I present Voicelanding as a collection of artistic projects. The projects can be retraced in various modes of documentation (audio, video, photo, drawing, writing). Writing is a way of thinking with and about the experiences that I had during my practical investigations in dialogue with other forms of information.
The space that holds the content of my dissertation exists as overlays of different forms. My resulting research is made up of floating layers, all of which are related, and every layer is equally important. There is no hierarchy in its reading and it is my intention to let the care and passion that I have for this research project shine through. As Tim Ingold suggests, “we need to relearn the art of thinking… from the heart as much as from the head” and I hope he would not mind that I include the whole body here (Ingold, 2021, p.2). I have chosen the image of the palimpsest to support my choice of a stable and flexible structure for the exposition of my artistic research project. A palimpsest is an ancient manuscript that is scraped for reuse. The word, in its ancient Greek meaning, is made up of ‘again’ and ‘scrape’. As time passed, faint remains of the previously removed writing could appear. This ‘underwriting’ could then be deciphered by historians. Today there are other ways to detect the invisible underwriting. For example, in the case of ‘Archimedes’ palimpsest’, fragments of Archimedes’ writing and other manuscripts were revealed in a prayer book through the use of modern technologies.
There are several reasons why I bring up this ancient form of recycling in the context of my dissertation. The relationship between the recycled and the new plays a role in any kind of research. As Tim Ingold suggests, in research we search again and again (Ingold, 2018). There have been many before us and there will be many after us. Documenting our research and sharing our outcomes leaves traces from which some meanings may be contemporary, some understandings may change, and some things may have to change. Findings can only be fixed to a certain degree, but the dissertation is ‘written fast’ (in the sense of the German festschreiben; durable or written to ‘hold fast’).
The process of uncovering invisible writing and making it visible connects to my research due to my exploration of how the invisible physicality of sound goes beyond physics in the way that it appears to us. The way that its shapeshifting body is sensed is multi-layered. Sound is the material that I am working with. In search for the scenographic potential of acoustic sound, I have found that the desire to fix it, to stabilize its forms, leads us astray. It is the discovery of its ephemeral quality, its fragility, its constant change, and its unavoidable disappearance (in other words, its errantry rather than its errors, to use Glissant’s terms) that reveals the strongest quality in sonic scenography.
The composition and reconstruction of invisible layers in the palimpsest gathers what had already been lost. It again is readable, re-readable in our time. The imprint that was left was invisible before it was made visible. Similarly, in my ‘re-search’ the aural imagination that goes beyond that what we hear is a recovering of attention for the invisible imprint that sound leaves on us and our surrounding. The research project artistically explores the potential of sonic marking on bodies that is a touch in the present moment. It is an invisible interaction that is made sensible (possible to sense). Text and drawings interact differently with the body than sound, but the re-discovery of lost sonic impressions, or rather of our attention to them, holds a similar fascination. It connects us to ourselves, others and our surroundings.
A Latin term for palimpsest is ’membra disiecta’, which means ‘disjointed body parts’. This is due to the fact that the books were not just washed or scrapped but that they were disassembled and put together in a new way. In that way, the former text is not just invisible; the text also becomes fragmented. The concept of the fragment also plays a part in this dissertation. Fragments are pieces of a whole, often broken off, but even the smallest piece can inform a historian of its nature, content, and context. As in the palimpsest, in my dissertation a part of the whole also represents the whole. In this dissertation there are different forms of exposition that may seem fragmented at first sight. However, the idea with each element is that it can be read at any point alone and in relation to another text inside this exposition. The fragmentation is not a broken whole, but a network. The form of flexibility inside the exposition of my documented artistic research project connects to the form of my performances which are structured and open. All parts are connected, they create a whole in the way that they communicate with each other. The readers of the dissertation can follow the links that are explicit in the individual texts and the visible structure of the exposition, and they can discover new links.
In contrast to the palimpsest, this exposition holds images, texts, videos and sound in forms that are created for the same purpose. Its layering is not a result of recycling. The layers are its structure.
(3) Art projects
Schnitzler’s Dreams (2015) was an installation-opera created in a whole building, and took place before I started my PhD. However, this performance informed many of my research questions. The discovery of how spatial sonic forms developed in the spaces between the different rooms that the musicians performed in sparked my interest for the dialogue between acoustic sound and spaces.
In the 60-minute a cappella performance Voiceland (2016-2018) vocal expression and the spatial placement and the movement of sound were explored.
With Vokal-De-Konstruktion (2017), the spatial distribution of composed music and the separation of its parallel parts was tried out. The architecture of music as a phenomenon one can walk through, and the experience of static architecture through its interaction with voices, were also experimented with.
In Demmin – Letting a city sound (2018) the vulnerability and resilience of social space was voiced by a choir of older people, in collaboration with decaying architecture.
The spaciousness of sound, the temporality of space, and architecture as a musical instrument were the main areas of investigation in Musica Munda (2018).
The correlation between vocal expression and the acoustic qualities of spaces was the theme in Spaces as Voice Teachers (2019).
Musica Mundana (started in 2020 – to be performed at the making-public event for this dissertation, 22nd of September 2021) uses site-specific sonic expression for the music of the universe. The sonic expression would here be a result of the dialogue between the instruments (voice and percussion) with the space.
The engagement in real physical work is essential for my practice. It is my aim to share the outcomes of my research in ways that respect these qualities. The form of exposition of each practical art project is dependent on the form of documentation that I employed for each project. In general, it is worth mentioning that in the way that I work with vulnerability, proximity, individuality and freedom for the audience, certain limitations for documentation result. The safety and trust of all agents involved in these site-sensitive performances has highest priority. In order to allow for the most direct and least distracted experience inside the performance, the mode of documentation is chosen accordingly. Since the performances are not complete without the audience, documentation from rehearsals are clearly marked as such and should be viewed accordingly. Many of the artistic aspects of my work such as ephemeral community, the movement of shapeshifting sound bodies, sonic scenography, and the relationship between music and architecture are fragile and dependent on the interaction with the audience and their imagination. Therefore, immersing oneself in these relations has priority over documentation. My hope is nonetheless that traces of the invisible relational aspects found their way into the documentation and into the texts written on each project shared here.
(*) Introduction Video
The introduction video shall function as a portal to my research project. It can be seen as the envelope and the core. It gathers my research in its relation to space. This sensibility to space holds the key to the connection of all the layers in their different appearances and transparencies.
Link to Introduction Video
As Voicelanding – Exploring the scenographic potential of acoustic sound in site-sensitive performance is a multi-disciplinary research project, its significance resides in several fields and those they overlap and interact with. I see this research project as a contribution to the fields of scenography, music composition, new music theatre, choral performance, sound art and vocal performance art. It is a spatial practice that is connected to the fields of architecture, choreography and installation art.
My artistic practice is situated in the in-between. This in-between is a zone that gathers attentiveness and inter-action. At its heart lies the idea of interplay. It is a togetherness that is founded in play. This playfulness includes curiosity, the joy in exploration, free exchange and the spark that new connections give. There is a clear sense of direction when playing. While the rules develop during the practice, they are related to intuition, and they have the tendency to open things up rather than closing them down.
The core exploration of this research project is that of the relationship between acoustic sound and space in the creation of a live performance on site. The surrounding fields (such as sound art, choreography, vocal performance art, music composition and architecture) have opened themselves up to me as I developed my own spatial practice. The attentive interaction with spaces that I cultivate in my practice initiates the creative process and is the beginning for my creative works. Its result, a sonic scenography that is also a musical performance/spatial sound performance, is most likely at home in the field of new music theatre. However, in order to give this music the reading of that of a sonic scenography - as a shapeshifting space created with sound - it needs to be differentiated, and the process of how it is created needs to be acknowledged.
All senses are involved in the creation and experience of my sonic scenographies. Even though sound requires functioning ears to be detected, ears have their limits as receptors and information gatherers. Pauline Oliveros expands these limitations when she reminds us that “sound beyond the limits of the ear may be gathered by other sensory systems of the body” (Oliveros, 2005, p.19). Wassily Kandinsky supports this trust in the senses, including intuition, when he claims that for the composition of free forms one is “still completely dependent upon feeling” (Kandinsky and Rebay, 1979, p.91). What counts for the creator, counts for the recipient. The audience is in my work participant and as such “in the center of an active experience”, as Yolande Harris suggests (Harris, 2014, p.30).
The negotiation of the space with other members of the audience, in relation to one’s own explorative mode, puts them into the context of the site and inside the sonic scenography that not only develops around them but that is created in consideration of them. A sensible landscape of sound in interaction with its environment can be explored here. But as much as the sonic scenography is created as an audible form of scenography that is a shared experience, as it moves around and one moves through and with it, the experience is individual. And as John Cage suggests, “the activity of movement, sound and light, we believe, is expressive, but what it expresses is determined by each one of you” (Cage and Gann, 2013, p. 95).
This brings us back to the idea of play. Playing is a way to go beyond ourselves and to interact with the unknown. In ‘Divisions underground’ Pauline Oliveros writes that “the greatest obstacle to understanding is the mind, which judges solely on the evidence of past knowledge. Such a mind is lost in a new situation, which then becomes impossible” (Oliveros, 2015, p.103). Sound can be a great tool to experience through. As it is transitory, it asks us to be attentive in the moment, and helps us to appreciate change. Supported by the responses of a space, sound stimulates the listener to follow it in its short life, during which it makes other things apparent through its invisible fluid body.
As sound interacts with its surrounding it acts similarly to the line that Kandinsky describes in his book Point and Line on a Plane. “Each kind of line seeks the appropriate external means to enable it to attain the shape necessary at the moment and, specifically, on the general basis of economy: the minimum effort for the maximum result” (Kandinsky and Rebay, 1979, p.109). Sound performs with the space and when we follow it with our senses and include our memory, ephemeral forms appear.
The building of a sonic scenography is also a learning to listen. Through sounding and listening in equal measures spatial sound composition is enabled. At the Resonate conference in Lisbon in 2018, Bill Fontana said in his opening speech that “active listening is a way of composing” (MAAT, Lisbon, Portugal, 12.02.2018). I was intrigued by this thought, since his displaced audio-visual live streams were installed in such a way that one had to move around in the gallery space. His composition of sound and images asked the visitor to compose through listening (also with the eyes) as one moved through it. I don’t know if that was what he intended but for me this recognition of an audience’s composition through the way they perceive felt close to my approach towards the audience.
Max Neuhaus described a composing through listening from the perspective of the creator. He writes of “building the sound, placing the first sound in a space, beginning the journey – the first sound leads to another sound leads to another sound – you’re in motion” (Neuhaus et al., 1995, p.2). I also need a space in order to learn more about a sound and to understand more about how to work with it. Working on site requires making a response to the architectural space and the social context. Nick Kaye describes this relation between things as actions and events that are affected by their “local position, by the situation of which they are a part” (Kaye, 2013, p.1).
To create site-sensitive spatial sound compositions requires an embodied practice. Embodied musical creation is also an aspect of the work of Meredith Monk and Pauline Oliveros. Meredith Monk has used her body as a guide for her vocal explorations and her musical composition. Analogous to this, she calls the workshops she gives ‘Dancing Voice/Singing Body’ (Monk, n.d.). In both her listening practice and teaching, Pauline Oliveros encouraged musicians and composers to follow their own voice in the composition of music and to trust their intuition when improvising. Her faith in embodied knowledge and the connection that we have to our surrounding through our senses has been in accordance with the way that I sense correspondences between sound and space when creating sonic scenographies.
My work within the field of opera started in 2013 with Folkoperan in Stockholm. It initiated my exploration of the scenographic potential of acoustic sound (refer to Schnitzler’s Dreams). The physical presence of acoustic sound, the directness of the unamplified voice and the touch of sound that can be activated more concretely through the varying of the distance to the audience fascinated me. My deliberate collaboration with the surrounding came from my investigation of opera performance as an outsider to it, as I am trained as a scenographer and director for theatre and film. I would not directly situate my work within the field of opera, because in classical opera the goal is still to overcome acoustic challenges rather than to use them. The genre has, however, been an inspiration to me and opera performers have been my dialogue partners during this research. Heiner Mueller wrote about opera that it “cannot constitute anything new without renewing itself” (Müller and Schneider, 2014, p.25). He saw a great potential in opera in that “what one may not be able to say yet, may be possible to sing” (Müller and Schneider, 2014, p.24). In his opinion, if opera were to become a democratic genre “the music would discuss with the audience”. This would require new approaches to music as new tools for communication. The negotiation within the exploration of my spatial sound compositions can be seen as an activation of this democratic possibility for live music. I join Heiner Mueller in his hope for the future of opera and the possibility for opera to be a part of the future, as the singing voice “anticipates a better world” (Müller and Schneider, 2014, p.25). With these capacities and handicaps in mind, opera is a part of the surrounding that I negotiate my research within and its younger sibling music theatre is a territory that spatial sound performance is closely related to.
Connections from my work to music that is distributed in space can be made. For example, Sabrina Hölzer created a concertante opera-installation of Die Vögel by Walter Braunfels (2009) where the singers were elevated onto different levels in the space for a seated audience. In Iannis Xenakis’ Terretektorh 88 instrumentalists were scattered among its audience. My spatial sound performances expand the flexibility that was introduced in these works. My sonic scenographies are positioned and put into motion with the movement of the performers and their instruments. Moreover, the audience moves inside the performance space and they position themselves in the way they desire.
Sonic scenography and spatial sound performance are the construction of a musical architecture. This includes the natural interaction and decay of acoustic sound, and it activates interaction with all elements in the space. The shape-shifting scenography not only holds the performance but is the performance. In this way it differs not only from installation-concert forms but also from music theatre forms that still include characters and story. The sonic scenographies are narratives of their own. Musical compositions such as György Ligeti’s piece for an orchestra Atmosphères (1961) can be linked to this category. Its micropolyphonic textures give the impression of journeying through a foreign world. If a choreography sensitive to site and in consideration of the spatial transformation of sound was created for this piece, it could turn into a sonic scenography.
A scenography that performs and creates music can be found in Heiner Göbbels’ performative Installation Stifters Dinge (2007). Performed by a nature-machine, there are no human actions beside the theatre technicians who activate some theatre elements to let them perform. That the story by Adalbert Stifter is told from the human perspective is of significance, however, especially in the absence of human performers. In my work the human performers are a part of the sonic scenography, it performs with and through them. Their interaction is what makes the sonic scenography spatial and accessible. The worlds that I create are co-created with the space, and all sound is dependent on the space. This world is one in movement, a sonic space that is on a journey. Its process is enabled by the collaboration between the instrumentalists and the fixed space, and the wandering audience.
As this worlding unfolds in relation, it gives the performer the responsibility and joy to explore the composed material with and for the audience anew, in relation. In that way the performance of spatial sound compositions resembles immersive theatre. In immersive performances (for example by the Danish ensemble Signa or the performance Satan’s triologi by Jimmy Meurling, Py Huss-Wallin and Andreas Blom), the audience enters a scenario that is usually created site-specifically. In these interactive performances the audience explores the performance in parallel to the characters. Sometimes audience members get a role to play in the performance. The audience is able to make choices, even to ‘disobey’, which may lead to ‘adverse’ consequences. In my experience of this kind of performance I find it interesting that no matter how interactive a performance may be, there is no equality between the performer and the audience. The roles are different. In my works I choose to treat care as a common responsibility between performer and audience. It takes different forms in the different roles but is for both sides related to the fragility of acoustic sound. The feeling of safety and trust are established by the caring presence of the performers in the space and the embrace of the sonic scenography.
Another form of immersion happens during music performances in darkness. The impression that we experience sound more intensely when we close our eyes is strongly connected to this form. These music performances can be acoustic, like Sabrina Hölzer’s Dark was the Night, where the audience lies on individual platforms in the darkness and the musicians move around them. Or they can be acousmatic music installations with loudspeakers distributed in the space. What is lost here is the witnessing of the interaction between the instrumentalists and the space in the creation of spatial sound expression. In the way that the performers relate to the space and take care of the audience, the sonic scenography gains its spatial presence and its social spectrum.
Another important point is for me that the physicality of the sound creation is visible. Here I like to remember seeing my first performance of a Helmut Lachenmann piece, Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern - music with images, where the creation of the sound that the orchestra was making was visible for the audience. Helmut Lachenmann also has his instrumentalists play their instruments in unusual ways. The body is presented as that which creates sounds in collaboration with or manipulation of the instrument. In the audience for Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern - music with images, the sound became more tactile to me when simultaneously seeing how the sounds are created.
The exposition is made up of different forms. I designed all the forms myself as I see this as an opportunity to express my thinking and my practice in an artistic way. The composition of space and the construction in space with word, image and sound is one layer of this multi-layered project. The drawings and the arrangement of text and other elements on paper or other spaces, like the limitless space of Research Catalogue (which is however strongly limited by our devices and how we are used to using them), are an attempt to capture the invisible layers of my thinking, to make the audible readable and to make that which can be sensed apparent. It also aims to reveal the dialogue between imagination and investigation which lies at the core of my artistic research strategy.
The three forms that this dissertation is published in are (1) printed books, (2) the virtual spaces of the art projects carried out during my research and (3) the reflective texts published on the Research Catalogue.
(1(1) Printed Books
The printed books demand a physical encounter and a dialogue between the reader and their surroundings. The senses need to be accessible. The body must be available in order to make an embodied reading possible.
Listening into creates a listening experience that is specific to the reader and that which happens around them. Through prompts, the reader is made aware of their own presence in relation to their surroundings. A listening experience is framed by this book, but not limited by it.
Spaces as Voice Teachers was motivated by my experience of collaborating with musicians and spaces, and by my desire to understand the interaction between a musical instrument and a space better. In this book I share a base study in which I had three different spaces as my voice teachers. The book gives insight into a variety of aspects that the utilizing of voice brings, and it explores how the three different spaces taught me site-specific spatial vocal expressions.
The Body of Sound addresses a phenomenon that I encountered in my research and that I work with. Through words and images this book attempts to temporarily capture this invisible, ephemeral, flexible form.
(2(2) Reflective texts
The reflective texts are ‘floating texts’. The reason I describe them this way is that I see these texts as orientation points, like islands, but they can move like clouds. In this way they change their relations. They position themselves depending on what element of the exposition is encountered in relation to each text.
The floating texts:
Opening Scenography describes my relation to scenography and explains how sonic scenography became one with spatial sound performance.
In Music and Architecture the relationship of these two art forms is discussed from a site-sensitive perspective.
The music inside space and the space inside music recognizes the musicality of architecture and it gives attention to the space that is present in music.
Ephemeral communities shares thoughts around the emergence of temporary communities between performers and audience members during a site-sensitive performance.
In Composing in space methods for spatial composition are shared.
Confessions of a spatialist is a personal coming to terms with what matters to me in my site-sensitive work towards spatial sound performance.
Cage, J., Gann, K., 2013. Silence: lectures and writings, 50th anniversary edition. ed. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut.
Harris, Y., 2014. Scorescapes : On Sound, Environment and Sonic Consciousness. Leonardo 48. https://doi.org/10.1162/LEON_a_00863
Ingold, T., 2021. Correspondences. Polity, Cambridge, UK ; Medford, MA.
Ingold, T., 2018. Anthropology Between Art and Science: An Essay on the Meaning of Research. 2018.
Kandinsky, W., Rebay, H., 1979. Point and line to plane. Dover Publications, New York.
Kaye, N., 2013. Site-Specific Art: Performance, Place and Documentation, 1st ed. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203138298
Monk, M., n.d. Workshops with Meredith Monk. https://meredithmonk.org/education/workshops/ (accessed 30/08/2021).
Müller, H., Schneider, D., 2014. Theater ist kontrollierter Wahnsinn: ein Reader, Dt. Erstausg. ed. Alexander-Verl, Berlin. (my own translation)
Neuhaus, M., Gianelli, I., Russo, A., 1995. Max Neuhaus: evocare l’udibile = Max Neuhaus: évoquer l’auditif. Charta, Milano.
Oliveros, P., 2015. Software for People: collected writings 1963-80, Second Edition. ed. Pauline Oliveros Publications, Kingston, NY.
Oliveros, P., 2005. Deep listening: a composer’s sound practice. iUniverse, New York, NY.
Stiles, K., Selz, P. (Eds.), 2012. Theories and documents of contemporary art: a sourcebook of artists’ writings, 2nd ed., rev.expanded. ed. University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif.
Voicelanding – Exploring the scenographic potential of acoustic sound in site-sensitive performance is an investigation of possibilities for spatial sound performance in collaboration with site.
Site-specific art relates to site, and according to Robert Irwin it is “conceived with the site in mind” (Stiles and Selz, 2012, p.572). I have developed the term site-sensitive (dictionary) as an approach that not only relates to site but involves the performance space as co-creator. Consequently, in this investigation spaces are the main dialogue partner for the associated sound explorations.
My artistic practice negotiates listening and sounding with an increased attention towards bodies. The bodies of the performers and the audience are, during the performance, inside the body of a space - and all these bodies are in relation. Another focus lies on the Body of Sound (dictionary). Its unfolding and revelation, and its alteration in interaction with other entities, connects all elements that are part of this investigation. My practice is therefore the stimulation of a vibrant reciprocity between all entities in a space through sound. By the means of activating interdependencies in a space sonically, this project makes such interdependencies apparent.
With the choice of Voicelanding as the title for my artistic research project, I want to underline the significance of voice as a form of expression and therefore as a tool for sonic creation. In the practice of landing (dictionary), voice enables the processual imagining and forming of worlds. Even though the human voice plays an important role in my research, it is important to note that ‘voice’ in the title relates to any sonic expression that can be uttered by an instrument, and by the activation of material. In my work voice is an instrument and instruments have a voice. Therefore, when I speak of voice, it holds space for all sonic expressions. When I write of instrumentalists, singers are included. (see voice in dictionary) This voice is what enables forms-in-between-entities to develop. The concept of Voicelanding is therefore the creation of lands through presence, enlightened by the interaction of voice and space. It is an arrival in a spatial temporality that is designed for a shared earthly experience.
In site-sensitive performance creation, the dialogue between performers and spaces guides the process. With inward-outward listening and full-body attention as methods of inquiry, the collaborative process between musicians and spaces elicits relation-specific sonic material. During workshops the instrumentalists and I explore how the shapeshifting bodies of sound emerge. We consciously use the altering factors that are particular for each instrument-space collaboration to create site-sensitively. The sound bodies are choreographed in the space. In their movement and in the way they change, the bodies of sound reveal the interconnectedness of all other agents in the space. During a shared creative process, I practice a heightened, deepened and broadened listening, together with the instrumentalists. This listening practice informs the acoustic spatial sound performances that stimulate attentive listening in the audience.
Through such activities and methods as listening and sounding with site, a site-engaged practice develops. As all agencies are influenced by the site, an illumination of the site that is specific for the engagement with it is created. Dimensions of listening and sounding evolve and expand. This broad listening includes other senses besides the aural and goes beyond the defined senses. There is a listening to the individual, to the group, to the surrounding, to the social context.
Scenography is, in this research project, understood as the creation of a sonic space through the performance of sound. This sonic scenography (dictionary) can be experienced with the whole body. It is constructed in such a way that it anticipates individual exploration. In the spatial sound performances (dictionary) that have been created during this four-year long practical research, lively invisible structures can be observed in their spatio-temporal development. (link to art projects overview)
Sonic scenography has an active relationship with the audience. In the way the performances are created, they liberate audience and performers from established patterns. They investigate possibilities for sonic experiences that involve the whole body. They enable explorations, observation and contemplation of the materiality of sound. With the proximity of the performers to the audience, the performances permit insight into the dialogue between sound creator and space. The audience has the possibility to create their experience of the spatial sound performance by changing their position and perspective according to their own preferences. When exploring audience relation, this artistic research project engages with questions that deal with how more attention to acoustic sound and the visible creation of invisible sonic forms engage the audience collectively and individually. Attention is brought to the shared experience as a possibility for shared space-care (dictionary) and the creation of ephemeral communities (dictionary). In the sharing of these works, the question arises of how far the awareness of one’s own participation in and responsibility for the shared space-time during a site-sensitive spatial sound performance can allow more space-care for other shared spaces.
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