We present an exhibition that takes place in a virtual space. It consists of stereophonic sound works, besides the visual, sound, video and textual content that complements and expands them. It is, above all, an invitation to listen.
The field or category to which these works belong is that of Sound Art, which we could define as an art that uses sound as a fundamental sensitive matter.
Once these premises have been established, perhaps it would be pertinent to point out that, by showing them in a gallery space, Virtual Freijo, our aim is to situate Sound Art within the art market, a domain to which they belong by their very evolution and nature, although this evidence is far from being so on many occasions, even for some of their practitioners. Our intention is to be able to situate Sound Art, and in particular the works herein exhibited, within memory archives, which are always collections, both institutional and private.
This international exhibition consists of thirteen works and brings together artists from seven countries of three continents.
Approaching an exhibition of Sound Art today means making a selection, not without risk, that can account for the diversity of trends, genres and generations of an art that is being born, still without a defined name, throughout the last century, and that finds its name almost in the 70s. We do not intend, in any case, to make a historical review, and I already anticipate that the chosen works range from 1987 to the present.
It was necessary to establish a theme that would unify the selection, despite its great diversity. Among the examples that preceded us, taken from the world of Sound Art, what was done at Sonambiente in Berlin in 1996 by René Bloch or in 2006 by Matthias Osterwold (excellent exhibitions without a specific theme) was not applicable, nor did we embrace a genre as was done at La Voix Libérée, an exhibition focused on sound poetry, held in 2019 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. We have not devoted our exhibition to a movement or generation, nor have we confined ourselves to a country - as in Escuchar con los ojos, devoted to Sound Art in Spain, which I curated in 2016 for the Fundación Juan March. Here, too, it was not a question of creating a group or movement, as distinguished curators once did in the field of Visual Art with Arte Povera, Transvanguardia or Nouveau Réalisme. And, in addition, the works have made their way without being conditioned by a theme. This does not mean that there were no conversations on the subject with the artists who were interested in being part of the project, nor a certain orientation of themes or selection of works which, when the time came, already limited some results.
It could be said then, to honor the truth, that it was the works themselves that began to outline some common traits that converged curiously in the notions of "equilibrium" - or disequilibrium - and "change of state".
Sound Art and changes of state
The conditions of existence of Sound Art as such, since its first steps during the 60s and 70s of the last century, either from the Anglo-Saxon perspective of "Sound Art" or based on the German notion of "Klangkunst", already warn us of a difficult compromise - equilibrium, if you prefer - between technology and the problem of listening (in the first case) and between hearing and seeing, with the takeover of space by sound (in the second case). As if that were not enough, artists in the field of sound have always belonged to a wide variety of disciplines: Performance, Music, Visual Arts, Poetry, Architecture, Theatre... And of course, the media: radio, TV, internet, cinema, video. We could say then, without exaggeration, that the so-called "Sound Art" is an art "sitting between chairs", which, by the way, is a problematic posture to maintain equilibrium.
This funambulism - forced or voluntary - exercised by sound artists has therefore been a condition derived from their own artistic practice, in some cases close to the notion of "Intermedia", enunciated by Fluxus Dick Higgins in 1965 as a territory between different media. These media have allowed, expanded and conditioned the results of the works. And also, the pure expressive need of each artist in each addressed subject, together with the technological and production possibilities of each moment, have determined the use of one medium or another, resources and tools, so that this art and those of us who practice it are, for all those reasons, genuine children of our time, as the works gathered here testify.
However, in addition to what has already been argued, one can also observe that natural or social states with a precarious or problematic equilibrium are very interesting sources of sound: all kinds of natural disasters, explosions, demonstrations, popular revolts, festivals, sporting events. In the case of Sound Art, more than a few works have used sound objects that have emerged from such events, but it is undoubtedly the performers who have consciously triggered these sound results through their artistic practices. I have this in mind when I write to the great Wolf Vostell, who pointed out in his Notes on my Music: "When I discovered the principle of dé-coll/age in 1954, which consists of breaking down concrete or invisible forms and categories, I pointed out that all changes in state produced noise, sound." Tearing posters off a wall, breaking light bulbs against glass or crashing a locomotive into a car produced sounds, and that "music of life" was, as Vostell describes, his "contribution to Fluxus".
Going back to physics, one can say that every problematic state of equilibrium, whether unstable or metastable - an aspect that I will address below - is characterized by the release of potential energy as kinetic energy - movement - and heat. This exothermic condition of such processes, but also their link to movement - and the examples mentioned above are appropriate in this respect - allows sound practices to be brought closer to life, both to everyday and extraordinary events, to natural landscapes, streets, human masses or the forces of Nature; but also to that change of state that the artist triggers by making a concept shift from one medium and context to another, combining unexpectedness, making the spark jump between apparently distant realities... just as it happens with metastable states, by the way.
The metastable condition
According to Wikipedia, "metastable systems are those that are in apparent equilibrium, in a weakly stable state of equilibrium over a long period of time. We also know that a sudden change in the external conditions can lead to another, more stable regime". And somewhere else we are informed that "metastable states are locally stable states of the system in the face of small disturbances. But when the disturbances are slightly greater, the system leaves that state, thus evolving towards another, more stable region".
In that reality, which alternately involves tension and relaxation of the system, listening moves between the disturbance of that system - the medium where sound propagates -, in which that sound exists, and the extinction of that sound or "sound event" - to use a more precise term -, which leads us to a state or region of greater vibratory stability: silence. We retain from that sound event -a purely physical effect- the resulting sound object. We do this through a perceptive phenomenon which, with the help of recording instruments, we can preserve, analyze, transform, and mix with other sound objects. Pierre Schaeffer has been working on this since the end of the 1940s, thus inventing "concrete music". Of course, all of us who work with sound objects are indebted to those experiences.
From a general perspective, therefore, sound moves, contributing to the system or environment in which it is born and propagating a change of balance. In itself, this purely physical observation would be enough to recognize as sounds coming from metastable systems not only those of the works included in this exhibition. And while this might reassure us when it comes to justifying the theme that brings these works together, it would also place the problem elsewhere since, based on this argument, it is obvious that any sound manifestation - whether or not it has artistic intent - would meet this requirement. In this regard, it is worth noting that our selection is focused on an expanded notion of the metastable voice, applied to the artistic and social fields rather than to that of Physics.
WORKS AND AUTHORS
These thirteen works are presented as paradigms of different ways of creating, since Sound Art is nourished in its hybrid and dynamic character by practices such as performance, installation, sculpture, poetry, music, and experimentation in general. And it takes shape through media and formats as diverse as radio, video, memory cards, vinyl records, or CDs, not to mention physical or virtual spaces. We find in the selection up to seven works that come from or have as a reference point the radio, which has been a propitious ground for the expression of all kinds of sound artists. If anything, the radio is in this case a space for the confluence of heterogeneous elements, which come from conceptual practice, action, experimental poetry, soundscapes or electro-acoustic creation. And at the same time, it is a passage ground for ideas coming from other physical spaces, feeding on them. Together with the electronic space of the radio, other works refer to physical spaces and have been created for them; some are memories of places, experiences, people, and situations.
The time of action: Ferrer, Jupitter-Larsen, Corner
Time is the dimension in which all these pieces exist, and that time sometimes marks the time of the actions that feed them. For example, timing the course of performances by Esther Ferrer (San Sebastian, ES, 1937) in Al ritmo del tiempo [At the Rhythm of Time] -in fact, the work itself is a radio performance-, since the sound piece, produced and premiered on RNE Radio 2 (Ars Sonora) in 1992, is constructed with sounds that the artist usually uses to measure the passage of time and the actions to carry out in some of her performances. The photographs that accompany the work are a good example of this.
Esther Ferrer has been practicing performance since her presence in Zaj from 1967 until the dissolution of the group in 1996. And in her solo work within this genre she has always had the fundamental idea that the spectators should be aware of the passage of time, of the fact that they are sharing a time in common with the artist. But that perception of time is different for each person and each moment, and this is particularly emphasized in this work because, being broadcast on the radio, the performer and the spectator did not share the same space. And also, because the measurement of the passage of time is, for almost 30 minutes, the only sound element of the piece, so that listening to it can provoke a certain tension and challenge the listener's fidelity. There is, therefore, a difficult and delicate balance between novelty and redundancy within the work, always on the edge, always in that weakly stable state of equilibrium that, as we have learned, is characteristic of metastable systems.
The work proposed by the American artist GX Jupitter-Larsen (Los Angeles, US, 1959) invokes the gesture of kicking a ruler while walking. The phrase that is the main sound of his piece Measuring Social Distancing - produced for this exhibition - alludes, not without irony, to the well-known social distance imposed by the pandemic (incidentally, the great metastable equilibrium that affects everyone at the moment of creation of the work): "As you walk along for any predetermined amount of time, kick a ruler in front of you." In fact, the sounds, which derive from this action, treated to a greater or lesser extent, are the only ones that accompany the reading of the sentence in various languages. And that is why the sound work is to be sold together with a ruler signed by the author. Jupitter-Larsen embodies, like few others in this exhibition, such a diverse profile, first as a founding member in 1979 of the group The Haters, which stood out in the Californian noise scene during the 1980s, and then as a writer, filmmaker and sound artist.
If the sound event, as a physical fact, triggers an imbalance that would lead us after its conclusion to a new state of equilibrium, that is precisely the method followed by Philip Corner (New York, US, 1933) for the elaboration of the essential sounds of Pieces of Musical Reality, since it consists of a collection of sound events, which is the most appropriate name that could be given to such pieces. Created in 1995 in RNE's studios in Madrid and produced by Ars Sonora, the work is representative of a composer, artist and performer who has been taught by John Cage himself. In the recording studio, making use of everyday objects, such as a fluorescent tube on a table covered with sand, crumpled papers or stones, or developing very precise actions on the piano, he produced these events based on the motto "one sound once" (in his performative work it would be "one action once"). Like other Fluxus members, Corner handles the "event scores"; in the work under discussion they are more like verbal instructions that the author himself dictates so that they can be performed on the piano ("just once, and vigorously, scrape the fingernails towards you along the low strings").
As can be read in the handwritten notes that accompany this work, its sound sources also include urban environments, random voices or sound effects, as well as silence, with which he builds a polyphony with the help of the multitrack.
The voice as essential expressive material: Fontana, El Haouli-Mannis
The emancipation of poetry from the written page has experienced decisive impulses throughout the 20th century with Dada and Futurism, but it was not until the arrival of electronic technology in the second half of the century that a qualitative leap was made, into the so-called "sound poetry". One of the relevant authors of the second generation of these lines of work is Giovanni Fontana (Frosinone, IT, 1946). A polyartist, the creator of sound novels such as Tarocco Meccanico [Mechanical Tarot] (1990) and Chorus (2000), he is the author of intermedia publications. Thanks to his friendship with Adriano Spatola, he began to frequent the territories of international poetic experimentation very early on, forging collaborative relationships with the most significant exponents: from Dick Higgins to John Giorno, from Henri Chopin to Bernard Heidsieck, from Julien Blaine to Jean-Jacques Lebel.
In his essay The Epigenetic Nature of Action Poetry, with the significant subtitle Voices in Motion Rewrite Texts, he calls for the transformation of the poet into a polyartist: appropriating electronic and video practices, cinema, the world of sound, the dimensions of theatre, and rhythm. And, as poetry is based in his case on the "music of speech", the enormous force released expands the text beyond the page. We are confronted with a game of delicate, metastable equilibriums that make the work - a living organism - become a live performance. This is the case of his Sento dunque suono (2007), written to be performed, multiplying and deforming itself through electronics and montage. The author plays with the myth of the Sirens, figures that evoke seduction through singing and the fascination of new discoveries, the magic of mystery. The poem reveals an allegorical character, while the voice becomes matter, aspiring to emancipate itself from the word and reach a new state: to become pure sound.
The funambulism exercise carried out by the Brazilians Janete El Haouli (sound artist, radio producer) and José Augusto Mannis (b. 1958, composer of various genres including radio art) also focuses on the poetry that escapes the page, because In memoriam Décio Pignatari (2013) is a piece that delves into another experimental poetic voice. Specifically, the historical creators of Brazilian Concrete Poetry, which emerged in the mid-50s.
Throughout this sound piece, created for the radio and presented in the series of programs called IberWave, which I curated in 2013 for the program Kunstradio-Radiokunst of the Austrian ORF, we find poems in the voice of the honored person, testimonies and poems by Haroldo de Campos and songs by Gil Campos, Gilberto Mendes, Madrigal Ara Viva and Caetano Veloso about poems by Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari. The whole work is based on the composition Noigandres IV, by Mannis -which comes from the poem HOMBRE, by Pignatari-, with a construction conceived for the radio universe, developed into a precise and elegant score that accompanies the recording, and which is also offered integrated in a video together with the sound work.
Conflict scenarios: Iges-Jerez, Berenguer
Brazilian Concrete Poetry had a strong social and political component, without detriment to being in the forefront of semiotic and formal experimentation.
In this exhibition, another work that presents a clear concern for these social issues is the one signed by Concha Jerez (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, ES, 1941) and José Iges (Madrid, ES, 1951): El silbido del Caballo de Hierro atravesando el umbral del Paraíso [The Whistling of the Iron Horse Crossing the Threshold of Paradise] (1995-1996). In this case voices are also protagonists, but here they are those of the exile and the exodus towards Europe. In 1995 this work alluded to the drama of immigration, which has become a social and human problem in permanent imbalance; the piece reached its final version in 1996 with the incorporation of small cells that "interfered" with the contents of the initial work. It was commissioned by the French group La Muse en Circuit, and for this reason it was created as a work for the radio, having been broadcast in part or in its entirety at various international events (Horizontal Radio, Rivers & Bridges) and, in its final version, on France-Culture.
In this work on immigration to Europe, based on interviews in Madrid and Paris, but in no way intended as a documentary or journalistic work, the train is the other great acoustic and symbolic character: the "Iron Horse", as the American Indians called it; the means of transport to cross the continent and realize that, perhaps, the immigrants did not find what they imagined once they crossed the threshold of Paradise. Along with these sounds, the third element is a selection of songs of emigration, which provide a counterpoint of pain, joy and hope. In this way, the work is unintentionally situated between different radio genres, so that - not only because of the subject matter - it is in a metastable conceptual and formal equilibrium. The montage diagrams and other handwritten notes from the creation process of the piece accompany the purely sound proposal.
Other areas of conflict are in Nature itself and, just like in the previous ones, the human being is ultimately responsible for them. These realities of difficult and delicate balance for the future of vast natural environments have been explored within a project called Sonidos en Causa, which began in 2009 and was developed by the Orchestra of Chaos, then formed by Carlos Gómez and José Manuel Berenguer. The project, as they explain, analyzed "the evolution of soundscapes in contexts where human development has affected their composition in recent history". The contexts analyzed covered areas of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico, which have an intangible heritage and, with it, a sound heritage that is extremely vulnerable.
In the work created by José Manuel Berenguer (Barcelona, ES, 1955) for this exhibition, entitled Piedra Bugre, four minutes selected from many sound recordings made in Argentina between July and August 2010 are used. It is the result of the application of various musical composition algorithms to these sound recordings. Along with the work itself, there is a computer application that gives different sound results each time it is launched, as well as a collection of texts and field photographs about the project. Let us add that the Piedra Bugre is a rock formation which, according to the Guarani tribes, had special telluric properties.
The city as a large resonant container: Black, López
Whereas the previous work focused on natural soundscapes, the two that follow use sounds collected in urban environments.
The Australian sound artist Colin Black -very active, by the way, in the field of radio art- made the most of a stay in 2015 at the University of London and an artistic residency at Resonance104.4fm to create a very personal sound portrait of the city, entitled The London Ear Drops, which he defines as a "sound mosaic". Everything in the piece is linked to personal experiences, including the edited digital photographs that accompany the sound work in this exhibition. In his search for sonic artefacts in the city, he tells us that at St Pancras railway station there was a piano available for anyone who wanted to play it, and that he, thinking of his famous compatriot, the pianist David Helfgott - trained in London - recorded himself improvising on that instrument. Some Londoners, such as Hanna Brown or Michael Umney, shared with him reflections on the city, such as the idea that people are part of the urban environment without standing out individually from it. Like any large city, the British capital is a teeming organism in permanent search for balance, sometimes metastable, like the sound of the wind in the trees of Regent Park, which the author, when processing it in the studio, incorporated as a "memory filter", just as the brain works when it remembers something. For this exhibition, Black has created a mixture of the materials from the initial work, which he has entitled Radio Edit.
Francisco López (Madrid, ES, 1964) is internationally renowned for his immersive concerts in which he spatially spreads his works to an audience in complete darkness. The field recordings with which he constructs his untitled#276 (2011) are of a very different nature: they are messages spread by public address (PA) systems, which the author has collected between 1990 and 2010 in many countries. In addition, the work was designed to be broadcast on the Madrid Metro's public address channel, which means that we are dealing with a system at the service of the medium's message (the PA system), beyond the specific content it broadcasts. The relationship and conflict between the medium and the message create a tension in the work that leads to an equilibrium that is always on the verge of breaking down.
Individuality within society and vice versa: Sodomka, De Alvear
The metastable equilibrium is an engine of change as unavoidable as the changes in the organism and the environment. It is part of that force, "impermanent permanence", with which the Zen Master referred to the constant movement of the Universe. In works such as those offered in this exhibition by the Austrian sound artist and composer Andrea Sodomka (Vienna, AT, 1961) and the Spanish-German composer María de Alvear (Madrid, ES, 1960), we find this connection with life in different ways, represented by sound materials with their own seal.
Andrea Sodomka has a long-standing career in electro-acoustic music and installation, although we cannot overlook her work with electronic media, especially as a member of ALIEN PRODUCTIONS together with Martin Breindl and Norbert Math. Although this group has been developing large installations with automatons, the author's solo work is more focused on private environments, as shown in her radio work Intimate Space (2009). This is also the case with the work we are dealing with here: When I open my window (2020).
The work is the result of Sodomka's rich interaction with a young man - named Felix - whom she describes as being gifted with great intelligence while having difficulties in verbal communication; on the other hand, he has developed a remarkable ability to express feelings and experiences through sound, based on recordings he makes himself. This context is explored by the author with great subtlety and proximity, based on these field recordings, made with a professional equipment with which Felix left a testimony of his environment and his daily life. He also left written descriptions of these recordings, a selection of which can be read on this website. Various photographs taken from the inside of rooms are also included, in line with the daily and private experience of the protagonist.
As a further step, the author has worked with these materials in her own studio, without ever losing sight of the very special referential world from which they originate, though taking us back to her own. And what Andrea Sodomka seems to be looking at from her window is a dense atmosphere, from which some bird sounds hardly escape: an air about to become solid. It is like the omen of a change of state.
If daily life, at a very intimate and specific level, inspires the work of Sodomka, it is the life of Humankind as a whole and a particular mythical history of it that María de Alvear presents in Die Badenden [The Bathers]. Dated 1987, it was produced by the prestigious Studio Akustische Kunst directed by Klaus Schöning at the WDR in Cologne, our author's habitual residence. A student of Mauricio Kagel, María de Alvear has frequented the Hörspiel - which is, in German-language radio practice, an evolution of radio theatre that oscillates between the dramatic-narrative and the musical styles - and the work under discussion belongs to this genre. As in some of her concert pieces, De Alvear addresses spirituality and rituals. Times and spaces are juxtaposed, together with the different languages of the world, gathered in an ever-apparent equilibrium revolving around water and linked to it. The piece is accompanied by a drawing by Ana de Alvear, which represents a fern, linked to the sound work because it has existed as a vegetable species since our origins.
Metaphors of fluidity: Rocha Iturbide, Erkizia
What the previous work has in common with the last two is that fluidity is present in all of them. A state of aggregation, the liquid, from which life emerges and to which we permanently return.
But the bath in De Alvear’s work refers to a collective meeting rather than an intimate ceremony. This is not the case in the proposal by the composer and sound artist Manuel Rocha Iturbide (Mexico City, MX, 1961), since he leads us into El baño de Frida [Frida's Bathroom], the title, incidentally, of his work, which was created in 2011 and which is herein presented in a 2020 revised version under the title El baño de Frida Kahlo II [Frida Kahlo’s Bathroom II]. We are talking, of course, about Frida Kahlo, the very famous Mexican painter. Rocha Iturbide draws a subtle line in his work that unites three creation periods in Mexico, represented by three names: the painter Frida Kahlo, the photographer Graciela Iturbide and the author of the sound piece. The link between them is this bathroom, a place of dreamlike experiences and physical pain, given the problems that the artist endured for a good part of her life. It is a place that remained closed for fifty years after her death, by decision of her husband, the painter and muralist Diego Rivera.
This space of intimate experiences in a true metastable equilibrium was visited by Graciela Iturbide to obtain some images, almost sunk into oblivion - such as the one offered here in a digital copy. Later on, her son Manuel also visited this place and recorded sound actions with the furniture and objects it stored. This is the origin of this sound portrait of Frida Kahlo, which is far from the stereotypes associated with her. Along with the sound work, we are presenting some of the raw recordings made by the author in that private room, as well as a video interview that Freijo Gallery conducted for the exhibition.
Mutability flowing between states of equilibrium, typical of the metastable condition, reaches an effective metaphor in La vida de la chispa [The Life of the Spark] by Xabier Erkizia (Lesaka, Navarra, ES, 1975). Throughout his career he has worked with internationally renowned artists, he has directed the ERTZ Festival and has been an exhibition curator. He was also responsible for the sound department of the now dissolved ARTELEKU in San Sebastian and is currently a member of AUDIOLAB.
La vida de la chispa [The Life of the Spark] (2020) - a title which is an ironic nod towards the advertising slogan of a well-known soft drink - is entirely constructed in its six episodes with sounds extracted from effervescent substances and carbonated drinks; in strict coherence with this, in its version as an installation it also includes these bubbling developments on video.
Some considerations about the sounds used in the works
The works that concern us here are articulated with sound objects, which are the minimal units of their discourse. The microphone captures them for recording purposes, to be later edited, eventually electronically processed and mixed. In the previous paragraphs, when I referred to each work in particular, I had the opportunity to mention some of the materials that make them up, of those objects. Below I intend to dwell on some of the most significant ones.
The piano -the great symbolic-musical machine of Romanticism- appears in up to four works: in Pieces of Musical Reality, by Philip Corner, in The London Ear Drops (Radio Edit), by Colin Black, as well as in In memoriam Décio Pignatari, by Janete El Haouli and José Augusto Mannis and in Die Badenden [The Bathers], by María de Alvear. For the first author, as for other Fluxus artists, it is an instrument steeped in history that must be transgressed; with it he performs sound actions that are the heart of his piece. For the second, it is an objet trouvé in the middle of the city he walks through (London), on which he performs a specific improvisation. For the Brazilian authors, it is part of the instrumental piece that forms the backbone of the work, while in María de Alvear's, it meditatively brings together various environments at the very heart of the composition.
It is curious that the ticking of a clock is present in two radio works; probably because it is the most obvious way of denoting that radio happens -like music- in time: we find it in Philip Corner's proposal and in Esther Ferrer's Al ritmo del tiempo [To the Rhythm of Time].
We find real sounds, captured by microphones in specific spaces, which have been electronically processed. Through this we perceive something similar to a change of state of those original sounds. In Andrea Sodomka's work (When I open my window) there are interior space recordings made by their silent protagonist; in Berenguer’s work (Piedra Bugre) the recordings have been made in vast natural spaces. Of course, the expressive meaning of the electronic processes applied to each work depends on the referential universe to which they belong. Whereas in the first case we are, as I said, in front of an atmosphere that seems to become solid, in the second case it could be denouncing the dangerous transformation of the conditions of those natural environments explored by the project.
We also find electronic sounds in El baño de Frida Kahlo II [Frida Kahlo’s Bathroom II], by Manuel Rocha Iturbide, in which they appear as a contrast to the sound events that the author recorded in Frida Kahlo's emblematic bathroom. They would represent, in some way, the Surrealist dreamlike universe experienced by the artist in that intimate space. In addition, we hear the sound of water in a bathtub, and the sound of the bath is also present in Die Badenden, by María de Alvear. However, the expressive-narrative intention is completely different in both situations, given the context in which they are located: an intimate space evoked by a false sound archeology in Rocha Iturbide’s work, a founding moment of the world by the first human couple in De Alvear’s piece.
Since the superposition or juxtaposition of heterogeneous materials is something frequent in radioart -because radio is a suitable space to bring together heterogeneity-, it is not surprising that two of the works we offer make use of these techniques, although of course with different intentions. In Die Badenden we find a varied catalog of human situations, emphasized by a dense collage of music, noises, voices and sound environments, which represent different times, but writing "history" with a lowercase letter, without pretentious rhetoric. On the other hand, Colin Black's walk through London has a more Pop and anecdotal character, although not less "composed": perhaps because the "alternative" spirit of an independent British broadcast station today has nothing to do with the character of the powerful WDR of Cologne during the 80s.
The spoken voice appears repeatedly in this collection of works, but conducting intentions, undergoing processing and adopting very different functions. There are four occasions in which multiple languages are incorporated into the same piece, and in each case it obeys different situations and intentions. In the aforementioned Die Badenden, different cultures are represented, even in a schematic way, alluding to different times and societies. However, for Jupitter-Larsen, the repetition of the same sentence in many languages (Measuring Social Distancing) gives the piece both a semantic sense and a formal structure. In El silbido del Caballo de Hierro atravesando el umbral del Paraíso [The Whistling of the Iron Horse Crossing the Threshold of Paradise], Jerez and Iges are committed to giving voice, in their diversity of languages and accents, to the world of immigration in Europe, so that their pure musicality can also be appreciated even when we cannot understand the semantic meanings. Finally, in untitled #276 by Francisco López, the medium itself, which broadcasts the message -the public PA system, which is the true protagonist here- is more relevant than the message itself, instrumentalized by it, which we hear fragmentarily in different languages because the author has recorded them in various countries.
But besides those more or less anonymous voices from the preceding works, we find in this selection the voices of poets, and the artists manage to include them with the help of electronic resources and montage: this is the case of Giovanni Fontana performing his long poem Sento dunque suono and the Brazilian concrete poets in In memoriam Décio Pignatari, by El Haouli and Mannis. In Fontana's work the voice is entangled with virtuosity from whispering to screaming, with the varied use of vocal emission techniques, on a base of electronic and instrumental sounds that expand the poem beyond its textual value. In the second piece, the electronics multiply fragments of some of the poems read by Pignatari, generating loops that remain floating, waiting to meet the voices of a choir or musical instruments.
There are sounds that acquire a fundamental weight in the structure of some works: in Jerez and Iges’ work they are, without doubt, those of the trains, which provide a dramatic character; in Jupitter-Larsen’s piece it is the continuous kicking of the rule to which the text alludes, as its only non-verbal element. In La vida de la chispa [The Life of the Spark], only the sounds of carbonated substances and effervescent drinks are used. Of course, its author, Xabier Erkizia, processes these sounds electronically, not so much to distort their nature as to deepen their timbral and other acoustical qualities as much as possible.
The works by Erkizia and López use a single typology of sound objects, as I already pointed out. This economy of means, if we compare them with almost all the works created for the radio medium presented here, may be due to their being designed for another genre: installation. And in it, time is not so much a vector from past to future -as in radio- but a dimension conditioned by space. In other words, the viewer of these works must be able to listen to a discourse in which a fragment refers to the whole concept and vice versa. Something similar happens with the materials in the works of Jupitter-Larsen and Ferrer, but here they are rather reinforcing repeated sound actions -also with fragments referring to the whole piece- which gain more strength and meaning in their temporal accumulation.
Some final notes
It may have been obvious to anyone who has come this far that, although the works and authors were not initially chosen because they were strictly linked to the theme of the exhibition, that theme is not only reinforced by them but could have led to the selection of a greater number of works that are close to it.
On another level, it is worth mentioning that all the sound works exhibited here are available for those interested in professional digital quality wav files, which would be delivered in that format inside USB cards, except in one case (the work of Francisco López), where it would be a data CD. All the audio files are available on this exhibition platform in mp3 format at 192 kbps, suitable for listening to them within the standards of the website.
As I have mentioned when writing about each work, most of them are exhibited and offered together with visual materials -digital or analogical- which are either part of the pieces themselves or are documentary elements, in the form of texts, recorded interviews, scores, drawings, videos or photographs. With them we seek to provide these sound pieces with their own biography, references, and background, that is, the context that gives them meaning. Our intention is to be able to place them within memory archives, which are always collections. This is another condition of stability that sound art should be able to achieve after more than fifty years of existence and such relevant theoretical studies that legitimize its plural trajectory day by day.
José Iges, curator and sound artist