Last time, it was exactly ten years ago, summer 1996. Sonambiente is back after a decade to be talked and populates with sounds and images the most refined locations of a nicer and nicer summer Berlin, attractive and this year crazy for football. Thanks to a huge number of installations, performances, visual art events, sound art, video projections, radio art experiments and with a sensitive and attentive eye for the most important international artists, Sonambiente will see from 1 st to 16 th July the participation of more than 40 artists and 20 schools of art, to make the capital resound.
The organization of such an event it is not a simple operation. Structure a network of appointments dislocated on 5 different locations, keeping a high artistic profile and the technical fruition of the sound to the public, requires preparation and experience. Elements that Matthias Osterwold, co-director (with Georg Weckwert) of Sonambiente Festival 2006 Berlin, doesn’t miss. The meeting happened in May 2006 before the inauguration of the show and we talked with Matthias about the festival, the music and lots more .
Roberto Paci Dalò: We ‘ re talking about Sonambiente Berlin 2006 and I ‘ ve a very first question for you. Apart estetics and artists choice I ‘ ve the feeling that the real protagonist of the festival is Berlin itself: the city and of course its venues. I also think that so-called sound art can ‘ t avoid a deep relationship with places. In defining the programme of the festival with Georg Weckwert you were working somehow as explorers in a forrest called Berlin. True? False?
Matthias Osterwold: It has several aspects. I think the genre if we call it the genre , or the method, the approach of sound art is very often an intervention into a certain site, is a reflection of space, of the give space, of the social situation. Is especially appropriate to not only present itself but also to reflect the surrounding in which it is placed. in that sense it is true that Berlin itself gets a active role: certain situations, buildings in Berlin’s centre, spaces of presentation play a active role, not only a passive role, for the concept of the exhibition. But also this active is maybe is true in the sense that maybe Berlin, especially after the wall came down now 15 years, really became a melting pot, a focus for artists to move in. there is a very strong pull of the city towards artists, new art institutions, galleries and so on. So the city itself is a very productive motor of the arts at the moment and that is also especially true for the intermedia artists, sound artists and the younger generation artists.
So inherently this is also reflected in the exhibition, therefore we thought like Berlin is a appropriate location to do the Sonambiente. We must not forget that ten years ago we had presented the first issue of Sonambiente which was in 1996, still very close to the riunification of Berlin, to fall of the wall. So, in comparison in that time you could play the all city in a way easier as in these days. Becase there was much more empty lots, undefinied transitory areas, building and so on so. For a scout it was much easier to find very exciting and challenging spaces. Meanwhile lots of places have builded up, new buildings and so on , other have been turned down and the concept of the exhibition is to reflect this in a way. That means that also new buildings unfarmietete neubauten if you want to play with einsturzen neubauten termine, unfarmietete neubauten which means not rented out buildings. Still availbale Empty office spaces will be used and it’s a very typical thing for Berlin at this point there is plenty of glass building places not rented out.
Roberto Paci Dalò: This is exactly the point because, as you also wrote in the first information, somehow Berlin is maybe the most important place for soundart worldwide. I think there ‘ s an interesting development in today ‘ s festival. There ‘ s a kind of continuity in the last 15 years in term of putting together things which actually they shouldn ‘ t be together (according to the mainstream). And one thing for me is this relationship between image and sound. You did mention of course Ren é Block and Nele Hertling ‘ s project in 1980 which came up long before everything and then Sonambiente first and now Sonambiente two. So, one side is putting together image and sound which now is a trend. It ‘ s so normal. Everytime we listen to something probably we ‘ re going to have some images, including all the new electronics. It seems impossible now to listen to a concert without images (or better, without ” visuals ” ). And also this transition between popular culture and more academical which is the other point. As far I can see there is a continuity in trying to have together in the same place and at the same time somehow traditional music, new music, classical music and soundart. It is not only a question of having a festival every ten years. I think there is something which goes deeper which gives the background for a project like this.
Matthias Osterwold: I guess it ‘ s true that Berlin starting slowly with… well, it goes back to the 60 ‘ s maybe, but very visibly form the 80 ‘ s on became more and more a centre of this kind of interdisciplinary musical approach, using other genres artworks and visuals or just as a kind of notion of intermedia art form, and more and more something developed which was called relatively late soundart, klangkunst. This term was only used in the German version in the late 80 ‘ s but somehow Berlin was a productive scene. It means artists, it means institutions, or initiatives promoting this art forms and in this case the scientific investigation on this phenomena. Then, together with the fact that artists moved to this place these forms of art became very active and very strong in this place. But we should remind ourselves that of course the roots go in history much deeper and much earlier. Somehow I would say it is a general feature of the avant-gardes of the XX th century to dissolve barriers between the genres of art to wider notions of art and many many steps.
Berlin was a place wich was a very fruitful soil for this, to happen and you mention already Augen und H ö ren at the beginning of the 80 ‘ s, the DAAD artist ‘ s program have to be mentioned. In the 80 ‘ s like kunstverein Gelbe Musik, Freunde Guter Musik, the Inventionen festival of DAAD. Later on Kunst der Parochial, Podewil, Tesla. There were always initiatives and institutions supporting these forms of art which has not such an easy position in the art market.
But we shouldn ‘ t only look from the musical side, which is actually true, because also in the pop or rock areas certainly in the early 80 ‘ s these music videos came up, and meanwhile in the clubs you ‘ re always connecting music with something visual and this is extended into the world of the composers ‘ scene they also started to think about visuals and light and so on soforth. Now for me and for Sonambiente this other side is at least as interesting, that visual artists have become more and more interested to integrate sound.
Roberto Paci Dalò: Not just as a soundtrack but as a material for art.
Matthias Osterwold: As a material for art, as an integrative part and if you see like survey exhibitions let ‘ s say biennale Venice, Documenta whateaver: now meanwhile now there are so many let ‘ s say between a third, sometimes half of the works are somehow connected with sound. Sometimes audible, sometimes not audible, we have to reflect this fact likewise, and the converging moment of this, from several sides.
Roberto Paci Dalò: What it is interesting because of course sound naturally comes up in artist work especially when you start dealing with so called new media. As soon you have a video you have to think about sound and this sound it can ‘ t be anymore a simple soundtrack or coming after the visual post-production, but something which belongs to the work in depth. I think this is exactly the point, and also artists should be aware about that, they should be conscious, because one thing is to use sound because many works are based on sounds and another thing is to think to sound structures or sound processes. If we can mention some of the artists I think about Carsten Nicolai/alva noto. He is a very good example as a Berliner, as an artist who really grew up in Berlin where he builded up his esthetic which is both active in visual art and music. Nicolai is well known as a visual artist and as a musician. And actually his visual work (so called visual or sculptural or installation work) are mainly based on sound processes.
Matthias Osterwold: Carsten Nicolai is a very good and outstanding example because in his work the technical process producing sound and image is the same. So, it comes from the same algorhytms, the same circuits. This is the a really completely integrated approach to it and that leads us to the importance of digital technology, which somehow by itself is neutral regarding the media, is just like a tool, and then it can be transformed in different formats it can be patched to different senses.
Roberto Paci Dalò: Right now you have it looks like you have a main archive or main database which could be made out different kind of data coming from image and sound but then you can reconverte into some other things. And this reconversion is really interesting because it can only exists in that way through digital technologies. But then when you don ‘ t get stocked with digital technologies in a feticist way, this is very exciting because you can work in a very minimal way and develop flourishing projects sometimes based on very small elements. What is interesting here in Berlin is that, differently from other places and other media festivals, there is a strong relationship with the city and this city in particular makes things different because the artists deals “naturally” with memory and history. I also noticed that in the presentation of the festival there are some keywords like “ruins”: ruins of the Akademie der Künste talking about a specific location. If i can think about certain artists like Paul DeMarinis for instance which deals in a interesting way with technologies and mostly of the time dealing with “vintage” materials. It’s really interesting to listen to Hitler or Stalin voices which are activated in a way which is mainly possible because today’s technologies
Matthias Osterwold: Yes, but this is of course dialectics. To present these all accessible and relatively cheap digital technologies for own sake as a fetish kind of show off tool is becoming more and more less interesting, as maybe a virtuoso handle becomes. The dialectis: if you have it make use of it but leave it at the same moment behind in order to reflect something else maybe history, maybe very simple things, maybe social conditions or whateaver and I think that Paul DeMarinis is a master in playing with this dialectis that makes his pieces especially strong, and talking about him because he is an artist who let ‘ s you even discovering a lot of things on different levels: vintage technologies but also let ‘ s call it vintage icons and motivs. He relates strongly to history and memory. Very strong artist.
Roberto Paci Dalò: This is an important issue. In term of creation, in this kind of obsession for creativity, certain artists deal with found objects (any kind of objects: sound, visual, found material from archives, museums or the city). And they re-write tracks, re-write pathways. They ‘ re able to show you the very same place which is normal and even banal in different way. It ‘ s for me a very interesting approach also because this approach brings other kind of publics which is not just the specialist one but is a broader public which is made of the citizens in general. Young people, senior citizens, kids. People which even if not fully involved in art scene, but they’re involved in their place in their city and neighborhood. And the fact that you present works somehow also in the public space makes things different because the public space is not just a space. It ‘ s also a social space, it ‘ s a political space. As soon you insert materials into a normal context, in a street for instance, in a shop whateaver in am meeting point or in a train station. This place changes and it especially change in the perception of the people who are normally there.
Matthias Osterwold: Sound artists or this kind of art very often belongs or relates to a philosophy of non separation between life and art. Not the idea of isolated and ermethic artwork which sets up high barriers of knowledge pre-information of social attitude. It is really true for most or at least the vaste majority of sound art works. It’s an unobtrusive intervention it does not push you to something, it’s just there, you are invited as the listener to preceive to become slightly irritated, there’s a change of perception, and then you certainly discover you also have a very active role in interaction with the artwork as a kind of co-composer or co-producer because you relate to it, you move for example in a sound environment and while you move you play the piece which doesn’t exist in a finalized form unless you play it, it needs visitor to became real as an artwork. From that point of view and also the use of materials, the situated approach, but also using sound which is… we have the ears! They are open, you can’t close them, and it makes it accessible for everybody in a way, for the normal audience. And of course some of the pieces they also have a very playful attitude being interactive technically interactive or being an invitation to the artwork. In a estechical history it goes back to an idea of non separation between art and life and also the idea of soziale Kunstwerk, social plastic, Joseph Beuys’ social sculpture, because we’re talking about sculptural work basically: sound as a sculpture, as an object. It’s a social sculpture.
Roberto Paci Dalò: These kind of proceeds leads to the fact that you can really perceive sound as an achitecture, as an invisible architecture. So you have actually two places with the same importance where you are at the same time visual and acoustical. But these two worlds shift each other creating something which is different from a simple visual approach. And actually is interesting, for instance, the level of irritation that soundart in public spaces can produce. People it’s so use to see images that they almost don’t care anymore. But sound and especially repetition of sound is THE thing which makes sometimes people really upset about that. A tiny little sound repeteated for few hours in a very normal place is nothing special. But how comes that this little thing can become so strong in the perception point of view?
Matthias Osterwold: Because you close off. Sound is the most accessible media, you cannot close your ears!
Roberto Paci Dalò: True, but at the same time sound perception is so elaborated. You can listen to several different sources at the same time and select all the volumes, all the levels. You don ‘ t that with image but with sound is so extremely complex and it ‘ s so tridimentional.
Matthias Osterwold: Sometimes it happen that sound art works becomes a negative irritation. We have some experiences like that. It’s a very tricky and sensitive balance to be kept and that leads us to the forms of presentation. If you present sound works you have to be very careful how to present them because by nature soundwaves get together and I have seen exhibitions which were very messy, sometimes cacophonic. Sounding together of different soundworks which somehow substract the essence of the single work actually because another one intervene. This is one of the reasons why we select many different locations and try by using buildings together single pieces, so much apart, very little together. And also therefore makes sense to see these artworks because you have to go from place to place or on-site.
Roberto Paci Dalò: How things can go together and how things can be developed. Which means: relationship not only visual domain and sound domain but also productions. Between galleries, concert halls, theatres and these site specific works also in term of real production. Does it work? How? Problems? Like how the artwork can be sold? Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are a good example because the they were always working with sound but mainly within the art world, dealing with art institutions, and they are successfull. Then they later added video but basically it ‘ s a sound oriented process. There are many other cases which are not so succefull. Famous visual artists are unknonw in the music world and so on.
Matthias Osterwold: For the artists this is a very crucial point. They want to live with art as an economical aspect and it has the aspect of how to create spaces, networks in wich works can be developed and coming to existence. But from the single artist this point actually is very crucial. You are very lucky if you have a sound artist placed in the context of visual art, you are very lucky and it’s a very strange thing, while some are and some aren’t, as very renowned sound artist are not so much well placed in the context of visual art market although they are very renowned and very good in sound, and others aren’t. Hard, really hard, really hard to explain. I have no clear answer to that, simply the answer could be… somehow to be promoted better, more efficently been discovered that they were ” lucky ” to be placed there, or maybe as selfpromoted they use more efficent strategies, if you want to get there. I’m sure that artists they don’t want to get there.
Roberto Paci Dalò: Why? But the point is that there are certain works made by sound artists at least 20 or 30 years which are really appealing works, which would be extremely interesting to be seen now in a so called visual art context, because it gives information about things which happened decades ago, and the beauty is very modern, it’ s contemporary, it’ s not old fashioned… I think this is a crucial point, expecially for work that you do, with Sonambiente and other projects, is always dealing with this aspects, because at the end you have to have funds, you have to have resources for that, you have to have a certain kind of collaborations with institutions. How can you convince a certain institution that a specific soundart work is interesting for them? Why Hamburger Bahnhof can be interested in Carsten Nicolai, as it happened a few months ago, or Gordon Monahan, which another very interesting artist. Now the question: why visual art places should be interested in sound art, as art without labels?
Matthias Osterwold: The answer is simple. Involving visual is even necessary because some of the works in the context of visual arts which make use of sound are pretty little developed in terms how they use sound. So there is still a certain ignorance or neglectance of the musical aspect.
Roberto Paci Dalò: Yes, this is one important point, when you say artist, institutions, curators in several cases they have not enough education. So this means a lack of education in art schools about sound. So that’ s way, for instance, is interesting a certain aspects of Sonambiente, with 40 internationally artists and 20 young artists from different European art schools and they did worjk in Berlin together with known artists. So this is a kind of temporary school, which gives a very good cue because education is so important, and the education should happen before, during, and after Sonambiente. Don’ t you think that it would be interesting to develope educational programs with a workshop-laboratorium approach?
Matthias Osterwold: I believe this is necessary for the art education institute to reflect the processes and the development of these interdisciplinary intermedia art, including sound. This is really necessary, as necessary and true is for the museums art exhibitings and art presenting institutions to take notice and to take care of the fact that there are these integrated works. That means programs, that means also architecture. I’m always very angry about the fact that new museums are built with the highest amount of money and they do not come up with spaces wich are really matched and suitable for the presentation of these intermedia arts. This is neglectance of the acustical aspect. Educational institutions should integrate that, this is a little bit coming on the way. For us this was very important. Sonambiente Laboratorium includes twenty new comers from art schools, and we were happy that meanwhile there’s some chairs, some professorships which represent this integrated approach. For example Christina Kubisch and the Hochschule der Bildenden K ü nste Saar , Ulrich Ellerand the Hochschule f ü r Bildende K ü nste Braunschweig , Berhard Leitner and Universit ä t f ü r angewandte Kunst Wien, as an architect in the architecture school of Vienna, teaching sound, having students, Nicolas Collins, the Chicago Art Institute, even Weimar, Robin Minard. So I’m very lucky to see like some of them have teaching jobs, some of the art institutes start to include these. And for us this part of the exhibitions is really very essential, because they want to support us, and also the networking aspects Sonambiente related, and collaborators, so many producing networks.
This is another very important aspect, and also somehow will support the no labelling, or label as less important for this forms of art. So there’s a better integration evenly to the art markets, because the artists have to live, the funding institutes getting more and more difficoult. So the “selling aspect” in this fields of art is not to be neglected.
Roberto Paci Dalò: But there’s also a question of learning and teaching. How you deal with formats? For instance, you make a piece and this piece can be an audio installation let, let’ s say, which produce the multiple, like ten audio cds, which has a certain value in term of price in the art world. Sometimes strategies are very simple, but they have to be part of the process, so artists and curators, they should think in term of process in a creative way, about all the possible formats. And then, very important, for instance for art places like museums, they should have post production facilities within the house, they should be able to do it inside, without running between studios or whatever, because now there are no excuses, technologies are very cheap, so you can make a full lenght movie with a simple pc, with the highest quality, and you can shoot in a digital way, you can record in a digital way, so there are no excuses, not like 15 years ago. So that’s why if they don’t do that from a structural point of view is ignorance in terms of possibilites. And it’ s alsa cheaper actually when you produce at home. A few last things.. the website which is excellent (layout, graphic, etc) but i just would like to ask you if there are net projects within the festival. Actually I didn’t see any download area in the website. Obviously I ‘ m not talking about a press area, I ‘ m talking about a download area as an exchange place for materials to be used also by other people, because the network aspects are very important… So I think that any kind of art project should also be something which nourish other projects. And we ‘re talking a lot about copyright, about royalties and so.. I think that a festival should produce online, which is an important place, the website is not just propaganda, should produce materials which are available for everybody for free, to be used not in a commercial way, because this also helps a lot the discussion about social and political issues and art in general. I mean the concept of remix with artists like the Residents or John Oswald they’ re really creating art works bades on this problem. So just wonder about that and if, again, the website, is gonna have a kind of media lab online, i mean this laboratorium. Does the laboratorium happens only in a physical place, which is also very good, or also online and in which way. Are there any strategies? And then webcasting. Is there any webcast? Not because it’ s trendy (webcast is not trendy anymore, it’ s normal, it’ s banal), but i’ m just wondering if there are any strategies about that, if some of the festival can be perceived out of Berlin in real time. And another question on the website: what about remote contributors? Are there any plans? Maybe yes, maybe not? From some remote partecipations which can go into the process.
Matthias Osterwold: On the other hand I have to say like, due to certain limited capacities the Sonambiente website will be somehow conventional in that sense, that it is more used to presentations and documentaries for the exhibitions. But this is not completely true because we do have some web projects and open network creative projects like the Society of Algorithm. They will come up with that open structure inviting other artists, remote artists to contribute, and this piece of art is coming to existence. But this is not a very extended area. Other artworks are perceived to get on the net but it’ s not like interective. But i think, somehow, if we say that in this aspect it’ s limited, has to do with the fact that we have a limited time of presentation, as you were referring to makes a lot of sense, and this is an on going process, because it has to be supported and it has to be taken care of, moderated and so on. And due to the limited capacities we told, like we may not be able to really run it in a way, and we don’ t want to pretend.
Roberto Paci Dalò: I like the idea of the website which becomes “the” laboratorium, I mean the media lab which goes on afterwards and in the end it becomes something which is not just the catalog of the festival. People they really need spaces like these
Matthias Osterwold: You’re absolutely right, we have discuss this point very much before, and there have been and there are some initiatives like Klangkunst forum, a soundart platform on the net and i think this really should come into existence, easily to be done. And it is planned to the website of Sonambiente to add more material and documentation on the festival, things happening, now we will see that we can’ t continue with that because even small funds need some material support to run this sites for long. We of course planned it already to has been done with 1996 Sonambiente, this was still on the net, at least as a document and completely visible. But if we hopefully have success with this concept maybe it helps us to set up and to find new sources in order to run this as an active performances, starting from this.