Ch2 - The Materials of Life
It’s easy to step into a gallery and imagine sculptures as solid, static objects. They are visually striking, but they can’t really come to life. Or can they? One artist is intent on challenging that very assumption.
With a career that has spanned five decades, the German artist Trimpin has turned his passion for creating sounds through homemade mechanical devices into larger-than-life art installations. Dubbed “kinetic sound sculptures,” Trimpin incorporates materials such as metal, wood, instruments, and electronic components in hopes for an increased interaction between a partially engaged audience and acoustic environments.
The polyphony produced from the pre-programmed contraptions are ultimately a product of a collaborative, multi-sensory experience. Through his intricate, interactive sculptures exhibited in cities like Amsterdam and Seattle, Trimpin builds soundscapes where people are invited to express their creativity and momentarily take on the role of a composer.
We sat down with Trimpin so he can explain more about his fascination with mechatronic arts, opinions on evolving learning methods, and the role of technology in the creative process.
Trimpin, Installation in Shanghai
What do you think audiences are so intrigued by when they first experience a kinetic sound installation?
Well, through my history of actually watching them sometimes, most of the time they don’t have information about what they are exposed to. They walk in a little bit baffled because they cannot figure out why found objects, odd-looking contraptions, or kinetic objects are there. They start to think “what is going on?” and soon they wander around, and they hear the sound maybe coming from different locations. They learn something at this moment that might not explain what actually happened, but they are confronted with this image and with a moving sound, so they come up with their own kind of interpretation of what they just experienced. When they walk out, it’s usually like a different facial expression than what they came in with, like a relief because they experienced something which they couldn’t understand right away, how this acoustical or visual experience impacted their presence.
So that’s kind of what I feel comfortable with sometimes, art without any instruction. With very young children, they respond very similar to adults except the children show more freedom for certain kinds of interactions. They are not afraid to play an interactive instrument. They go and experiment immediately.
How do you feel audiences should interact with your work? What role does interaction play in your installations?
I went through different kind of phases of finding out what the general audience is doing. One of my first large installations, it was in Amsterdam in a theater with a spiral staircase so that the installation was actually hanging inside the spiral staircase on six floors. The idea was to explore what happened when the sound would fall down or move up. So it was more an exploration of moving sound in space in a vertical column, instead of in a horizontal dimension.
Trimpin, Guitar Tower
I had buttons on each floor where the audience could trigger an event. From this particular location, the sound would move in certain directions and speeds and I noticed sometimes that people would push the button and walk away. Not even listening. So I thought, that’s not a good way to introduce a kinetic artwork.
Before the button, I had some black and white keys to interact with. The adults would first look around to see if anyone was nearby, and then they would touch the keys, because they were afraid of not being the perfect pianist. But the idea wasn’t to play the piano, just to trigger musical events. I noticed that only children were not afraid to go on and interact.
After the button experience, I actually replaced them with money, like with a quarter machine so they had to insert a quarter and the installation came alive. I noticed immediately that when somebody is investing 25 cents, they would never walk away until the last note was played.
Speaking of exploring acoustics and spaces, obviously a lot of your work has taken place in either a museum or gallery, even outside at times. How do you think the role or notion of space informs the type of work that you do? Can you talk about how or why you make a work site-specific and the space in which it’s presented?
Well, each different installation is mostly site-specific, built for a particular space. Each installation explores what can go on acoustically by moving sound through space. In one in particular, like The Column in Purple, I had six different vertical levels of sound objects, so certain kind of percussive sequences would go on the lowest level playing and suddenly it would jump up to the higher level. The regular ear would immediately notice that motion and that’s kind of why each individual room has to be mapped out. I’m midi mapping everything, so let’s say for two objects 30 meters apart, the sound takes a 10th of a second to travel. So it depends on where you are.
Each space is kind of mapped out sonically, acoustically, because what I’m trying to do is give the sound of a dimension, a spatial dimension that we actually feel: we as the audience standing in the center of an instrument, and the sound is surrounded by the audience, and each installation focusing on certain kind of ideas of how to move the sound around.
So with this sort of role of technology and art, a lot of people have started focusing on the idea of “code as art,” or “code as creativity.” Where do you see the role of software in the future of creativity?
Well, the question for me was always: can creativity be taught? I have the opportunities to work with a lot of different students, and I can tell who will make it eventually as an artist or as a composer or whatever, and who brings already this part of creativity to enhance and learn more.
Also creativity means that you have to be introduced: going to concerts, going to theatrical production, going to dance performances, all the arts contribute. That creative process still has to be kind of processed through your brain, looking and finding why you are interested in certain kinds of fields. So creativity probably starts very early on before you learn writing code or learn anything.
Of course every kid is an artist because kids have this ability to be free, to have the imagination and as you get older, you’re focusing more on whatever direction you want to go. So going back to writing code for example, this could be a very creative way to create and to express ideas.
Digital art didn’t exist 50 years or 80 years ago. So when photography and the other disciplines came, and then suddenly film, and slowly it was starting to flow together. It was then that the technology kicked in where it was feasible to combine these different disciplines.
Do you think the internet is helping change this conversation. You mentioned the maker movement—obviously people have been makers for years, and inventors and entrepreneurs. How do you think the internet is possibly changing the maker movement?
Oh yeah, it’s tremendously changed. Before, like in my time, there was no information source, you could only find information going to the library, or finding a book, or maybe somebody mentioned something. In universities you had these opportunities but everything was so, kind of isolated. Now, you can when you work on a project and you have a problem, there’s already a group.
And that’s a tremendous help where people get education online and share education online. It was never possible before, to find an answer or a solution so fast, to finish something up. And that will be definitely even more true now that the internet is faster, you can watch movies and exchange all kinds of different ideas, via film or via YouTube, and that will definitely be getting more and more attractive.
What excites you about the next 10 years and technology that’s coming to the market that might influence future makers, creators and artists?
Well, first of all, looking back, in the 70s and 80s you could see a steady movement. When the record was introduced in the 1930s, suddenly the music machine, mechanical instruments saw immediate decline on production. So there was no innovation, no more experimentation on mechanical musical instruments.
Then in the 60s and 70s, people started again experimenting with certain kinds of instruments or installations. But then in the 90s when the CD was introduced, suddenly everyone was working in one direction: in the digital direction. There was no acoustical interest anymore, building something real with physical kind of components.
So for a while, especially in the 90s, I thought what I was doing the last 30 years came to an end because there was no interest at universities, and the whole education part was only focused on digital arts. And this was kind of working for about eight to 10 years.
Then suddenly, there was again an interest in going back to the physical components to create installations, to create instruments or kinetic objects which are again this technology which is up to 500 years old. It was suddenly reintroduced but not with pneumatics, not with paper, or wheels or vacuum pumping machines. There was suddenly the electromotor, the solenoid, and all these kinds of electromechanical components. I saw that what I was doing for a long time suddenly had a future again. Then the Maker’s Faire, Sparkfun, and these companies now selling this equipment.
Trimpin, YOU ARE HEAR
So I’m very excited that this movement now with the online teaching, with online sharing, online capabilities of interacting across the world. Before you could only interact across a table to exchange ideas, and now it’s worldwide. Now there are unlimited ways to store information, exchange this information, send it via light speed around the world.
So in your 50 year career as an artist and installation maker, what has influenced you over all this time to keep creating these mechatronic sound sculptures?
Well I grew up in the Black Forest region in Germany and as a young kid, going to a restaurant or a bar, there was always some kind of a mechanical musical instrument installed, which you had to insert 10 pfennig, like a coin, and then suddenly it came to life. So this from an early time on was an influence.
And my grandfather, he had a lot of books about building certain things, how physics, how mathematics, how the universe is actually working. When I saw this as a kid, I was fascinated that this is banging on some kind of parts and moving and this kind of art was very attractive to me and so I learned just by watching, by looking how this actually is functioning, and the interest was always like a mechanic.
I was asking my father once to build a water wheel which had a cork and two sardine cans to hang on the sardine cans. I was always fascinated by timing, watching, you know, how these two hammers would actually play a rhythm on the sardine cans and just experimenting with the water to have them playing fast and changing the rhythm and this mechanics of making music.
So it was more learning through experimentation, and that’s kind of where most of my education came from—just by trying it out.
Stick a webcam in the suitcase.
The secret life of mail.
Further: have the webcam follow the postcard as it is sent and delivered. - play on my paranoias re: the potential co-option of votes by malevolent forces within the postal workforce. And also Sophie Callie's Suite Venitienne.
Kate Mitchell - All in Time
Tim Hawkinson - Spin Sink
It is named after the Persian phrase tamám shud, meaning "ended" or "finished", printed on a scrap of paper found months later in the fob pocket of the man's trousers. The scrap had been torn from the final page of a copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, authored by 12th-century poet Omar Khayyám.Tamam was misspelt as Taman in many early reports and this error has often been repeated.[note 1]
cultural over-identification (text)
Baudrillard - Simulacra & Simulation (text)
In order to execute her project The Hotel (1981), she was hired as a chambermaid at a hotel in Venice where she was able to explore the writings and objects of the hotel guests. Insight into her process and its resulting aesthetic can be gained through her account of this project: "I spent one year to find the hotel, I spent three months going through the text and writing it, I spent three months going through the photographs, and I spent one day deciding it would be this size and this frame...it's the last thought in the process."
One of Calle's first projects to generate public controversy was Address Book (1983). The French daily newspaper Libération invited her to publish a series of 28 articles. Having recently found an address book on the street (which she photocopied and returned to its owner), she decided to call some of the telephone numbers in the book and speak with the people about its owner. To the transcripts of these conversations, Calle added photographs of the man's favorite activities, creating a portrait of a man she never met, by way of his acquaintances. The articles were published, but upon discovering them, the owner of the address book, a documentary filmmaker named Pierre Baudry, threatened to sue the artist for invasion of privacy. As Calle reports, the owner discovered a nude photograph of her, and demanded the newspaper publish it, in retaliation for what he perceived to be an unwelcome intrusion into his private life.
Calle asked writer and filmmaker Paul Auster to "invent a fictive character which I would attempt to resemble" and served as the model for the character Maria in Auster’s novel Leviathan (1992). This mingling of fact and fiction so intrigued Calle that she created the works of art created by the fictional character, which included a series of color-coordinated meals. These works are documented in her publication Double Game (1999).
From BLDGBLOG - Geoff Manaugh (Feb 23, 2014)
An extraordinary exhibition last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured mechanical furniture designed by the father and son team of Abraham and David Roentgen: elaborate 18th-century technical devices disguised as desks and tables.
First, a quick bit of historical framing, courtesy of the Museum itself: “The meteoric rise of the workshop of Abraham Roentgen (1711–1793) and his son David (1743–1807) blazed across eighteenth-century continental Europe. From about 1742 to its closing in the early 1800s, the Roentgens’ innovative designs were combined with intriguing mechanical devices to revolutionize traditional French and English furniture types.”
Each piece, the Museum adds, was as much “an ingenious technical invention” as it was “a magnificent work of art,” an “elaborate mechanism” or series of “complicated mechanical devices” that sat waiting inside palaces and parlors for someone to come along and activate them.
If you can get past the visual styling of the furniture—after all, the dainty little details and inlays perhaps might not appeal to many BLDGBLOG readers—and concentrate instead only on the mechanical aspect of these designs, then there is something really incredible to be seen here.
Hidden amidst drawers and sliding panels are keyholes, the proper turning of which results in other unseen drawers and deeper cabinets popping open, swinging out to reveal previously undetectable interiors.
But it doesn’t stop there. Further surfaces split in half to reveal yet more trays, files, and shelves that unlatch, swivel, and slide aside to expose entire other cantilevered parts of the furniture, materializing as if from nowhere on little rails and hinges.
Whole cubic feet of interior space are revealed in a flash of clacking wood flung forth on tracks and pulleys.
As the Museum phrases it, Abraham Roentgen’s “mechanical ingenuity” was “exemplified by the workings of the lower section” of one of the desks on display in the show: “when the key of the lower drawer is turned to the right, the side drawers spring open; if a button is pressed on the underside of these drawers, each swings aside to reveal three other drawers.”
And thus the sequence continues in bursts of self-expansion more reminiscent of a garden than a work of carpentry, a room full of wooden roses blooming in slow motion.
The furniture is a process—an event—a seemingly endless sequence of new spatial conditions and states expanding outward into the room around it.
Each piece is a controlled explosion of carpentry with no real purpose other than to test the limits of volumetric self-demonstration, offering little in the way of useful storage space and simply showing off, performing, a spatial Olympics of shelves within shelves and spaces hiding spaces.
Sufficiently voluminous furniture becomes indistinguishable from a dream.
What was so fascinating about the exhibition—and this can be seen, for example, in some of the short accompanying videos (a few of which are archived on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website)—is that you always seemed to have reached the final state, the fullest possible unfolding of the furniture, only for some other little keyhole to appear or some latch to be depressed in just the right way, and the thing just keeps on going, promising infinite possible expansions, as if a single piece of furniture could pop open into endless sub-spaces that are eventually larger than the room it is stored within.
The idea of furniture larger than the space that houses it is an extraordinary topological paradox, a spatial limit-case like black holes or event horizons, a state to which all furniture makers could—and should—aspire, devising a Roentgen object of infinite volumetric density.
A single desk that, when unfolded, is larger than the building around it, hiding its own internal rooms and corridors.
Suggesting that they, too, were thrilled by the other-worldly possibilities of their furniture, the Roentgens—and I love this so much!—also decorated their pieces with perspectival illusions.
The top of a table might include, for example, the accurately rendered, gridded space of a drawing room, as if you were peering cinematically into a building located elsewhere; meanwhile, pop-up panels might include a checkerboard reference to other possible spaces that thus seemed to exist somewhere within or behind the furniture, lending each piece the feel of a portal or visual gateway into vast and multidimensional mansions tucked away inside.
The giddiness of it all—at least for me—was the implication that you could decorate a house with pieces of furniture; however, when unfolded to their maximum possible extent, these same objects might volumetrically increase the internal surface area of that house several times over, doubling, tripling, quadrupling its available volume. But it’s not magic or the supernatural—it’s not quadraturin—it’s just advanced carpentry, using millimeter-precise joinery and a constellation of unseen hinges.
You could imagine, for example, a new type of house; it’s got a central service core lined with small elevators. Wooden boxes, perhaps four feet cubed, pass up and down inside the walls of the house, riding this network of dumbwaiters from floor to floor, where they occasionally stop, when a resident demands it. That resident then pops open the elevator door and begins to unfold the box inside, unlatching and expanding it outward into the room, this Roentgen object full of doors, drawers, and shelves, cantilevered panels, tabletops, and dividers.
And thus the elevators grow, simultaneously inside and outside, a liminal cabinetry both tumescent and architectural that fills up the space with spaces of its own, fractal super-furniture stretching through more than one room at a time and containing its own further rooms deep within it.
But then you reverse the process and go back through in the other direction, painstakingly shutting panels, locking drawers, pushing small boxes inside of larger boxes, and tucking it all up again, compressing it like a JPG back into the original, ultra-dense cube it all came from. You’re like some homebound god of superstrings tying up and hiding part of the universe so that others might someday rediscover it.
To have been around to drink coffee with the Roentgens and to discuss the delirious outer limits of furniture design would have been like talking to a family of cosmologists, diving deep into the quantum joinery of spatially impossible objects, something so far outside of mere cabinetry and woodwork that it almost forms a new class of industrial design. Alas, their workshop closed, their surviving objects today are limited in number, and the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is now closed.
Major project - postcards as pianola rolls for a windless pump organ
- The 'Garbage Novel' cf. Ilya Kabakov 'The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away'
- the postcards that are not memorable because they have nothing written on them.
- Stick a webcam in the suitcase, no light, camera flips to 0 lux
- Re-photograph and re-take things
- Decontextualising the sound of items (a là Music Concrète)
- not beholden to just the materials you have.
mimic, destroy, pulping, decontextualising, recontextualising, turn them to dust
- use the shoe boxes that the cards initially came from
- envelopes, stamps. what roles could these have?
- what meaning can be given to an item if you send it away and it returns.
- the idea of sorting, categorising
What can Tristan Garcia say about this? About ontology
- What can Marc Augé say about all of this
- What can Beautiful Data say about this?
- Chris Bell’s large aquarium
- Martin Creed - Lights Going on and Off https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDqU8hhy99M
- Number / quantify postcards/items - Schrodinger’s cats (one for each postcard) - until I open the suitcase is the postcard there? What is limbo state for a postcard? stamped, addressed but unsent? But play on the fact that I’m allergic. Each postcard is a Schrodinger Cat
- Traces - postmarks
- Send a postcard off bundled with a recorder to record the journey.
- Remake the suitcase (w/out its contents) with various other materials (paper, plaster, timber)
- could these then contain alternatives to the postcards or different postcards? copies of the ones that have never been used that have been fictitiously written on/to and postmarked. Alternate/Crypto histories of my father and the other people who figure in the postcards.
- Use a portable music player to play a soundtrack from within the suitcase.
- Send postcards back to where they came from. To sit forever in dead letter offices around the world.
- The box as resonant space
- Box with the sound of it’s own making.
- Explore texture. (+ resistance)
- Soak postcards in water until the laminate falls off and the ink erodes.
- Google map all the postcards
- A room with all the postcards up
in Background Noise (Perspectives on Sound Art) 2nd Ed. (Bloomsbury, 2015) pp24-33.
Ch2 - Exposing the Sound Object: Musique Concrèt0e’s Sonic Research.
“To record sound, trap it on media ready for amplification, diffusion, and distribution, through systems of transport and broadcast, is to toy with the present, undo origin, and realign memory.”
Between the two approaches of the time - Cagean and Schaefferian - “a philosophical and methodological split, for each occupies extreme positions in relation to questions of sonic representations and musical meaning.”
Cage emphasised “the very source of sound itself, as objects, electronic circuits, and real bodies.”
- Material objects and their appropriation
“…as listeners we are asked to hear sounds as liberated from traditional representational devices of musical composition through the very material source.”
“Thus we are asked to understand the liberation of sound in relation to material conditions: the material of objects, the material of sounds, the material of our own bodies and the space in which we are positioned.”
But…"musique concrète locates sound’s liberation through ideal configurations, harnessing sound’s intrinsic ambiguity or malleability so as to create distinct auditory experiences abstracted from an original source, beyond or in spite of material reference. Musique concrète underscores the technological mechanics, physics, and inherent nuance of sounds as revealed through the properties of phonograph records, magnetic tape, and the recording studio, loudspeaker, and sound diffusion. Thus, to a certain degree, experimental music’s initial steps oscillate from concentration on a social architecture in which sound figures to a concern with the body of sound as an object in its own right.”
“Musique concrète positions music within a larger sonic syntax based on the manipulation of audio machines and recording media, the cultivation of sound objects and their intrinsic dynamic.”
“…sound as a specimen. A recorded sound could be objectified and scrutinised, magnified, repeated, re-recorded, and played back so as to hear all it’s hidden and potential details, uncovering the inner dynamic nestled inside every instant or particle of sound.”
- see also The Recording Angel - Evan Eisenberg, on objects of sound.
Reduced listening - listening for the purpose of concentrating on the qualities of the sounds themselves, independent of its source or meaning (Chion) - Phenomenological, Essentialism.
“Reduced listening makes accessible the sound object.”
“For the sound object refers back to itself, not sources outside, emphasising the instant of its (re)presentation, thereby fostering a poetics spun from sonic intensities as pure matter broken down into energy by the forces of audio manipulation.”
Parmegiani, Bayle, Henry, Ferrari.
“Whereas MC ‘begins with a prepared sound material, which is moulded into it’s final form by a process of experimentation, trial and error, perhaps following unexpected paths to goals that were never foreseen initially, electronic music [at the Cologne Studios] was composed like traditional music, first being conceived in the mind of the composer, then written down, and finally realised in sound.”
In MC the sound object defines the outcome rather than some preconceived composition.
“Here the composer is more an intuitive engineer in the making of sound objects than a writer of compositions.”
“MC pulls into its sonic net an entire array of sound sources, machines, and archives to condense all such things into a compact musical object.”
“The dissociation of seeing and hearing here encourages another way of listening: we listen to the sonorous forms, without any aim other than that of hearing them better, in order to be able to describe them through an analysis of the content of our perceptions.”
“MC is thus embedded in the mechanics of its own productions as inscription on media whose ultimate presentation requires a “blind listening”.
MC suppresses context
Cage explodes the musical object with materiality and context.
object <<<<< continuum >>>>> context
Perec-ian approach to everyday minutiae
“MC’s cinema of the ear appropriates the mediated flow of data and its storage medium for acoustical renderings. While Cage’s work pulls aside the curtain to reveal the material presence of the musical moment, to make apparent the processes at work in such a way as to democratise sound, MC plus the curtain back in place, operating in darkness so as to bring the ear to the ore of perception - as pure ear devoid of body, for the body is always marked by a sociality full of coded reference.”
“…for Schaeffer the sound object in itself offers the potential for the realisation of an altered and enlightened musical experience, one determined by an expanded palette of sonic details exposed through electronic manipulation.”
“For Cage 'music means nothing as a thing’. In contrast, for Schaeffer, and MC in general, context must disappear in order to arrive at the musical experience, for here music, and by extension sound, is everything as a thing.”
“Thus the beginning of experimental music is marked not only by developing sound as a category, aesthetic and other, but by locating it in relationship to space and the conditions through which listening literally takes place."