I’ve fallen in love with this performance video. Many people make field recordings, but few cut out circles of concrete and play them like records. And then even fewer go out in public to share what they’ve done. To our knowledge, there’s only one, which makes Julia Bünnagel a true original.
Does Sounds Like … Vienna sound like Vienna? That’s a trick question. The records literally are Vienna, so from this angle yes, the record of records one receives in the mail (to save on postage, these are made of vinyl) does sound like Vienna. The counter-point is that one should not expect the city to sound like this when one visits for the first time, unless one is fortunate enough to see the artist set up on the street outside one’s hotel. But listen deeper and one might hear the real sound of Vienna, delivered in sonic metaphor, a mesmerizing blend of repetitions and jutting angles, both rhythmic and offbeat, soothing and off-putting, until it clicks and one exclaims, “Oh, Vienna!” in a tone that may or may not echo Ultravox.
The added charm is the sound of traffic, children and other passers-by, exposing just how interested the residents of the city may be in hearing the amplifications of diamond on concrete. This may be an unprecedented level of needle abuse, all for a good cause, although our guess is that Bünnagel is not using brand new needles. Would our Technics 1200s make the same sounds? Do we really want to try? The beauty of listening is sinking into the recording, finding the tempo, just as one acclimates to a new city by immersing one’s self in the culture. If this sounds like Vienna, we might come to the conclusion that Vienna is exciting, creative, and beckoning, just as it is rumbling, vibrating, and unique. The set makes us wonder about other places that might lend themselves well to Bünnagel’s technique: the volcanic rocks of Pompeii, or the famed “concrete jungle” of New York.
We’re also imagining with some amusement the reaction to the artist should she show up at a club gig with this heavy milk crate of slabs. How many people would leave the dance floor? How many would come running? The second number is likely much lower than the first, but wouldn’t they be the crème de la crème? Wouldn’t they be the most attentive, the most curious, the most dedicated, as Bünnagel teases out the sounds lying beneath their feet? A huge thanks to the artist for playing a type of music we’ve never encountered before, despite the fact that we walk on it every day. (Richard Allen)