Aural Transposition, Psychogeography and the Ephemeral World

Katt Hernandez

Place transposition through Spatialization


It was during the seminars and artistic projects that took place across several institutions and arts organizations in Stockholm, at the aforementioned Transpositions: From Science to Art and Back Again symposium, that I began to understand the spatialization techniques I am using in my current work more specifically as a form of transposition. [1] There was, in particular, a project from Daniel Peltz, who took us on a transpositional journey through a vast swath of places in his exhibition Recovering Data Remains: (Re)Working Knowledge, following the path of a working elephant and all the animal's life might imply, through geographies of colonization in objects and models that traversed distances from Australia to China, Myanmar to Sweden and even underwater, in Reyjmyre, Sweden. [2] His work, part real, part imagined, represented a marvelous example of the same fusion of real place(s) and phantasmagorical ones I seek to bring forth in my spatialized works about the city of Stockholm.

Spatial Transposition

One of the wonderful things about surround arrays is their ability to gesturalize place. During a dérive, only people (or perhaps ghosts, or ideas) can wander the city. But here, the city may also take up and wander around those listening, or even around itself. I have made several electroacoustic pieces and sound installations about Stockholm, where neighborhoods, events, histories and locales flash through collage points, offering anyone listening an array of different places in the city to find memory or relation in. Some of these works take the form of sound installations, which are called "ghost installations". These are similar to the electroacoustic works in many ways, but are really closer to being sound art, and are done in miniature. They are site-specific and are built by placing small speakers, playing generative compositions, directly into the places they are meant to transform. Their main act of transposition here is to play processed and transformed sounds related to a given site back into that site, feeding its own imaginary "data" and “ghosts” back to itself. But these are limited in scope and complexity. Thus, I will write about the larger, electroacoustic works here, since techniques of transposition are more varied and explicit in their design.

Vädersolsmodernitet is an x.1 fixed media work in two movements. The title is difficult to translate into English – “Modernity’s Sun-Dogs” is not exactly what it means when connotations are taken into account. The oldest known image of Stockholm was painted in 1538, and hangs in the great cathedral in Stockholm – the painting is called Vädersolstavlan (or “The Sun-Dog Painting”). Looking here, you can see why; vädersol means "sun-dogs", the rings appearing in the sky. Like memory or story traces, they illuminate the city in a different light, transforming it into something from stories. Sun-dogs are rare in Stockholm, but real. They have appeared in great brilliance and number over the city only once in my own memory, several years ago, and looked as strangely augural as those depicted in the painting. They are like a kind of ghost or apparition, and thus speak to the individual ghosts, memories and stories we all paint onto the places we traverse, which this work is made to illuminate. The other part of the title refers to the great modernization project undertaken by the nation in the 20th century, whose architecture is still a major feature of the city, in stark contrast to the societies that are architecturally imagined either by the older buildings, or by the new, neo-liberal-esque structures going up. Each wave creates and wipes out cityscapes, and thus creates a myriad of phantom cities in the imagination, which one might seek in walking the streets, in traces, or in gaps.

The piece follows a “tableau” structure, passing through combinatoric areas of the city – here is a pictorial score in the form of a slide show, depicting the first movement's scenes. There were many questions I was reflecting on over the year I worked on it: How strong of a role can representation play in a music or sound work, while still leaving room for interpretation, and space for individual listeners to meet the work with their own stories? How far can one depart from the original sonic “image” of a place and still have that “image” be understood by those individuals who listen? If field recordings from that place are re-combined or fashioned into gestural materials, how can the work maintain a balance between being a “composition” driven by musical gestures, and a “sound art” work, driven by the representation of immersive or spatialized sonic environments? The “Protagonist” in this work, who only appears as an agent once in the first movement, is someone I envision being born in late 40s early 50s, living alone in an old rent controlled apartment, traveling through the city of Stockholm at varying points of its last 100 years of history. Rather than push this story onto the one who listens, I have left it vague, so that they can meet the psychogeographical act of walking through Stockholm with their own imaginary cities. Finally, this work is about owning one’s identity as an individual city dweller, as much through darker or contentious stories as optimistic ones.

Vädersolsmodernitet is made as a phantasmagorical, psychogeographical place-transposition, combining times and places in Stockholm in impossible ways, placing those listening on streets that shift and re-combine around them, juxtaposing locales that transform between being stationary places, and animated gestures drawn from the materials of those places.

This work was made with massive, high-end speaker arrays in mind. There are 8.1 channel and 13.1 channel versions of the piece, all made for halls and conditions where these systems can engulf the audience in the whir of places and re-mappings the work depicts. The examples below should therefore only be listened to with headphones, in order to understand the model of the surround spatialization there.


The piece opens with a protest, spatialized to suggest that one could be standing in a single place. But this is a montage of several places. One is a speaker from the Syndakalisterna (the Syndicalists) in Sergels torg. Then there are several recordings of the Social Democrats' First of May demonstrations between Kungliga biblioteket and Norra bantorget, including the trade union brass bands that march and play, among other things, the Internationale. But the most emphatic protests are taken from August of 2015, when a spontaneous protest gathered at Östermalmstorg subway station to tear down advertisements from the Sverigedemokraterna (or "Sweden Democrats"), a right-wing, populist political party. The advertisements were placed throughout the station, plastered over large surfaces where advertisements are not usually placed, and the protesters, who I joined, tore them down in short order. 3

The tense, new situation of the rise of this right-wing party in Sweden is often treated with a deafeningly uncomfortable silence at the long-established rallies on the First of May. But here, protesters who never met march together. Meanwhile, on a summer day’s train platform some years earlier, a scouting troop sings Om dom inte höra oss, ta det lite högre! (“If they don't hear us, then we take it a little louder!"), fore-shadowing the Fridays for Future protests founded by Greta Thunberg in downtown Stockholm.

Later in the piece, a foreboding construction machine, audible from deep underground, is heard at midnight in Sergels torg. In the same recording, it is surrounded by younger men, hanging out in the checker-diamond plaza at Sergels torg, or  “Plattan”, in the evening, whistling and calling over the plaza. The whistling of the young guys who hang out in “Plattan”, almost all of whom are immigrants or come from immigrant families from various other places in the world, is a particular soundmark of Sergels torg; I have recordings of it stretching over a ten year period. This single field recording is of one midnight in 2016. It is cut up, collaged and moved around the listener in sweeps, perhaps trying to follow the trajectory of the calls and whistles, perhaps ornamenting the vast, structural work happening throughout this central neighborhood. A melodica playing busker often sits on the ground at the entrance to the shopping center at the edge of the plaza, as well as in the more well-heeled Stureplan neighborhood, and plays his tune, almost like a dance. These meld, and become several days worth of the early morning spring chorus in an affluent, wooded neighborhood dotted with large houses, or “villas”, near a station called Stora Mossen (“The Big Wetlands”), eight stops out on the green line.

Later on in the second movement we arrive at the christening of the new commuter rail station at Odenplan, where the inaugural speech is surrounded by priests, hip-hop artists, speakers at rallies and voices of people on the street and in cafes, perhaps adding to, or perhaps gently mocking, the Prime Minister's proclamation. [4] The new train is darkened, so that people may see the new tunnel, as celebratory rock, folk and chamber music fuses into church bells from the city's many steeples, and the "Hesa Fredrik" emergency horns, officially called VMA:Viktigt Meddelande till Allmänheten ("Important Message for the Public") that are tested across Stockholm on the third Monday of every month, as part of the national warning system. The train descends through the fading wafts of a forest trance rave into a dreamscape of drones and choirs.

Thus, Vädersolsmodernitet is wholly a space transposition work. The tableaus built of places shift in time and space around the ones who listen, carrying them forward and backward through years into a myriad of different versions of Stockholm, where I have walked, where others have walked. They combine around you to form new territories out of which might come a forgotten day or time, a place that disappeared or a person who faded. The Swedish word förflutten is a beautiful one - literally “for-flown”. Like forsaken. Like the bird. Even the seemingly vast substantiality of cities can be taken away, by invisible hands, or by the inexorable passage of time. In this voice, in that room, in these birds, we can hear our own whispering maps, and build the world anew.





Spatialized Text-Sound-Composition

Vart ska dom ta vägen nu? (Where will they go now?) and Skogen är bäst på bild  (The Forest looks Best in Paintings) are both radiophonic text compositions, but also both feature aspects of space transposition. These works were made by interviewing people, and letting the content of their answers be the main impetus for structuring the works. For Skogen är bäst på bildI mostly interviewed friends and colleagues, and for Vart ska dom ta vägen nu?Most of the interviews were with strangers off the street in a variety of Stockholm neighborhoods. [5]


Here, places are transposed in order to illustrate the stories told, placing the tellers into the places they transform by those stories. Each piece is another psychogeographical traversal through the city, this time walking a map determined by the people we interviewed. The two versions of Stockholm are quite different; my friends railed against gentrification, but were more reflective and forthcoming in the stories they told. The strangers I interviewed told a darker story. One day, the Fisksätra folkets hus called me and told me to bring recording gear right away, to "get" the unhappy meeting about to commence about the violently sudden closure of the elementary school serving the community there. That neighborhood is comprised almost entirely of immigrants and people with backgrounds from every corner of the globe, and I found myself in a scene most of the friends I'd interviewed for Skogen är bäst på blid would never find themselves in, dwelling, as they do, in the segregated world of "culture workers". Skogen är bäst på blid led mostly through central Stockholm: the train station, Sergels torg, the music school, Medborgarplatsen and the central ABF building. Vart ska dom ta vägen nu? walks through a Stockholm with far wider borders, where the central locations feature commuters, far-flung outer districts, suburban teenagers and a bingo hall. But they cross paths, the people in these two works, both at the center and the outskirts of the city.

The stories the people we interviewed tell are, as with Vädersolsmodernitet, woven together in “tableaus”. But the places in those stories are transposed onto the room through spatialization, so that we walk together with them. As Stockholmers I interviewed in Farsta Centrum, Fisksätra folkets hus, Solna Centrum and the Bingo hall at Högtorget talk about how life has become more difficult in the city, they are haunted by fiddlers playing traditional Swedish folk music at Larry's Corner, a book and record shop near Skanstull, and by a windy attic in Solna's Ingenting skogen (“The Forest of Nothingness”). This is a psychogeographical transposition that is more imagined than literal; it is a wide swath of the city speaking, fiddling, wuthering, transposed onto the room. But the next example, where one of the participants in Skogen är bäst på bild describes Medborgarplatsen, is literal. The layers of human and architectural activity she describes unfolding up the side of the square’s steep granite hill are built from the sounds of those places. The final example, also from Skogen är bäst på bild, is a description of psychogeographical wandering. Here the transposition of the walk onto the room is a combination of literal place materials and imagined histories or stories.

These interview-based pieces are a good example of works that speak to my longer practice of transposing the world with a violin. Here the city is transposed by the tellers of its stories, whose voices traverse a re-transposed cityscape in a listening room.



Next section

SLIDE SHOW:This slide show depicts a visual score I made for  the first half of Vädersolsmodernitet. Simply CLICK on the image and the next tableau will appear. All Photos: Katt Hernandez.

Closing of decades old P.U.B. department store in Stockholm. Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2016.

SOUND CLIP: Skogen är bäst på bild: Walking by Foot.

Acousmonium in Malmö. Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2017.

Vädersolstavlan. Photo: Mats Haldin, CC.

Vädersolsmodernitet - Opening tableau with protests (Please note: In order to hear the spatialization effects, you must listen with headphones!)

SOUND CLIP: Vart ska dom ta vägen nu? Fiddlers and Wishes.

Vädersolsmodernitet - Sergels torg and Birds (Please note: In order to hear the spatialization effects, you must listen with headphones!)

SOUND CLIP:Vart ska dom ta vägen nu?: School Closing

Vädersolsmodernitet - Odenplan commuter train station inauguration (Please note: In order to hear the spatialization effects, you must listen with headphones!)

Medborgarplatsen. Photo: Katt Hernanez,2015.

SOUND CLIP: Skogen är bäst på bild: Medborgarplatsen.