Spectral Sounds is a booklet and USB card containing seven works of sound art that debuted at Austria’s Musikpavillon at Hofgarten Innsbruck. Every week a new piece would appear, a public treat as well as a wonderful opportunity for the artists to stretch their wings in a comfortable environment. One can hear the warmth in these pieces, none of which seems rushed. Each is precise, layered, intimate.
The overall invitation is for those who encounter these pieces to consider sound in all its forms: audible and inaudible, accessible and inaccessible, political and apolitical. Visitors and artists alike were also invited to contemplate the inherent difficulties of communication. As these tracks are now public, the invitation has been extended to the global sound community.
The longest piece, Esther Venrooy‘s “Nos Silences Nos Paroles”, implies the physical space as well, far removed from its original surroundings. Yet it is only the home listener who assumes these footsteps and whispers were recorded in Innsbruck; they were actually imported from Rabat and Beijing “near walls or in corners, where sounds from the outside converge.” There’s delicious irony in the revelation that the piece is about projection, given the fact that the listener has already projected his or her own interpretations on this tricky tabula rasa. By the end, there’s no doubt that these are non-Austrian recordings; but now the playback has an assigned and defined space. Lucas Norer‘s “The Recording with the Sound of its Own Recording” plays a similar trick by introducing more footsteps. Yet this piece turns out to be entirely different, amplifying the absences rather than the presences: the resonances inherent in the recording room. Those who visited this installation unwittingly became part of the listening experience, a secondary effect one might call “The Playback with the Sound of its Own Playback.” The description implies that it ends here, but even now, the sounds of one’s own dwelling will become part of the experience.
The other long piece, Chra‘s “II_Liquid”, attempts to make associations between frozen music, architecture and assets, although such definitions fail to enhance one’s appreciation of the ten-minute work. Perhaps too ambitious (or under-explained), this piece suffers in comparison to the more instantly comprehensible pieces that surround it ~ and this in turn leads to questions concerning the role of sound in the public space. The ear is swiftly drawn to cat purrs and sound checks ~ so is there any space left in the consumer’s mind for such a difficult selection? One doesn’t need to understand the language – or even read the description – to begin giggling at the translation of the former, a 1971 interview “scored for cat purrs”, which makes Robert Schwarz‘s “Animals Are Good To Think With” the clear audience favorite (and so much less painful than a cat piano). But is this piece the aural version of a cute cat video on YouTube, or something deeper? It’s hard to tell; at the very least, it’s a guilty pleasure.
Splitting the difference between accessibility and the avant-garde is Gilles Aubry‘s “Tribute to the Ear”, which contains Moroccan mike checks and warm-ups, and comes across as a celebration of the almost and not-yet: the excitement inherent in the performance that has not yet occurred. Yet a piece of poetry transforms the not-song into song, creating identity as it is recited. Less in need of context is Jacob Kirkegaard‘s “Haus der Mahre”, which scores the sounds of sixteen sleepers. In one sense, listening brings back unpleasant memories of the first night of sleep-away camp, when one first realizes just how strange and disturbing nocturnal noises can be; in another, the title (which refers to small black goblins) amplifies this sense of unease.
This leaves the shortest and perhaps most musical piece, Raviv Ganchrow‘s “Quarzbrecciakammer”. The birds, horns, planes and children ground the piece in real life, while the bubbling drones suggest a laboratory. The impression is not far off, as the piece seeks to reflect “dendritic hearing”, capturing the sounds of “Innsbruck’s quartz-phyllite belt, by way of voltage from crystalline sediments”. Is this what crystals “hear”? Is it fair to say that human being define sound for the entire planet? Not at all ~ and that’s the beauty of the Innsbruck installations. They not only open up new ways of hearing, but new ideas about hearing, proving that limited perceptions may hinder our ultimate understanding. (Richard Allen)