Sound of the Revolution

Of all the arts, music possesses the greatest power for social organization.      

                                                            Arseny Avaraamov, 1923           

Today 100 years ago women workers in Petrograd facotries laid down their work, because they didn’t have money to buy bread for their families anymore and thus finally brought about the break-through of the the Russian Revolution. It was still the beginning of the 20th century, nobody knew how devastating it would get, and so hopes were still high that a new man and a new woman would be born through the revolution. According to the Russian avant-gardists one of the most important means to accomplish this aim was sound, respectively acoustic experiments, mainly – noise.

For example Viktor Khlebnikov dreamt of a new, universal language, the so-called Zaum, and had incredible visions for the future of the by then brand new medium radio. Mikhail Matyushin, Aleksei Kurchenykh and Kazimir Malevitch composed a futuristic opera entitled Victory over the sun and even Dziga Vertov experimented with hearing and radio before he turned exclusively towards cinema. But probably the most extreme example for the combination of sound and revolution is Arseny Avraamov’s Symphony of Sirens, which was only performed twice: November 7, 1922, for the fifth anniversary of the Russian Revolution in Baku, an important seaport of Azerbaijan, and one year later in Moscow. 

Proletkult Composer Areseny Avraamov approximately in 1923

Writer and engineer Aleksei Gastev

Inspired by texts of the revolutionary poet and engineer Aleksei Gastev, Avaraamov used the whole city as an orchestra or as a „music box“, as German media archeologist Siegfried Zielinski calls it: Foghorns, 25 steam locomotives, hundreds of sirens and choirs with up to 1`000 singers collectively performed this Symphony of Sirens in honor of the Russian Revolution, while Avraamov was standing on a tower and conducting by waving flags. 

Arseny Avraamov conducting with flags 1922

FM Einheit conducting with flags 2017

Since then the Second World War, the Holocoust, the Atomic Bomb, the Gulag, the landing on the moon, the vanishing of the Soviet Union and many, many more things happend but neither the new Soviet man nor the new Soviet women, of whom the communists had dream, did show up. Performing the Symphony of Sirens almost 100 years later therefore of course cannot only be a sheer re-enactment but requires a reflection of the dissonance between the dreams back then and our reality in today’s very late cpatialism. Invited by the Brno Philharmonic in the South East of the Czeck Republic, the German noise musician FM Einheit and radioplay author Andreas Ammer came up with a very poignant and convincing adaption of Avraamov’s Symphony of Sirens.

On October 21, 2017 they performed it together with Byelorussian sax player and free jazzer Pavel Arakelian, the Austrian-Amercian tubist Jon Sass, the German percussionist Saskia von Klitzing, Siegfried Zielinski as the German performer of Avraamov and Ján Sedal as his Czeck translator. Instead of foghorns they used cleaning machines, concret mixers, two Harley Davidsons were driven through the hall full of audience, the fan club of Brno’s renowned ice hockey team Kometa was cheering, a choir sang The Internationale and La Marseillaise as well as different kinds of ambulance vehicles sounded their horns and sirens. In front of the hall 25 cannon balls were fired and a steam locomotive was whisteling:

 

Probably this was one of the most unique concerts I ever attended, regarding the degree of loudness but also because of the meaning of its noise. There was no utopian optimism to it anymore. It’s been an impressive mixture of disillusionment, despair, melancholia and uproar against unacceptable realities, a noisy bemoaning of all the victims and sacrifices that come with so-called capitalist progress. I wouldn’t call it a cathartic experience, rather a reminder why silence isn’t the only answer – despite John Cage’s precious inshights – and why noise still is and always will remain mandatory.

My compliments to all of the artists and especially also to Vítězslav Mikeš, Lukas Jirica and the whole team of the Brno Philharmonic for making this happen.

In case you missed it: Next year a recording of this performance will be broadcast on the radio by the department for radio drama at Bayerischer Rundfunk

Energies & the Arts

Visiting Joyce Hinterding & David Haines in the Blue Mountains (NSW), Australia

“Like linguists turn to coding, silversmiths turn to electronics”, says David Haines. For the Australian artists it seems to be the most natural thing in the world to artistically transcend materials, media and genres. Haines, who just has been awarded the 2017 Australia Council Visual Arts Fellowship for two years, to delve further into his “abiding interest in aroma as an art form” and develop a substantial exhibition across the range of his practices, is one half of the intriguing Australian art couple Haines & Hinterding. The other half is Joyce Hinterding, a former silversmith and nowadays an artistic expert on energies, especially on Very Low Frequency Radio Waves and Natural Radio.

 

During my research stay in Australia Douglas Kahn was so kind and generous to introduce me to his dear friends and neighbours Joyce and David. The couple invited me to visit them at their lovely home in the bush of the Blue Mountains to learn more about their art practices – an unexpected, spontaneous visit, which turned out to be one of the highlights of my research trip down under. After a nice spring roll lunch and some conversation we wanted to go and see some kangaroos together. However, I quickly became so fascinated by the multisensory artistic cosmos of Haines & Hinterding and our conversation lasted so long that the kangaroo visit had to be postponed. 

What makes the works of Haines & Hinterding so fascinating to me is the fact that they are outstanding examples of artistic research.

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Natural Radio

Energizing Encounter with Douglas Kahn

What makes Australia and especially Sydney for radio art researchers like me such a desirable place to go to is the variety of sound and radio artists and scholars, who live and work there. There are numerous reasons for this cluster or gathering, as I found out during my research stay. However, one main reason certainly is Douglas Kahn, Professor for Media and Innovation at the University of New South Wales. Being responsible for such outstanding, seminal books like the essay collection Wireless Imagination. Sound, Radio and The Avant-Garde (1992), which he co-edited with the radio artist Gregory Whitehead and his two monographs Noise, Water, Meat. A History of Sound in the Arts (1999) and Earth Sound Earth Signal. Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts (2013), Douglas Kahn attracts PhD candidates and researchers from all over the world, who are interested in radio and sound and their relation to the arts. 

 

When I eventually dared to contact Douglas Kahn and kindly asked him for an interview, he was very friendly and generous and invited me to visit him at his home in Katoomba, a cozy little town at the fringe of the overwhelming, scenic Blue Mountains Nation Park, about two hours by train west of Sydney. 

After I had read „Wireless Imagination“ and „Noise Water Meat“ with great benefit for my own research on the epistemology of radio art, I turned to „Earth Sound Earth Signal“, which left me behind quite a bit baffled at first. At the same time I developed the hunch that this book is about something really fascinating, mind-blowing. And as I like challenges, I kept coming back to it, over and over again. One sentence, which had struck me in particular, was „Radio was heard before it was invented and it was broadcast before it was heard.“ Therefore I asked Doug at the beginning of our interview, if he would be so kind to explain this phenomenon, which is called „natural radio“. You can listen to the interview dubbed in German here, and you can read it below in English. This is what Doug answered:  Weiterlesen

A Recommendation: „Literature in the Digital Age“ Online Course starts March 13

Did you ever have to dump books at an airport due to excess luggage after a long trip with many souvenirs? I just had. Awful expirience. Almost like dismissing friends. But despite having gone more and more digital after I participated as a student in last year’s first run of the terrific Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Literature in the Digital Age, I still brought three paperbacks with me on my 10-weeks-research trip to Australia.

I did it because I still and always will love the feeling of having „book-books“ around me. They look, feel and smell nice, they never run out of batterie and they are just a lovely companion on any kind of lonesome trip. And yet they can become quite bothersome or even an obstacle if you have to travel or move a lot, especially in globally connected, flexible and racy times like ours.

For situations like these an ebook reader is certainly a great alternative, although no substitute, if you ask me. But „literature in the digital age“ is so much more than only reading or writing a text on an electronical device. As the lead educator Philipp Schweighauser explains in this interview very nicely, the reading strategies of „social reading“ and „distant reading“ are just two of various examples how digital technology challenges literature and books nowadays.

In this MOOC  Philipp Schweighauser, Professor of American and General Literatures at the University of Basel (Switzerland), will take you on a six week journey through the world of literature in evolution. Together with my colleagues I will be one of the four mentors of this course and it would be my pleasure to attend you on this trip. You can join anytime but it is most fun to start in Week 1 with most of the other participants from all over the world. Just have a look!

Interviews on Art, Technology & Feminism

From this week on my radio interview series „Art, Technology, Feminism“ will be broadcast again within hör!spiel!art.mix at Bayern2. It was a great pleasure and experience to speak to four such inspring female artists and scientists. Afterwards the interview with VALIE EXPORT, the interview with Ute Holl, the interview with Cornelia Sollfrank and the interview with Silke Wenk will be available as podcasts in German.

Photo credits in order of slide show:

VALIE EXPORT CC BY-SA 3.0 Manfred Werner, Ute Holl © Andreas Zimmermann, Cornelia Sollfrank CC BY-SA 3.0 Cornelia Sollfrank, Silke Wenk © Eva-Maria Evers.

Okwui Enwezor on „Aesthetics & Postcolonialism“

Before I left the drama department of Bayern2 Radio for working at the University of Basel and starting my PhD, I had the great pleasure to interview Okwui Enwezor, who had just become the director of Haus der Kunst in Munich. Tonight the interview from 2011 with interesting insights on growing up in Nigeria, being a young black man in the New York art scene in the 1980s and many more will be broadcast again. You can listen to the pocast here. (All dubbed in German)

Okwui Enwezor, director of Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany. Foto: Andreas Gebert

Okwui Enwezor, director of Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany. Foto: Andreas Gebert

Todtnauberg: Researching Paul Celan’s encounter with Martin Heidegger

The philosophical radio magazine „Sein und Streit“ asked me to visit for them the hut of Martin Heidegger in Todtnauberg, a climatic spa approximately 60 minutes by car from Basel in the Black Forest. Of course I knew about this famous hut, which Heidegger acquired in the early 1920s and where he concentrated on developing his fundamental ontology.

Heidegger’s hut above Todtnauberg and the famous well with the star-die on top. (August 2016)

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80 Years Living Legend: Happy Birthday, Bazon Brock!

Birthday boy takes a nap.

Birthday boy takes a nap.

Today Bazon Brock turns 80. Being an unique mixture of an artist and an polymath, Bazon Brock studied with Theordor W. Adorno, helped to bring Fluxus to Germany in the 1960th and was a close collaborator of Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell. Brock is emeritus Professor of Aesthetics and Cultural Education at the Bergische Universität in Wuppertal, Germany.  He developed the method of “Action Teaching”, in which the seminar hall becomes a place for staging oneself and others. From 1968 until 1992 he launched the documenta-schools for visitors. As „Bazon“ is the Greek word for a talkative person, Bazon Brock developed talking and the mediation of art to an art form, always driven by on the one hand his fury against Hitlerism, which he suffered severely of as a child, being a refugee at the end of the Second World War from the east, and on the other hand by his euphoria to be alive.

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Lecture „Catastrophes and the Noises of Radio Art in the Digital Age“

On Tuesday, the 17th of May I will present the current state of my dissertation project at the Research Colloquium of the English Seminar at University of Basel. I am very much looking forward to this event.

Crashing of the airship LZ 129 Hindenburg on the 6th of May 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey (USA). Foto credit: Sam Shere

Crashing of the airship LZ 129 Hindenburg on the 6th of May 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey (USA). Herbert Morrison’s radio report about the catastrophe is one of the oldest documents of radio history. Foto credit: Sam Shere

This is what my talk will be about:

„The antagonism between the technological development towards perfectly clean digital radio sound and the common idea of radio as a noisy analogue medium is crucial for contemporary radio research. From a literary and media studies perspective this antagonism can be scrutinized very well in the extensive corpus of over 40 radio plays by the German radio artist Andreas Ammer. Especially three of his works, which he created together with the German noise musician FM Einheit, are examined thoroughly within my PhD project. These plays are “Apocalypse Live” (1994), “Deutsche Krieger I – III” (1995/1997) and “Crashing Aeroplanes” (2001). All three of them broach the issue of “the noises of radio art in the digital age” by the means of catastrophic plots.

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A Revelation: Alan Macfarlane On Writing

I have written all my life: articles, features, essays, diaries, letters, columns, seminar papers, speeches, lectures. I have experienced writing as burden and as bliss. Writing never stopped to fascinate me. Still I felt unsatisfied with my way of writing. Most of the time I have written for money as I used to work as a journalist since my teenage years. This is certainly not the worst reason. But I always had this other longing. I wanted to experience a different kind of wirting and yet not a  poetic, fictional one. I was looking and longing for way of writing about the world, about so-called „reality“ as well as about art I neither learned at school for journalism nor at university, especially not at German university. Eventually today a friend of mine drew my attention to this interview on writing with the British anthropologist Alan Macfarlane.

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