Halfway through the Year of the Rat - 9th of August Kim Laugs, ongaku- hh, Simon Whetham
Chinese quarter, Chinese New Year, Chinese fire works and Chinese girls with voices like tiny Tibetan bells. Dancers, banners, acrobats, chap soy and drumsticks. The Olympic Games were still far away, and already some minuscule part of the opening ceremony invaded my mind. The Nieuwmarkt, though, was as deserted as you could expect on a week’s day in winter. An announcement said the Chinese New Year celebrations were to be held on the 9th of February, a Saturday, in a big tent. Now, would the pope sell Christmas? Maybe he did so long ago.
Still I decided to record my walk through the Zeedijk with its Chinese restaurants and the Chinese temple and Chinese shops full of waving golden cats. I took a turn at the binnenbantammerstraat, just to find out if my resonating footsteps would sound the same. Around the corner and back again. I walked streets so familiar to me years and years ago, but other then a belated Christmas ghost asking for a place to buy cigarettes, there was no living soul. If there were some party going on, it must have been a very quiet one.
In August winter is very far away. Great white clouds hang motionless over the city. The sunsets seem to finish the same day over and over again. Mosquitoes dance over the water, little black almost transparent dots, ever moving like some undecipherable scripture. Then there is bicycles and girls, people lying on the green, smiles and laziness. And there is the dusty golden light, the trees, open windows; the cars finally shut up.
Suddenly I realized that this episode of the festival marked the end of the first six months. When I invited the three artists, I didn’t have in mind to do something special. In fact, having roamed the virtual festival ground in these past months, it was no more but logical, that trespassers would reveal themselves as friends. “Why you give notice so short time in advance?” a listener from Hamburg asked. When I saw the microphone in his hand, I answered: ”Why don’t you come over and play?”
In real life Kim Laugs was always around some corner. If it weren’t for his programming activities in Maastricht and The Hague, it was because of his move to Berlin. Way back in February 2007, he played with his group Feedbacksociety at the unofficial opening of the festival, co-starring with Paulo Raposo. While Paulo’s intended concert was eaten by his laptop (the spellbinding alternative he had composed in the night before), Kim & Co were in Berlin as tourists. I considered them found artists, gave them my dictaphones to record Berlin, and my tape recorders to play with and they succeeded with great bravura. That’s why I knew I could invite him.
In the days before I asked every now and then what he was preparing. “Well,” he said. “I am going to use some nice sounds from soundtransit.” I knew he was not joking. I would have been a joke had I instructed him to use his own recordings. Having the laws of plunderphonics applied to field recordings amused me. “What else?” I asked. Then he told me that parts of the low countries had been struck by a tornado recently, a very rare phenomenon in that part of the world. “Ah?” So he would use some weather reports as well. “You also have some recordings of your own?” I can’t remember I got a clear answer to that question.
Then on the evening of the concerts, Kim spread out his gear over the floor, connected strange looking self built electronics with a toy keyboard, some tape recorders, all with lamps and blinks, and when the lights went down, and the thunder storms came in, it was as if he was sitting somewhere high up in a lighthouse. When more winds (directly from outside?) and voices (ships in danger?) whirled around, it looked and sounded like he was actually creating the weather on the very spot. The concert was way too short, but maybe that was for safety reasons.
The man from Hamburg looked like a person one could only meet when life is a kind of Mary Poppins movie. His musical background was a very long way from the places where I move. It was so far away that audiences queued up to enter it, and paid good money for the admission as well. We are talking Brahms, Bach and Beethoven. We are talking about Mahler, Mozart and Mendelssohn. They went out listening, and came back home composing. It is too easy to imagine what the B’-s and the M’-s would have done if recording gear had existed in their times. It is not easy to imagine what we would have been doing if those wig heads really had had the possibility to go out and record.
Udo used the artist name ongaku-HH. Thanks to this ongaku ( a word that came into his life when he was still a student in West Berlin), meaning ‘ music’ in Japanese, we had one accidental Japanese person in the audience. HH is Hamburg (Hansestadt Hamburg), especially when you see a car. I knew Udo had studied classical composing, and still did so, for piano and cello. He later told me that he had given up playing himself when he married. His wife could play Bach’s quattremain pieces with two hands. He didn’t want to sit next to that.
I wanted to know if he applied the same composing laws when working with field recordings. He answered two times. One was saying:” yes.” The other was playing four pieces, that together made up for something noble that in literature is called a sonnet. To describe the pieces Udo played requires a vocabulary way bigger then mine.
From where I sat I could see his profile while playing. I saw his hands rising from the keyboard as if he’d just touched the keys from a grand piano. Maybe he saw his wife’s image again as he’d recorded her while she was singing. In the glow of the screen, I could see intense satisfaction and pleasure on his face. Lasse, Paulo, Dale are you reading this? Udo’s work should appear on CD. He can take our kind of music one step further to recognition. .. should, actually.
Simon Whetham from Bristol, UK, approached me the official way. He sent a mail. Which among other things meant that he knew dkfrf existed. I just point this out, so that you can tell your local art councillor. I sent Simon an official invitation to show to his local art council. With the money of a grant it is less painful to spend money on travelling and bring your art to new ears. We all can see in every day life where a lot of the cultural support ends up: big posters in the streets, flyers, ads and whatever visual pollution one can think of. Simon’s request for a grant got turned down. Well, here is an appeal to those who decide over somebody else’s money.
Simon’s request got turned down for a lack of public engagement. Those who turned down knew better what they meant by ‘public engagement’ then Simon and I. But that is not the point. The point is someone going out to offer his recordings in an artistic way stands in the line of the aural tradition. One may think that aural tradition is about story telling, and passing on historical events, be they on local or cosmological level. In thinking so, one is partially right. Aural tradition is also about the listeners and the society they are part of.
In a society based on aural tradition people move by foot. This results in a different pace very, but really very opposite to the ever more futile world of television and mobile phone applications. Opposing these two ways of experiencing life doesn’t mean that I would like to make a distinction between good and bad. I just want to underline the difference, and the importance that a new generation of story tellers, those who use sounds from our environment, is about to embark on society. The cultural value of having each one of them tell their story, doesn’t lie in the immediate artistic resultm it is twenty-five minutes of sound composition. Okay it does. But the main importance is in the medium that is used. A medium, I repeat, that comes from and transmits a different pace. A medium that invites and seduces the audience to listen. Where silence and attention is created, a sense of orientation originates. Field recordings create a different sense of space and time.
Having said this, I can return to Simon. Some days after his concert I talked with him, to know more about his career. There was more pre-history then history to it. He started to make recordings somewhere out there, when he was in Iceland a few years ago. As part of a group of artists, each one of them with a well-defined task, he concluded that to record was the only thing he could do. What strong impact such recordings could have while listening to them, he only realized when he came back to his hotel room. He had been recording without headphones. This changed quickly. Headphones, different microphones, recording gear, Alps and other geographical destinations came soon into his life. I envied him for the lost recordings of the Gobi desert, and complimented Francesco Lopez for all his efforts; the Amazons reunion being one of them.
With all this information my memories of his concert was provided with some fresh connotations. I already had heard that he structured his piece as a novel, dividing it into several chapters. Tension in the last lines, and precarious explorations of new life forms in the first moments of every new chapter. But with the additional information I could hear in retrospective also the almost eighteenth century like enthusiasm of a natural scientist. There were no cracklings of dinosaur eggs and mating cries of a new specimen of the audivalirius moonbratum to be heard, but there might have.