October 29, 2008

Een Geluidskunstmuseum / A Sound Art Museum

NRC Handelsblad, Cultureel supplement, pag.13, 24 oktober 2008
(klik op het kranteartikel)

Article from the NRC, October 24, 2008.
Argument FOR A MUSEUM dedicated to “SOUND FIELD” AND “URSONATE”.


On the 19th of October 1958, the music-pavilion at the Expo in Brussels, where the “Electronic Poem for the 20th century” had been presented, closed its doors. Such sound art deserves a museum.

By Paul Devens and Peter Peters.

What’s the sound of the future? In the legendary Philips music-pavilion at the Brussels Expo ‘58, the visitors got an answer that is still available on the Internet. On YouTube you will find the “Poème Electronique”, the electronic composition, that lasts eight minutes, created by Edgar Varèse and Iannis Xenakis representing for the futuristic construction on the grounds of the Expo in Brussels. The famous, undulating lines of the pavilion were following the sound-curves of the graphic score. Sound and space became ONE: “music as frozen architecture” as Goethe said.

From time to time, somebody voices the wish to rebuild the pavilion. Two years ago, Arno Pronk, lecturer at the Eindhoven Technical University, made a remark during a symposium: “give me two million and I will do the job”. According to the planners, the reconstructed pavilion should become, a centre for new art, architecture and music. The position that the building and the Electronic Poem form part of the cultural heritage, is presented in the book “Dichtbij klopt het hart van de wereld” [‘nearby the world’s heart is beating’]. Nederland op de wereldtentoonstelling Brussel ‘58” [‘Dutch contributions to the Brussels world fair ‘58’] , that was released by Scriptum Publishers, this month. The book describes the Dutch department, in which, apart from Philips, there are works from Karel Appel and Gerrit Rietveld

The Philips pavilion and the Electronic Poem marked the beginning of what nowadays is known as ‘sound art’ - a hybrid art form between music and the visual arts, consisting of sound sculptures, sound objects and sound performances.
For half a year, Varèse lived in Eindhoven, where he worked on his composition together with the engineers of the Philips Natlab. In this laboratory, equipped by Philips to produce electronic “light music”, Varèse explored possibilities with, clippings of recorded sound,constituting the material for the composition, nowadays called ‘samples’. Amplified by 350 loudspeakers, the music seemed to travel along the walls of the pavilion.

There is a need for an international sound art museum in order to enable us to return to the future of 1958 –to exhibit the connection between the multitude of loudspeakers of “Poème Electronique” and the multi-channel work of sound artists like Bernhard Leitner, Carsten Nicolai and Ryoji Ikeda- and to establish a systematical worldwide collection of sound art.
Why in the Netherlands, of all places?

The fact that the parallel of the connection between space and soundand the connection between the worlds of Le Corbusier and Varèse, was given shape at Philips, gives an indication of the international importance of our country in the field of sound art.
The Sonology department at the The Hague conservatory, that emerged from the remains of the Natlab, is world famous.
Between 1980 and 2001, ‘Het Apollohuis’ in Eindhoven played an important role in the international world of sound art.
Moreover, there are many internationally renowned sound artists in the Netherlands.
What will happen, without a museum, to the work of Dick Raaijmakers, who once was involved as Kid Baltan (read this backwards) with Natlab. His “Ideofonen”, the photo kinetic objects he developed between 1967 and 1973, are relegating to oblivion.
Or what about the works of Paul Panhuysen, who, besides being the driving force behind the ‘Apollohuis’, is also renowned as a sound artist.
What will happen to the extensive body of work of Moniek Toebosch, Justin Bennett, Hans van Koolwijk, the late Michel Waisvisz, who died in June, and many others?

The international museum for sound art should offer a stage for exhibitions and performances, for an archive and, of course, a collection documenting the history of sound art.
Which works are crucial in this collection?
First of all “Sound Field”, by the architect, publicist and artist Bernhard Leitner, one of the first multi-channel installations from 1971. Followed by the original recording of the abstract sound poem “Ursonate”, by Kurt Schwitters, and the reconstructions of the noise-machines of the futurist Luigi Russolo from 1910, the originals were destroyed during the Second World War.

Recent work should also be presented. The `Electrical Walks´ by Christina Kubisch for instance, an installation with long aerials, that offer the public a soundscape that can be manipulated individually by means of adapted earphones.
Or “Syn Chron” by Carsten Nicolai, in which contemporary technology creates an overall experience through the fusion of architecture and sound.
On top of that, needless to say,, the museum should offer the experience of the “Poème Electronique”. Parts of the original installation have been preserved.

To exhibit sound, there are a number of special requirements that have to be met..Sound art is pre-eminently an interdisciplinary activity, so a museum’s facilities should go beyond the nice white wall and appropriate illumination. It should offer the possibility to adapt the reproduction of light and sound to any artwork or exhibition.
The museum is not confined to a number of rooms, but continues into the public domain as the collection’s exhibition space.
In this respect, the walks of Godfried Willem Raes, in which the tapes of live field recordings are immediately left behind on the path covered, and the city walks of Celia Ehrens, can be the permanently evolving part of the museum’s ‘art in progress’

Sound art performances should be a regular item on the agenda.
Visitors should be given access to re-enactments of old performances, but also to new and unknown works.
The museum should be an information centre , organize debates, release publications, initiate educational projects and facilitate research by and on behalf of sound artists.
The sound art museum should be equally breathtaking as the Philips pavilion and the “Poème Electronique” in 1958.

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