflections, contextualizing the musical creation and its function. In this period there was also a very deep incrustation of the meanings and systematization of musical practice, theorizing and organizing the musical sounds in modes . This work was so profound, pioneering and fundamental that this theory and system marked the practice in Western music for the next millennium. During that time, the evolution on the study of sound was mainly in the musical point of view. It was only in the 19th century that a major breakthrough in the area of sound outside the musical field happened. The main responsibles were the German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz, in 1863, with On The Sensations Of Tone As A Physiological Basis For The Theory Of Music , and the English scientist Lord Rayleigh with The Theory of Sound .
Beside the musical and aesthetic point of view that monopolized most of the research on sound in Western history, the physical and the physiological properties took a very important place in the sound research in the twentieth century . It is quite clear to all, including the scientific community, that the significance that each individual gives to sounds is different and goes beyond its physical and perceptual properties. In other words, for example, a J.S. Bach suite does not provoke the same sensations in an Egyptian as it does in an Austrian. This is a consequence of an intrinsic part of the listening activity, a cognitive part. So along the two scientific fields mentioned before, the physical and the physiological that deals with the auditory system behaviour and the process from the pressure waves to the electric impulses into the brain, it is fundamental to extend our reflection to other areas like anthropology, psychology and cognition. So not only due to the air vibrations and the auditory system, a musical piece, as is common knowledge, has different meanings and different impacts in distinct listeners. And the reason is quite complex. The cultural and musical background, the state of mind and body, a personal and emotional experience with a particular music passage, etc., are all reasons that influence and affect the act of listening. This complexity applies not only to musical contact but also to all of the listening experience. As an extreme example, an ambulance siren has completely different impacts on a New Yorker resident compared to an isolated Amazonian tribe inhabitant .
The auditory system tends to be put at a lower level of importance than vision, mostly because the act of listening is processed effortlessly and unnoticed. At the same time, the auditory sense has a different function than vision. It is a permanently-on sense; it never shuts off. Naturally this characteristic has a survival function, providing us with the ability of permanent three-dimensional awareness, with the capacity to identify the location of a sound source, being our main door to what surrounds us outside of the view angle. This characteristic defines strongly our relationship with the sonic world. That permanent act of listening forced humans to develop different levels of listening or conscience about it. Most of the time a normal person relates to the sound around them in a casual listening mode, that is listening to identify the source of a sound. Through causal listening we can identify the source of a sound simply by listening, without having the visual reference. Another common way of listening is to be aware to the language or code. A semantic listening in order to interpret the implied meaning like in a conversation or decoding morse. We can also listen in a way our focus is primarily on the traits of the sound itself. Being aware of all sonic characteristics like pitch, intensity, timbre, specialization, spectral qualities and how all these elements evolve in time . This involves a lot of effort. A great amount of people passes an entire live without being conscious of this ability. (Everyone can recognize the sonic beauty or ugliness and for that you need to apply a reduced listening.) But it will be impossible to be always in this level of awareness. We become crazy with all the continuous information, even with common sounds like a gentle hum of an AC, the sound of your neighbour’s shuffling footsteps or the murmurs of conversations around us. In a way to save our sanity the listening process has to be placed in a passive level, because sound is always there. However, and the auditory system is always working. Against a disruptive sound our listening process turn on an active mode. If we are in a conversation in the middle of a crowd, even a very loud one, we know that the sound is there, but we are in a very low awareness mode, we are not following any conversation or words beside our interlocutor. However, if a child starts to cry, someone asks for help, someone says our name, automatically we change to an active mode. This means that we are always listening to everything. These aspects in the nature of perceiving sound has an impact on the relation that we have with our sonic surrounding and more importantly how we shape it and how we let it evolve.
But how do we relate to the surrounding sound in a world where all kinds of sound are permanent and effortless? Where access to music is automatic or trivialized, where is in the concert hall, our smartphones and in the supermarket’s columns, or where the soundscape is invaded by sounds of engines in a spiral phenomenon of ecosystems degradation since the industrial revolution. But do we recognize the sound that surrounds us as a conscious sound identity? For example, this text was written during the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. In the first months of 2020 more than 3.9 billion people, or half of the world’s population, were asked or ordered to stay at home by their governments to contain the spread of the covid-19 virus. The pandemic and the consequent confinements forced us to deal with atypical and peculiar situations. It was possible to ‘look’ at the soundscape differently. Daily photos and videos of empty streets conveyed more than absence of movement. Among the many unique and punctual experiences, one quite obvious was the radical change in the soundscapes. People started to notice that less car motors were heard and more birds were noticed. In my case, in addition to the obvious transformations mentioned, I noticed that my neighbors started to learn to play a musical instrument and I heard more “good mornings” between apartments balconies. Where silence also had a meaning, pointing to absence, less company, less socializing, less parties, a sense of less life. The sound that surrounded me represente the community and the surrounding reality. It was just a transformation, hearing and missing, that pushed me to know and connect to my community and surrounding through the sound, always present, but this time less ignored. This transformation was more than a photograph of what is going on. It represents an intrinsic state. In New York, the soundscape has become an even more living element in violent mutation. While in Porto the strange silence was noticed during the usual annual city festivities, in New York the tense silence of the disease concern was replaced by the shoutings and confrontations of anti-racist protests originated by a socio-cultural open wound triggered by George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police. This new intense soundscape was joined by 24 hours of illegal fireworks as a symbol of transgression, provocation and violence. In such a short time we passed into a bittersweet pseudo silence, with sounds of wild animals regaining cities and then reached the noise of the streets with shouting and fireworks. Later, in a brutal and imperceptible slowness, but with an unstoppable force, the old sounds came back replacing many of the new ones. With this we go through the sonic mutations of references that connect us to a certain place (time and geography). As Barry Traux said, After all, the soundscape is not an alien force but a reflection of ourselves .
Although sound plays a fundamental role in our survival and in the relation to what surrounds us since always, the musical sound started to be studied in ancient Greece, the sound as a physical and perceptual phenomenon in the last two centuries, and the soundscapes studies only deserved a real attention since the 70s of the 20th century. The word soundscape did not exist until it was introduced to the world in 1977 by Murray Schaefer . And is hard to give attention to a concept that don’t has a name.
Sound was seen, as an expression, as art, as a physical, cognitive, ecological and social phenomenon. But rarely as a universe contained within itself. Only the sound characteristics of being permanent and omnipresent, adding the passive, automatic and unconscious relationship can point out to the surprising negligence of this universe. The Noise that surrounds us. That is everything and nothing, awared or ignored, can be music, soundscape or expression. A raw material as a matter that surrounds and floods, without criteria. It’s disorganized, chaos waiting for meaning. Chaos until someone makes sense of it. That raw state of this infinite matter, the Noise.
In this Noise are contained all possibilities, all sounds, all songs, all words, all timbres, all identities. Potentially all artistic and non-artistic possibilities. Like a marble block that before entering a sculptor’s studio, in a mysterious and magical way, already contains the art work. Like the infinite monkey theorem where monkey hitting randomly keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time type every possible finite text an infinite number of times (including the complete works of William Shakespeare). Like Jorge Luis Borges’ library of Babel . A library containing every possible combination of letters in a vast collection. A library that contains all knowledge in an allegory of the Universe. The universe (which others call the Library). Where some texts seem nonsense, but, like the Noise around us, every book in the library is “intelligible” if one decodes it correctly, simply because it can be decoded. The Noise is the sonic library of Babel. It is always there and that whole is potentially everything. It is the creative origin. The Noise around us.
Composing with soundscapes: capturing and analysing urban audio for a Raw Musical interpretation. Doctoral Thesis – José Alberto Gomes, 2015.
Tudo isto são as nossas Paisagens Sonoras. Jornal Público, Secção Ímpar. Opinion Article – José Alberto Gomes. August 17, 2020.
Whatever it is, it is After/Before Noise conversation with Diogo Tudela and José Alberto Gomes. School of Arts | Universidade Católica Portuguesa – Live Session #12. May 7, 2020.
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 Janko, R. (1987). Aristotle’s Poetics. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company.
 Grout, D. J., & Palisca, C. V. (1996). A History of Western Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
 Von Helmholtz, H. (2009). On The Sensations Of Tone As A Physiological Basis For The Theory Of Music. Cambridge University Press.
 Rayleigh, J. W. S. B. (1896). The theory of sound. Macmillan.
 Olson, H. F. (1967). Music, physics and engineering. Courier Dover Publications.
 McAdams, S. E., & Bigand, E. E. (1993). Thinking in sound: The cognitive psychology of human audition. In Based on the fourth workshop in the Tutorial Workshop series organized by the Hearing Group of the French Acoustical Society. Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press.
 Michel Chion, 3 modes of listening: causal, semantic, and reduced. Chion, M. (1994). Audio-vision: sound on screen. Columbia University Press.
 Truax, B. (2001). Acoustic communication (Vol. 1). Greenwood Publishing Group.
 Schafer, R. M. (1993). The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Inner Traditions/ Bear & Co.
 Borges, J. L., Desmazières, E., Hurley, A., & Giral, A. (2000). The library of Babel. Boston: David R. Godine. 6th edition.
It was in the early 1970 that I first encountered electronic music as it was called at the time. It was a confusing and turbulent experience for anyone used only to instrumental music. In my case a blend of popular and classical music. The first piece I ever heard was called ”Epsilon Eridani” named by a star some 10 lightyears away. It was a very minimalistic piece with short impulses of sound some 40-60 seconds apart. Truly conceptual as it was it totally messed up all my ideas about the idea of music. At this time there were two dominant ”schools” of electronic music. The Köln and the Paris aesthetics arguing about the way to go about composing with sound. I did not like the music of Stockhausen (and I still don´t except for a few pieces) but I was also hesitating about the Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry style of dealing with sound as “objects” and the way they constructed the music. For me sound as an emotional experience was connected with some kind of associative imagery. Consequently as I entered the musical scene as a young composer I was criticized for being too ”romantic” in my approach. A very bad word at the time when anything reminiscent of a composition focusing on literal or picturesque things of any kind. I did try to be a ”good boy” and indulge in structural composition but always failed disgracefully at least in my own ears. Academic music was and have not really ever been my thing. During many years though I attempted to follow the mainstream contemporary standards of complexity of construction rather than following my deeper convictions of how music should be made. Suffice to say that winning composition awards now and then did not help to clear my view. Success of any kind inevitably leads to a certain kind of blindness. Once you found a recipe for success you want to keep repeating it. A sure way of killing your artistic development.
I started introducing gestural elements and layered structures in the mid 80ies which was something that was not very common at the time. I wanted to incorporate some of the elements from classical music that had made an impact on me. At this time a lot of the electronic music was very focused on one dimensional compositions with one sound following another, not always in a totally coherent way. Of course, the possibility to use multi track recorders and mixer automation was imperative for me to be able to develop this technique. However even though modern studios were available to many composers, the majority of compositions heard at the time still ended up in a ”point-to-point” style. I was mainly using analogue equipment during late 70-ies and early 80-ies. There was during this period of time (at least in Sweden) some antagonism between the composers working strictly with computer generated sounds and compositions versus those sticking to the analogue way of getting around. This was during the times when computer music was not only rather tedious and time consuming to work with but so far from any hands-on experience you could possibly imagine. I decided to go for a kind of hybrid way of composing creating the basic sound material in the computer music studio and then put things together in the analogue studio. This way I would have the best of two worlds with sounds from the computer (even if I had to wait for hours to hear the result) and the ease of putting things together with the multi-track recorder. It made me think of the difference between music composition as construction and that of intuition and how to bring them together. I have tried to stay true to that thought throughout my days as a composer. I am not, never really was and will never be a friend of academic music but I am just as little friendly to compositions without reflection and understanding of structural rules. In my opinion music is like any other form of telling a story weather it´s a novel, theatre play or film script. It´s all about having a strong basic idea of what to tell and knowing how to tell it. I first started to work in Paris 1991 when I got my first commission from GRM. During this time and later I was gradually using more and more gestural components to drive the compositions. I had already in 1984 introduced the ”big bang” effect in the composition Krén which I believe had some influence on other composers later. It was my ”Sturm und drang” period where crescendos and strong accents became to be part of my signature as a composer. But arpeggios, accelerandos and ritardandos in various ways were also more and more present in the 90-ies electroacoustic (the term was introduced around that time I think) and gradually formed the cliches that still can be heard. Cliches become cliches for one simple reason. They work. Avoiding cliches once you have gotten used to them as tools is another matter. I have really struggled to get rid of them but it is not an easy quest. Actually, too many electroacoustic pieces that were made during this period not only overly used gestural cliches but also exhibited a growing refinement and narcissism in terms of technical brilliance and sound quality. This gradually rendered a lot of music an air of being superficial and void of real musical content. This was the beginning of the downfall of the genre that until then had gained a decent amount of interest from audience as well as media. This is an excerpt from a lecture I made in mid 1990. Note that the term ”event structure” refers to a way of working with score like definition of musical behavior like what most computer compositions tended to demonstrate at this time.
”It is fair to say that the majority of composers that consider event structures as the most significant part of composition are profoundly influenced by an instrumental approach to music. This should not necessarily disqualify them as electroacoustic music composers, but obviously some of the basic qualities and important identity of sonic art is easily lost along the way. I still believe that a good electroacoustic composition always starts with the composer reflecting on the structural and poetic resources of the sounds from which the piece is to be built. The day composers stop wrestling and experimenting with sound structures, the term sonic art will have no meaning anymore. The second aesthetic branch, developing sound structure rather than event structures is not without its problems either. Unfortunately, sonic art seems to attract some composers who have very rudimentary ideas about composing. All too often a piece may demonstrate some interesting sound material but at the same time be conspicuously void of anything even remotely related to concept, structure, dialectics or poetry. These works simply presents one attractive sound after the other or, if things get a bit denser, on top of each other until they eventually disappear into the silence from which they so mysteriously transmogrified themselves earlier.”
I still consider this to be valid to some point even today. However even though electroacoustic or electronic music appears to be less easy to categorize there still remains remarkably many compositions that are not sounding very different today compared to what they sounded like twenty-five years ago. I was at this time also thinking about the lack of well-defined rhythm in almost all electroacoustic music that would be played in concerts or festivals. I also found the lack of reflection upon meaning and awareness of key values of composing at a more complex level (without being shaped by traditional modernistic aesthetics) to be disturbing.
”I ́m afraid that it (electroacoustic music) in some sense is a little bit too much like popular music in that it seems to be very formula sensitive. Lacking the basic possibility to utilize some vital structural elements like melody, harmonic progression etc. composers are constantly on the lookout for elements that can fill this structural void. Consequently, one who executes an efficient gesture (like the characteristic accelerando-ritardando or the reversed reverb-sound) will soon find this “invention” popping up in the compositions of his colleagues. Since formulas like these often are heavily exploited, they soon become hollow gestures with little innovative musical value. The only way to make sure that ones innovations aren ́t mimicked is simply to make things too difficult to copy. Unfortunately, this easily degenerates into excessive virtuosity. Today the majority of sound structure orientated music rarely exposes more than one line of musical development at any given time. There is, of course, more than one sound object present every now and then but that doesn’t ́ change things since only one sound object at a time carries the musical initiative. It ́s like a ball being kicked from one player to another in a football team. Apart from simple foreground – background effects, one rarely hears more than one structural line at any given time which naturally renders the music somewhat flat. Apart from the ever-popular mechanical pulsation, the rhythmic structures, which are often rudimentary or indistinct, seems in general to attract very little attention from most composers.”
”We have as composers or sound artists to be more self-critical. It simply is not enough to be skilled in producing sweet sounding music if it turns out that the only message it carries to the audience is emptiness. The field of electroacoustic music has to be conquered over and over again. We must dare to be more personal, more specific, more unpredictable. We need to build up a new set of sounding symbols and signs that will allow us to communicate with the audience. A new kind of spectral harmonic system, adapted to sonic art, is yet to be invented and investigated. The rhythm of electroacoustic music has to be redefined and reinstalled as a major musical attribute, which will enable us to develop more complex time-relations between an increasing number of layers of sound objects. It is time to leave the mono linear state and learn how to expand into a multi-dimensional musical space where poly linear composing will be the electroacoustic equivalent of the traditional polyphony. I hope that we will be able to inspire each other to smash the electroacoustic conventions we have created and move to a new state of musical consciousness.”
Even though I so boldly expressed these thoughts around 1995 it took me another ten years before I actually really used rhythm as a key component in my piece ”La vie mécanique”. The reason being that I was worried that the music would be badly received. Again being ”slave” to the opinions of colleagues and institutions in order to stay successful. However, it was not really until the concept of making a piece based on machine sounds came up that working with strong rhythmical structures seemed completely natural. It was finally well received in spite of my worries and have since been one of my most played pieces. It can also be seen as yet another piece in my attempt to investigate the blending of musical genres and traditions. I have made a number of pieces commenting on historical as well as contemporary music such as ”Alias”, ”Renaissance”, ”Retur”, Zeit aus zeit” and others. For me it has been vitalizing not only to stay in a certain musical idiom but rather to build musical bridges. For me invoking meaning in music is the most vital part of composing since it is the gateway to communicating with the world outside of my ideas.
I wrote an article on this subject some years ago.
”In linguistics, meaning is often described as an interactive referential system where we, through mutual sharing of codes, can communicate in ways that both the sender and receiver accept as meaningful. In music, although it does not always necessarily share the linguistic properties of meaning, decoding of relations (to some degree) still act in the same manner. A musical style, for instance, can simply be defined through a set of agreements that a number of people have made as mutual understanding of codes that are recognizable to them, so that they may share their understanding of the music. It also allows them to discuss the relative quality of various musical expressions within the style. Thus, meaning in music or any form of art at least partially arises from the brains ability to decode the inherent structure of a common coded system.”
”Since we are born as beings searching for meaning, we cannot escape ourselves. But since we are also creative and adventurous beings, we do our very best to try. Given that art is the deepest interpretation of ourselves, it is only natural to assume that artists at some point will dive into the ocean of philosophy, cultural criticism as well as the need for singular ego definition in search of the limits of understanding the world and the self. As we enter the stage of contemporary art music, sound art, sound installations, etc., those of us not invited by chance or deliberate interest into the heads of the artists may find it a rather confusing experience from time to time. Through the deconstruction of the historically canonised codes of music, the egocentric view of the individual artist has brought about defining sets of codes related only to a specific line of works or even to a single work of art. In order for the observer to catch the meaning of a piece of art or music, it is often the case that he/she, instead of relying on predefined codes, needs to learn the specific codes associated with the artist or the work of art. This is the dilemma of much of contemporary art music, as the need of constantly redefining the code system alienates the listener from the music and, in the best of cases, turns music listening into a purely intellectual experience.”
”Imagine listening to a stream of sounds from various objects tossed around in a totally unpredictable manner. This does not seem to make much sense other than possibly associating the perceived sounds with yet another ‘pointless’ piece of sound art (assuming that we are sitting in a concert space of some kind). However, in the program notes it states: “This piece was created by asking a number of unprepared people to enter a room filled with various objects and pick up the first object that attracted their attention throwing it into the wall. These sounds were recorded and later organized using a video recording of the movements of ants in the desert of New Mexico.” Obviously, this is organized sound with a thought behind it and thus music if we stick to the widest possible definition. Yet in this example we could speak of meaningless music or sound art or whatever we would like to call it. Unless we are aware of the conceptual intentions leading to the sounding result we would have no way of decoding what we hear, and so there would be no attachable meaning to it. Completely conceptual constructions in music (or any other art) will always need an intermediate explanation of its organization and idea in order for the audience to grasp its meaning. So wherein lies the meaning? In the sounds we are listening to or in the construction of their relations to each other? Or are sound and construction/thought always interconnected? ”
Of course there could very well be someone who actually enjoyed listening to the example above but I doubt the ”hit” potential of it. Consequently my way of composing relies in most of my pieces on using codes that are more or less commonly understood by at least parts of the audience may it be by association or recognition. It´s a matter of combining established codes with partly new codes that I can invoke at will, thus hopefully creating meaningful musical structures. I have tried my very best to come up with new ideas for my pieces over the years. I have not always been successful but I believe that the range of the pieces I have made is wide enough. One thing that I have not been able to do is to really change my musical language for better or worse. I have tried but have realized that attempting this, especially now, most likely is a lost cause. Old dogs you know…
Distorção Geométrica (geometric distortion) is an interactive sound installation that was developed for the old water reservatoir of Aveiro. This building, with its spiral staircase and particular acoustic behavior, allowed the placement of a set of metallic resonant discs and plates distributed throughout the space, in order to create an endless set of spectral combinations that emerge when they are set in vibration.
Conception: Gustavo Costa and Henrique Fernandes
The cultural sector in Australia closed this year, so I tried to tour Europe September-November. It was all going fine, apart from my nostrils getting an extreme workout from all of the testing. Late October, everything shut down again. I lost the rest of my shows, including one of my favourite places to come, Sonoscopia in Porto.
I couldn’t go home earlier, because currently there are something like 27,000 Australians who can’t get a flight home. This is because of hotel quarantine, and the cap on arrivals. Currently each airport in Australia can only accept around 60 people a day, then they get put in a hotel.
I spent two weeks in the same hotel room in Perth (my flight to Melbourne was cancelled). The window hadn’t been cleaned in about 17 years, there was a techno club across the street fully open. No one has been allowed into the city since March, so there’s no virus.
It was difficult; there was repetition, hallucination, claustrophobia, emotion, delirium, but above all, music and my friends which kept me sane. I’m still recovering, and this piece, which reflects my mental state directly after such an experience, is an attempt to return to physical sensuality, reclaiming repetition and mundanity into the positive service of (dis)organised sound.
Disposophonia*, [comma] … [suspension points]
The informal construction of an autonomous and experimental device about sound and music
*Differently from disposophobia, disposophonia is a neologism referring to civilizational well-being and the concept, now announced by Sonoscopia, apt to define the compulsive and urgent human act of gleaning and collecting sound futilities, from the most innocuous to the most turbulent or thoughtless.
Disposophonia is therefore a group of haptic effects capable of promoting an ecology of sound knowledge and sound craft.
Those effects are caused by the simple idea according to which the world no longer revolves around the inventors of new sounds or noises but, on the contrary and due to mental exhaustion, it is now much more elegantly interested in the invention of other sound ideas, of other thoughts.
We should mention that, although such condition of living disposophonically is more prevalent in mature adults of both sexes, from all continents, some of the factors associated to it have common features, such as nomadism, miscegenation, obsessive-sonorous disorder and an explicit aversion to sound-merchandise.
Conscious of disposophonia’s possible consequences, Sonoscopia proposes a permanent sound invention, whether in the form of installations, performances or archive. They even accept guided visits to their installations, therefore contributing in a free form, or co-creative, regime to the collective act of disposophoning.
11th July / 6th September 2020
An exhibition that gathers several works by Sonoscopia: Aesthesic waves, INsono, Phobos, Distorção Geométrica, Sublumia and Atlas de Instrumentos Utópicos.
Text: Mário Azevedo
Translation: Manuel João Neto
It is very fashionable to talk about the relationship between art and technology. Artists are often seen as a source of latent creativity just waiting to be put to good use, and technology is widely touted as the ideal ground to seize the benefits from that surplus of disruption. A significant part of these discourses seem to be oblivious, however, of two very simple facts: (1) that art and technology have been indissociable allies for as long as they both exist and (2) that artists often need to abuse technology in order for new art to emerge. Let us start with the first one.
Becoming an artist often encompasses learning how to use a given technology. In order to become a musician, for example, we usually start by learning how to master a piece of technology called a musical instrument. Even if we aim to sing, we do so by learning — either formally in school or informally through the examples of others — a skill that allows us to use our voice as a musical instrument. It is this skill that can bring forward the musician: one does not become a pianist merely by acquiring a piano, but by acquiring the skills to be able to make music with — or through — the piano. Musicians, and other artists and artisans alike, establish with their tools a profound relationship, and it is that relationship that allows them to seize opportunities for new art to emerge.
Those opportunities often come from a novel way of using old technologies. And whenever these new ways come around, they might seem, to the untrained eye, indistinguishable from simple misuses of the technology. But are they really misuses? Take the pianist that places screws between the strings: that certainly strikes us as a misuse if the goal is to use the piano as a bed of screws, or if it is done in order to subsequently play a classical piano sonata. But when that act gives rise to Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes it is obviously not a misuse, even if it challenges the “proper” way of using the piano. Quite the contrary, it is the very step of preparing the piano that enables the unveiling of new musical possibilities, ones that would remain hidden if we kept on using the piano strictly in a “proper” way.
Nonetheless, without the reification of these possibilities as music, the screws between the strings would remain a simple misuse of the piano. Since that reification can only happen after the act of placing the screws, does that mean that the artistic process somehow started as a misuse? Not quite, since the artist is not blindly trying out every possible misuse in search of something that we can then collectively call music. What the artist is doing is to actively follow the clues towards the unveiling of new musical possibilities, embryos that she is able to identify precisely because of the skill she acquired through her — likely much more “proper” — use of the technology. She is not misusing a technology that she does not know how to use properly insomuch as she is abusing the technology that she masters with the specific purpose of extracting new music from it.
Fortunately, we do not need to become proficient in giving birth to new music to be able to appreciate the music that others bring into the world. But there is a striking contrast between the path towards musicianship and the path towards becoming a music listener, even if we also need technologies like the record player or the smartphone to do so. If we wanted to use the record player as an instrument, we would need to go through a learning path as challenging as with the voice or the piano. And we certainly need highly skilled people to design a smartphone, or to play and record the music in the first place. Nonetheless, to become a consumer of music, we do not need to master any particular technique: we just need to buy the technology, bring it home and trust it to deliver its promise. Even if only until some new technology comes along promising easier, bigger and newer: in a word, better.
That is the pledge of our contemporary society: to infinitely amplify our power over the world whilst minimizing our effort and discomfort in grasping it. All of our contemporary collective efforts are geared to what, at first glance, seems like a benign empowerment of the individual: you do not need to learn how to play an instrument in order to enjoy good music, you just need to buy access to seemingly unlimited supplies of recordings of highly specialized people that do it for you; you do not need to learn how to cook in order to enjoy good meals, you just need to buy a set of machines and processed ingredients that do it for you, delivering perfect and consistent results regardless of your skill. Whilst you are encouraged to acquire at least one profitable skill — something that qualifies you as a human resource —, you need to do so mostly in order to gain the financial means to buy into the promise of a better life as a consumer. The promised land is one of endless comfort, for as long as you play by the rules. Whilst nobody will accuse you of dishonesty for serving your dinner guests a meal made by a robotic chef, you might face persecution if you download the robot’s recipe through improper channels: you can cheat as a cook, but not as a consumer.
There is, nonetheless, a great difference between learning how to play an instrument and learning how to use a robotic chef. In the first case, you are putting effort into acquiring a skill, a know-how that empowers you with the ability to see the world through a lens that is only available to those who share the same skill: the world of the musician, the world of the carpenter, the world of the cook. In the second case, you are acquiring the means to bring something of your choosing into your life — music, furniture, food —, all without conquering the ability to question how it is done or even to foresee opportunities for novel endeavours. A cook can certainly use the aide of a robot in cooking — as a musician can use the record player as an instrument —, but the simple act of buying and using a robotic chef will not turn anyone into a cook, as buying a record player does not turn anyone into a musician. Whilst technology allows the musician and the cook to fulfill their goal of bringing novelty into the world, it is the consumer who allows the technology to fulfill the goal it was designed to pursue. The musician and the cook use technology as an instrument, while the consumer becomes the instrument of technology.
As with many other issues, I am convinced that it was the infamous philosopher Martin Heidegger who better understood our entanglement with technology. He does precisely that in a lesson entitled The Question Concerning Technology, from 1949, a text that I find both insightful and useful as a guide to the contemporary world, namely because he raises the question of technology in order to lay the groundwork for an unshackled relationship with it. In this text, Heidegger calls into our attention the fact that we live bound to technology — in fact much more today than we did seventy years ago —, and that we do so whether we have an uncritical acceptance of it, a belief in its salvific powers or even a total rejection of it. Our contemporary worldview is technological, and the risks of that worldview are particularly threatening when we ignore that fact, or when we embrace the naive — and wrong — idea that technology is in itself neutral. For as long as the essence of technology remains hidden to us, we will wholeheartedly believe that by improving technology (i.e., making it able to do more things more efficiently) we will solve the very problems that were created by previous technologies. The essence of technology thus lies in the very inexorability of the ideal of efficiency, on a worldview that regards everything as a collection of resources merely waiting to be optimized. It is this worldview that leads us to the permanent will to generalize solutions to problems and towards the desire of making our actions less dependent on our capacity to read the peculiarities of each situation. So what is wrong with that?
Let us use MDF as an example. MDF stands for Medium-Density Fiberboard, which is basically a technological version of wood, over which it has many advantages. MDF boards are built to a standard and thus each board is, within the specifications of the manufacturing process, “exactly the same as all the others.” It is precisely this predictability — a Holy Grail of the technological world — that allows for a construction process that is less dependent on the particular conditions of each assembly, which include the skill of the humans involve in the process. We no longer need, for example, to be able to read the idiosyncrasies of natural wood like only an experienced carpenter can, as all the information we need is conveniently — and, most importantly, dependably — provided by the manufacturer in the form of a specification sheet.
Choosing MDF (or other kind of technological wood) over natural wood allows for much greater efficiency in the production of anything, ranging from furniture to musical instruments. Let us imagine that the specifications of MDF boards are “technically better” for the production of acoustic guitars than the average specifications of boards of a given type of natural wood. Even if this was demonstrably true, I highly doubt that any skilled guitar player would happily choose to play with a randomly chosen industrially-produced MDF guitar rather than spending years visiting accomplished luthiers in search for that special guitar. As a pianist will always prefer an acoustic piano, made and maintained by skilled artisans, to the best, most trustworthy digital piano that anyone can ever build, now or in the future.
And why is that? Is it simply by pretentiousness, or by a peculiar fondness of anachronic manufacturing? I do not think so. I believe it is because each instrument built by an artisan is unique, in the sense that it embodies the result of a singular and inimitable compromise. This uniqueness, as revealed by the knowing hands of the skilled musician, is brought to life via the profound vision and wisdom that the artisan expresses precisely through her involvement with the tools and materials that she uses to build the guitar. It is thus an exceptional instrument not because it is expensive or merely because it has a singular material existence — as every instrument does —, but because the decisions that brought it into existence are reified by the music that emerges from that particular combination of wood, artisanship and musicianship. The skilled artisan sees each particular piece of wood as a musical instrument even before it becomes one, a vision that no recipe nor any specification sheet will ever be able to provide us. Each instrument that she builds will be unique, as unique as each piece of wood used in its construction.
There will never be any “perfect properties” for wood, because the division in different measurable properties ignores the fact that properties are not divisible without changing the quality of the whole: the red of a fluffy toy will never be the same red of a smooth shiny car, even if under normalized conditions a spectrometer can identify the same wavelength in both. It is only through the uniqueness of a given piece of wood that a great guitar can emerge from the hands of a luthier, as it is only through the uniqueness of a given guitar that great music can emerge from the hands of a musician. This does not mean that a great musician needs a great instrument to make music, but it means that she needs to be able to understand the uniqueness of each instrument in order to release the music that best suits that singularity. A music that, to a greater or lesser degree, would never see the light of day without that particular combination of instrument and musician (and audience, and room, etc.). Even if each industrial guitar is, strictly speaking, unique as an object, it is so despite the way it was made and not because of it. Its idiosyncrasies are the result of random factors that escape the quality control, not the consequence of insightful decisions. The MDF is consumed to make a guitar, whilst there is a strong sense in which we can say that the luthier released the guitar that was contained in the wood, just like John Cage released the prepared piano that was contained in the regular piano. Even if one lacking their skills would never be able to foresee those possibilities before their respective unveiling.
If we use the MDF as it is supposed to be used — as a technological, dependable wood —, we will never free a guitar from it, even if we can impose the form of a guitar over it. That is the ambivalence that simultaneously constitutes the promise and the danger of technology: by enhancing our capability to mass-produce technological guitars, it saves each one of us from the need to acquire the skill and expertise — as well as to devote the time and the effort — required to know how to unveil guitars from particular pieces of wood. But, in doing so, it also prevents us from acquiring the ability to see the world as a unique-guitars-waiting-to-be-unveiled. The technological worldview leads us to value the properties of materials above their qualities, to value the success in imposing a preexisting and standardized form over matter as opposed to the skill to seize the peculiarities of the matter that surrounds us as an artist or artisan does. And, most dangerously, it leads us to the temptation of optimizing the people around us, who are increasingly pushed to focus their effort in the acquisition and display of properties that define them — at the same time making them replaceable by someone who embodies similar or better properties —, as opposed to qualities that make them unique and effectively irreplaceable. It is not an accident that the era of great technological development towards an ever more comfortable consumer life is also the era of a general sense of meaninglessness in the personal human experience: what at first sight might seem like a victory of humanity is, in fact, a coward capitulation of the very thing that makes us human.
The proper use of technology is simply the use for which that technology was built. Since each new technology proposes a generalized solution to an idealized problem — as, by definition, we cannot generalize solutions for concrete problems — the better technology is the one that is less dependent on the particular circumstances of use, the one that is able to achieve similar results coming from a wide variety of different circumstances. Since a big part of those circumstances is determined by the end user of the technology, the less dependent the results are on the skills of this end user, the better the technology is. It thus comes as little surprise that technology developers devote great efforts into making technology easier to use, effectively reducing the consumer to the role of an user who is increasingly denied real access to the technology behind what she buys. The user is not in control of the technology she uses insomuch as it is the potential of the technology what becomes real through its use by the user. It is the user who becomes controlled by the technology, the user who — through the very use that gives her that name — becomes a foot soldier of the technological revolution. As any soldier, she is not called into questioning the aim of the technology that she is serving. In fact, and for as long as she does not develop an involvement with the world that enables her to see beyond the problems a given technology promises to solve, she will not gain any insight into its inadequacies. Until, that is, a new technology comes along promising to solve those.
The problem of the overtechnologization of the world, like many others we face today, is one which we do not need to solve insomuch as we need to dissolve it. We do not need to create solutions for it, we need to get rid of the conditions that make the problem emerge in the first place. This does not mean that we should get rid of technology per se, going back to an idealised primordial way of being. Instead, it means that we should get rid of the idea that every problem has a technological solution, or that the more efficient solution is always the better one. Yes: technology solves problems. But it always does so by creating new, and largely unanticipated, ones. And for as long as we are focused on technology as a solution, we will remain oblivious to its harmful sway over us. When artists abuse a given technology, they are not simply misusing it: they are neutralizing its power over them by freeing it from its “correct” use. That is why we do not really need more technology for the arts, or more artists endorsing new technologies. That is why we have little to gain from the simple misuse or even the neglect of technology. But that is also why we desperately need artists abusing technology — and for all of us to learn how to abuse technology like an artist — so that our worldview can be released from its shackles.
Phonopticon is a sonic model inspired on the Panopticon architecture, a building designed by Jeremy Bentham on the XVIIIth century, where a control central tower has a 360 degrees vision on the cells of the prisoners. Conceptually, however, the ideas of control and power implicit on the Panopticon are replaced by sound representations, free and abstract in its essence, that find different meanings on the listening processes developed by every listener.
Phonopticon is a concert where new expressive and performative ways are explored in the areas of composition, performance and electroacoustic spatialization, gathering in a central point a set of new acoustic and electronic musical instruments. The audience, displayed concentrically, is also surrounded by eight loudspeakers placed on the limits of the circle.
Live Performance | 18th July 2020
Composition and performance:
José Alberto Gomes
Video by Augusto Lado