Aural Transposition, Psychogeography and the Ephemeral World

Katt Hernandez

HearHere performance in Bredäng

In October 2018, I was invited by sound artist and vocalist Casey Moir to perform in a combination soundwalk and concert in the woods of Bredäng, entitled HearHere. Casey did a performance with voice, speakers and objects in one of the pedestrian tunnels passing under a roadway, typical of miljonprogram planning, from one park lawn to another. A family-oriented festival was going on. There were inflatable carnival rides, folding tables with candy and games, and families from the neighborhood milling about as she picked up the sounds of metal and glass in the tunnel and transmuted them with her voice. Then we went to the top of a hill, where Finn Loxbo was playing sparse acoustic guitar. Here only the wind and the distant highway were audible, which Finn framed in austere punctuation, looking out over the odd combination of wooded hills and massive concrete apartment blocks that characterize the area.


I lived in Bredäng from 2013 to 2014, in an apartment shared with other musicians. The site Casey picked for my portion of the soundwalk performance was one that was particularly significant for me; I had gone there many evenings during those years.

And so I stood there, and improvised, both transposing and playing with the sounds of the trees, water, ships and birds I heard. As the soundwalk led people through the soundscape of Bredäng, so I let the place lead me in turn, towards what I would emulate, what I would play. Spontaneously taking these sounds as material through transposition and improvisation on the violin, I let the place wander, in turn, through me.


RadioField: Stockholm

For the SONOTOPIA event produced by the Sound Art as Critical Practice course at StDH in January 2020, I combined some of the lo-fi electronics I'd more recently adopted with transposition work. Four similar field recording montages, set with some processed sounds, were broadcast to four old radios from Myrorna (the Salvation Army's second hand shop in Sweden) with four small FM transmitters, which I then played violin with, alternating between transposition and contrasting materials. [2] Since the performance took place in the School for Radio and Drama, it seemed the best place to try a work with live radio transmission. There is still a radio studio at the school which is connected to the national radio network for live broadcasting, and many of the people who go on to work at Sweden’s national radio and television stations do their training in the very rooms we were working in. So I used tiny transmitters to send signals to radios inside the radio school; transposition of one transmission on another.


Acoustic Transposition Practices


The most basic version of this practice of transposition in my own work is either to physically play in environments such as parks or industrial basements, on shipping docks, roadways or street corners, under bridges and so on, or to procure recordings of those real world sounds, “transposing” the sounds of those places, in somewhat the same way one would transpose a solo or tune from a record. I take my violin, go out and sit beside machines, waters, objects and animals, and play with them, taking in their sounds, replying with what I find there. I often try to see what I can play that will encourage an animal to stay with me awhile, when they sit with me in return. But inanimate objects are utterly vulnerable. They cannot respond in kind. This makes the practice of playing with them an act of careful listening, in order to give them their due in sound, give them their space, let them have their part in whatever momentary music comes of my approaching them with a violin. This is a form of practice for the wide array of musics I have been engaged with since the mid-1980s that fall under the loose moniker of "improvised music". It is also a profound act of psychogeography. I am led through the city by a constantly shifting map of possible entities to listen to and play with in this way – a sonic dérive.


Beyond the basic technical questions of listening and finding new sounds, it is precisely in the impossibility of this pursuit that its greatest value lies. Where a sound cannot be imitated, allegories and symbols must be fashioned for it instead, and it is in this process that one finds one's own voice. Thus it maps the environment onto instruments, and spins forth ephemeral ghosts of these places, played back again into the world.


The first project I ever did where it was explicitly stated that I was using violin transposition was in 2014. Over the preceding two years, I had returned to school after a 17-year hiatus, and studied electroacoustic composition. I began working extensively with field recordings, and this added a new dimension to the transcription and transposition of real world objects, places and creatures. Both the soundwalk and the field recording expedition became new acts of psychogeography; new expressions of the solitary psychogeographical treks I had taken nearly every day of my life. Now I could take recordings of places, and return to them repeatedly – much like the transcription of jazz and folk music I had done earlier in life, which had also mapped a different sort of psychogeographical path into various communities in the cities where I lived. In doing this, I found a new understanding of that more traditional kind of transcription, where one tries to learn a loved or needed passage of music from a record. This, too, was an outstretched hand towards a flown place or time: a concert, recording session or evening in some music club, dance room or grange hall, trying to capture and transmute that music into the present. Even the materiality of recording is at the edge of place and time transposition: from the scratches on a 78 rpm record of King Oliver to the tape noise on a Language of Stone recording of new acid psychedelia, each gives the music the evocation of evaporated time and place.


So in spring of 2014, at a concert at Audiorama in Stockholm, I played earlier versions of compositions and improvisational structures that would become tracks on my LP SO(U)LEN(SKIN(NER), two years later. Four tracks of this LP were made to address the natural landscape of stone, animals and birds and vacillating of the sun where Stockholm is built. Here I will give the example of one of those earlier versions of the track called "STONE". This is the best recording of this version of STONE, from before I made the LP. It was done in the wee hours of the night in Örnsberg, overlooking an industrial area surrounded by the granite hills Nobel originally tested dynamite and gunpowder in.


I sat playing with stones first – with recordings of stones moving through a church fountain, massive boulders being carried away at a building site, the gravel which is such a prevalent soundmark of winter streets in Stockholm and the stone walkways in Skogskyrkogården. [1]


I played with these sounds, and came up with materials, which I sketched out. The score, shown here, was never meant for anyone but myself to see. I used it in the concert at Audiorama, because the materials were so new, and I wanted to physically look at the mark of each recording I'd used while I played, as if I were using a playback mechanism – even though the piece is made for a solo, acoustic, unamplified violin




Our most recent concert was a duo between hurdy-gurdy player Bruno Andersson and I at a former stocking factory on Virkesvägen in Hammarby in Spring of 2019 (the street name means "Timber Street" in Swedish, and it lies in Kvarteret spärv, or "The Sparrow Quarter"). Here we played a piece based upon transposition of recordings of the kinds of machines that would once have been found on the site when it was a stocking factory, as well the masses of large-scale construction machinery in the area, and the sparrows for which the quarter is named. We played in the soon-to-be demolished factory, recreating machinery in the huge empty room, calling forth the sparrows who give the quarter its name, and who might soon be driven away by the Ikano Bostad developers. Over the past hundred years the building had housed facilities that produced stockings, mirrors, glass and then had become a food court for industrial workers in the area. Now it was to become the sort of condominiums that are going up rapidly all over Stockholm; cement module construction in international pastels, with glass or aluminum balconies, and units selling for top prices.

This event was organized in collaboration with the Coyote artists' collective, who fill buildings that are soon to be torn down with art exhibitions and events as a commentary on their on-coming transformation.4 On this occasion, Coyote curated a show entitled Pioneertown, featuring several artists whose work was on display throughout the space.5 They built a room at the center of the wide, open space with fake plants, a bar and the sort of picnic furniture that is trendy for first time home-buyers these days, as an imitation of the strange, pod-like "example" apartment sitting in the middle of the construction wasteland just outside the door. Jacek Smolicki, Henrik Frisk and James Barrett also performed at the event, and I made a small "ghost installation" in addition to this work for Deuterium.

Over the course of engaging in practices like electroacoustic music composition, sound installation work and artistic research, this once very private practice of transposing real-world sounds on the violin has developed into something I draw upon more overtly, share with others, and connect with wider practices, especially psychogeography. Even more, perhaps, it is an extension of a way of listening I have practiced as an improvising musician for decades, which treats the subject I listen to as something to be given space, voice or framing - to be given curiosity and respect. In turning to places and their features in the impossible search for sounds to transpose, I give back this listening, and receive new in-roads I would never have found otherwise.

Next section


Transposition with the Deuterium Ensemble

Deuterium is an ensemble of Hurdy-Gurdy, Nyckelharpa, and the F# Scordatura violin I play. [3] I have made three pieces in collaboration with the group so far – Deuterium: Mimer, Deuterium: Dome of Visions and Deuterium:Virkesvägen. It is important to note that the work is collaborative. The score is more of a structure of cues and suggestions, which we then all work on solidifying into a piece together.

Dome of Visions

The first work we did utilizing field recording transposition was Deuterium: Dome of Visions. Here I chose several field recordings from the city of Stockholm. This was site-specific in a way, since the Stockholm incarnation of the Dome of Visions was used for a number of meetings between scholars and researchers working on urban environments. But I did have one recording of the nearby Tekniska högskolan subway station, from the days when it had turnstiles instead of sliding plexiglass doors. I inter-dispersed these transposition sections with contrasting sections made from fragments of tunes Lisa Gerholm, the nyckelharpa player, had shown me from the Swedish folk repertoire, since the other two instruments in the group come from that music. These were rhythmically rearranged using an algorithm based on the three types of triangles used to construct a geodesic dome – a transposition of the space we were performing in.

Then we worked on transposing the field recordings, which we chose together from my archive. Here is a crossfade between one of the field recordings, a summer day at Skärholmens bryggan, and another recording of us transposing it. Following is a segment of the concert.



Photo:Stewart Mostofsky

SO(U)LEN(SKIN(NER  Solo Violin LP with cover art by Erik Ruin. Photo: Erik Ruin, 2016.

Under a bridge in Baltimore, during the High Zero festival. Photo: Stewart Mostofsky, 2001.

Working score for Deuterium: Dome of Visions.

SOUND CLIP: Deuterium: Dome of Visions. Recording: Katt Hernandez and Bruno Anderssen, 2016.

The Bredäng neighborhood in Stockholm. Photos: Katt Hernandez, 2013.

VIDEO CLIP: Solo transposition based improvisation in Bredäng, as part of Hear/Here. Video: Casey Moir, 2018.

Four radios receiving from four transmitters. Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2020.


Deuterium performing at the Dome of Visions in Stockholm. Photo:Thomas Skoog, 2016.

Skärholmens brygga. Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2015.

SOUND CLIP: Cross fade between Deuterium and recording from Skärholmens brygga in transposition. Recording: Katt Hernandez, 2016.

VIDEO CLIP: Deuterium: Virkesvägen (in collaboration with Coyote Collective). Video: Katt Hernandez, 2019.

PioneertownCoyote Collective exhibition at Virkesvägen 3 in Hammarby. Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2019.

SOUND CLIP with IMAGE: Radio Ghost Stockholm, Solo violin performance with four radios receiving local broadcast of four field recording collages. Recording: Katt Hernandez, 2019.

SOUND CLIP: Stone/Sten. Recording: Katt Hernandez.

Working score for Stone/Sten

SOUND CLIP: Montage of stone recordings. Recorded and Arranged: Katt Hernandez