Zooms into Reality. 1997Terschelling: 1997 June 19-22
Theatres create presence. The attention of the audience is gathered by the actions on stage. But, since the
audience is no more kinestetically involved - as it was in most forms of rituals - perception is cut off from
motoric reactions. Thus, perception is free to oscillate around things to be seen and heard, without having to
come to an act. Perception thus gains time to contemplate, it becomes precise and concentrated. The attention of the audience is directed. It connects stage and audience and, at the same time, keeps them apart. The theatre architecture reflects this concept as well. The buildings are spaces where heightened perception is achieved - comparable to museums and concert halls.
In site specific work things are quite different. There is no delineated space that wraps actors and audience and
there are no preset directions for the perception. The center of attention has to be created each time. It has to
struggle against other stimuli. The director has to decide whether to maintain the theatrical attention of the
audience or whether to engage the audience in participating or interacting.
In my own work I try to maintain for the audience a highly dense theatrical perception but it is directed into real
situations instead of fiction. I am interested in creating filters that make existing things more present. These
filters may function as catalysts of perception: zooms into reality. Thus, the work is something that exists
already, my contribution is to make it more accessible, more tangible, more present.
In order to illustrate how I try to make things more tangible, more present I would like to show some slides,
taken from different projects, to finally concentrate on the audience in my Sound-Tracks to Reality.
The City DancersIn the eighties, I tried to draw the attention of a potential audience towards urban phenomena. I did this with the
city dancers. I knew that the principles of coordination and synchronization (the fundamental qualities of dance)
are general attention provoking tools in nature. Would it therefore be possible to use these principles to create
frames for reality by some situative dance-like movements?
At that time I was teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. I worked with students on space perception
through movement. We worked in different spaces and tried to find out which were the movement-inducing
elements of each situation. We did not do this by analysis from outside but by letting our bodies be moved in the situations. We saught movement-inducing phenomena by listening to the reaction of our own bodies. As we did not strive to actively express ourselves but rather let us move we spoke of Pressionism. Our movements were induced by the movement-suggesting elements of the situation. Would it be possible to coordinate our
perceptions and thereby direct the attention of a potential audience to the stimuli that guided our perceptions?
How can we coordinate perceptions, if each one of us follows his own perception in a situation full of stimuli:
cars, clouds, escalators ...? Our movements have no common meter, everybody goes in his own direction, no
coordination occcurs, each one just acts according to his or her experience without sharing it with the other ones. Only a super dominant stimulus would create coherent coordination among us. But such a catastrophy signaling stimulus (as an air-raid siren) would coordinate the dancers with everybody else and then the dance would not be visible. Because everybody would dance.
To raise common attention for the perception of a lower intensity stimulus a high sensitivity among the
participants must be achieved. They must develop a sense of the positions and movements of one another. They must listen to the constantly changing focus of attention. The attention of the participants is permanently drawn in two different directions: to the ongoing subjective perceptions and movements, and, simultaneously, to the other participants and their movements (caused by their subjective perceptions). Thereby the participants develop an awareness of the movements and directions of the group as a whole. In certain cases, a common Gestalt begins to shape itself and the participants have to decide whether they support it or whether they ignore it or even destroy it. If they ignore it, a potential public will not see an arising image, but, if they pursue it, the common Gestalt will evolve. The object of perception attracts the movements of the participants for a limited time. It coordinates and synchronizes them thus creating a situative image. The passersby - a potential public - see an emerging choreography from moving bodies. And plus, their attention is drawn to the objects the dancers relate to (clouds, trees, cars, birds...)
Die Kabelseele- Cable Core / literally: Cable Soul (1990-1991)Until technology gave us the means to amplify and reproduce it, the human voice always indicated the physical
presence of its speaker close by. Where there were voices, there were people. The telephone has freed the
human voice from its natural location and range. The voice can now travel vast distances, and be heard far away from its place of origin. Spoken language makes this journey without the body from which it derives. Words are unchained from their speakers to circle the globe, through the atmosphere and through the cables of
communication. In doing so, they create a verbal landscape that is devoid of the people from whom it was born.
In the course of this journey, the cable becomes the body of the words. The cable conveys the words; the cable
directs the words; the cable points the way to and from the speaker and listener at either end.
I wanted to capture these travelling words and listen into them as they went on their way. I recorded and edited
some 150 hours of telephone conversation from 155 people who had given written approval for their calls to be
used. The legal questions, the debates, the project generated, the editing and the discussion when the recordings were played back ,were just as important to me ,as the original soundtrack I created for my cable construction.
The Cable Core literally The Soul of the Cable was a speaking sculpture built to fit its precise location - a disused pedestrian subway. The work was placed in this underground location in Munich's city centre, in order to be seen and heard in the place where the edited recordings had actually negotiated the public phone network close by. Positioned between the two walls, the giant strands gave the impression that a few centimeters of telephone cable had been carefully excavated, dissected, blown up to dimensions suitable for the human ear, and put back, where they had originally been found: an implant, drawing attention not only to itself, but also to the organism to which it belonged.
After the exhibition the object was carefully lifted out of the telephone network, together with its contents. So,
like the words and voices it still contains, the Kabelseele can now be experienced and appreciated far away from its original location: in the Phaenomenta, in Flensburg, Germany.
The Compositions for Walks (1991-1995)Here I again tried to draw the attention of the audience towards reality. This time by an artificial (via taperecorder and headphones) and condensed reproduction (having processed the original sounds in the studio) of the typical sound atmosphere of a place in that same place. The first and programmatic composition for walks- as in retrospect I call these installations of original sounds to be experienced while walking - I developed in 1991 for a congress on the topic of space organized by the Goethe-Institute in Bombay. What did the space there tell me and how did I pass it on?
The first task was to define the terrain I wanted to work in. Then, I closely listened to the sounds on countless
walks and recorded everything that was to be heard. Thus, successively a collection of sounds and noises was
accumulated. Every walk was noted on a transparent map so that by superimposing the maps, it soon became
manifest which acoustic atmospheres dominated where. Into this field of sounds - now cartographically visible -
I then drew a route which was to become the guideline for the composition. I now followed this route on the
grounds outside and this at the same speed I wanted to walk with the audience later. Over the hereby gained
time-structure (A to B: 4 secs/ B to C: 21 secs etc.), I was imposed my original sounds and made a montage of
them. Thus, the sound-montage was presynchronized with the temporal structure of the walks. The sounds
would reach the stroller exactly at the time he or she entered the corresponding zone of the route. After
completion of the studio phase, synchronous sound copies were produced in order to put them - in several
walkmen - at the disposal of groups of visitors. Together with me, they walked over the grounds with the
artificial sound-track in their ears which mixed with sounds of the present situation. That much to the
construction of compositions for walks.
The AudienceWhenever you choose to work on a specific spot of our planet, chance is that some people know the spot much
better than you do. Therefore, in some Compositions for walks I ask them to speak and tell stories which come
to their mind while walking with me. Their stories are in many ways linked to the memory of the specific spot. I
create, by choosing the route and the tempo of the walk, a general framework for their contributions. I offer
them a platform - certainly not objective - to tell each other stories.
In my works these actors often are the first audience. And I like this, as to me the one who does express himself has more adequate categories to enjoy his own expressions as well as the ones of others. Therefore I like to trigger a play-element, which is in all of us, not just in the trained dancers, singers, actresses and mimes. It is the basis of theatrical joy and understanding.
Now I would like to talk about what may happen to the perception of the recipient on such a walk: We are
crossing a parking lot. In the optical field, a car appears from the left and moves into a parking space
immediately on our right. We hear the corresponding acoustic information: a slow crescendo from the left via the middle to the right. From the headset, however, the noise of the engine sounds from the right to the left. Since it is louder than the real noise penetrating from the outside via the semi-permeable headphones, our brain has to process two contradicting informations. This situation causes a high degree of alertness which I like very much.
This way we create new experiences for our brain since in everyday situations, the objects we see have their
own sound so that image and sound evolve together in time and space. With the Sound-Tracks to Reality, I let
the two worlds slightly drift apart and rejoice in new combinations emerging on every walk. In one instance, the
two worlds coincide: the pigeons really fly off at that very moment when they flap their wings on the tape. Then
again, the strollers have to add the missing object to the situation, for instance when the fishing boat engines
chug only in their ears and the sea is completely empty.
That several sensory impressions have to be processed at the same time is, after all, nothing new to the
organism. As multi-sensory beings we are permanently busy processing the most complex and diverse sensory
informations and interpreting them as a total situation. As an example, let us think of Italian cooking: Mamas
sense of smell dwells in the realm of the sugo (tomato sauce), her hearing is geared to the news on the radio, her touch confirms the wellbeing of the baby and her eyes feast on the world of the love-scene on the T.V. screen.
The Sound-Tracks make use of these complex sensory inputs by keeping the optical channel free for the viewing of the concrete environment, while playing to the ear an artificial soundtrack which although has been produced from the environment, but is yet not identical with the momentary sounds of what is seen. This creates a specific artificiality, which penetrates the concrete environment and in the end makes this itself appear artificial to a certain degree. In order to do this, the connection between the soundtrack and the environment has to be so close that the listener or strollers may let their attention wander again and again from the concrete outside space to the composition and vice versa from the composition to the environment in order to let the game between the two worlds play in their perception. The one world has been artifically condensed from the past (in the pre-produced sound-track), the other is the world situatively emerging right at the time of the walk.
The work, if we can still use this term for such an ephemeral art form, is newly created with every walk since
the interaction between the two realms is unpredictable. Reality does not play along with the same intensity every time. Sometimes it is so far away from the soundtrack that the oscillation linking the two worlds breaks. In this case, the typical changing alertness cannot be built up in the strollers. They are either only outside with the
objects or only inside the composition and then the work in its overall effect cannot come about. Only if fiction
and reality merge can the fascinating alertness be created, which one of the strollers has described as: it felt as if one was walking inside a film. I am particularly fond of this comment, not only because it connects to Cyber
Space and the New Media, but especially because it appears to restore in reality the affection and poetry which
threatened to be banned into the ghetto of art.
Dr. Walter Siegfried