One of the works of sound art that years ago sharpened my awareness of the sonic realm beyond the audible, is the Concert for a Frozen Lake by Rolf Julius. At the time, in the early 2000’s, I was struggling with the demands to write long articles for a music magazine in Italy, and in this specific instance the struggle was caused by having experienced Julius’ work only through a series of CD’s—bought in one of many highly anticipated visits to the Gelbe Musik shop in Berlin—through the Small Music (Grau) monograph published in 1995 by Kehrer Verlag, and through a low quality VHS copy of a video, documenting an installation at the Hamburger Bahnhof. In other words: I’d never actually experienced a work by Julius on site. Imagine the difficulty in trying to put all of those representations together, to somehow elicit, evoke, make-believe the experience of a place through sound—which I felt was the core of Julius’ work and at the same time the missing element in my knowledge of it. I had to find another way into those sounds and this way came through reading. I had to find a site for those sounds, and this turned out to be the actual site of my imagined listening, the historical site of my presence.
Up to that moment the idea of sound art for me—it will never be but an idea—had been an uneven, half-guessed anticipation, sonic fragments and impressions of the mind patched together by a thin yet persistent thread: I could hear my idea of sound art in the disturbances heard in the CD’s released by Selektion; in an email correspondence with Steve Roden, not discussing sound but sounding thoughts and books; in murmurs of digital detritus in the early works of Carsten Nicolai and Ryoji Ikeda; in spurious interferences from the lunatic fringe of Loren Chasse, Thuja, id.battery; in the conceptual excursions of Elgaland-Vargaland; in buzzes, modulations, and emissions of light and sounds from the people at Sähkö in Finland; in still evocations of Akio Suzuki’s performances. All of these were relayed unto me by means of records, reports of frequencies shaking rooms, other people’s memories of unrecordable sounds, their accounts of under-documented activities in urban spaces: news from elsewhere. Something was there, elsewhere, and I found it hard to grasp although I responded to those calls. Trips to exhibitions such as Sonic Boom in London and Frequenzen[Hz] in Frankfurt made things even more complex, puzzling, and alluring, as I became increasingly engrossed in that sense of a half-guessed and barely-there something, never to be completed, but to be heard and remembered. Maybe it could only really happen in remembrance, reconstructed from time to time. I suspect it attracted me because of what it was not. It was not the music revered by my journalist-collectors colleagues at the time—to me access denied, because I’d never been in a band so I couldn’t really understand what music was, and write about it: really—it was not actually just there to be collected as a record; it opened up to spaces, bodies and brains; most of all, it did not require discographies and previous knowledge, to be experienced. The core was not the issue: the borders were.
Things began to connect when I read of Julius’ Berlin Concert Series, to the point that my understanding of Concert for a Frozen Lake will always coincide with the first time I experienced a work of sound art, even if I was not there to witness it. The words he wrote on the Concert carried the experience of the work for me: not as a static, permanent, still piece, but as a prompt to listen and think, as the motor of a metamorphosis, as a current, a whisper across time: ‘I hope that the lake itself turns into music,’ he wrote. I asked him specifically about that statement via email, could he recall what happened on that day, and he replied: ‘The sounds became part of the lake, they became somehow icy… What I liked was, the sound of my music was changed by the situation, the sounds became wet and icy.’ What did he mean? How could sounds become icy? Could synaesthesia reach out to me, not only function between mediums, but between different times and places? Could my projected listening be another medium to synesthesise into understanding? Not a word was spent by Julius on the sounds of those sounds: he seemed to be more concerned with how an impression of sounds in words might join place and people together, in unlikely contraptions of thoughts and senses. I sensed in his words a hint of reality, even if it was a reality brought about by a very special kind of presence, beyond what is tangible, real, justifiable: not in sameness and in univocal positions, but in change, in guessing, in diagonal states of thinking-listening. Marginated into my own space, I accessed the space of the frozen lake through my projected listening, while Julius’ words came to me as a vivid call to make connections, the most unlikely the better, or, as Robert Duncan wrote, to detect and nurture ‘kinships across time’. Conversations with lost voices. Inner dialogues with who is not there but you can address in thinking. To absorb the environment and inhabit it with flickers of presence. To merge likely and less likely sounds, until boundaries are blurred. This was more about change and transience, than individual objects to keep still and perfect. This was sound art to me.
A few months later I visited Julius in Berlin, I shared my mediated yet so real experience of that work. He smiled, and said: ‘It happened on the surfaces. I called it a concert, it was a sculpture.’
Sculpture is where the interchange between hearing and seeing happens: on surfaces, like the ones of Julius’ loudspeakers or, like the surface of the lake and of memory. Surface is the form of the contact between different mediums, a dimension that can in turn generate new forms. It has claims to a certain immediacy, a way into presence. Here, it says: not there.
Summer 2013. I am at Sculpture 2, organised by David Toop and Rie Nakajima in an outdoors location in Dalston, London. At the beginning of the evening Rie and David sit, David and a guitar, Rie and her battery-operated devices, amongst rubble and uneven ground, part construction site, part melancholy wasteland of the type you might encounter if you imagined an urban laconic version of a late Tarkovsky film. Sounds are not amplified, they are barely audible. The more I look at them—at Rie, at David, at the sounds—the more they seem to gravitate toward the missing corners, or bury themselves lower and lower in the ground, or diffuse into the city noises around, as the twilight is absorbed by the pewter sky and dusky fabric of the buildings. I see them descend, I hear them dissolve. Here is an arrangement of disappearances, a silent pact, I think it is also a quiet prompt to become part of a constellation of sounding phenomena, focused, assured, and yet not loud; to subtract rather than to state, to become and be: dusk and corner, dust and horizon.
They seem to point at the fact that sometimes it’s really not important to single out finitude or accomplishments in sounds but rather, sounds can act at switches, point at borders and trespass mediums, toward what we could hear even if it’s not defined. Or maybe they embody the making and the collapse of memory. I am attracted to this setup and to David and Rie’s choice, not only because it has no claims on any representation of sounds, but also because it eschews any notion of presentation as display. I sense a deliberate form of erasure, of stepping into that elsewhere of sound that first attracted me many years ago—prompting these sounds, their performers and ourselves, to become corner and to become dust. This is not about what you can do, skills; not about how you can represent what you can do. This is about what you choose to be, every day and every time you experience sounds and expire them in life—about how you connect a string and a shade, dust and dusk, the splinter of a memory refracted on today. At the end I know I have encountered once again, unexpectedly, in a summer evening in the middle of noisy Dalston, the space of my concert for a frozen lake. It has come to meet me in disguise, a concert for a frozen lake in an urban yard in the summer and in Dalston, not Berlin, and in the evening. It has the glow of then and the presence of now, and between then and now I was there.