Visible sound
Kaspars Groševs, Artist
Optofonica (Line, 2009)
Mark Fell – Attack on Silence (Line, 2008)
(Line, 2009)

It’s quite clear that the moving image has come to occupy a fairly stable place on the wall (and not only there) at experimental music concerts, although often enough it serves as a moving wallpaper intended to hold the audience’s attention at the moments when the brain is giving tell-tale signs of a basic lack of entertainment. However, in other cases sound and image form an indivisible union, like a thick mass into which you can sink, discovering details and nuances that would otherwise remain unnoticed, instead of staring dully at an illuminated Mc Apple. Approximately a year ago Optofonica, which describes itself as a creative laboratory combining art and science, presented its activities to date in the form of a DVD lasting almost two and a half hours, together with a 52-page booklet. This is boldly proclaimed as an invitation to the listener / viewer to strive to step beyond the accustomed limits of perception, rather than to await “conventional” aesthetic stimuli. It has to be said from the start that this motley compilation, moreover in DVD format, represents a somewhat loosely-defined collection of material for studying the limits of perception, depending on the individual’s capacity and desire to test the material. Some of these pieces would work quite well in an adapted exhibition space, where the image could be seen at an appropriate scale, and the sound heard at an appropriate volume and in the right arrangement (the disk is adapted for both 5.1 and stereo sound systems). And indeed, the works were probably created with this in mind. Here the installations of Granular Synthesis come to mind, which create such a captivating, hypnotic effect that you want to spend the whole day in front of the row of giant monochrome screens. But when released in tangible form, they serve only as a kind of testimony to the event. It is significant that the Optofonica disk includes a typical work by Ulf Langheinrich, long-serving member of Granular Synthesis, where a shimmering mass of fine, moving particles slowly recedes to the accompaniment of a hypnotically humming base, until it is consumed by bright blue, flickering visual “noise”. This is certainly a generous collection of material: it includes 23 videos. Although a large proportion of the works appear to be a mutually synchronised set of elements that are otherwise unconnected, the picture providing an accompaniment to the sound (and vice versa), certain videos are worth mentioning. The compilation is introduced by the joint work Sonolevitation by Evelina Domnitch, Dmitry Gelfand and Richard Chartier, which is essentially the rather scientific documentation of an experiment / performance in sound levitation. From a set distance, a high frequency sound wave is reflected against a piece of metal, creating something like a weightless pocket in the air where several fine pieces of gold leaf are floating. At the same time, these small objects modulate the character of the sound, giving rise to a piercing buzz that, in the video version, is diluted by an emphasis on less audible and more hollow-sounding sound nuances. This work could be regarded as best corresponding to the bold aspirations behind the release.

The next videos are more like aestheticised visualisers of sound, resembling those which can be found in almost all music recording programmes. Moreover, each of them is a thoroughly protracted contemplative demonstration of the details of digital abstractions. Sonolevitation is in some ways similar to Kanta Horio’s piece Em#3, in which electromagnetic waves make several needles ‘dance’ on something resembling a drum membrane, giving rise to even slightly comical choreography, accompanied by a booming magnetic sound and a solo of scraping needles. Of course, a compilation of this kind would not be complete without a contribution from sound installation artist Zimoun. In collaboration with Pe Lang, he presents a characteristic work in which a multitude of fine mechanical devices circulate about chaotically, colliding and giving rise to a chatter of sounds resembling insects. As in most of Zimoun’s works, some kind of mechanical device is multiplied hundredfold, creating a pattern of sound pleasing to the ear. It seems that the artist will be able to find new ingredients for this failsafe recipe right to the end of his days. In this mix of images and sounds we should also mention the visually and acoustically noisy work by Bas Van Koolwijk, which can be seen in an additional dimension if you wear 3D glasses, as well as the collaboration of Mira Calix, Quayola and Autobam – the crackling and cracking of the Gothic stained glass window of a synthetic church.

But the majority of works are soundscapes, at lower or higher pitches, so that it becomes evident from this collection how the majority of so-called “musical experimenters” grow predictable and monotonous at times. Accordingly, against the general background, certain works stand out in terms of their dynamism, their different aesthetic or simply their conciseness. The majority of the pieces could easily exist without the visuals. Likewise, the compilation format itself swallows up some accomplished works. Clearly, the laboratory must demonstrate the fruits of its activities, and this compilation may safely be described as a quality product. However, the experience of watching and listening to each individual work is in great measure dependent on the technical and spatial conditions, and on all kinds of other aspects.

Mark Fell – Attack on Silence
(Line, 2008)

You could say that the Line record company, under the label of electronic music, has specialised in acoustic videos and visualised sound recordings: it gave us the Optofonica DVD, as well as several other releases of this kind, including a disk by Mark Fell. However, this work is diametrically different from the one described above.

Mark Fell is very active in the field known as ‘extreme computer music’, and is engaged in creating installations and interactive performances. In the work Attack on Silence he turns to the theme of sacred geometry, clothing it in convin¬cing minimalist form. Fell, too, like Jem Finer and his millennial work, has been inspired by the singing bowls of Tibet, whose complex harmonies stimulate spiritual cleansing and can help reach the deepest levels of consciousness. It seems that Fell has used the principles of sacred geometry of these vessels to create the three works on this recording, all of them characterised by pure, synthetic tones that are sometimes rhythmically repetitive and changeable, but at others slowly and almost imperceptibly change pitch and intensity.

The visual part of the work, likewise, consists of three colours and transitions between them, ascetic geometric forms and at times equally imperceptible changes. The disk begins with a very short, intensive demonstration of the colour tones used, followed by the next part, where we see a small, chequered rectangle in the centre. The nature of the colours and their relationships change in accordance with the changes in the sound, and together it creates a monolithic body of material that gradually explores various colour and sound variations, striving to reach the consciousness of the consumer of the work. This appears most clearly in the concluding part, which, for over 40 minutes, purposefully draws you into a flow of buzzing, even biting tones, accompanied by the gradual dissolution of a bright vertical beam of colour. This truly is a physically perceptible minimalism.

Undoubtedly this recording is a tangible manifestation of the existence and creative activity of Mark Fell, but at the same time it is quite an accomplished recording, and possibly a powerful tool for exploring new forms of consciousness.

Both recordings are available at:

/Translator into English: Valdis Bērziņš/
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