We often ask when a house becomes a home, but seldom ask when a home becomes a house ~ or at least an unfamiliar home. This disorienting shift can occur when the experience of living in one’s house grows uncomfortable. Tensions build between the people within, or within the house itself.
This latter trauma was visited upon Daniela Fromberg & Stefan Roigk, who had to live in their house while it was being overhauled as part of a two year gentrification in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district. It’s hard enough for anyone to be near the sounds of non-stop construction, but to be forced to endure it in a home is nearly inconceivable. One might say, “at least they got an installation and a record out of it,” but this is little consolation, given the list of sound sources: tremors, hollow scratching, resonating gas-heaters, droning jackhammers, crumbling ceiling plaster, wind, chimney sweeping, blow torches, rustling plastic cover, elevator buzzing, dismantling of the scaffolding.” How much can a sane person be expected to take?
Imagine that you had to hear such things daily from now through 2024 as your windows, plumbing and roofing were destroyed. Most people couldn’t handle such physical and aural disruption. But Fromberg & Roigk are not most people. Their original 12-channel installation included a sculpture that used the discarded wooden window sashes. Their record includes the original composition, culled from over 400 hours of recordings, and a second layer of sounds from the installation.
The drama starts early, with a slow drone. Soon the situation becomes untenable. Creaking and rattling begin to unnerve. A piercing cell phone seems like the last straw, but it arrives after only five minutes! Is there anywhere else we can live, anyone who will take us in? In the seventh minute, the plaster begins to fall; the jackhammers arrive two minutes later. One begins to hear birds in the center of the composition, which should be a sweet relief, save for the thought that they can be heard because there are now holes in the walls, through which emergency sirens also blare. One can imagine one artist turning to the other and declaring, “it never ends.”
The obvious question is, “Why would one want to purchase sounds one would normally want to avoid?” The answers are manifold. First, there’s a perverse sort of pleasure in playing the sounds of such abomination. Ironically, while writing, I am using these sounds to drown out the sounds of construction next door: controlled noise as a response to uncontrolled noise. Second, in the hands of these artists, the composition becomes musical, with each sound source given an allotted space in which to develop before giving way to another. The tone is similar to that of musique concrète. Third, one develops an instant empathy for these sufferers, coupled with an admiration at their survival. And fourth, the record serves as an historical document, evidence of a specific period in the life of Berlin, including the audio capture of physical materials that may never be used again. Years have now passed since the initial trauma. Sonic pollution has become sonic art. We can only hope that the renovated house feels again like a familiar home. (Richard Allen)