sa Sound Arts vol.4

XEBEC SoundCulture Membership Magazine

Special Topics:

European Electro-Acoustic Music and The Use of Electronics as Anti-Modernism

(Lecturer of Psychology and Contemporary Music)

What will the maturation of technology, which has developed so explosively in this century, bring to the human race and its future? Even in the field of art, technology is being applied and used in a variety of contexts. Is it an extension of the body, an imaginative experience, or simply a tool? With the rise of European electro-acoustic music as a background, we consider what lies ahead of this period of change. In this issue, FUJISHIMA Yutaka, who introduced contemporary electronic music in his production of the "Computer Plus Strings Electric" concert at Xebec last year, continues a series of explorations on the topic.

Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power)

In writing about Pierre BOULEZ in the last issue of SoundArts, I realized, if you'll permit me a little overinterpretation (*1), why the authoritarian power structure sides with Boulez. It is because of the potential desire in his music to control all of the space. According to Friedrich NIETZSCHE in the concept of the will to power (*2), art is based on "Wille zur Macht" that is the essence of "Leben (life)." By sensing the "power"(*3) in his music, the authoritarians have become convinced of Boulez's impending victory. If this will to power plays a neutral and elementary part in our lives, the French government, by supporting Boulez, will then be able to take great pride in its keen insight into culture. Does filling space with one's creations, i.e. sound, provide proof for the essence of "Leben?" I would like to explore this question using some examples of sound art, a form of music that addresses space head on.

The Experiments of Sound Art

With the musicologist, NAKAGAWA Shin, and the pianist, FUJISHIMA Keiko, I founded the International Contemporary Music Forum of Kyoto in 1989 with the aim of expanding musical territories beyond existing frameworks and presenting the most experimental events. Over the past six years, the Forum has placed a special focus on sound art and invited sound artists such as Bill FONTANA (1989 and 1990), Christina KUBISCH (1991), Rolf JULIUS (1994), Ulrich ELLER (1994), Paul PANHUYSEN (1994), SUZUKI Akio (1989 and 1995), and FUJIWARA Kazumichi (1989), who created a variety of indoor and outdoor sound installations and gave performances in Kyoto.
[Neuhaus1 Image]

Concerning the concept of space, I would first like to consider Fontana's sound sculptures. He is a sound sculptor who sets up sound installations in places like Kyoto, Cologne, Paris, and Vienna by relocating sounds in a space through the use of telephone lines. The sound sculpture he created in Kyoto in 1990 (*4) expressed the range of the soundscape in Kyoto--from silence to noise. The sounds, transmitted by telephone lines from various places in Kyoto, continued to change each moment. Even though change is a natural property of time perception, I was deeply impressed by the multiplicity and complexity of change in this work, but his soundscape did not occupy my seat as Boulez's music had. This might have been because Fontana does not process the sounds in his sculptures. His art is concerned primarily with discovery; he has no interest in making things beautiful. Accordingly, he often alludes to DUCHAMP and CAGE.

Fontana's use of electronic systems is decidedly different from Boulez. Electronics is a means by which Boulez can transform sounds and process them as he sees fit. In other words, computers and electronic systemôs are ways of processing and beautifying sound. In Fontana's works, sounds and noises are as they are and their volumes at the sculpture site are the same as their original sources. He has no intention of processing sound. The electronic system is used only to transmit sounds and noises. Just as sounds are carried by the wind, the telephone lines carry Fontana's sounds. Are sounds beautiful just as they are? If "Wille zur Macht" to control all spaces is actually necessary for life (and for art), the spaces created by Fontana do not seem to have such a power, but instead are filled with calm and peace.

Max Neuhaus

[Neuhaus2 image] The sound artist I would most like to invite to Japan is Max NEUHAUS. Though he was an established percussionist in contemporary music, he hasn't played since 1968 when he intentionally stopped performing. When I asked him to play percussion again, he replied, "Do you want to cause a scandal?" As part of this rigid resolution, he is currently pursuing the act of "listening." In 1966, he created his first independent work, "Listen," a sound art series. This project involved putting an audience expecting a conventional concert on a bus and taking them to an industrial sound environment. Their palms were stamped with the word "listen," and then they were taken to the Edison Power Station in New York City.
Another of Neuhaus's continuing sound projects, Time Piece (*5), begun in 1980, was designed to create periodic silent moments within a community. Neuhaus created a kind of public clock to invert the relationship between planned behavior (figure) and the surrounding environment (ground.) A public clock normally periodically adds a novel tone to the sound environment throughout the day. A typical example might be a church bell. On the contrary, the idea of Time Piece is to add a tone during the period when the bell would not normally make a sound and stop it from making a sound when it normally would. The added tone is not enough to change the existing sound environment. Neuhaus's works dissolve into a subtle presence and go on existing silently in the community. Who realizes (hears) the change? In order to, one must have ears sharp enough to sense the color (sound texture) of the space.

Sound Rooms, an installation held at "Documenta" in Kassel in 1992, was a work in which he explored the creation of sound textures even further. While climbing a spiral staircase from the second to the fourth floor of the building, the visitor experienced a different tone on each floor. But the sound sources were completely out of sight. The installation was similar to Time Piece in that the sound environment created did not greatly alter the already existent sound environment of the space. Only those who could perceive what was invisible, or see the "invisible signs" there, could hear (see) the three spaces. Neuhaus's works are also dependent upon the advanced capabilities of the computer and electronics, yet they are used to measure the environment and create a sound texture that only slightly changes it. While the "environment" itself is one of the main themes of his work, the ability of human consciousness to settle into these environments is another.

The Hearing Individual

Works such as these by Fontana and Neuhaus can only be created and appreciated by people who possess an acute sensibility to the environment. In these works, electronics is used as a way of getting people to participate in an environment.

All photographs by FUJISHIMA Yutaka.)
[Neuhaus3 image]

*1 I have been deeply influenced by the concept of "overinterpretation" used by Umberto ECO. See Eco's Interpretation and Overinterpretation (1992).
*2 See Nietzsche and Postmodernism, Annual Ethics Report (ed. by the Japan Ethics Society), Vol.41.
*3 As the psychologist Dr. L.R. GOLDBERG has pointed out, extroversion as a human character trait is essentially rooted in "power" (1989). This might also sound reminiscent of the Freudian id. That is because so many of the French are staunch Freudians.
*4 The sound exhibition, "Acoustical Views of Kyoto," was installed around the No stage on the Kyoto College of Art campus in Uryuyama from June 1-7, 1990.
*5 Time Piece is a permanent sound installation at Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland, but when I visited, it wasn't in operation. When I asked why, one of the curators started it up again. I was struck by the difficulty involved in exhibiting permanent sound installations.

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