1 Golo Föllmer Audio Art In the last quarter of the nineteenth century

1 Golo Föllmer Audio Art In the last quarter of the nineteenth century
Golo Föllmer
Audio Art
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a comprehensive mechanization of music
began which contained three radically new principles: the transmission, storage and
synthesis of sound. These basic media technologies enabled new forms of designing
and generating sound, changing the way in which music is heard. After being limited to
a confined space and an apprehensible audience until well into the nineteenth century, at the turn of the century the scope of music expanded greatly. The gramophone
and radio enabled it to become omnipresent, because from now on it was not confined
either to a particular space or a particular time. Finally, the technical media even
broke away from their hitherto reproductive function by producing their own sounds.
In the subsequent phase, which began in the mid-twentieth century, the basic technologies of electronic media were integrated into the creative techniques, now making
it possible to process a variety of other subject matter. Intermedia connections, space
as a musical determinant, media-specific forms of narration, detemporalization, virtualization and dehierarchization will be discussed by way of example in the present
text. In this second phase, ‹musical art› no longer meant just music. Artistic ways of
dealing with sounds developed that burst the traditional understanding of music and
called for the coining of a new term. While the term ‹sound art› has established itself
for the general, non-media-specific expression of this phenomenon,1 in the present
context ‹audio art› stands for sound art for whose production technical media are either essential or necessary.
The main part of the present contribution introduces the development and the spectrum of audio art. This is followed by a comparison of the techniques and motifs of its
use of media with those of the historic precursors of electric music media, mechanical
musical instruments, allowing the clear identification of the radical change that separates audio art from the traditional understanding of music.
Radio made music and other acoustic cultural assets freely available. Its appearance
occurred at a time in which a significant number of German composers were searching
Cf. Helga de la Motte-Haber, «Klangkunst—eine neue Gattung?» in Klangkunst, Akademie der
Künste Berlin (ed.), Munich, 1996, pp. 12–17.
for a new berth for their music. Using terms such as ‹utility music› and ‹colloquial music,›2 they experimented with integrating popular musical elements into art music and
involving music in everyday situations in a functional way.
In 1929, Bertolt Brecht, Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill produced the radio opera
«Lindberghflug,» which was designed to include the listeners at home sitting at their
radio receivers. For the stage performance in Baden-Baden, Brecht placed a shirtsleeved representative of the listeners on stage, who took over Lindbergh's singing
part. For later productions, Brecht had in mind that for example classes of schoolchildren become familiar with the piece and then complete a version of it which is broadcast without the part of the aviator. «The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life … if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, …
how to bring [the listener] into relationship instead of isolating him.»3
Brecht was not aiming at aesthetic arrangement, but rather at social educational
value, which amongst other things was criticized by Theodor W. Adorno. In Adorno's
view any kind of music that lets itself in for elements of popular music, i.e. music with
commodity character, did not achieve its goal of reflecting life in an unadulterated
way.4 Brecht, on the other hand, judged Adorno's position to be the expression of an
arrogant elite, which secures its integrity (amongst other things through music), while
reproachfully—but de facto idly—looking at an ideologically blinded mass of music listeners under the tight control of the culture industry.
The medium of radio presented structural obstacles to Brecht's far-reaching utopias.
Technologically and organizationally speaking, it had already developed into a mass
medium5 that lacked an effective transmission channel for its recipients.6 In the 1960s,
On the original terms ‹Gebrauchsmusik› and ‹Umgangsmusik› cf. Eberhard Preussner, «Der
Wendepunkt in der modernen Musik oder Die Einfachheit der neuen Musik,» in Die Musik, 21,
6, March 1929, pp. 415–418; cf. Heinrich Besseler, Das musikalische Hören der Neuzeit, Berlin,
Bertolt Brecht, «The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication,» in Neil Strauss (ed.), Radiotext(e). = Semiotext(e), 16, VI, 1, New York, 1993, p. 15.
Klaus-Dieter Krabiel, Brechts Lehrstücke. Entstehung und Entwicklung eines Spieltyps, Stuttgart, 1993, pp. 125f.
Cf. Dieter Daniels, Kunst als Sendung. Von der Telegrafie zum Internet, Munich, 2002, pp.
Niklas Luhmann's definition of the mass media is based on this criterion. Cf. Niklas Luhmann,
Die Realität der Massenmedien, 2nd ed., Opladen, 1996, p. 10.
when Hans Magnus Enzensberger criticized that the mass media artificially separated
the producer from the consumer,7 Max Neuhaus had just begun working on a series of
pieces for radio that demonstrated the potential for openness. In «Public Supply I,»
produced in New York at WBAI in 1966, Neuhaus did a live mix of incoming telephone
calls from ten lines. Although he considered himself to be the designer of the technical
configuration, at this point he was merely the host of a musical event. The listeners
who called in were the broadcasters. In 1977, for «Radio Net» he withdrew even further as an artist by leaving the arrangement up to an automatic electronic system. At
the same time he thematisized the dimension and the immanent aesthetics of the
technical system of the radio by wiring up the circuit of the American radio network
NPR, which spanned the entire continent, in such a way that the sounds of the signals
it contained were transformed through feedback.8
Radio also had an aesthetic influence on music. By potentially opening up the entire
world, it released a fascination for hearing global, alien, multi-shaped things and
stimulated the imagination of artists. In 1936, Rudolf Arnheim wrote that radio virtually had a consciousness expanding effect: «In radio, the sounds and voices of reality
revealed their sensual affinity with the word of the poet and the tones of music ….»9
Radio listeners discovered that noises possessed an aesthetic quality they had hardly
taken notice of before. The radio play theorist Richard Kolb attributed this effect to
the disembodiment of sound, which invariably leads the listeners to become more involved mentally. «The less we are bound to a particular idea about time, place, costume, character, the more scope is left to our imagination, with whose aid we can
form an idea that is befitting us. In this way the effect of the word approaches music
This altered perception of noises did not first begin with the radio, but had already
begun with the advent of industrialization. The Italian Futurists considered the rhythm
of machines to be an aesthetic expression of their epoch, and thus in 1913 the painter
Cf. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, «Baukasten zu einer Theorie der Medien,» in Claus Pias et al.
(eds.), Kursbuch Medienkultur. Die maßgeblichen Theorien von Brecht bis Baudrillard, Stuttgart, 1999, pp. 264–278.
Cf. Max Neuhaus, «The Broadcast Works and Audium» [Q], in Zeitgleich, Transit (ed.), Vienna, 1994, pp. 19–32.
Rudolf Arnheim, Rundfunk als Hörkunst (1936), Frankfurt am Main, 2001, pp. 13f.
Luigi Russolo proclaimed the ‹art of noise›: «Ancient life was all silent. In the 19th
Century, with the invention of machines, Noise was born. … We will amuse ourselves
by orchestrating together in our imagination the din of rolling shop shutters, the varied
hubbub of train stations, iron works, thread mills, printing presses, electrical plants,
and subways. … We want to give pitches to these diverse noises, regulating them harmonically and rhythmically.»11 Russolo constructed special mechanical noise generators and demonstrated these ‹intonarumori› at events attended by important artists
and musicians of the time. Edgard Varèse, John Cage and others were influenced by
Russolo's art of noise and were the first to implement percussion instruments, which
had hitherto primarily been used in art music for the purpose of rhythmic accentuation, as carriers of a music consisting of timbres of noise.
Radio art
With his piece «Imaginary Landscape No. 4,» in 1951 John Cage was the first person
to perform the peculiarities of the radio—the cheeping and hissing, the accidental juxtaposition of language, music and noise on the waveband—in a composition. He not
only used the natural sounds of noise, which from a traditional point of view are perhaps only just acceptable, rather he also used the side effects of technical media,
which are typically absolutely undesirable in music, as musical material. A specific
‹radio art›12 developed out of this approach in the 1960s that thematisized the aesthetic effects of the transmission and perception of sound via radio as well as the social conditions of radio production and consumption. In radio collages consisting of
audio fragments, Negativland, for example, show the aesthetic and social effects of
the merchandising control of media content and from this—as did John Oswald—they
derive their demand for the preservation of the creative scope when dealing with
Cf. Richard Kolb, «Die neue Funkkunst des Hörspiels,» in Richard Kolb and Heinrich Giesmeier
(eds.), Rundfunk und Film im Dienste nationaler Kultur, Düsseldorf, 1933, pp. 238f.
Luigi Russolo, «The Art of Noises. Futurist Manifesto» [Q], (dated 11 March 1913), in Luigi
Russolo, The Art of Noises, Monographs in Musicology, no. 6, New York 1986, pp. 23-27.
Cf. Klaus Schöning, «Sound Mind Sound. Klangreise zur akustischen Kunst,» in Welt auf tönernen Füßen. Die Töne und das Hören, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der BRD (ed.), Göttingen,
1994, pp. 64–78; cf. Daina Augatitis and Dan Lander (eds.) Radio Rethink. Art, Sound and
Transmission, Banff, 1994.
Further examples in this text are «Public Supply I» and «Radio Net» by Max Neuhaus,
«Klangbrücke Köln/San Francisco» by Bill Fontana and «State of Transition» by Sodomka/Breindl/Math/xspace.
The storage of sound through the phonograph and the gramophone enabled the unlimited reproduction of music. Whereas sheet music was only disseminated amongst the
bourgeoisie, the record was the first musical medium to reach listeners of all classes.
Like transmission, sound recording also changed production and reception as the two
areas were now separated in terms of both time and space. Because listeners were no
longer dependent on musicians, for the first time they were able to integrate music
into their daily lives. Music had, so to speak, become a ubiquitous source of nourishment.
Musique concrète
Artistic experiments with reproduction technology were a long time coming. Although
the gramophone had already been developed in 1877 and was widespread at the latest
at the turn of the century, concrete suggestions for its artistic-musical use were not
made until the 1910s. Around 1917 the later documentary film pioneer Dziga Vertov
attempted to create a montage of noise, however his plan fell through because of the
state of technology at the time.14 In 1923 the Hungarian Bauhaus artist László MoholyNagy suggested «to change the grammophone from a reproductive instrument to a
productive one, so that on a record without prior acoustic information, the acoustic
phenomena itself originates by engraving the necessary ‹Ritzschriftreihen› (etched
grooves).»15 In the 1990s, the sound artist Paul DeMarinis16 referred to Moholy-Nagy's
idea that a graphic ‹etched alphabet› could be found by reading sound grooves optically, as a false estimation owning to the dominance of the visual in Western culture.
In the mid-1920s, Paul Hindemith experimented with ‹gramophone music› by creating
a montage of recordings and playing them backwards at different speeds. He did not
get beyond the experimental stage. For the first successful noise composition experiment, in 1930 Walter Ruttmann did not use the unwieldy gramophone, but rather the
optical sound technology that had been developed for film a year prior to this. Film
sound, which could be cut with scissors and taped back together, enabled the creation
of the first stringent sound montage. At great technical expense, Walter Ruttmann
collected sound recordings over a weekend in Berlin. The montage he produced,
Cf. Stefan Amzoll, «‹Ich bin das Ohr›. Zum 100. Geburtstag des Klangpioniers,» in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1, 1996, pp. 50–53.
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, «New Plasticism in Music,» in Der Sturm, 7, 1923, transl.: Broken Music.
Artists‘ Recordworks, Ursula Block and Michael Glasmeier (eds.), Berlin, 1989, pp. 54–55.
Cf. «The Edison Effect.»
«Weekend,» changes between narrative and sound portrait—an art of listening inspired by photography. Although he attempted to structure the montage according to
musical standpoints such as pitch and rhythm, the characteristic style of «Weekend» is
narrative throughout; timbre, rhythm and pitch merely organize the narrative.17
It was not until 1948—eighteen years after «Weekend» and seventy-one years after the
invention of sound storage—that Pierre Schaeffer's approach to discovering a way to
compose specifically with the gramophone led to fruition. The compositional attitude
responsible for this was based on two aspects: Firstly, Schaeffer concentrated solely
on the aesthetic qualities of the sound material, thus largely eliminating the occurrence it connotated. Secondly, he did not force a preformed, superordinate structure
onto the material. He stressed that the ‹musique concrète,› a name he chose in order
to distinguish it from ways of composing that come from abstract ideas, is always
based on the experience of concrete musical material: While traditional composition
attains interpretation from the intellectual concept via writing down, for his music
Schaeffer uses the reverse path: from listening to the collected material, to sketchlike experiments, finally arriving at the material composition, which is recorded as a
finished sound-carrier.18
In his opinion, sound material can be everything: the primarily noise-like sound occurrences in the environment, linguistic utterances, as well as conventional music. Sounds
become so-called ‹objets sonores› when they are recorded technically, but they do not
become ‹objets musicaux› until they have been processed in a special way. According
to Schaeffer, these methods include the cutting of individual sounds, the variation of
speed, playing from specially manufactured closed record grooves, playing backwards,
and the layering of several sounds. The record player becomes a musical instrument
the moment creative methods are derived from its specific possibilities. In Schaeffer's
first piece, the «Étude aux chemins de fer,»19 composed in 1948, ‹musique concrète›
anticipates the later DJ methods of cutting, cueing, and in part scratching.
Cf. «Ruttmanns photographisches Hörspiel» [Q], in Film-Kurier, 41, 15 February 1930, cited
in Jeanpaul Goergen, Walter Ruttmann. Eine Dokumentation, Berlin, p. 130.
Cf. André Ruschkowski, Elektronische Klänge und musikalische Entdeckungen, Stuttgart,
1998, pp. 210f.
The CD OHM, The Early Gurus of Electronic Music (New York, 2000) contains a collection of
classic pieces of electro-acoustic music.
Pop music also received decisive impulses with the introduction of the tape recorder.
The playback method, which consists of recording the instruments in a piece of music
one after the other, causes reproduction to become the primary instance of music.
Now even live performances have to sound like the record. Because more and more
complex studio technology is used, the ‹song› in the sense of a certain melody and
harmony sequence counts less and less. Instead, ‹sound› has become the central criterion of music styles.20 This begins with cover versions, for example Jimi Hendrix's version of the American national anthem played on a feedback electric guitar. The significance of sound reaches a new level with the audio electroquote techniques in DJ
mixes, and then again with the dissemination of digital sampling in the 1990s. Now not
only a song is quoted, but the sound itself. When John Oswald recomposes Beethoven
and Michael Jackson using the same means, then what primarily counts is the processing technique—melody, harmony, formal structure or lyrics only prompt a sound realization.21 The sound is the music.
In 1993, Christian Marclay, who as an artist and art DJ thematisized the history of the
sound carrier, assembled a collage of music from a variety of stylistic and geographic
origins in his «Berlin Mix.» What was unusual about it was that he did not use any
technical media, rather he assembled the original sound sources in an auditorium and
conducted them using cardboard signs. The physical presence of more than 180 musicians made the usual eclectic dealing with samples seem absurd. Marclay's action
showed that music can be more than just sound and how much we have become accustomed to getting by with just a fraction of the substance from the media we receive.22
Principles of chance
With his composition «Imaginary Landscape No. 1,» in 1939 John Cage applied techniques similar to those of Pierre Schaeffer, however he used test records with sine
tones, thus keeping to the ‹musical tone.› With the publication of his manifesto-like
text «The Future of Music: Credo» in 1937, he had already predicted that the use of
noises and the complete control of the overtone structure of all sounds with the aid of
Cf. Peter Wicke, «Sound-Technologien und Körper-Metamorphosen. Das Populäre in der Musik
des 20. Jahrhunderts,» in Peter Wicke (ed.), Rock- und Popmusik, (Handbuch der Musik im 20.
Jahrhundert, vol. 8), Laaber, 2001, pp. 37f.
http://www.plunderphonics.com [LE]
Cf. Klangkunst, Akademie der Künste Berlin (ed.), Munich, 1996, pp. 96f.
audio technologies would shape the music of the future.23 In 1952 Cage started from
the assumption that every sound and every noise is musical unto itself, and he manifested this in his first tape composition «Williams Mix.» For him, the advantage of
tape technology was that one could penetrate into the micro-time of the sound and
create a high degree of complexity.
«What was so fascinating about tape possibility was that a second, which we had always thought was a relatively short space of time, became fifteen inches.»24 In a
nearly 500-page score drawn up according to principles of chance, the way the tape
has to be cut is presented graphically, much like a cutting pattern. The score specifies
in which form, for how long and which of six types of sound are to appear in the montage. In one case a section of tape a quarter of an inch long (one-sixth of a second)
had to be assembled out of 1,097 tape particles. Cage applies the specific characteristics of technology in order to discover unconventional structures during the transformation of an idea into sounding reality.
In 1963 the Fluxus artist Nam June Paik extended Cage's principle of indeterminacy25
by placing Schaeffer's technologies into an installation situation at his «Exposition of
Music—Electronic Television.» «In most indeterministic pieces of music the composer
grants the decision of will or freedom to the interpreter, but not to the audience.»26
«Random Access,» for example, enabled listening to tapes that had been stuck to the
wall with a freely moving recording head. During «Schallplattenschaschlik» visitors
would help themselves to records rotating simultaneously using the stylus of a phono
pickup. Paik's sculptures had a refreshingly contradictory effect because they were
created out of profane consumer media in a crude, handcrafted fashion, while their
interactive operation so obviously stood in the way of the one-way communication of
mass media.
John Cage, «The Future of Music: Credo,» [Q], in Silence. Lectures and Writings by John
Cage, Hanover, NH, 1973, pp. 3–6.
John Cage in an interview with Richard Kostelanetz (1984), cited in Richard Kostelanetz,
Conversing with Cage, 2nd ed., New York, 2003, p. 170.
While Cage initially noted precise instructions for the results of chance operations, when it
developed into ‹indeterminacy› around the end of the 1950s the score now contained considerably more interpretational scope. Cf. Kyle Gann, American Music in the Twentieth Century,
New York, 1997, pp. 136f.
Nam June Paik, «Über die Ausstellung der Musik,» in Wolf Vostell (ed.), Dé-collage No. 3,
Cologne, 1963, cited in Edith Decker (ed.), Niederschriften eines Kulturnomaden. Aphorismen,
Briefe, Texte. Nam June Paik, Cologne, 1992, p. 100.
Musique d'ameublement
More than forty years prior to Paik, the French composer Erik Satie drew up a similar
critical scenario. In pamphlets, which have since become famous, he suggested extremely functional music intended to fill embarrassing pauses in conversations during
dinner or to cover up unpleasant interfering sounds. Satie criticized that department
store music, which at the time was still played live by musicians, was a simplified adaptation of concert music. In a letter written in March 1920 he took up the musical
climate of his piano piece «Vexations» (1893), which allowed for 840 repetitions of
two rows of notes. «We now want to introduce music that satisfies the ‹useful› needs.
Art does not belong to these needs. ‹Musique d'ameublement› generates vibrations; it
has no other purpose; it performs the same role as light, warmth—and comfort in every
form.»27 On March 8, 1920 in the Barbazanges Gallery in Paris, Satie used fragments
from pieces by Ambroise Thomas and Camille Saint-Saëns to produce such ‹musique
d'ameublement.› According to an account written by Darius Milhaud, the experiment
went wrong: Satie could not keep the visitors from listening to the music.28
Sound installation & ambient music
Two central concepts from the second half of the twentieth century make reference
not only to Satie's experiments, but also to Cage and Paik: sound installation and ambient music. The sound installation, developed at the end of the 1960s by Max Neuhaus, Maryanne Amacher and others, pursues amongst other things two of the objectives emphasized by Satie: Firstly, not to simply adapt music conceived for a performance situation to casual forms of reception, rather to fundamentally conceive the
tonal design of space as integration into a specific place. Secondly, not to occupy the
attention of the listeners, rather to provide the scope for the listeners to determine
which kind of attention they choose to lend to the tonal design. In 1975 Brian Eno, a
commuter between art and pop music, transferred these avant-garde techniques onto
the format and sound aesthetics of the pop record and coined the genre term ‹ambient
music.› In the 1990s many other musicians, for example The Orb and Aphex Twin, developed Eno's idea of the electronic ‹ambient› style.29
Cited in Ornella Volta, Satie/Cocteau. Eine Verständigung in Mißverständnissen, Hofheim,
1994, p. 124.
Cf. Grete Wehmeyer, Erik Satie, Regensburg, 1974, p. 227.
Cf. Mark Prendergast, The Ambient Century. From Mahler to Trance—The Evolution of Sound
in the Electronic Age, London, 2000; cf. Tony Marcus, «Ambient,» in Peter Shapiro (ed.), Modulations. A History of Electronic Music, New York, 2000, pp. 156–165.
Around 1930, the invention of the electron tube allowed the development of the first
promising electronic musical instruments, amongst others Leon Theremin's «etherophone,»30 Jörg Mager's «spherophone,» Friedrich Trautwein's «trautonium,» and
Naurice Martenot's «Ondes Martenot.» They proved that the laws of physical mechanics
could be circumvented in an ‹electric music›31 and that this meant the dawning of a
new musical era. Composers hoped for new timbres from the sound synthesis, a substitute for unpredictable human interpreters, as well as the opportunity to overcome the
twelve-tone scale, which they perceived as constricting. However, for the most part
these instruments had been conceived out of a traditional understanding of music, like
the etherophone imitating for example a romantic espressivo style.
Sound composition
When Karlheinz Stockhausen produced «Studie I» in the newly equipped NWDR studio
in 1953, he did not use the available musical instruments—a melochord and a monochord—working instead with awkward sound generators originally developed for the
purpose of transmission measurement. These new technical possibilities were meant to
enable ‹composing› the individual sound as well as the musical form of a composition,
including its spectral details.32 Serialism, which dominated Europe's musical avantgarde at the time and in which all of the parameters of a composition are organized
according to a central principle of construction, required precise planning. This meant
that it was contrary to Schaeffer's approach, which rested on intuition and the reverse
method of composition from the material to the structure.
Score synthesis
In 1956 Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson conducted the first experiment involving
the reproduction of human decision-making processes with regard to music on the
computer: they had the mainframe ILLIAC 1 synthesize a four-movement score for
Also known as «theremine» and «ether wave instrument.»
Cf. Peter Lertes, Elektrische Musik. Eine gemeinverständliche Darstellung ihrer Grundlagen,
des heutigen Standes der Technik und ihrer Zukunftsmöglichkeiten, Dresden, 1933; cf. Carlos
Chavez, Toward a New Music. Music And Electricity, New York, 1937.
Cf. Karlheinz Stockhausen, «Zur Situation des Metiers (Klangkomposition)» [Q], in Karlheinz
Stockhausen, Texte zur elektronischen und instrumentalen Musik, vol. 1, Dieter Schnebel (ed.),
Cologne, 1963, pp. 45–61.
string quartet, the «Illiac Suite.» The first three movements were based on formalizations of conventional rules of composition (simple polyphony, counterpoint, serial
techniques); the fourth movement, however, was based on the mathematic principle
of so-called «Markov chains.» Composers such as Iannis Xenakis later frequently took
up the use of these ‹non-musical› means by implementing mathematic disciplines such
as game or chaos theory for score synthesis.
Today's advanced music programs such as Max/MPS and SuperCollider integrate sound
and score synthesis in a single system. As claimed by Stockhausen's electronic music,
timbre and compositional form can be processed with the same instruments and thus
more easily according to the same principles. At the same time, the idea of the computer has changed fundamentally since then. While Hiller started out from the image
of the unbroken formalization of human behavioral knowledge, which was typical for
the early stage of research on artificial intelligence,33 computers were now not meant
to replace human beings, but rather confront them as interactive partners. The notion
of the machine transformed from a human surrogate to a cooperative counterpart,
which was impressive less due to its perfection than its uniqueness. Interactive systems became pools of ideas; ‹interactive composing›34 firmly established the process
orientation of experimental music35 in the domain of music electronics and computers.
The repercussions of interactive, process-oriented computer technology are becoming
wider and wider. In addition to the sound installation and electro-acoustic music out of
the research studios, in the 1990s club music as well was pervaded by process-like
methods of creation. Autechre regard their CDs as sections of continuing processes.36
Farmer's Manual elucidate the process idea by unpretentiously breaking off a performance by pulling the audio cable out of the laptop—to emphasize the fact that the music being heard is a segment from endless automatic design processes in the com-
This view also shaped the early forms of Computer graphics [LI:MKA].
In 1967 Joel Chadabe, influenced amongst others by David Tudor's use of electronics, coined
this term for the improvisational-experimental use of electro-acoustic sound generators as a
counterpole to the ‹clinical› fashion of composition dominant at the time in the academic studios. Cf. Joel Chadabe, Electric Sound. The Past and Promise of Electronic Music, Upper Saddle
River, NJ, 1997.
Today, the flexible term ‹experimental music› is primarily used to refer to the music made
by the group around John Cage and their successors. It is marked by its process orientation and
its constant questioning of the understanding of music. Cf. Michael Nyman, Experimental Music—Cage and Beyond, 2nd ed. New York, 1999.
Cf. Sascha Kösch, «The Ultimate Folk Music. Laptops, Napster, Derrida & Autechre,» in
De:Bug, 48, June 2001, p. 3.
puter.37 Markus Popp sees his aesthetics as a result of digital means of design. In his
view, ‹electronic listening music,› one of many genre terms for the products of the
‹laptop scene› around the year 2000, requires an understanding of music that pays
tribute to the immense technical influence on design processes—delinearized time, the
split-second reshaping of sounds, the ergonomics of software operation. «[T]he concept of ‹music› itself is almost tragically overshadowed by assumed notions of creativity, authorship, and artistic expression.»38 Crackling sounds caused by a faulty CD
player, the noises coming from computer hardware and caused by the (frequently intentional) incorrect use of software characterize the sound material. «Indeed, ‹failure›
has become a prominent aesthetic …, reminding us that our control of technology is an
illusion ….»39
The duo Granular Synthesis uses a sound synthesis technique on video recordings.
During the acoustic granular synthesis new timbres are created from existing samples
by iterating extremely short sound fragments according to different patterns. Using
this method on sound and image synchronously, since 1991 Granular Synthesis have
been presenting image-sound collages that could work like the technical simulation of
cerebral malfunctions—however, it would remain unclear whether the person being
portrayed cannot coordinate his or her movements or the audience cannot coordinate
their perception as usual—see for example «Pole» (1998) with Diamanda Galas. In reality one is seeing an extreme example of everyday media manipulation, i. e. what
happens when the material extracted from the medium is not defamiliarized in itself,
but rather is prevented from its full scope of movement by leaps in time made possible
by technology.40 In «MODELL 5» (1994), the movements by the performer shown in the
portrait, Akemi Takeya, appear to be dehumanized.Here it becomes clear that the
characteristic qualities of a person should not be sought in the substance of the individual image, but rather in the person's movements.
Cf. Max Hollein et al. (eds.), Frequenzen [Hz]. Audiovisuelle Räume / Frequencies [Hz]. Audio-visual Spaces, Frankfurt am Main, 2002, pp. 35f.
Markus Popp cited in Kurt B. Reighley, «Downtempo. Lost in Music,» in Peter Shapiro (ed.)
Modulations. A History of Electronic Music, New York, 2000, p. 179.
Kim Cascone, «The Aesthetics of Failure. ‹Post-Digital› Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music,» in Computer Music Journal, 24, 4, 2000, p. 13.
Cf. Tom Sherman, «Maschine des perpetuierten Augenblicks. Granular Synthesis: Was bisher
geschah…,» in Wien Modern. Elektronik, Raum, ‹musique spectrale,› Berno Odo Polzer and
Thomas Schäfer (eds.), Vienna, 2000, pp. 164–171.
Intermedia forms of expression seek correspondences between phenomena in different
areas of perception. Technical transformations are highly efficient in this respect, because once they are configured a mechanical structure can be evaluated with arbitrary
inputs. In the process, it turns out that the translation code is the actual problem associated with intermedia: the question arises of which rules should be applied to transform sound into image, spatial movement into timbre, or harmony into color.
As early as 1729, Louis-Bertrand Castel built the ‹optical cembalo,› an instrument that
translated sounds into color. Amongst others, Kastner's «pyrophone» (1870) and Rimington's «color organ» (1910) pursued this idea further.41 After about 1910, the associative transference of musical-spatial forms into painting became more frequent.42 It
was not until after 1900 that technologies were developed which allowed flexible
transference between areas of perception. When, for instance, the poem for orchestra
«Prométhée—Le Poème du feu» by the mystic and synaesthetician Aleksandr Skrjabin
premiered in 1911, the two voices for colored light had to be produced using simple
light bulbs.43 Film involved new technologies and suggested that fine art, which in the
nineteenth century was understood purely as spatial art, could come closer to the
temporal art of music. Walter Ruttmann's composition «Lichtspiel Opus I,» which
premiered in 1921, mobilizes abstract visual forms and colors in a characteristic musical style. The introduction of the optical sound recording principle enabled the analogies between image and music to be drawn even closer using technical coupling. Similar to what Moholy-Nagy had suggested for the record, Oskar Fischinger took up the
technically conditioned visual manifestation of sound: the relief-like jagged script of
the optical soundtrack.44 By painting the optical soundtrack for «Tönende Ornamente» by hand, in 1932 Fischinger attempted to prove that there is an aesthetic correspondence between visual and acoustic forms. However, synaesthetic theories,
which presuppose these kinds of unambiguous relationships between hearing and seeing, were soon identified as subjective perceptive phenomena. They were replaced by
the machine and its unique, technically conditioned rules of transformation.
Cf. William Moritz, «Der Traum von der Farbmusik,» in Veruschka Bódy and Peter Weibel
(eds.), Clip, Klapp, Bum. Von der visuellen Musik zum Musikvideo, Cologne, 1987, pp. 17–52.
Comprehensively described by Karin von Maur, Vom Klang der Bilder. Die Musik in der Kunst
des 20. Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1985.
Cf. Gottfried Eberle, «Mysterium und Lichttempel. Alexander Skrjabin und Ivan
Wyschnegradsky—zwei multimediale Konzepte,» in Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk (catalogue
supplement), Berlin, 1984, pp. 48–52.
Oskar Fischinger in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 July 1932, cited in Peter Weibel,
«Von der visuellen Musik zum Musikvideo,» in Peter Weibel and Veruschka Bódy (eds.), Clip,
Klapp, Bum. Von der visuellen Musik zum Musikvideo, Cologne, 1987, p. 84.
Le Corbusier summarized the visual design, music and architecture of the Philips Pavilion he created for World's Fair in Brussels in 1958 under the title «Poème électronique.» The blending of the three levels of image/light, sound and structure was intended to express how electric technologies connect the levels of perception in a new
way and make it necessary for human beings to reorient themselves.45 Two tape compositions were created for this occasion: «Poème électronique» by Edgard Varèse was
aimed at an intense fusion of space and sound experience. The synthetic and concrete
sounds used were set into motion as lines and volumes in space to Le Corbusier's
film/light projection with the aid of lavish loudspeaker technology. Iannis Xenakis' ‹intermission piece› «Concrete PH» was formally based on parabolic and hyperbolic
curves, which had also lent the structure its extraordinary form. Xenakis thus interpreted principles of mathematics as general truths that could express themselves in
different media and form a link between them.46
«Fontana Mix» (1958) counts as one of the early examples of graphic notation. John
Cage created a kind of generative score out of transparent graphics, which promoted
the creation of an arbitrary number of realization scores. In 2002, Matthew Rogalsky,
Anne Wellmer and Jem Finer used «Fontana Mix» for «Fontana Net,» a performance
for networked computers in which the lines of the generative score were followed on a
graphics tablet and after that, sound occurrences were negotiated between the participating computers according to complex rules.
Artistic practices that combine the different levels of expression and take mutual advantage of the possibilities of the transformation of visual, acoustic, haptic, spatial or
other data have become more and more widespread with the dissemination of electronic and digital technologies. Intermedia techniques have been adopted into the
repertoire of the graphic languages of form and the montage practices of the pop music video clip. They also occur as decorative, abstract visuals shown in the chill-out
rooms of clubs and raves as an optical counterpart to varieties of ambient music. Representatives of the ‹laptop scene› such as 242 Pilots and the commuter between art
and music, Carsten Nicolai, interweave the design of sound and image with special
hardware and software.47
Cf. Marc Treib, Space Calculated in Seconds. The Philips Pavilion, Le Corbusier, Edgard Varèse, Princeton, NJ, 1996, p. XVI; cf. the chapter [LI].
Cf. Helga de la Motte-Haber, «Zwischen Performance und Installation,» in Helga de la MotteHaber (ed.), Klangkunst. Tönenden Objekte und klingende Räume, (Handbuch der Musik im 20.
Jahrhundert, vol. 12), Laaber, 1999, p. 248.
Cf. visuals/clubs/sounds (Positionen. Beiträge zur Neuen Musik), 43, 2000.
In the twentieth century, the spatiality of sound gained new significance. Space locations and movements had not been treated as design parameters in the theoretical reflection of music for a long time, although they had, for example, already been specifically implemented by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli in sixteenth-century Venice.
Following attempts made by Gustav Mahler and Charles Ives, Edgard Varèse elevated
space to a central category by striving to physically materialize his music in each individual sound. By implementing the orchestra in a special way he allowed music to
move in space, thus moving it close to sculptural and choreographic works.
Even before Varèse allowed sound masses and surfaces to be electronically mobilized
in the Philips Pavilion, Karlheinz Stockhausen treated space as a design parameter
equal to pitch, volume, duration and timbre—in 1956 in his five-channel piece recorded on tape, «Gesang der Jünglinge,» and in 1955–1957 in «Gruppen,» in which
three orchestras were distributed around the audience.48 On his suggestion, the German Pavilion at the 1970 World's Fair in Osaka was built as a spherical auditorium, in
which sounds could be moved electro-acoustically in three dimensions.49
In 1967 Max Neuhaus reversed the customary direction of thought, thus attaining a
new kind of musical space: the sound installation. Music should not be enriched by
adding a new dimension to it, rather it should primarily start out from space: «Traditionally, composers have located the elements of a composition in time. One idea
which I am interested in is locating them, instead, in space, and letting the listener
place them in his own time.»50 For «Drive In Music,» Neuhaus installed sound sources
which could be heard along a road via the car radio, thus subordinating time to space.
For the first time in the history of music, musical form was no longer primarily temporal art, but rather it was based on space. Temporal sequence ensues from three factors: The distribution of sound sources (mostly loudspeakers) in space; the individual
path of the user, which in installations in public space is molded by everyday needs; as
well as the frequently underlying temporal structure of the sounds, often obtained
Cf. Karlheinz Stockhausen, Texte zu eigenen Werken, zur Kunst Anderer, Aktuelles, vol. 2,
Dieter Schnebel (ed.), Cologne, 1964, pp. 49f.
Cf. Golo Föllmer, «Osaka: Technik für das Kugelauditorium,» in Frank Gertich et al. (eds.),
Musik…, verwandelt. Das Elektronische Studio der TU Berlin 1953–1995, Hofheim, 1996, pp.
Max Neuhaus, «Program Notes,» York University, Toronto, 1974, in Max Neuhaus, inscription,
Ostfildern, 1994, p. 34.
from environmental influences, for example in that brightness, volume or physical
movements influence the development of sound via sensors.
Christina Kubisch also works with the temporalization of real space. «Klang Fluß
Licht Quelle» (1999) is part of a series of sound installations at which visitors wearing
special induction headphones hear sounds out of cable structures and then assemble
them to create an individual sound composition. In addition, Kubisch also often refers
to the historic content or the background elements of existing rooms by using sounds
that could once be heard in them or by accentuating an atmosphere unique to a particular place.51
David Rokeby's «Very Nervous System» depicts motion in Euclidean space in musical
dimensions—therefore a non-Euclidean space. In this respect his work represents a
continuation of the attempts at intermedia transformation, however it possesses a further level. In the version installed in 1995 in the «Eisfabrik»52 in Hanover, one could
lead the ticking of a free-hanging alarm clock into roaring feedback loops by starting it
to swing. The crux here was to fathom out an invisible, unseizable space that is consistently elusive, because any transformations can only be arbitrary.
Gordon Monahan's performance «Speaker Swinging» (1994) describes the way back
from electronic into physical space. Static sine tones are rotated in space by three
performers swinging loudspeakers on long ropes around them in a circle. The monotone sine tones obtain an unimaginable vitality through the Doppler effect and the
complexly varying reflections and interference patterns. This is enhanced by the corporeality of the perspiring performers and the menacing character of the misused
loudspeakers tearing through the room. Monahan demonstrates that musical threedimensionality means considerably more than occupying points in a three-dimensional
system of coordinates.53
Media narration
In the great forms of media narration such as the book, film and radio, design techniques have developed that are familiar to us as being specifically novel-like, cine-
Cf. Helga de la Motte-Haber, «Die Idee der Kunstsynthese,» in Christina Kubisch. Zwischenräume, Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken (ed.), Saarbrücken, 1996, pp. 40–45.
Independent exhibition venue for media art – ed.
«Körperlicher Klang. Gordon Monahan im Gespräch mit R. I. P. Hayman,» in MusikTexte, 27,
1989, pp. 17–19.
matic or ‹funkisch› (radioesque).54 Laurie Anderson uses these stereotypes in her media narratives. At the same time she describes their origin and their everyday meaning.
In her performance «United States I–IV» (1983), Anderson's voice guides us through
everyday stories and bases them on a changing multimedia accompaniment. Although
her performances implement a lavish multimedia apparatus, they do not reflect high
technology, but rather the experience with profane everyday media.55 The performer
Laetitia Sonami takes up Anderson's virtuoso style of media narration and replaces its
centrally controlled multimedia presentation with physical interaction with a technical
system made up of motion sensors. During her narratives by moving her body she navigates through a pool of sounds, noises, melodies and harmonies. Anderson tells of the
myths of the media world; Sonami's choreographically narrated pieces demonstrate a
ritual-like association with the mystery of technical media.56
Paul DeMarinis deals with media history. The installation ensemble «The Edison Effect» (1989–1993) reflects mystical components of the technical achievements of
sound storage. Instead of using a stylus, a wax cylinder and shellac discs are scanned
contact-free by a laser technology developed by the artist himself. DeMarinis virtually
stops time, because in contrast to digital storage technologies, the mechanical record
playback persistently deletes what has been memorized every time the recording is
played; it even writes the moment of play into the storage medium because the noises
present in a space are engraved into the groove via the stylus when the record is
played back.57 By example of a clay cylinder with grooves that stems from ancient
Jericho, DeMarinis points out that Edison's simple invention of mechanical sound storage could have already been developed centuries earlier. Original recordings of Bach
and Mozart would have been preserved, and their music would be different to us.
With DeMarinis, what narration chiefly consists of disperses: narration follows a line,
steers along a dramaturgy which has been prescribed or even developed ad hoc towards an end, often aims towards a resolution or relaxation. If one removes this line
This term was commonly used in the early years of radio to describe radio-specific speech
and design techniques.
Cf. Laurie Anderson, United States, New York, 1984.
Cf. Klangkunst, Akademie der Künste Berlin (ed.), Munich, 1996, p. 138f; cf. the chapter
«Virtual Narrations» [LI].
Paul DeMarinis, «Essay anstelle einer Sonate,» in Klangkunst, Akademie der Künste Berlin
(ed.), Munich, 1996, p. 251f.
from a narrative structure, then what remains is a detemporalized gesture of showing.
Detemporalized does not have to mean that duration does not play a role, but rather
only that the focus is not on the logical sequence from the beginning to the end. Temporal duration only provides ‹space› for a lengthened snapshot or a multi-perspective
view of a phenomenon. The purpose of this lengthening of time is to concentrate on a
single phenomenon, a kind of detailed shot or purification of the same.
Alvin Lucier's performance «I Am Sitting in a Room» (1969) is based on a constant development from one state to another. However in reality, what we are hearing is only
different stages of one and the same phenomenon: the specific resonance of a space.
Lucier plays his voice through a loudspeaker into the room and repeatedly records the
sound until due to the resonance frequencies of the space, the text becomes unrecognizable. The text to be spoken is libretto, score, performance instruction and comment in one.58 By reversing a relation, the perspective changes: Our normal understanding is that the spatial reverberation is the coloring appendage of objects expressing themselves sonically. However, now the space expresses itself in the reverberation of a sounding object whose own sonic quality is only a coloring addition to the
experience of space. The space changes from the surrounding context to the object.
La Monte Young's installations allow time to stand still to different degrees. In 1962
he conceived of the «Dream House» as a kind of laboratory; in the 1980s he used it to
investigate the long-term effects of purely tuned intervals of sine tones on the psyche.
The series of «Drift Studies» explore the sublime phenomenon of a minimally out-oftune pure interval. Later installations with large sets of minutely tuned sine tones use
interference to form infinitely complex volume distributions of the individual frequencies in space. Each location in the space contains other tone combinations. If the listener moves, he/she hears a thunderstorm of alternating sound patterns; if he/she is
still, the music stands still in time.59
Technical media reproduce. The transmission, storage and synthesis of sound are
based on semiotic systems which respectively reproduce those features of a phenomenon in plastic, magnetic, optical, electrical and digital representations that ap-
Alvin Lucier, «I Am Sitting in a Room,» in Gisela Gronemeyer and Reinhard Oehlschägel
(eds.), Alvin Lucier. Reflections. Interviews, Scores, Writings, Cologne, 1995, p. 322.
Cf. William Duckworth and Richard Fleming (eds.), Sound and Light. La Monte Young, Marian
Zazeela, London, 1996.
pear relevant to us in a particular context. The daily experience that a representation
can never reproduce a phenomenon in all of its aspects and thus alters the reality experienced points out that even unreal, virtual phenomena can be represented with the
aid of fictitious semiotic systems.
The focal point of Bernhard Leitner's work is the virtual construction of space. As do
many of Leitner's other works, the permanent installation «Ton-Raum TU-Berlin»
(since 1984) provides acoustic versions of architecturally constructed forms.60 Bernhard
Leitner liquefies dimensions and architectural characteristics such as proportion, tension and weight by temporalizing their features. Sound movements follow conceivable
architectural forms, the lines of a structure are plastically adapted to become lines of
sound. Conversely, architectural coordinates lend structure to a sound event that can
definitely be understood as a musical occurrence. Leitner blends musical and architectural systems of symbols to create a new aesthetic symbolic language.
In his installation «Klangbrücke Köln/San Francisco,» Bill Fontana combined the local
displacement of sounds over half the globe with distortions of spatial form and dimension.61 He transmitted prominent urban sounds from all of San Francisco live to Cologne's Cathedral Square (and vice versa), thus pulling together a field of sound in one
place that originally extended over kilometers. Under the parameter extension of
space, the acoustic representation of real space is so to speak decoded with a false
In his computer installation «SMiLE,» Klaus Gasteier virtualized time by using the hypertext principle to represent a musical myth. The more than a hundred music fragments from an ominous, never released album by the Beach Boys were run—semiautomatically and semi-controllable by the listener—via a graphic interface. In the
process, possible links between individual fragments were derived from musical similarities and from legends circulating around the album and entered into a database.
Time is normally understood to be that one-dimensional ‹space› in which the structure
of music is fixed. Here, technical means and the system of symbols chosen transform
them here into a multi-dimensional space of possibilities.
Cf. Bernhard Leitner, Sound:Space, Ostfildern, 1998, pp. 134–143.
Cf. Satellite Sound Bridge Köln—San Francisco, Cologne 1987.
Cf. the chapter «Interaction, Participation, Networking: Art and Telecommunication.» [LI]
Audio art frequently endeavors to dissolve hierarchies. The network presents itself as
an environment and structural model for this purpose, which is why examples with this
focus have occurred more and more frequently since the genesis of the Internet. But
the approach is older.
With reference to John Cage, as early as the 1950s David Tudor began building indeterministic electronic systems whose components were interwoven in such a way that
he could not predict their behavior. At the end of the 1970s the «League of Automatic
Music Composers»63 transferred the concept to three locally networked ‹KIM!1› computers, the first affordable precursors to the PC. Each composition consisted of a system of rules, according to which each individual computer (and its performer) responded to the different information coming from the other two, in turn influencing
them in different ways. «One can conceive of a computer system as a framework for
embodying systems offering complexity and surprise …. Under this paradigm, composition is the design of a complex, even wild, system whose behavior leaves a trace: this
trace is the music.»64 There are no clear relationships of power between the performers and the computers or even between these amongst themselves. The pieces are different models of music that are created discursively between participants—including
the machines—of equal status.
Since the mid-1990s, similar concepts have developed in association with ORF Kunstradio65 in Vienna, however in this case they are motivated by experiments in the
field of telecommunication art.66 In 1994, «State of Transition» by Andrea Sodomka,
Martin Breindl, Norbert Math and xspace depicted data movement processes. Different electronic data paths were used between Graz and Rotterdam: the performers
communicated using amongst other things audio, MIDI and HTML via ISDN, radio station
transmission paths, normal telephone lines and Internet connections. Listeners could
play sounds into the two independent concerts by telephone and trigger off sound occurrences in the concert halls while navigating in the Internet through websites on the
John Bischoff, Rich Gold and Jim Horton, «Music for an Interactive Network of Microcomputers,» in Computer Music Journal, 2, 3, 1978, pp. 24-29.
Tim Perkis, «Bringing Digital Music to Life,» in Computer Music Journal, 20, 2, 1996, p. 31.
[LE: http://kunstradio.at]
Cf. the chapter «Interaction, Participation, Networking: Art and Telecommunication.» [LI]
topic of ‹migration.›67 It was impossible for either the listeners or the performers to
identify all of the different sub-actions. It was also uncertain in how far one's own actions were integrated into the context at the remote location. So it could not be a
matter of synchronizing individual occurrences. The system had to be coordinated in
its entirety via stimulation and correction of sub-systems.
«nebula.m81» by Netochka Nezvanova is a network for the Internet and a single
user. The software constructs audiovisual output out of finds, the player merely sets it
going. HTML codes and other data formats found in the Net are transformed into
sound, sound is transformed into a visual form. Text, graphics and sound have equal
status. The user influences the automatic mechanisms, can listen into individual audio
particles and trigger off vaguely defined transformation processes. However, the dynamics and aesthetics of music, image and text arise primarily from the interaction
between the program, the data and technical processes in the network.68 Nezvanova
takes Gregory Bateson literally: «All that is not information, not redundancy, not form
and not restraints is noise, the only possible source of new patterns.»69
All three examples of dehierarchized networks are not limited to the production of
new aesthetics. They also serve to depict unseizable technical processes in a sensory
way and to represent and criticize the social and political significance of these communicative processes as well as to develop alternative models thereof.
Audio Art as a phenomenon of the modern age
Music did not first begin being shaped by media in the twentieth century, but centuries
before that. Musical instruments and the written notation of music determine as media
how it is made, how it is heard and thus: what makes up music. However, it was not
until the emergence of mechanical musical instruments that music could be conveyed
completely by media, as it was now no longer bound to its being concretisized by a
human being.
[LE: http://gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at/x-space/state_of/] Cf. Martin Breindl, «lo-res vs. hifi. Kunst
Internet,» Positionen, 31 May 1997, pp. 9–13.
Cf. the chapter [LI].
Cited in Netochka Nezvanova, «The Internet, A Musical Instrument in Perpetual Flux,» in:
Computer Music Journal, 24, 3, 2000, p. 38.
Three central concepts molded the manner in which mechanical musical instruments
were handled. The first one can be found in the oldest automatic musical instruments:
the aeols harp and wind chimes, whose strings or chimes are caused to accidentally vibrate by the movement of the air, creating a kind of natural, ‹organic› music.
Diederich Nikolaus Winkel's «componium,» constructed in 1821, which could derive
more than fourteen quintillion variations from an incoming theme, was a machine that
developed this idea.70 The second central concept of mechanical music machines is the
aesthetic representation of higher laws. The carillons in astronomical clocks (for example in the Strasbourg Cathedral, circa 1354) represented divine principles and their
connection with science, for instance the idea of the harmony of the spheres.71 The
third central concept implies that human beings can be perfected by a mechanism able
to reproduce their abilities or even surpass them. Jacques Vaucanson's flute-playing
satyr from 1738 embodied this striving for exact reproduction and greater control.
These three central concepts can also be found in audio art. The first one—the extraction of ‹scores› from processes alien to art—is present in score synthesis and is widespread in audio art. It accepts not only nature and mathematics, but also technical and
communicative processes as sources of design rules. We encounter the second central
concept, the representation of higher laws, amongst other things in the intermedia
connections between the arts. However, these are seldom unbrokenly directed towards metaphysical ideas, but rather more towards phenomena of perception.
The central issue of audio art is the third concept: gaining control and the technically
determined feasibility of what was previously unachievable. The storage, transmission
and synthesis of sound as well as intermedia transformation and virtualization are
amongst these new possibilities, and as the examples show they are consistently at the
core of musical examination of technical media. As the examples likewise document,
artistic value does not solely unfold through an increase in control, extended playability or new sound perspectives. As was the case with the first electronic instruments or
one or the other interactive installation, the mechanical orchestrion was nothing more
than a technical attraction.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart shared this view. He used the technical extraordinariness of
the instrument in a commissioned composition for an automatic organ clock, however
Cf. Dieter Krickeberg, «Automatische Musikinstrumente,» in Für Augen und Ohren, Akademie
der Künste Berlin (ed.), Berlin, 1980, p. 25.
Cf. Dieter Krickeberg, «Automatische Musikinstrumente,» in Für Augen und Ohren, Akademie
der Künste Berlin (ed.), Berlin, 1980, pp. 11f.
he felt that the result was somewhat frivolous.72 It was furthest from his mind to thematisize the technical medium itself, because as a musician in the pre-modern age his
measure of all things was music played by human beings. Even the inventor of noise
music, Luigi Russolo, could not conceive of taking this step. By wanting to «give pitches to these diverse noises, regulating them harmonically and rhythmically,»73 he did
not seek the rules of design in the new material or its origin (the machines), rather he
engaged an understanding of music that had been cultivated on traditional instruments
and traditional ways of making and listening to music—and which the Futurists actually
wanted to overcome.
Igor Stravinsky hopeed to gain increased control through mechanical instruments.
However, one of the reasons he took so much notice of the player piano was that the
specific problems caused by composing for it enriched his work.74 The «Studies for
Player Piano,» which the American composer Conlon Nancarrow began writing around
1950, constitute the first complete body of musical work to consistently place the possibilities of a technical medium in the foreground.
On the one hand, audio art has hopes of gaining control through the use of technical
media. Media convey information where conveying information was previously impossible; they make greater amounts of data available, which in turn can only be researched and navigated with the aid of media; they enable the control of the temporal, spatial and structural details of processes, which without these aids would be neither perceptible to nor controllable by human beings. On the other hand, the deliberate loss of control is being implemented to counter this gain of control. Not only the
potential of the technical advantages, but also the alleged technical disadvantages of
the media used are being exhausted: mechanical rigidity, amateur-like construction,
and ‹unnatural› dimensions of space and time.
A comparative examination of a second domain of mechanical musical instruments still
needs to be made. Besides the three central aesthetic concepts mentioned, considerable social effects of music-making machines can also be made out: the representation
of influence, power and wealth in the technical work of wonder; the synchronization
of social groups during the course of days and years; the reflection of the everyday in
Cf. Jürgen Hocker, «Mechanische Musikinstrumente,» in Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart,
vol. 5, Kassel, 1995, pp. 1726f.
Luigi Russolo, «The Art of Noises. Futurist Manifesto» [Q], (dated 11 March 1913), in Luigi
Russolo: The Art of Noises, Monographs in Musicology, no. 6, New York 1986, p. 27.
Cf. Alexander Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, London, 1959, p. 20.
depictions figured by crafts, dance, etc.; the comfort of independent background music at court and later in middle-class households and entertainment facilities; the
widespread dissemination of popular tunes and operetta hits by hurdy gurdies, street
pianos and music boxes.
These aspects, too, are articulated in audio art: not as a secondary effect of the social
or economic processes of art, but on the contrary, frequently as the true focus of a
work. Technical media are used to re-experience everyday perceptions of body, history, space or time in an aestheticized form. However, they are also critically reflected on with regard to their social potential for and effect on the individual.
Three fundamentally new ways of implementing technical media thus distinguish audio
art from the traditional understanding of music as manifested in the use of mechanical
musical instruments. These differences define audio art as a phenomenon of Modernity. Firstly, audio art accepts the structural peculiarities of media as the source of
aesthetic rules of design. Secondly, it accepts the task of the experimental investigation of media-specific phenomena of perception. Thirdly, it uses media both in a critical and in a playful way against media themselves by deliberately seeking the loss of
control: because the plurality of access and the unpredictableness of the results are
considered to be the condition of development.
Translation Rebecca van Dyck
„ Golo Föllmer and Springer Verlag 2003
Kurze Textauszüge können unter Angabe der Quelle frei zitiert werden.
Sollen längere Passagen wiedergegeben werden, als es für wissenschaftliche
Referenzen üblich ist, bitte mein schriftliches Einverständnis erfragen unter
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