Sound Art
The Noise of Germany

#tweetscapes; | © Ars Electronica

The sound art produced in Germany enjoys a considerable amount of international prestige. At the moment the most interesting works are not only being created by using technology to produce the sounds, but by enabling the sounds to make technology itself the subject. This is a brief survey of the scene at the moment.

“Dear Sim, your application to the The Voice of Germany talent scouting tour has been successful. We look forward to meeting you at 11 a.m. on 29th August 2013 in Berlin. Please find enclosed all the necessary information for your participation.”
Jeron with Sim; Jeron with Sim; | © Tina-Marie Friedrich / allgirls “Dear Old Sim” obviously impressed the people at the well-known talent show on German TV as they promptly sent him an invitation. He will however have to be accompanied when he goes to Berlin - Sim, you see, is a singing robot with a synthetic voice, who got his name from the track Sim Gishel by the English electronic duo Autechre. He was created by Karl Heinz Jeron, a media and sound artist from Berlin.

Electronic loneliness

A robot performing of all things Mad World by the British pop band Tears for Fears in a casting show at the end of August 2013 is however merely the first possible step. Taking part in a casting show, albeit a fictitious one, exclusively staged for singing robots would be no obstacle for Sim Gishel, who was designed in 2006 and whose original function was actually to draw. After all he has already had ample stage experience as a member of the ensemble in the opera Hermes (2012) that was also written by Jeron, in collaboration with Robert Jähnert und Christian Rentschler.

For Hermes Jeron spent months noting down all those monologue-like snippets of conversation we are unavoidably confronted with in public spaces. He turned them into a libretto for a musical play in four acts that had several robots moving about the stage and bewailing their electronic loneliness. „Hermes“; „Hermes“; | © Sascha Stadlmeier

Cloud noise

Public spaces permeated acoustically by media sound had already been focused on in the early 20th century, for example, in the futuristic compositions of Luigi Russolo or in the first radio pieces like Walter Ruttmann’s Weekend (1930) - a work that is considered to be the pioneering forerunner for all the sound art works around today. The large-scale exhibition that was on at the ZKM, the Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, until January 2013 presented an overview of the genre. It was called Sound Art. Sound as a Medium of Art and showed among other things works that transferred everyday “data noise” into sound art installations.

Christina Kubisch is one of the most famous and most internationally renowned representatives of this genre. She lives near Berlin and has been lecturing at the Saar College of Fine Arts in Saarbrücken since 1994. Her electromagnetic sound installation Wolken from 2012 that was shown at the Sound Art exhibition is representative of many works in which the artist uses technological means to enable electric fields that go unnoticed by the human ear to be heard and experienced. The work consists of 1,200 metres of cable that have been sculpted into a dense cloud that is then approached by the exhibition-goer who is wearing induction headphones. The idea is to listen in on its magnetic field; its title alludes to the metaphor of “Cloud Computing” - the virtual storage space on the Internet. Christina Kubisch, Cloud; Christina Kubisch, Cloud; | © ZKM

An “electronic walk”

To provide a more concrete auditory experience of these ever-present, electromagnetic fields that go unnoticed in our daily lives Kubisch has gone one step beyond her Wolke. She has developed the format of the “electrical walk” - equipped with the relevant induction technology one can take a stroll through the city along a route that has been specially prepared by Kubisch. All on one’s own one can pick up the sounds of omnipresent data streams emanating from electrical plants and mobile communications systems, routers, aerials and mobile phones - sounds that are normally not heard.

It is not just the individual characteristics of the various sounds heard on one of these “electronic walks” that enable one to perceive one’s technological environment in a new way; Kubisch discovered quite definite musical structures in this data noise and it is these structures that allow the listener to make some surprising discoveries for him or herself.
Christina Kubisch on her “Electrical Walk” (2011) in Tallinn (English)

What does the Internet sound like?

The principle of making the omnipresent data we are surrounded by audible can also be applied to media that is used interactively. The work #tweetscapes (2011), for example, produced by Anselm Venezian Nehls and Tarik Barri, two sound artists from Berlin, is constantly transforming all German Twitter tweets into real-time abstract tones and images. The work that received an award at the ars electronica media art festival one year after it was created deals with the question of what the Internet sounds like - or what it can sound like, as the case may be. It is defined as an “interactive, audiovisual composition” as well as a “scientific sonification (acoustic depiction) and visualisation that is to provide new insights into the data we are surrounded by.”
Anselm Venezian Nehls and Tarik Barri: #tweetscapes (2012)

#tweetscapes, along with the works of Jeron and Kubisch, follow the type of sound art in which the emphasis is not on the processing of the sounds themselves, but more on the artistic researching of the technological conditions under which the sounds of our times are produced, processed and consumed.

This approach is considered to be one of the most interesting in the realm of sound art, on an international level, too.