A sound is a sound that sounds [KT2009, ii]

may 28, 2009.

Sound art was the main focus of the tenth edition of the Kunsttour, this May 21st-24th in Maastricht. Though abundantly used as a label (hence much talked and written about) and widely 'practiced', there is little consensus on what is *sound art* or what it is not, what it should be, and what it should not. As a result - depending on taste and moods of curators and organizers - a sound art event may comprise pretty much anything that sounds: from the emptying of shit bags filled to the brim with random noise, via electro-mechanical installations that may range from the very simple to the extremely complicated, to the performance of minutely composed electro-instrumental music, minimalist or edgy and dense.
Now that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Maastricht is the capital of Limburg, the south-eastern province of the Netherlands, and sort of an appendix to it.
Also that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The city of Maastricht is situated pretty much at the center of the line that joins the city of Brussels in Belgium and that of Cologne in Germany. Its proximity to Germany is undoubtedly a reason that the Sound Art at the Kunsttour was not called Geluidskunst, as is its most common denomination in Dutch, but: Klankkunst, similar to the German translation of Sound Art, which is Klangkunst. Both Dutch words klank en geluid translate into English as 'sound'. As do the German words Klang and Schall. In German one may also find the word Schallkunst used in relation to subjects that in English would be referred to as 'sound art', but it is far less frequent. Somewhat inverse to the Dutch practice, where klankkunst is the less frequently used term.

Though the demarcation of the two concepts will surely not be exactly the same in German and in Dutch, I'd say that the difference between the Dutch klank and geluid, as between the German Klang and Schall, can be thought of as corresponding to that of sound as a subjective and as an objective phenomenon.

Thus a Dutch translation may unfold the title of this entry to the non-tautological "Een klank is een geluid dat klinkt": a 'klank' is the sound as you hear it ( * ). You can measure a sound, but like the taste of cuban cigars, the klank of a sound is a quale: it is *the thing as you feel it*, something that you may be able to (metaphorically) describe, with more or less success, but that you cannot measure.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, you may continue to argue at length whether or not it does make a sound, but surely no, it does not make a klank ... Similarly then, klankkunst is geluidskunst only as long as there is no one around to hear it ... grin

pierre berthet

Pierre Berthet's installation, part of which you see in the picture above, was klankkunst. The installation got switched on by means of sensors only when 'audience' would enter the spacious room in the Hof van Tilly (a large former governor's residence, now in use by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of Maastricht University) where it had been set up, and it would switch off again soon after they left.

Those familiar with Pierre's work will already know his Expirators (inverted vacuum cleaners), on which the installation in the Hof van Tilly was a next variation in an ongoing series. Pierre attaches a flexible tube to the end of an inverted (hence blowing air) vacuum cleaner. Because of the force of the air stream, the tube starts frantically swiping the floor in a swift regular pendulum-like movement, and thus the air swooshes along the openings of a number of rigid tubes of varying lengths that are fixed on the floor in its path. The result is a mechanical sort of 'air drumming' superposed on the vacuum cleaners' continuous low buzzing motor drone.

Upon entering the Hof birdy sounds welcomed us, modestly brought forth by a couple of loudspeakers on the steps ( ** ). They had to compete with real life Maasticht birds that were singing early summer's praises as the sun kept shining down relentlessly upon the old city. It made Rébus and me exchange a smile. As we walked over there, from the Timmerfabriek past the Markt, which that sunday was vibrating with 120bps 4/4 subbassed techno-beats bumping back and forth between the 16th century houses surrounding the square, we just had been talking about how recognizable (and often predictable) also the klank of most sound art is. The moment we turned into the Hof we knew that it was sound art what we were hearing, and that indeed we had arrived at the right place.

de buckIn one of the little alcoves that are lining the corridor we sat down with Pieter de Buck, who demonstrated his instrument, the sounds of which came from the vibrating of a non-turning electro-motor on which Pieter had placed the klankkast (resonance box) of an old violin. Of course anything else would have done as well, but the decapitated and stringless violin was a nice visual touch. In its obvious referencing to the musical classics its visual prominence was indeed not unlike that of the two grand pianos that Rébus and I had been using the night before in our performance at the Artspace Rondeel (more about that later ...)

The Hof van Tilly was but one of many different locations with sound installations, performances and presentations. Together these added up to a Klankkunsttour that already by itself would have made for a rich and eventful weekend. It was opened in the Timmerfabriek on thursday afternoon with (appropriate also in view of the discussion above) a fine subdued performance by Bobby Mitchell of music from Das Buch der Klänge (The Book of Sounds), a work for solo piano by German composer, pianist and sound artist Hans Otte (1926-2007).


After Bobby Mitchell's performance action moved to a cave-like side-room of the Timmerfabriek. Here the Celluloid Gurus had parked their van and all weekend long showcased a fabulous collection of - in today's eyes and ears - mostly pretty hilarious vintage 1960s and -70s (much of it German) 8mm porn-, sleaze,- (B,C,D) movie- and vinyl-camp. It was there also that early thursday evening saw performances by the Feedbacksociety, and by Xavier van Wersch, both (the feedbackers a little less, Xavier a little more) in the electronic/junk/trash idiom that many of our viewers will be familiar with, and which is a major ingredient of the soundscape of the politically correct hang-outs of young urban intellectuals worldwide.
The Feedbacksociety at some point made use of home-built one (?) string instruments as a sound-source and -control, which looked like an interesting idea, which then however was but little developed and exploited.
Xavier van Wersch was dressed up as a biotech-lab assistant on speed. Quite a bit of his performance sounded like an extended mash-up of a prelude to something very much like Emerson, Lake & Palmer doing Pictures at an Exhibition. This, given the time and the place, could have been utterly brilliant, both as a concept and as a statement. But Xavier never even came near to a 'lift off', and anyway, I doubt that it was intended as such. Nevertheless in the end Xavier did win Jodi, me and the rest of the (admittedly small) audience over, by actually drinking the potion he had been brewing as part of his act. Thus it was neither music nor sound, but theater that won. Which in turn reminded me of a 1970s comment of William Hogeland's, on the then novel genre of performance art: "We already have a performance art: it is called 'theater' ..." ( *** ) (Anticipating Unpredictability is a clip showing van Wersch performing at Club Transmediale in Berlin in january 2008, more or less the way he did last thursday at the Kunsttour.)


The Timmerfabriek continued to sound arty all through the Kunsttour days, from up on its second floor to down in its cellar-rooms, where Mike Kramer showed some pretty spaced-out 'found outerspace footage'. There were live performances, and there was - indispensable chapter in any young person's guide to contemporary DIY experiments in sound - circuit bending.
On friday Gijs Gieskes set up a table just underneath my glass room, full of his beautifully constructed bent and built electronics, for all and everyone to play with. (If you are not familiar with Gijs' work, you should make a tour of his web site.)
And on sunday afternoon members of the Flopidisk kunstkollektief did a workshop for those that were eager to do some bending themselves.

Rébus came over from Paris on saturday morning, to taste some of the Kunsttour weekend sounds in Maastricht, and of course he brought his camera. To end this second entry on the Maastricht Klankkunsttour, here is what his digicam saw in the Timmerfabriek, set to music as performed there by Flopidisk on saturday afternoon, just after we had been hard-hitting Maastricht's Hoeg Brögk with and for Jodi Rose, and just before walking over to the ArtSpace at Het Rondeel 2. Read about the bridge, Kaspar König's ArtSpace and more Kunsttour klankkunst in the next episodes, soon coming to whatever browser you're able and willing to open ...

next: "Also high bridges over the river" [KT2009, iii]

[ previous KT2009-entry : It feels like summer in the city ]


SoundBlog entries about the yearly Kunsttour in Maastricht, the Netherlands:

(june 06, 2013) - A Carcassonne Yodel in Blue [Kunsttour 2013]
(july 03, 2011) - Life is a Color Wire 3 - table version [KT2011]
(june 17, 2010) - Sunny soundy days [KT2010, iii]
(june 10, 2010) - A kitchen table and a game of cards [KT2010, ii]
(may 30, 2010) - Auto*noom en un*titled [KT2010, i]
(june 13, 2009) - More Best Before [KT2009, v]
(june 01, 2009) - Playing The Popular Classics [KT2009, iv]
(may 30, 2009) - "Also high bridges over the river" [KT2009, iii]
(may 28, 2009) - A sound is a sound that sounds [KT2009, ii]
(may 23, 2009) - It feels like summer in the city [KT2009, i]
(june 06, 2008) - Raudio Graffiti: almost live ! [KT2008]
(september 04, 2007) - "leve ookoi!" - iii. ... under scare vogel crow vlucht score down ... [KT2007, iii]
(august 22, 2007) - "leve ookoi!" - ii. OK. Let's Dance... [KT2007, ii]
(august 12, 2007) - "leve ookoi!" - i. Certified Reconditioned [KT2007, i]
(june 04, 2006) - Sonofakunsttoer [KT2006]

notes __ ::
(*) Dutch dictionaries will define klank as 'the ensemble of a sound's properties', whereas most German dictionaries define Klang as a sound to which the human ear assigns a 'pitch' (Tonhöhe), independent from the fact of this corresponds to a pitch that is physically measurable. [ ^ ]
(**) Part of a 'location specific soundfield' by Sjaak Jöbses that, I have to confess, we could not give more than a fleeting attention. Which, indeed, points to the question of how to experience/consume sound art installations, with different works asking for different attitudes of its intended audience. Another topic worthy of attention and reflection. [ ^ ]
(***) Cited by Kyle Gann in It's Sound, It's Art, and Some Call It Music, a NYT review of a sound art exhibition at the Whitney Museum (january 9th, 2000). [ ^ ]

tags: Maastricht, Kunsttour, sound art

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