URSULA NISTRUP

Notes On A Public Sound Work

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Notes on a public sound work at Sundholmen and an acoustic experience at the Museum Insel Hombroich or thoughts on sound diffused through public space and how it does not lend itself to being controlled or conformed.

 

In the early half of September 2007, I visited a distinctive place located in Neuss, Germany, near Dusseldorf, which consists of a nature reserve and buildings known as the Die Stiftung Insel Hombroich. The buildings were designed and built by the German architect Erwin Heerich.

 

Erwin Heerich’s buildings pull together an aesthetic sensibility that is clear and unadorned, even within their interiors, the geometry of austerity is placed forward in the visitors mind that one feels a quasi-religious reverence for this type of secular architecture. They sit proportionately in relation to the massive nature reserve surrounding the Die Stiftung Insel Hombroich.

 

Looking further into the rectilinear interiors, artifacts and artworks are placed, with coordination with freely placed furniture that adjusts to the ceilings and walls. Throughout every room didactic information is not displayed, (i.e.) information such as materials or origin of the artifact or the period of the objects represented in the collection is completely negated. In this way, every artifact and artwork is introduced into the space with an unencumbered and liberated notion of display that is free from institutional (official art history) and pre-determined contexts or values.

 

Surely members of the public may have an idea or some knowledge of the pieces in the collection, but since objects are relocated and re-hanged and new arrangements are introduced continuously. By this distinct approach to display, there will never be a thematic or curatorial construct demanding sensations and mediations between the works. The sense produced by this is one of anonymity and redirects it to artworks holding their context as art, very much like the ancient artifact, holds beauty and craft. This circulation of objects within the collection refreshes an inter-subjective continuity between visitor and Insel Hombroich’s taste for the autonomy of the art object. This also sets up different tensions outside of art, one becomes increasingly aware of the actual piece, regardless of artist name and historical context, making one wonder what it has to do with the entire universe working before your eyes that the architect and the collector brokered.

 

I was present in one of these buildings, experiencing art within these rooms, a blue sculpture in one of them sat nicely in relation to a display case, along with metallic sculptures and ceramic pots from ancient Asia. Still no information provided, I am evaluating the experience quietly. I began to listen to a whistling sound from an adjacent room. Another member of the public must be whistling in these high ceiling rooms. Its making a strong layered echo, as it emerges quietly from the anonymous mouth and as I physically moved between the two rooms I experienced the sound changing:

 

In the 1st room (Yves Klein room) had an effect upon my ear, as if two or tree people were whistling at once, as I moved towards the next room, looking for the source the echoes gradually altered and the sound became clearer and more simplified. Throughout the entire building the sound of the whistling altered its quality and layers, as if never present and fixed to one location. In relation to the art display and furniture pieces, the impression was that I was not only part of a visual experience but also an aural witness to a constantly moving and floating situation of sound, encapsulated and conditioned within these unique high walls,

The work presented at Sundholmen had very different qualities. I also found myself to be an accidental, uninvited, listener. Having experienced the inadvertent acoustic situation in the Erwin Heerich building, I became sharply aware of a female opera singer as she was practicing her singing, when I was visiting the city of Kassel in Germany. Her voice emerged with the same simple tonalities, distinguishing itself, over all the other varieties of noise and sound found in the urban environment of Kassel. As I paced closer to its origin, I got as close as possible, to be able to capture her vocal exercises on a recording device. Grabbing the situation into this delicate but stable medium.

 

Often sound pieces are somewhat planned, rehearsed and consciously presented, for an audience. By listening to situations we are present in and part of, instead of barely hearing them, a new reading of these audible situations is available through acoustics, in very much the same manner as it occurs visually in aesthetics. In the case of the Sundholmen work and the whistling moment from Die Stiftung Insel Hombroich the element of being an accidental listener and audience of audible situations is central to the extemporaneity of city life and existence. It is substantiated by a sensibility that exists in each and everyone of us, but often underappreciated and neglected.

 

In order to for me to create a method of appreciation I would like to restructure an act of listening and thereby transform it, this being the act of eavesdropping as a concept for audible experience. I want to reverse its negation of freedom and as a secretive or covert act of listening along with its implied use of architecture in its present form as a transitional verb. Where to listen to a conversation without the speaker being aware of it carries cultural and psychological stigmas, eavesdropping as a term contains an architectural object compounded with a physical movement this makes it a perfect linguistic technical term to describe the happenstance of moving through architecture while encountering audible situations. It is perfectly suited to how our bodies relate to the urban environment.

 

EAVES(Architectural/or Architectonic Object) + DROP(site or point in space for contact)

 

An eave is the edge of a roof. Eaves usually project beyond the side of the building generally to provide weather protection. This is important to the installation of the recorded opera practice. When installed at Sundholmen, it was placed so new audiences meet and experience being accidental audiences, “dropping” between the audible and architectural components present in the installation. In this way, the piece could easily exist just like the vocal exaggerations originating randomly by the anonymous woman singing in Kassel.