Ears of the Other
By Malene Nielsen
Written for Jacob Kirkegaard's residency at TONSPUR in Vienna, Austria, February 2015

Jacob Kirkegaard and I had never been to Ethiopia before. One Easter a few years ago, we decided to embark on a journey together to the cradle of mankind. Even before we’d arrived, we felt as if we’d been there before: as if we already knew the country through vivid images of starvation and drought. I felt self-conscious about my stereotypical western imagination of Africa and wanted to see what other images I could find. Jacob told me he had once heard the old Ethio-jazz records and since then had wanted to experience the place in which these melodies originated. Soon after arriving, we had several meetings with local Ethiopians who graced us with insights into their daily lives. We spent hours with our new friends and their families in coffee rituals, talking, laughing, and slowly developing an understanding of the deep spirituality of the people we were getting to know. We were humbled. We were also faced with ourselves. The presence of an internalized colonial attitude was unavoidable given where we came from and the color of our skin. We began asking how we as artists could approach this place respectfully and challenge our preconceptions? How could we get around these cultural imprints on our minds?

Jacob has a rare ability to listen. The other day I stumbled upon a beautiful John Cage quote that made me think of the spirit within Jacob’s work.

“What I’m proposing to myself and to other people is what I often call the tourist attitude—that you act as though you’ve never been there before. So that you’re not supposed to know anything about it. If you really get down to brass tacks, we have never been anywhere before.”
– John Cage

I like to think that Jacob’s sound pieces are a state of mind: a listening experience instilling curiosity and calm.

Jacob decided to record the sounds from ordinary people’s everyday lives in Ethiopia. He asked friends and people we met along the way about sounds they had special connections to. In general we are not so aware of the sounds surrounding us. We might consciously connect certain smells or images to our daily lives. But sounds? I remember once talking to Jacob about the smell of his grandmother’s house and how he once stepped into a building carrying this exact smell, how it had reconnected him to a lively image of her. Jacob was looking for auditory memories from the Ethiopians we met. He recorded twelve sonic postcards for his sound piece ‘Ears of the other’. I want to point out one in particular. We met a young girl who looked like a beautiful boy. Her mother had passed away and her father was an alcoholic. To support him and herself she worked as a shoe polisher, a courier, and
washed cars. In order to work she had shaved her head to disguise herself as a boy. Her situation was vulnerable but she was an incredibly strong, self-possessed person. She asked us to record the sound of shoes being polished.

We were used to reading about and seeing images of Ethiopia. Images connected to poverty, war, and suffering. Jacob’s piece is a meditation on ordinary people’s ordinary lives. It is communal in the sense that it makes us connect to the sounds these individuals are connected to. He asks us to do something rare, to simply listen.

Hearing Hearing: A Review of Jacob Kirkegaard’s Labyrinthitis (2008)

By Manuel Arturo Abreu

“We do not yet know what a sonic body can do.” -Steve Goodman

In a collection of notes entitled The 1914 Box, Marcel Duchamp said that “one can look at seeing; one can’t hear hearing.” (Bloch 1974) Working within a lineage that includes Cage, Schaeffer Lucier, and other artists, Jacob Kirkegaard’s 2008 sound installation Labyrinthitis articulates a response to Duchamp’s claim, demonstrating through the phenomenon of distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAE) that one can in fact ‘hear hearing.’ Further, in articulating the space of human hearing, and ‘playing’ the human ear “just like an acoustic instrument,” (Kirkegaard 2008) Labyrinthitis questions the canonical notion of hearing as a passive process, a “one-way route of transduction,” (Kahn 2008) and grounds the semioticity of listening as distinguished from hearing in a materialist approach which eschews representation, using sound not as symbol but as intervention (Lindblom 2010). In this sense the work is firmly grounded in the tradition of site-specific sound art, creating a discourse space in which technology and the body, artist and audience, exist not on opposite sides of dichotomies but on a continuum.

`What did Duchamp mean by “looking at seeing?” He meant to describe “the particular interpretative effect which accompanies optical illusions.” (Betancourt 2003) For example, in the Rotoreliefs, the contrast between a static disc and a moving disc creates a visual oscillation, allowing us to ‘look’ at the mechanism of seeing and understand a number of constraints: that the illusion is only possible for us when the relief is in motion; and that when the relief is in motion, we cannot distinguish the two discs— we can only see them as one (ibid.).With the knowledge that there are in fact two discs but that, when the oscillation occurs, we apprehend them as one, we can infer that the configurational relationship between the two activated discs causes the limits of our perception to ‘synthesize’ a new image entirely from our perceptual processes: in this way we can ‘look at seeing.’ (Ehrenzweig, 24)

Then we can begin to interpret the phenomenon, as Betancourt states. This also allows for a new, non-teleological artistic-perceptual structure (ibid.), and the discourse domain which this kind of art articulates is not predicated on phenomena as representations but on an exploration of the material aspects of the phenomena themselves, the ability to observe the sensory mediation of experience, and its limits. Though the groundwork had been laid by Schaeffer, Cage, and Lucier, as well as through Dianne Deutsch‘s discovery of the octave illusion in 1973, and Maryanne Amacher‘s work with otoacoustic emissions in 1999, until Kirkegaard’s Labyrinthitis, there had arguably been no sound-oriented process explicitly analogous to optical illusions which would cause one to perceive a mismatch between stimulus and receptor activity in the human ear, and there had been not been as cogent a response to the passive connotation of hearing which is so pervasive in the historical musical narrative.

In 1978, physicist David Kemp demonstrated for the first time in a scientific context the phenomenon of otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) (Kemp 1978). These are audible sounds which the inner ear itself generates, and which can either be spontaneous (SOAE) or evoked by pure tones (EOAE). Commissioned by the Medical Museion in Copenhagen, Kirkegaard’s Labyrinthitis is composed on the basis of the latter, particularly distortion product emissions (DPOAEs). In fact, similar findings were reported in the 18th century by Guiseppe Tartini, who while investigating violin double stops discovered that two simultaneously-played tones may cause a listener to perceive a third tone (Tartini 1754). Indeed, it should be noted that OAE’s are anomalous only insofar as they are audible: the the very process of hearing involves the vibration of the cochlea’s hairs when two tones enter the ear, which causes electro-chemical responses to the vibrations; in certain cases this vibration causes “movement of the connected basilar membranes,” which in turn causes the ear to emit sounds as a byproduct of hearing (Fischer 2008). Thus OAE’s could be considered ‘amplified’ instances of a generalized property of the human ear.

Looking to use this phenomenon as a compositional impetus, Kirkegaard inserted tiny speakers and a microphone into his left ear. The input is a pair of primary frequencies in “a ratio of 1 – 1.2,” (Kirkegaard 2007) the interaction of which causes a DPOAE in Kirkegaard’s inner ear. The microphone picks up this and other resultant DPOAEs and amplifies them enormously, outputting them to the audience as they arise. The audience will have its own DPOAE’s when confronted with Kirkegaard’s, so much so that, at a loud volume, the piece seems to turn one’s ears into a bright resonant magnet, sound buzzing ticklishly out of it, at least in my listening experience. The receivers of sound in fact become producers of sound in the act of receiving, and this creates a potentially-endless feedback loop (which actually renders compositional decisions largely arbitrary). Therefore, the piece is a musical analog to the concept of Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs, since it builds its discourse not from sound as representation but from the actual sound phenomena, and since the configuration of the pure tones, like the static and moving disc, causes a mismatch between input and receptor activity, creating a space in which the resultant phenomenon, DPOAE’s, can be explored and encoded with meaning. It is a rebuttal to Duchamp’s claim that one can’t hear hearing.

Labyrinthitis participates in a tradition which goes back to Cage’s goals to “remove any trace of his personality from the composed work” and “let sounds be themselves,” (Pritchett 1993). The original DPOAE’s that Kirkegaard used as primary inputs for the performance of Labyrinthitis were “recorded in an anechoic chamber… in Copenhagen, Denmark,” (ibid.) which inevitably ties the piece to the result of John Cage’s experience in the anechoic chamber, 4’33”. Cage claimed that “[t]here is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time… try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.” (Cage, 7) There will always be sound: therefore the role of the composer drastically shifts from composing within what Stravinsky calls “psychological time” to simply creating contexts or constraining parameters in which sounds can interact. What we term silence is only sound too small for us to hear, and the only reason Cage heard the two sounds he did (his brain and his blood), and not a shimmering microtonal orchestra as Kirkegaard did, is that Cage did not have adequate technology to articulate the space he encountered.

Rethinking the silent piece in later years, Cage learned to think of 4’33” as “not needing a performer.” (Gann, 186) Cage states that “I don’t sit down to do it; I turn my attention toward it. I realize that it’s going on continuously… an infinite river of a piece into which any of us can dip at any time we please.” (ibid.) This is similar to the phenomenon in Labyrinthitis: vibration in the inner cochlea occurs all the time, since it is in fact the process by which we are able to listen, but by amplifying it with adequate technology, the performer and the audience can ‘turn their attention’ toward it, creative a discursive space around it. Indeed, were it not for the feedback loop that defines the piece’s “descending tonal structure,” (Kirkegaard 2007), Labyrinthitis would be a near-perfect performance of Cage’s 4’33” No. 2, or 0’00” from 1962: “In a situation provided with maximum amplification (no feedback), perform a disciplined action.”

In trying to articulate the sonic profile of a specific space such as one particular human ear, Kirkegaard follows directly in Alvin Lucier’s tradition, which bears strong resemblance to Cage’s: “I don’t want to change anything. I simply want to find out what these environments do to sounds, so it’s to my advantage… to take what I can find, and in that way each of my performances will teach me something.” (Lucier, 66) Indeed, Lucier’s Music for Solo Performer (1965), which incorporates percussion and amplified brainwaves, is a direct ancestor of Labyrinthitis. Lucier and Kirkegaard, informed by Cage’s musical idiom, sought to articulate the idea of “sound as the inner movement of a space…” (Toniutti 1999) It is likely for this reason that Kirkegaard does not consider himself a musician, or his work ‘music’ per se: he considers himself an artist, and his medium is sound, his focus being to “visualize and materialize it.” (Bertolotti 2010) Labyrinthitis itself is structured to “mirror the composition of resonant spectra in the human cochlea,” which is the norm for Kirkegaard, who often articulates spaces in his work.

The space of the inner ear and its hearing processes is only the most recent space that Kirkegaard has articulated. Kirkegaard’s Four Rooms (2006) incorporates a modified version of the same technique Lucier used in I Am Sitting In A Room (1969). It “aims to be a revelation of four abandoned spaces inside the Zone of Exclusion in Chernobyl,” (Kirkegaard 2006) using Lucier’s recursive-layering articulation technique. However, instead of layering recordings of speech, Kirkegaard recorded the humming silence of the rooms— perhaps as a nod to Cage, since no voice is being projected, and the resonance of the chosen rooms instead evolves into perceptibility from its own imperceptibly-quiet sonic profile. In this sense Kirkegaard indicates a refinement of Lucier’s technique, aided by technological development. This can also be seen in his Eldfjall (2005), in which geothermal recordings of geysers were created by means of accelerometers inserted into the earth surrounding the geysers. Kirkegaard’s music, eschewing traditional structure to instead ‘inscribe’ a space in sound, echoes Cage’s sentiment that “one is, of course, not dealing with purposes but with sounds.” (Cage, 12)

Since the Tartini tone phenomenon is an obligatory byproduct of the structure of hearing, it is not perception-dependent. Like Duchamp’s optical illusions, Labyrinthitis evokes a ‘particular interpretive effect’ resulting from the perception of EOAE’s, a ‘listening’ activity which is derived from the phenomenon of hearing itself. Kirkegaard corroborates this about Labyrinthitis: “Many people have expressed experiencing new ways of hearing… hearing themselves hearing… sounds passing through the head…. that their skull resonated or that their ‘ears were at work’.” (ibid.) At a certain point, it’s difficult to tell which of the frequencies one is hearing are from Kirkegaard’s ears or one’s own, and this is where interpretation comes in: Labyrinthitis is described as an “interactive composition and spatial-acoustic installation.” (ibid.) In light of this, Kahn 2008 makes a distinction between ‘active’ hearing and ‘passive’ hearing: in passive hearing, transduction only occurs in one direction, from vibrations to electro-chemical impulses. In active hearing, however, a reverse trandsuction occurs in the ear, in which electro-chemical impulses are converted into vibration, which is why astrophysicist Thomas Gold describes OAE’s “a feedback system consisting of a mechanical-to-electrical transduction process coupled to an electrical-to-mechanical transduction process.” (Probst et al 1991)

In the mode of ‘active hearing’ which Kirkegaard invokes, the ear is “played just like an instrument” and the artist is no longer the sole locus of sound signal, but is instead conceived as “the medium” for the audience’s subjective exploration of the space the piece articulates, an interpretive process which is predicated by the material phenomena the piece explores and which invites listeners to disentangle their own emissions from Kirkegaard’s, creating a situation in which “the audience hears [Kirkegaard] hearing and hear themselves hearing” (Kahn 2008), with audience members corroborating that “that they could move between the tones.” (Fischer 2008) The whole body becomes a resonant space and the piece therefore becomes a context in which to experience the body as affected material. Thus the music spurs a kind of ‘embodied’ listening in which the specific ‘site’ of the art is a combination of Kirkegaard’s ear, the room in which the piece is performed, and the audience’s ears. It makes sense, then, that the piece is named after a medical condition in which inflammation of the ear causes balance disorders: the piece blurs the distinction between subjective and objective, ‘self’ and ‘other,’ signal source and signal receiver.

In this sense the piece lays bare the semioticity of listening as opposed to hearing. Since Labyrinthitis only amplifies a phenomenon which is in fact a structural property of hearing, creating a feedback loop from it, it is not articulating a discourse through sounds used as representations, but through the sound phenomena themselves. In this light, Labyrinthitis might fit comfortably not only alongside other sound installation work, but ‘acousmatic music,’ as termed by Pierre Schaeffer, which is an important precursor to sound art. Jonty Harrison states that ‘acousmatic music’ “admits any sound as potential compositional material [,] frequently refers to acoustic phenomena and situations from everyday life… [&] relies on perceptual realities rather than conceptual speculation to unlock the potential for musical discourse and… structure from the inherent properties of the sound objects themselves…” (Kahn 2008) Therefore every encounter with Labyrinthitis, every experience with trying to make sense of it, derives endogenously, from the phenomena which the piece exemplifies, and not solely from recourse to abstract aesthetic principles.

Michael Chion makes the distinction between “causal, reduced, and semantic” listening: causal listening seeks to “gather information about its cause (or source)” (Chion 25); semantic listening treats the sound signal as a message to be interpreted through language; reduced listening was introduced by Pierre Schaeffer, in which “the sound is effectively disembodied from its source” and analyzed simply for its properties, separately from its source of meaning in reference to a particular code. Labyrinthitis can engage the listener on all of these levels, particularly because it evokes the process of hearing not in order to listen to some other music, but to listen to the process of hearing itself, and in this ‘paradoxical’ configuration the listener is able to ‘fill’ the discourse space however she prefers: interestingly, all of the kinds of listening enmesh in this piece. We can say, therefore, that listening is a highly subjective experience, but Kirkegaard is emphasizing a materialist viewpoint in this piece: the subjectivity of the experience is predicated on objective physical phenomena. As I believe William Carlos Williams puts it, “no ideas but in things.”

In Labyrinthitis one ‘listens’ to hearing, creating meaning from the experience of hearing the process that allows for meaning to be assigned to music in the first place. Causal listening is always at play since after a certain point distinguishing the sources of the frequencies is difficult. In a sense, then, Labyrnthitis indicates that we may better understand our bodies through technology— a refined toolkit has allowed Kirkegaard articulate, as Cage described, “a total sound-space, the limits of which are ear determined only…” (Cage, 8) . Indeed, just as Kirkegaard considers the artist to be a medium, he also considers the artist’s equipment to be the same, an extension of the medium. There is no sharp divide in this piece between the body, nature, and technology: after all, is Kirkegaard doing something ‘unnatural’ if all he is doing is amplifying naturally-occurring phenomena which would otherwise be inaudible to us, which would otherwise not affect us at all?

While Labyrinthitis clearly indicates that “two-way traffic happens in the ear, at the point that transduction begins,” (Kahn 2008) perhaps it does not include a route of communication from audience back to artist, once the former has received the latter’s signal. One wonders what the ramifications would have been if Kirkegaard had decided to perform the piece with more than one participant (that is, himself) wearing tiny speakers and microphone. Would this accelerate the DPOAE feedback? What would be the DPOAE behavior if the input to be caught by microphones and amplified by speakers were not pure tones, but, say, the activity of the audience in the space, in a nod to 4’33”, or the room itself, in a nod to Lucier? Speculation aside, it is clear that the interactivity of Labyrinthitis, already restricted by the pure tone input, is of only two varieties: top-down, that is, from Kirkegaard to the listener, and insular, that is, within the listener and her reactions to Kirkegaard’s DPOAEs. And further, one could argue that Labyrinthitis does not question but in fact further reifies the role of artist as locus of privileged sound, since the ‘interactive’ DPOAEs which the listener experiences only occur from the imposition of Kirkegaard’s own DPOAEs. It is not nearly as inclusive as 4’33”, whose structure obligates it to allow any audible phenomena during the timeframe of its performance to constitute part of that performance. It is a perfect Cagean paradox: though he may be acting a a “medium,” Kirkegaard maintains control by relinquishing control of the listener’s reaction to the piece, while still allowing for the structure of the context in which that reaction occurs.

Therefore, while Kirkegaard proves Duchamp wrong and offers the audience a more interactive mode of experience aesthetic performance— one in which the semiotic nature of listening is predicated on the material nature of phenomena and their power to affect the body— he doesn’t necessarily alter the relationship between the audience and the artist in any essential way, since he is still making the decisions with respect to the context in which the subjective audience experience can occur. Indeed Labyrinthitis could be analyzed with respect to Goodman’s ‘politics of frequency’ argument, in which “every nexus of sonic experience is immersed in a wider field of power,”(Goodman 190) given the affective power of sound, as Labyrinthitis so plainly shows. While Kirkegaard sacrifices control over his listener’s specific reactions, he can specify the domain in which their reactions to his DPOAE’s occur, and it is clear that he has hegemony of broadcast. In this situation Kirkegaard’s affective power is functionally no different than makers of items such as “The Squawk Box,” which “emit[s] two ultrasonic frequencies that together produce a third infrasonic frequency […] intolerable to the human ear, producing giddiness, nausea, or fainting…” and “The Scream,” which “target[s] a specific frequency toward the inner ear,” producing dizziness and nausea (Goodman 20).

Herein lies another possible origin for the title of the piece: Kirkegaard is playing with the tension inherent in the power given to the composer as privileged locus of sound signal: since sounds have affective power, and since there are clear distributional asymmetries, ‘hearing’ becomes a submissive act in which the receiver of the sound signal reacts to it in a way she cannot help. The lovely phenomenon Kahn denotes ‘active hearing,’ the buzzing of one’s ears as it produces frequencies, is actually only an attenuated form of the actual medical condition which is the piece’s namesake, and with one turn of the volume knob Kirkegaard could induce these feelings during a performance of the piece.

‘Listening,’ meanwhile, is construed as an active task in semantic discourse, an application of meaning to an experience which we may or may not have any power in participating in. But instead of inciting a revolutionary change in power distribution in the aesthetic sphere,Labyrinthitis and its re-defined listening instead resurrect a kind of Cagean formalism. By turning the semioticity of listening inward, Labyrinthitis invites the listener to self-consciously experience the reactions of her body as though they were not her own, as an affected material, in a sense usurping the piece’s capacity to expand its discourse by choosing such a restrained, site-specific domain. But as Goodman says, “we do not yet know what a sonic body can do,” and structural explanations like Labyrinthitis may guide the way forward.

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Manuel Arturo Abreu is a writer and linguistics student living in Portland, OR. Check his work out at natrices.tumblr.com and twigtech.tumblr.com. Direct link to the article: http://htmlgiant.com/reviews/hearing-hearing-a-review-of-jacob-kirkegaards-labyrinthitis-2008/



ALL EARS ON ETHIOPIA – explorations of sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard
, September 30, 2012 http://addisrumble.com/?p=2308
, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/09/ethiopia-sounds-jacob-kirkegaard

Did you ever wonder how a country sounds like? What distinct sounds characterizes a country or a place? The Danish sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard has. And according to Jacob, Ethiopia has many surprises to offer a curious ear. Jacob first visited Ethiopia in 2010 and recorded ”Ears of the Other”. He then returned in 2012 with independent French filmmaker Vincent Moon (Collection Petites Planétes, La Blogotheque’s Take Away Shows etc.). Together they recorded 6 portraits in 10 days. We asked Jacob about his experiences recording and collaborating with the sounds of Ethiopia and how Ethiopia sounds like to him. Read Jacob’s enthralling story below and listen to some of his recordings here.

Some of your most famous works are recordings of the sound of sand in the Oman desert, of Icelandic geysers or ambient sounds in now empty Chernobyl villages. Your recent recordings in Ethiopia are of people, singers, a circus etc. Why this change in approach?

I am generally interested in exploring sound from other sides than the immediate way we hear it. To question the sounds we hear; maybe the sound doesn’t only sound as we first hear it. Or perhaps it can tell us something else than what we expected. Maybe a bit like what the Giant in Twin Peaks tells Agent Cooper in a dream; “The owls are not what they seem”. Recording abandoned rooms in the abandoned city of Pripyat in Chernobyl proved to me that these places were so “full” of absence. What is immediately thought as some of the most silent cities in the world was so full of sound. The same applies for the desert, a place which we think of as a quiet place. But in fact some dunes produce deep massive sound by themselves.

My interest in exploring the sound of Ethiopia was first motivated by the lack of knowledge that I feel most Northern Europeans have of Africa in general. And if we want to find out about, say, Ethiopia we ‘google’ it. What do we find? Text and pictures. But how does Ethiopia sound like? It is unknown to most around here. Can listening to a place reveal and tell us something we cannot obtain through texts and pictures?

You have worked various places across the globe. Is there anything that makes recording in Ethiopia distinct?

Ethiopia is perhaps the most ‘deep’ place I’ve ever visited. By deep I mean multifaceted & surprising. Not only is the Christian church very old and rich – and there are of course also many tribes with different cultures. But perhaps it has even more to do with my personal experience as well. I feel very welcomed, as if I can just dive into it and communicate with people. I’ve met musicians, circus people, steel workers, Lalibelocc, farmers, priests and shoe polishers… Yet I feel that my ears have so much more to explore. And when being an open person, Ethiopia has surprises to offer to the curious ear.

How and what do you listen for when arriving at a new destination? How does your soundworks usually come about?

Usually something catches my attention. I hear a story about an intriguing phenomenon in a place. Like the “Singing Sands” in the desert. Just the name, the Singing Sands trigger so many sounds in my head. And if my research inspires me more I might fly out there with my microphones. But when arriving to a place I always try to be blank; important for me is to ‘free’ myself from preconceptions and expectations of something that I want to find. I know that I will only find something interesting if I let go, open up and breathe with the world. It is an important balance that I try to find; never to become too stubborn of what I want to find. I don’t see myself as a conductor or composer but more of a collaborator of sound.

You first visited Ethiopia in 2010 where you recorded ”Ears of the Other”. What expectations did you have going back to Ethiopia this year?

Ears of the Other was made from a curiosity to hear what Ethiopians hear with their ears. As a foreigner you always hear a new place differently from how the locals hear it. Maybe you hear things that locals have heard every day in their entire life – and therefore don’t pay attention to anymore. Or maybe there are sounds you don’t hear because you haven’t learned to understand the meaning of them. Therefore I asked Ethiopian people what sounds they find characteristic for their every day. I wanted to know what sounds they pay attention to and what is Ethiopian sound for them. We would then record the sounds together: a coffee ceremony, the morning prayer, their childrens voices, the bird in the tree or the hyena man near the forrest in Harar.
During this trip my friend Tadesse introduced me to the recycling place in Merkato. I was completely blown away. When I returned to Addis this year I wanted to make a portrait of that specific place where they reshape the oil barrels. With all the timbres oil barrels and long iron sticks it sounded to me very much like a gigantic percussion orchestra! I introduced my colleague Vincent Moon to the place and suggested him we did a portrait there. He was just as blown away as I. We decided to spend one entire day there – from before sunrise till evening. Besides from the interesting sound scape at this particular place in Merkato, I was completly moved by the friendliness, cohesiveness and solidarity existing among the people living & working there. A wonderful large family.

How did your collaboration with Vincent Moon come about? And how do the two of you supplement each other?

We did six portraits together in only 10 days. It was very intense and interesting. It is the first time we work together. On some portraits I was more the sound recordist for the films. On other projects we shifted the roles; At Entoto Mariam for example we both recorded alone and will pair the recordings afterwards. I am therefore currently putting together a sound piece based on my recordings from Entoto Mariam. Vincent Moon will then edit his footage recordings according to my sound piece.

You are collaborating with Vincent Moon on a work centered around an Ethiopian orthodox exorcism ritual. Could you elaborate a bit on this work?

We visited Entoto Mariam two times and made recordings of the orthodox exorsicm ritual there. I can’t reveal much about this yet as we are still creating the piece. But I can say that I have never recorded anything this intense and touching before in my life. It was both scary and beautiful at the same time.

One of your most distinct work from Ethiopia is with Tilahun, a singer of the Lalibalocc tradition. How did you approach this recording? And was doing a recording with a Lalibalocc and not the related but more famous azmari singers an elaborate choice form your side?

We both became very interested in the Lalibelocc tradition from the stories we heard. People were saying different things. Some claimed that people were afraid of them and others said they possessed a certain kind of magic. Certain was that they could sing! So we set out to find one. We literally walked into an area in Addis which we had heard of to be a place for Lalibelocc, and asked some people on the streets if they knew some. Most people thought we wanted to go to Lalibela. But we were very lucky to get in touch with Tilahun.
He took us on one of his trips though an area of Addis before sunrise. It was completely dark as we walked through the windy strets. He would then choose a house and start singing. The dogs would bark like crazy and I was getting scared of what the people might do when he woke them up with his powerful singing. But people seemed happy and gave him money. They then received his blessing. Tilahun is one of the most special and warm persons I met on this journey. He told us that he had never been properly recorded. So I offered him to do a private recording of him singing.

Finally, how does Ethiopia sound like to you? Perhaps you can characterize two or three distinct soundscapes that you have discovered?

Ethiopia sounds delicate, mesmerizing and timeless to me. The delicate sounds of a valley where you can hear the cow bells, birds, voices and prayer in the distance. The primary sound of Ethiopia is to my ears the distant beat of the orthodox drum. You hear it when traveling through the landscapes. When you are quiet….. you hear the beat in the distance.. The pulse of Ethiopia. It mesmerizes! And above that, Ethiopia has such a different time, not only is the year and clock different from ours, – it just sounds and smells like another time, an unknown yet fascinating present, past & future – all together.



A review by Chinnie Ding (APRIL 2011)

And as he gazed, his dizzy brain spun fast,
And down he sunk; and as he sunk, the sand
Swam round and round, and all his senses pass’d…..

– Byron, Don Juan

We know sand’s complicity with mirage. At the seashore scrawled vows are washed to a smear. In the dunes paths disappear by wind, no tread surely retraceable, while chimeras hotly shimmer at the horizon. The ceaseless formation and de-formation of sand—its surfaces and volumes, clumps and spillage, weathers and voices—compose Sabulation (2010), a sound and video installation by Danish artist Jacob Kirkegaard shown at Diapason, New York this February, along with two companion works: photo-suite Nagaras (2009) and single-channel video Desert Slide (2010).

Shivering into geometries on a Chladni plate, sand becomes the very image of sound, yet in itself may seem as silent as the very eternity its time-worn state approximates.[1] Following in the sinking footsteps of many before him, Kirkegaard sought out the sand’s own songs. “Singing sands” have intrigued wayfarers throughout the centuries, inspiring moments of crypto-geology and sonic simile in numerous travelogues. Marco Polo crossing the Gobi, most famously, wrote of “spirits of the desert” who “fill the air with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, and also of drums and the clash of arms,” causing stragglers to lose their wits and way.[2] Charles Darwin in Latin America noted a “roar[ing]” sand-hill in Chile and a “chirping” beach in Brazil.[3] Among 19th and early 20th century accounts Kirkegaard excerpted for the show (via plain-text slideshow on a desktop screen, unobtrusively at the show’s far end), the sound is compared variously to a barking dog, buzz-saw, cello melody, faraway thunder, subterranean bell, even Aeolian harp—one fabled music evoking another.[4]

A prolific and versatile artist focusing on acoustic phenomena, Kirkegaard has recorded sources as diverse as Icelandic geysers, the Zone of Exclusion at Chernobyl, guests asleep in a Berlin hotel, iron bridges along the Rhine and Daugava rivers, and torn ribbons of cassette tape found in the streets of Havana. The projects shown at Diapason took him to the deserts of Oman, where he registered sand vibrations with a buried accelerometer. The result, Sabulation, may be the first artwork to capture and present the singing sands to such hypnotic yet disorienting impact.[5] Speakers girding a dim, 25-square-foot carpeted listening room issue an audio feed by turns sibilant, sirenic, and quaking, while a single-channel, dual-screen projection looping a 30-minute video shows black-and-white images of metamorphosing sand framed at indiscernible scale. Are these shots microscopic, sand falling into a crater no larger than the gyre of a loose fist? Are they aerial, above a planet where sands run fluvial? From what height, at what angle, are we seeing these sandy planes? What causes the sand to move so steadily and ceaselessly? And is that same cause generating the sound, or is sound itself the cause? There is no way of knowing, but one can’t help but watch, as the shifting sounds boom and tremor through to the chest-cavity, and as sand patterns—perhaps inches from our noses, perhaps a long parachute drop below—seem to burn into the film material itself.

Aurally and visually, Sabulation fluctuates between otherworldly and creaturely, threatening and sensuous valences. The desire to identify the content of this sensory flux is strong—especially its auditory component—but one never arrives at recognition, only slippery resemblances. Sometimes the sound recalls strong wind through dense trees; sometimes the long-arc, fluting echoes of whale songs. Sometimes it can almost pass for the sharp crash and ebb of tides—but for emitting a hiss that suggests a nature more alien, if nature at all. Whatever they might be like, the sounds are always sufficiently unlike—unlike, say, the sirocco or simoom one might logically infer—and so keep us in the dark as to what it is we’re so affected by. When another stretch of audio produces a drone mistakable for a small aircraft directly overhead, the mistake so vividly, immediately passes for truth that it seems not only to solve what’s heard, but also the cause of what’s seen. Convinced of this definitive wind-source off-screen, we might even start looking more intently—for the faintest signs of propeller shadows upon the sand, or patterns matching some latent rhythm within the drone. Further changes in tone and frequency thoroughly dislodge the conviction, but they do so only gradually, against epistemological resistance. Lures to wayward certainty, the “extraordinary illusions” Polo described are fully upon us.[6] Our interpretive faculties are usurped by the work’s physical penetration: the sound palpably vibrates through the listener’s entire body, not only tunneling into the ear.

Morphing hypnotically, uninterrupted, while emanating a thermal energy (the projections are the gray room’s main light-source), the images only intensify our disorientation. Sand-forms weep like bleeds of paint, or pour friction-free; fall into elegant pleats, or seem to curd or cake, with craggy ridges looking as encrusted as Jay DeFeo’s The Rose. All intactness is illusion: before long, any momentary shape is invariably melted away and swept out of the frame by nearby flow. The longer looked at, the more illusory the image itself seems to grow, as if an invisible hand were scratching or poking at the surface. And yet, what surface? As if illustrating a puzzle in topological math, the layers coat to expose, sand washing away sand—sand thus becoming most like what it is most unlike: liquid rather than solid, unnameable as unitary noun. Effortlessly displaceable, with its soft, feline give, sand matter comes to embody mutability itself.

Because its give is both lifelessness and incessancy—animation without sentience—there is something quietly horrific in this ceaseless shape-shifting. By the sheer force of its torrential sound and movement, the sand seems life-possessed, crackling with heat. Aptly, the artist’s brief blurb for the work quotes Kobe Abe’s eerie 1962 novel The Woman in the Dunes:

He tried thinking of something else. When he closed his eyes, a number of long lines, flowing like sighs, came floating toward him. They were ripples of sand moving over the dunes. The dunes were probably burned onto his retina because he had been gazing steadily at them for some twelve hours. The same sand current had swallowed up and destroyed flourishing cities and great empires. They called it the ‘sabulation’ of the Roman Empire….

Abe’s story portrays an entomologist who wanders into a desert village and finds himself trapped in a sand pit, at the house of a widow. The man must keep shoveling out buckets of ever-replenishing sand, or else died buried as had the woman’s husband and child. In what is surely the greatest desert film ever made—out-sanding Lawrence of Arabia, The English Patient, even Dune—Hiroshi Teshigahara’s terrifying 1964 screen adaptation, too, captures bizarre images of sand as it descends in a creeping sheet in the night, for instance, or avalanches down the pit-walls when the man futilely tries to clamber his way up. (Toru Takemitsu’s restrained, disquieting score of distorted violin glissandos and percussive jolts does the bizarreness justice.) Just as the trapped man starts dreaming of wavy ribs of sand, and out of thirst hallucinates light-webbed water when seeing only sand, so we, by the middle of that film, are conditioned to see a sandy pattern even during a close-up on soap-lathered skin. Gazing at Sabulation for some time, we share the retinal burn Abe imagines for his protagonist—the shifting “ripples of sand” a persistent afterimage.

Perhaps most hauntingly of all, the natural chiaroscuro of Sabulation’s images, in unnatural grayscale, evokes the paradoxical textures of film itself: its granular membrane, mysterious flow, material existence subject to deterioration. Very gradually—akin to the gradual “swallowing” and “destruction” of sand working at Roman cities—the filmed object of Sabulation starts to disappear, as sand’s disintegrating furrows transmute into film texture as such—image molting as medium, medium in turn melting, though only to uncover more, in an endless peeling of surface. Wearing down and wearing away, sand inevitably provokes Heraclitean thoughts on mutability in time. “Earth sifts over things,” as Annie Dillard has observed, “If you stay still, earth buries you, ready or not. […] On every continent, we sweep floors and wipe tabletops not only to shine the place, but to forestall burial.”[7]

The show’s two additional works, mounted outside the listening room in Diapason’s main space, complement rather than resolve Sabulation’s cognitive dissonance. Scale is likewise indeterminate in the series of eight color photographs that comprise Nagaras, taken during sand-songs. Against pale, low combed ridges stretching into the distance, wind-whipped sand forms in the foreground—some with fiery inner shadows—resemble by turns tousled lion’s mane, dusty founts, and hoary, shape-shifting titan. Stormy, Turner-esque, these images, too, have an immediate, almost aural impact.[8] Sureness of scale returns only in Desert Slide, where the artist and his friend J. G. Thirlwell slowly slide down dunes, trudge back up to slide down again, and so on, while lightly saddled by recording equipment.[9] This video offers its own process-art poetics of bright desert heat, funny friction, and mumbly, humdrum perseverance, far more than any explanatory making-of. Explanation, after all, is just what Sabulation withholds.

A relatively young practice with a recent growth spurt, “sound art” as a more or less distinct art form has generated a particularly vigorous round of debate of late, occasioned by Seth Kim-Cohen’s manifesto In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art (2009). Much sound art, Kim-Cohen diagnoses, attributes to sound a channel of experience that is invisible yet direct, immersive and secretly authentic. To hold sound sacred in this way, he cautions, can mystify it as natural truth—a sort of Klang-an-sich—rather than recognizing (and as artists deploying) it as a medium of socially contingent, ideologically woven meanings. Helming the counter-position, Christoph Cox champions sound art’s potential precisely for “short-circuit[ing] the aesthetics of representation and mediation,” and sees Kim-Cohen’s argument as itself built on a needlessly rigid, essentializing distinction between earth and world, immediacy and mediation.[10] A central case study in their debate has been Doug Aitken’s Sonic Pavilion (2009), a mile-deep hole about the diameter of a large dinner plate, dug into a Brazilian hilltop, installed with microphones, and encased in a spacious, squat temple-like glass cylinder amid the elysian grounds of iron-ore magnate Bernardo Paz’s Inhotim art park. For Kim-Cohen, the work’s claim to listen in on the earth “equates the facticity of sensory experience with truth,” whereas “It is the worldly, rather than the earthly”—the work’s own apparatus of context, rather than the earth’s noumenal transmission—“that presents the possibility of meaning.”[11] For Cox, on the other hand, Aitken’s work bespeaks “a philosophical naturalism that insists human beings are of a piece with the natural world we inhabit,” while “affirm[ing] an aesthetics of force, flux, and resonance.”[12]

While these theoretical positions offer an exciting glimpse into a critical discourse in the making, a work like Sabulation may both engage and dissolve the terms of the debate.[13] The sands Kirkegaard records certainly belong to “the natural world we inhabit,” but unrecognizably so. Delivered up by technology, the work’s “aesthetics of force, flux, and resonance” are also transformed and augmented thereby, revealing uncanny correspondences between organic and machinic sounds, sand-images and sand-like medium, while the seen and the heard themselves correspond only uncertainly. Under no pretense of having bottled up an authentic memento of place—as found conches (we dream) carry the sounds of their sea-swept home within themselves—the work offers instead an experience that by its very intimacy estranges as much as it captivates. With its built-in disjunction between sound and image, the work denaturalizes the act of recording nature even as it tunes deeply in to a hermetic earth that is always still richer, stranger than we might imagine.


[1] Acoustics pioneer Ernst Chladni (1756-1827) demonstrated the material effects of sound by dusting a metal plate with sand and vibrating the plate to resonance with a violin bow. Lacy, symmetrical nodal patterns would emerge on the surface, reconfiguring according to frequency changes, for an altogether magical effect. Such sound visualization gave birth to the science of cymatics.

[2] Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. William Marsden, ed. Manuel Komroff (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 74.

[3] Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (New York: Random House, 2001), 322.

[4] Covering nearly as wide a range, incidentally, “The Singing Sands” episode in the now-lost, fan-reconstructed Marco Polo series from the early years of Doctor Who describes the phenomenon as “a clashing of drums and cymbals” or “a familiar voice calling your name,” nothing to fear. The sound effects, however, build from string tremolos, to the twittering of sped-up radio, to a shrieking, bat-swarmed tempest that (temporarily) swallows up two heroines.

[5] A few other uses of the singing sands in music and audio art include Pippa Murphy’s Voix du Sable (2003) and Rob Mullender and Isobel Clouter’s “Baorittaolegainuoer—Natural Booming” (2007). The Nima Sand Museum in Japan, in addition to hosting the world’s largest hourglass, is devoted to a local manifestation of the phenomenon.

[6] Polo, ibid.

[7] Annie Dillard, “Sand and Clouds,” Raritan 18:2 (Fall 1998): 34.

[8] Fittingly, “nagaras” references a drum to which the singing sands were likened in historical accounts Kirkegaard found.

[9] Thirlwell—the heteronymous composer and musician perhaps best known for the heady, precision noise artistry of Foetus—also composed a chamber work based on these dune travels: Eremikophobia, “fear of the desert,” premiered by the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall last March.

[10] Christoph Cox, Letter, Artforum. January 2010: 16.

[11] Seth Kim-Cohen, “The Hole Truth,” Artforum. November 2009: 100.

[12] Remarkably, neither Kim-Cohen’s critique nor Cox’s defense notes Sonic Pavilion’s inadvertent yet glaring resonance with the region’s economy, and Paz’s source of wealth: mining. That two kinds of capital, promiscuous with one another, are here extracted from digging into the earth surely forges as jarring and striking an extra-phenomenological meaning as any.

[13] The debate between Kim-Cohen and Cox has largely taken place in the pages of Artforum, in an exhibition called “Non-Cochlear Sound” curated by Kim-Cohen (also at Diapason Gallery), and during a handful of panel discussions in New York—indicating perhaps the still limited ambit of these concerns—though this moment is valuable not least for contemplating the growing pains of a critical discourse surrounding (and arguably already lagging behind) a still growing art form.


By Silvia Bertolotti, published by DIGIMAG, March 2010
Link to the article please click here

From the 25th till the 28th of February the 13th edition of the Sonic Acts Festival took place in Amsterdam. This edition – The Poetic of Space – was entirely dedicated to the exploration of space in performative, audiovisual and film arts. Sonic Acts has become a moment for investigation into the importance of physical space, as well as for the physical and psychological impact of artistic creations centred on space, in a time, like the one we live in, of important and continuous technological development.
This year the program was yet again rich with interesting events, but we at Digicult wanted to focus out attention on a particularly interesting artistic presence: Jacob Kirkegaard. A Danish sound artist who got his training at the Academy of Arts and the Media in Cologne but who now lives in Berlin, Kirkegaard explores the dimensions of sound with a creative and scientific approach. His work concentrates on the aesthetic aspects of resonance, of listening and the sound phenomenon per se, through research on the potential of sound hidden in physical spaces or external environments.
In this context, Jacob Kirkegaard for example has worked on sounds collected at volcano sites, from atmospheric phenomena, ice, deserts, and nuclear plants. He often uses specific electronic equipment for his recordings, such as accelerometers, hydrophones, and electromagnetic receptors. His artistic exploration is therefore directed to the discovery of the quintessential sound object - sound – and its latent and internal potential, that is revealed in order to show all the expressive and acoustic aspects of it.

Some of his beautiful creations and his works have been exhibited at main international artistic locations such as the Club Transmediale in Berlin, the James Cohan Gallery and Diapason in New York, and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denmark. Kierkegaard has also collaborated with artists such as JG Thirlwell (aka Foetus), Philip Jeck and Lydia Lunch.
At the Sonic Acts XIII in Amsterdam, Kirkegaard presented two works that were particularly interesting for their concept and the artistic results obtained. The first work in the program was Sabulation; this was audio and video footage of the so-called "Singing Sands", developed in the Oman deserts and that ended at the beginning of this year.
The second work presented was Labyrinthitis, an interesting and paradoxical work for the fact that what is listened to in the installation is the listener’s own ear. A kind of “meta-listening”. The human acoustic organ is in fact not just a passive means for listening and reception of what comes from the outside, but also generates its own sounds that Kierkegaard recorded and “played” as if it were a musical instrument. An interactive creation, Labyrinthitis was created in 2007 and commissioned by the Medical Museum of Copenhagen.
Due to Kirkegaard’s participation at the Sonic Acts XIII, I met the Danish artist for an interview where we discussed the role and meaning of his work in art, and particularly sound art.

Silvia Bertolotti: How do you choose the places and sound phenomena for your work? Is it the kind of sound or physical place of sound that strikes you?

Jacob Kirkegaard: The two things hang together. As for Oman for example; What is the sound without the dune in the desert? And what is the desert without the booming dune and the singing sands? Great sounds could be found just outside my door. And in a similar way there are many beautiful places on earth. But when these 2 things come together; a sound of an abandoned room in Chernobyl, or a tone inside my ear then a 3rd thing can occur

Silvia Bertolotti: Do you agree with the term "sound art" to define your creations? Or do you prefer to avoid associating any label to your work?

Jacob Kirkegaard: Genres are not so important for me. Because as soon as I define my creations I feel limited. On the other hand definitions can help break them. However I definitely like the term sound art. I believe that it is an art form in fast development and it seems that it is becoming a more and more respected art form in the more conventional galleries. But since I also work with video, photography, performance and music I like just to define myself as an artist. My primary focus is on sound, to visualize and materialize it.

Silvia Bertolotti: You just referred to your working with photographs, video and performances: what is the exact role of these expressive languages in your work with sound?

Jacob Kirkegaard: Sometimes another medium complements or adds an extra dimension to the sound. Like in the desert I felt that the moving sands visualized the sound in a very meaningful way. Also because, a part from my job as writer I'm also part of a musical duo that works on field recordings/electronic music with reading texts and we just realized a work based on the desert!Silvia Bertolotti: You once said in an interview that: “Pierre Schaffer and Walter Rutmann made you think of the world as a musical instrument”. What therefore is the role of the artist? How does he create his sounds? I mean, is the artist a composer or listener?

Jacob Kirkegaard: The artist is the interpreter. Just like an artist painting a landscape; he paints what he sees but when you then look at her or his painting what you see is not just the landscape but it is the artist's interpretation of it. The artist is the medium. The world goes through us - we can choose to let it pass or we can paint it, record it or whatever and then re-present it in our way. I am interested in tracing the unheard sounds around me, revealing them and saying "hey listen to what I hear".

Silvia Bertolotti: What therefore is the role of the final listeners? How does the acoustic experience of the artist differ from that of the listener?

Jacob Kirkegaard: To me it is important to leave a part for the audience. I don't wish to dictate with my sound. I'd rather suggest.

Silvia Bertolotti: In listening to the world-instrument and the sound of nature, what is the role of technological instruments that you use? I mean, you are an artist who explores the most internal part of phenomena of places, giving them space for self-expression. But you use devices such as accelerators, hydrophones, acoustic microphones. What is the relationship between the sound object and the technical instrument?

Jacob Kirkegaard:The equipment I use is the medium - just like me as an artist. The way I choose and use equipment are my decisions which then shape the work. Say, if I had used five loudspeakers in Chernobyl instead of just one the work would have sounded different. The matter is the message, right? On the other hand if I hadn't used any loudspeakers in Chernobyl I wouldn't have been able to create my work at all. What I mean about letting the sounds speak by themselves is more that I am interested in listening in different ways (or with different ears - equipment) and wait and see how the sound will unfold. An iron fence that vibrates, resonates and generates different tones because of the wind for example.

Silvia Bertolotti: At a more general level, what is the relationship between sound and music? And starting from that, how is your creative process developed?

Jacob Kirkegaard: There is no such thing as just sound. I think that sound is something objective whereas music is a subjective feeling. So any sound can be music. It depends on the way we are able to interpret the sounds around us. So for me my explorations start when I feel that there is a potential link between a story or a concept and a sound that is interesting to me.

Silvia Bertolotti: I just wanted to know which is basically your creative proccess. I mean, you start from the souns in itself and the how do you "interpret" it? Which are you creative phases (listening, recording, editing, do you have a main concept at the beginning or it develops with the work..etc).

Jacob Kirkegaard: It usually starts when I hear or read about a special sound phenomenon. Like for example the "Singing Sands". It sounded so mysterious that I immediately began fantasizing about how it would sound like. Then I decided to go find the sound. When I was then in the desert I discovered that the sound was different from what I had imagined but nevertheless very interesting. Being there shaped the more concrete idea of how to create the work = what do to with the sound. To my surprise I also discovered the visual aspects of it and decided to return with a video camera. So it is kind of a back & forth; I get inspired to investigate something which then in return challenges me.

Silvia Bertolotti: How did you choose the works that you will present at the Sonic Acts Festival in Amsterdam? Is there a connection between Sabulation and Labyrinthitis?

Jacob Kirkegaard: Those two works are just my most recent larger works. Sabulation was shown for the first time last month at Club Transmediale in Berlin so it is still a very fresh work. And the curators of Sonic Acts insisted on including Labyrinthitis as well and I'm very delighted to show both works.

Silvia Bertolotti: What are your plans for the future? Are you working on something in particular?

Jacob Kirkegaard: I've various projects; installations, music and travels. Next month I'll be in Ethiopia to collect sound for a Danish film project. In march I'll create a sound installation for the KW - Kunstwerke in Berlin. Over the summer I'll be working on my first permanent art piece which will be created for and integrated into the new University of Copenhagen. I'll also be remixing some music, doing some concerts together with Lydia Lunch, designing a listening space for Roskilde Festival and in autumn I'll be in Japan to exhibit Sabulation among other things.



By Juliana Hodkinson, published by Cambridge Architecture Journal SCROOPE, 2009
To read the article please click here



By Jacob Fallon. For SOMA Magazine - The Fashion Issue, Aug 2009
Click here for link to article

Most people wouldn’t consider the “inner” sound of an iron fence musical or think to use low-amplitude frequencies to “play” the elements of a building. Nor would most people find it necessary to record the silence of an empty room, play the recording back into the room whilst recording it again, then repeat the process ten times over. Thankfully, for both the art and experimental sound world, Jacob Kirkegaard isn’t most people.

The Berlin-based artist, born in Denmark in the mid-’70s, has been working with unconventional sound recording since childhood, though the subject matter and methods have changed throughout his life.

“At school I recorded my friends, and at home I remember placing those walkie-talkie devices for kids in the other rooms so I could listen to my parents’ conversations,” recounts Kirkegaard. “I only started focusing on what I do today when I heard a radio feature in 1995 on Pierre Henry, the inventor of musique concrete. He inspired me to record my surroundings and then to put those sounds together into compositions.”

Still, it wasn’t until his early-’30s, while Kirkegaard studied at the Arts and Media College in Cologne, Germany, that he discovered the recording techniques that would help him design, and eventually define, his art. Instead of using a run-of-the-mill acoustic microphone, Kirkegaard began to experiment with special contact microphones that rely on a material’s vibrations, commonly known as accelerometers.

“That’s where the world of hidden and ‘inner’ sound opened for me,” he says. “Since then, I’ve been searching to explore discreet or unexpected sounds that live among and far from us.”

Projects such as “Eisenwind,” a recording of vibrations from water, wind, and passing ships along the iron fences surrounding the Rhine River, and “Loop Tower,” a live broadcast of sounds from the motions of wheels, wires, and other parts of the Berlin TV tower, possess a droning quality that can only be described as a symphony of metallic ghosts. Kirkegaard’s work is simultaneously industrial and a completely natural interaction with the elements of everyday life.

“I am very devoted to real sound, in contrast to synthetic sound, because of its many layers, noise, unpredictably, and life. Vibration is air pressure, and air pressure can often be heard as sound,” he says. “I’m interested in letting objects vibrate and to make sounds that way, so the sound isn’t coming from the loudspeaker, but from the material instead. I suppose that I am trying to be liberated from the speaker!”

When designing a project or building an installation, Jacob allows the work to define itself, while always remaining aware of how each part will interact. In a recent installation, entitled “Phonurgia Metallis,” he suspended three ultra-thin plates of copper, brass, and iron with contact microphones and essentially allowed them to “sing” to one another.

“I mirrored the natural vibration of the plates and made them vibrate into themselves and in their own sound,” he says. “The sounds vary because copper, for example, is heavier than brass. The installation is in the plates. The sound is in the plates. There are no conventional speakers or any extra sound. Only amplification and mirroring.”

Kirkegaard has a handful of like-minded peers, but none take the same sort of approach to creating their art. Whether documenting the sounds of the “Singing Sands” in the deserts of Oman, or digging through Iceland’s sonically rich volcanic earth, Kirkegaard is constantly uncovering the world’s hidden music with a conviction that borders on responsibility.

“Without me and my interaction, there wouldn’t be any sound; but, on the other hand, the resonance is already there somehow. We just can’t hear it.”




Tobias Fischer, Tokafi.com, November 2008

Even though science seems unable to deliver irrefutable evidence for it, we are all aware of the phenomenon that just by looking at at a particular person we can garner his or her attention. The eye apparently has an ingoing and an outgoing function, processing data from the world around us and sending out streams of information in return. Hardly anyone, however, seems to be aware of an astounding analogy to this story on the acoustic level, even though its details have been analysed much more thoroughly. Otoacoustic emissions and Tartini Tones are all around us and Danish artist Jacob Kirkegaard has found a striking way of demonstrating their power.

Kirkegaard was already familiar with the basic concept of the ear's inner resonance, when the Medical Museion of Copenhagen approached him with the commission for a work which was to be premiered at the "Art & Biomedicine" conference in September of last year. The idea of listening to his own ears in action seemed a perfect paradox to him and he gladly accepted. Only a short while later, tiny microphones were inserted into his own ears at the DTU in Denmark, recording discreet frequencies and working on "Labyrinthitis", a composition which combined psychoacoustic effects with artistic inventiveness.

Even though the concept of "Labyrinthitis" seems revolutionary, Kirkegaard made use of basic discoveries and theories formulated centuries ago. Italian composer and musicologist Giuseppe Tartini was officially the first to stumble upon otoacoustic emissions. Tartini was also a famed Violinist and Teacher and while tuning his instrument, he discovered that by playing two strings in a certain ratio, a third tone would magically manifest itself. "To this day, Tartini's application of this acoustical phenomenon is useful for players of string instruments", he explains, "since the tuning as well as the intonation of double-stops can best be judged by careful listening to the so-called difference tone."

A similar process can be observed in our ears. When two tones enter the cochlea, they cause its hairs to vibrate, resulting in the perception of these tones in our mind. In particular instances these vibrations will also lead to movement of the connected basilar membranes. Subsequently, the ear starts producing and emitting sounds itself (in turn called "distortion product otoacoustic emission" or DPOAE's) - not just as a byproduct of the brain, but as "real", physical waves. Whenever this happens, our ear is not only hearing, but "singing" as well and its "music" can be picked up by microphones, ampflified and played back to others. This, then, is the concept at the heart of "Labyrinthitis".

"A little tube with two speakers and a microphone was inserted into my left ear. It sent in two tones of a ratio of 1 - 1.2. This frequency combination made the hair cells inside my cochlea generate a tone in response. That tone was recorded by the microphone and the two tones generating it was filtered away", Jacob Kirkegaard tells me about the recording process for the basic source material of the piece, "For the composition I used the same principle but now only using the tones generated by my own ears. I tuned them into the ratio of 1 - 1.2 and played them out of the speakers and into the listeners ears. In that way the tones of my ears generate tones in those of the listener."

"Labyrinthitis" is marked by an interlocking architecture: Opening with his own DPOAE's, he sends his frequencies into the audience, allowing their ears to react with these frequencies and producing various inner-ear events on a subjective level. This is then followed by the public reproduction of the third frequency in his own ear, which again causes new sonic phenomena. Like a landslide, the 38-minute track picks up pace and eventually causes the entire body to vibrate - in my case resulting in a hypnotic transfixation, a slightly stiff neck and a tingling sensation in my back, which slowly moved towards my belly and back again. Meanwhile, the room and the objects inside of it seemed to oscillate as well. Just like a Sunn O)) performance, it is an intense experience evoking both exciting and rather frightening feelings.

Experience from public performances confirm the immediate and undeniable impact of Kirkegaard's piece. "The audience have often been very talkative afterwards", he agrees, "Many people have expressed experiences in new ways of hearing, hearing themselves hearing, hearing different things in the left and right ear, sounds passing through the head, that they could move between the tones, that their skull resonated or that their 'ears were at work'." For some, as he remembers, the drastic nature of the composition was actually its main benefit: "An old man with only 10% hearing told me that he heard my tones clearer than he had heard anything for many years."

Subjective and objective - these are important terms with regards to "Labyrinthitis". So, as a final question, has Kirkegaard become more tolerant of other people's perceptions of music after going through the compositional process? "Not necessarily. I think that sound art and conventional music often are being listened to in different ways. When people come to my shows, I often present it and afterwards we discuss about the concept. Before playing Labyrinthitis I ask people to 'listen' to their own ears. This makes them more open just to 'listen' to the sounds I created. And of course less focussed on whether they like it, as they like the music they listen to as music."
"Labyrinthitis" is out now on Touch Records

Tobias Fischer



Anne Kockelkorn (June 08)

The works of the soundartist Jacob Kirkegaard emerge in between composition, recording techniques and spatial installations; actually he uses rather unorthodox recording techniques like accelerometer, hydrophones or home-built equipment. We met Jacob in a cafe in Görlitzer Park and talked about is works Eldfjall, Aion/ 4 Rooms and Labyrinthitis: Eldfjall is an album using the recordings of the seismic movement of volcanic earth, Aion/ 4 Rooms works with the playback-recording of four spaces in the isolated zone of Chernobyl and the most recent work Labyrinthitis plays with the otoacoustic emissions of the human ear.

You refer to Labyrinthitis as “the infection of the inner ear”. As I listened to the piece for the first time this year, I had that feeling of sounds going literally through my head – even without using stereo headphones.

The piece activates the hair cells in the cochlea liquid to generate tones. So you don’t only hear sounds coming from outside your body, but you also hear sounds coming from inside your ear. It’s a paradox: the movement of the hair cells is responsible for our hearing, but it’s also the hair cells that produce tones by themselves.

I have tinnitus and the pitch in my head is changing the whole time. When I enter a room and hear unexpectedly a continuous pitch of high frequency, I often don’t know whether it’s a radiator, a printer on hold, or a tone in my head. After listening to Labyrinthitis, I was quite disturbed.

I have tinnitus as well, but my tones are of a very high-pitch and constant. They don’t disturb me. But tinnitus is not a real tone.

The tones in Labyrinthitis are real?

It is a simple physical or anatomical process. Just imagine the liquid of the cochlea like a basin with water. If you have any sound entering the ear, the water vibrates. And according to the frequency, you will have a standing wave with a certain frequency in the water, which makes the hair cells oscillate and send neuro-signals to the brain. But if you send two tones of a certain ratio into the water – into the inner ear – you not only have two standing waves in the water, but also several others, the frequency of which can be exactly calculated.
Labyrinthitis is composed in the frequency ratio of 1:1.2. It starts off with two tones at 3199.2 and 2666 Hertz which create a slightly deeper tone in the ear. Since I know it is exactly at the frequency of 2132.8 Hertz, I fade that tone in and add another tone in the ratio of 1:1.2 on top, which creates another tone in the ear, again slightly deeper, and so forth. The combination tones are always slightly deeper, that’s why the composition is descending.

You are composing with a place inside the body of the listener. In terms of anatomical structure, the cochlea is one of the most “architectural” parts of the body considering its stability, resistance and spatiality. It’s the hardest piece of bone of the human body next to the teeth.

That’s why you feel that the piece is taking place at different locations in your head. The composition is literally going through most of the cochlear spectrum; the lower the frequency, the deeper inside the cochlea the response of the hair cells happens. You have to listen to the piece in order to make it happen. Half of the piece is created inside you.

Aion/ 4 Rooms is based on a montage of time: you record a situation and play it back – but on CD you just hear a very strong, atmospheric groan. Labyrinthitis has a very strong physical effect – but if you don’t know much about the anatomy of the inner ear, you don’t understand what is going on. How important is the listener’s previous knowledge, either anatomical or conceptual?

If I exhibit or if I release work on CD, there is always an explanatory text. That’s an offer to the listener. On the other hand, I like the idea that you don’t know exactly what’s going on. Labyrinthitis is not a scientific work about the ear. I want people to get lost in the end.

What triggers your curiosity to discover and tap unknown territories by acoustic means – like the contaminated area of Chernobyl, volcanic vibrations or the human cochlea?

When I started to do recordings of the city environment about 13 years ago, I thought, ok, I don’t want to play instruments any more, I want to investigate the world as an instrument. Inspirations were artistic movements like Musique Concrète and the works of Pierre Schaefer, but also the film week-end: Walter Ruttman presented a black screen to his audiences and played a montage of city sounds to them as a Hörfilm – as early as 1930. But I guess my interest in the unknown or hidden sound environment really started when I studied at the Academy for Media Arts in Cologne where I could experiment with different recording techniques. One of the most important things to discover was the fact that sound is not what it seems to be. It is more like a human being. Recording techniques make it possible to dive underneath the surface of a human being. You can listen to my shoulder whilst I am speaking and you can hear the sound through my skin.

I understand your position in some respect as a “mediator” between new techniques, scientific research and the way these techniques clarify the mechanisms of certain phenomena. What about your role as an author?

I have often been asked: “What impact does the equipment have? Would it change if the loudspeaker was larger?” Of course, it would change. Maybe the term “interaction” would be correct. The technical equipment is important and each place has a life of its own. But without me, there wouldn’t be a piece: I decide on the day and the place to go to, I determine the equipment, and so on.

I would like to understand the point where your intentions come into play.

I don’t know if I have any. I have a concept. An idea. But that changes. For Aion I only knew that I was gonna go to Chernobyl and do these recordings, inspired by Alvin Lucier’s playback-recordings of space and voice. But I don’t know in advance what it is going to sound like. I don’t work at all with the intentions of a classical composer. I am more interested in unfolding the sound by a method than by intention.

There are certainly differences between your work and a piece of classical music, but I also see some analogies in terms of composition techniques. The mathematical construction of Labyrinthitis and a baroque counterpoint are not totally alien to each other.

When my idea for Labyrinthitis first appeared I actually had Bach’s “Musikalisches Opfer” in mind; that’s a piece which ascends continuously and eventually ends where it came from. And I had hoped, that the combination tones in the ear would ascend – even though that’s a very Christian idea. As it is, it goes in the other direction, downwards – inwards, into the cochlea.

Medical apparati can record body-sounds and noises and turn them inside out, like the heartbeat or metabolism noises. In Labyrinthitis you are composing with a body area that is forever out of reach for the listener – and you manipulate it. How do you deal with that position of power?

I think, my pieces trigger something on a rather physical level. Once, I was working in a sound installation in Kaliningrad, in a circular space within an old military fortress, which was fantastic for acoustic playback-recording of the space. I used a similar principle as in Aion, but here you could experience the piece in the room where it had been recorded. The spatial setup created very powerful vibrations, which in fact don’t disturb the ear, but are transmitted through the body. By accident these vibrations were felt very strongly below the waistline.

That was no intention of yours?

No. Sound can touch our senses physically and evoke something emotional. But I don’t intentionally create a situation which evokes a certain emotion. I want the people to invent their own story.
And yet the sounds you compose enter the listener’s intimate space without asking them. You create a state of mind, which “touches” you in a similar way as if you were listening to classical or popular music.

What’s the idea behind the freedom of the listener?

It’s all a suggestion. You can leave the room. Emotional music or aggressive music – these things are incredibly predictable. It’s all tricks: keys, tonal changes, rhythm, doesn’t matter if it is techno or classical music. I hope that my pieces leave enough space for listener’s individual intimacy – a space which might appear in the method itself, somewhere in the gap between technique and intention. I completely agree on McLuhan, but on the other hand, technique is nothing unless we put a message in it.

Combination tones are one among several other forms of otoacoustic emissions; tones produced by the human ear itself. The phenomena was discovered in the 18th century by Georg Andreas Sorge and Giuseppe Tartini. Combination tones can be calculated according to different frequency relations, the two most prominent being the "cubic" distortion tone, most commonly used for hearing screening (fdp = 2f1 - f2) and the "quadratic" distortion tone, or simple
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Difference_tone"difference tone (fdp = f2 - f1).
Walter Ruttman ("http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/1887"1887 & http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/1941) was trained as an architect and is most commonly known as the filmmaker of „Berlin, Sinfonie der Großstadt“ (1927). The Hörfilm or Soundcollage „week-end“ created in 1930 isn’t as popular as the famous movie, except among radio professionals.




Marie Kølbæk Iversen (February 2007)

In March this year Swiss Institute had the great pleasure of presenting the extensive solo-project called ‘Broadway’, which had been created specifically for the institute by Danish artist, Jacob Kirkegaard. Not only is the piece conceptually challenging, it also functions as a manifestation and an investigation of the structure and historical location of the Swiss Institute that is situated on Broadway in SoHo, New York. As it has also been the case in previous works of Kirkegaard, he uses the hidden sound-resources of an already exiting location, which in this case is the sound of Broadway as it is mediated by the hollow, structural columns that run through the building’s eight storeys.
The five columns - that are a visible part of the exhibition space - are the protagonists of the piece, and it is their subtle vibrations, recorded by means of a contact microphone and played back into each column through exciters, that constitute the core of the sound installation. An exciter is a sort of electro-acoustic vibrator capable of turning almost any kind of substance into a loudspeaker, when it is attached to it. In the installation at Swiss Institute, 12 exciters were attached to each of the five columns, making the columns play their own sound, which is the sound of Broadway, year 2007.

Kirkegaard’s methodology is interesting, as what actually constitutes the piece is the exhibition space itself; in Broadway, it is the source, the method, the scene, and ultimately: the piece. This, of course, contradicts popular conception of the objective White Cube, which is thought of as a neutral framing for the art exhibited in it. To Kirkegaard the art space is just a specific a space as any other space, and thus, a possible subject to critical and artistic investigation; because, just as all other parts of the world the art space is instrumental in the framing of our experiences in this world and therefore worthy of a discussion reflecting on the validity of its constitutional terminologies.


Jacob Kirkegaard is an artist whose focus it is to dive into the phenomena and spaces of interest to him and let each space ‘speak for itself’. His tools are many and a lot of them related to science (accelerometers, hydrophones, electro-magnetic receivers, ultra-sound detectors and acoustical microphones) – they are all used to detect certain sounds that normally remain inaudible to the naked ear, but still exist hidden in the ground, deep within the nucleus of a nuclear power plant, in the silent spaces of abandoned houses and blowing in the wind around us.

Kirkegaard, born 1975, received his MFA in 2006 after having studied at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany under the direct supervision of professor Siegfried Zielinski and professor Anthony Moore. Furthermore, he has been taught to play classic cello by Niels Erik Clausen for a period spanning from 1995 – 2000. The initial interest in sound and music was inspired by the guitar his father gave him when Jacob was only 12. This guitar along with the oriental instruments his father had collected on his many journeys, became the early starting point for Kirkegaard’s musical and acoustical ventures that were soon to develop into an actual practice founded in a never- ending curiosity to become more than just acquiantant with the core of the phenomenology of sound. This soon led him to carry out his research outside the domain of composed music rather than inside it. Because, just as one can generate other sounds with a guitar than those of the strings - and those sounds can be perceived as pretty, even though one would probably hesitate to define them as ‘guitar- play’ – other phenomena of the world we live in, can be perceived and enjoyed through the sense of hearing, even if they, conventionally speaking, are known as phenomena of either visual character or just random sounds generated by other activity - e.g. speeding up a car, which is rarely done with the purpose of generating sound but rather just to get going.

It was when Kirkegaard coincidentally came across early experimentalists like Pierre Schaeffer and the film-maker Walter Ruttmann that he found the conceptual precursors for his practice; a practice inspired by the world and the potential of this world to function as a source of sound that can be used directly as it is: rough, clean and unedited.

Schaeffer is known as the inventor of the term ‘concrete music’ (La Musique Concrète), while Ruttmann was carrying out his experiments in sound and (no) image 20 years before Schaeffer, and is especially known for his ‘hörfilm’ “Weekend”, which simply consists of sound recordings made on a weekend in urban Berlin, year 1930.


In my research I came across an interview with Pierre Schaeffer1, where he explains the
differences marking out the line between ‘music’ and ‘sound’. Since Kirkegaard has placed himself conveniently in the centre of this discussion he is at the same time interesting to the European etablissement de la musique, but also hard for them to deal with, because it is difficult to label his pieces consisting of relatively unedited sound-recordings of various natural phenomena as ‘music’.

In conducting his musical theory Schaeffer was pre-occupied with what he called ‘musical objects’ (objets sonores) that enable us to perceive and decode music – and also categorise what we have heard as ‘music’ rather than just random sound. Those musical objects are, according to Schaeffer, based upon inherited conventions describing the circumstances that constitute a musical piece; how it is composed and what makes it appear harmonic. This is highly relevant to Kirkegaard’s practice, as e.g. his album Eldfjall2 consists of nothing else than the mere recordings of Icelandic soil and the sound that is audible when recorded by a contact microphone placed within this soil, close to the Icelandic geysers that emit sounds of volcanic activity right under the surface of the earth. As described by Daniella Cascella3: “Kirkegaard's album is an absolutely effective portrait of the chaos that generated everything, a meeting point for vital and destructive forces, threatening and regenerating at the same time".

Over time, different members of the international music press have uttered that an album like Eldfjall was hard to describe as music, since Kirkegaard had stepped aside as the artistic creator to in stead take the position of the medium transmitting the sounds of hidden acoustic spheres. What is subtly expressed through a critique like this is that Kirkegaard is possibly compromising his own position as an artist – a position based upon the individual fundamentally wanting to add something new to the world s/he is living in.

Critics will say that Kirkegaard’s release does not fit within the musical conventions because it is Nature, not Kirkegaard, who is the real creator of the music for Eldfjall.

What is not included, and not perceived, in such a critique, is the possibility that Kirkegaard is not interested in the position of the author. His agenda is rather to inspire his audience to be open to perceive the general relevance of the album – because, it is one thing to create something new (is it possible?), but it is something completely different to focus on and discuss something interesting. That music as a term is based on inherited conventions, as Schaeffer suggests, is obviously compromising the overall idea that music can ever be new and groundbreaking, because it simply cannot be perceived if it does not correspond with musical tradition. This should be the final disarmament of the myth of the artist genius, since the very thought of it is based upon the artist’s unique ability to create something new; hence, a logical consequence of this problem would be to detach the artist from the genius and reconsider the expectations we, the audience, meet the art with.

It is true that once an artist chooses to let the sound stand alone, unedited and clear, the audience and the critics are challenged if they expect themselves to be able judge the quality of the musical piece from the artist’s creativity as a composer. But, it is now clear to us that the essence of Kirkegaard’s creativity is stored elsewhere - that is: not in composition as such. It is rather his sensitivity towards the high potential of the earth and the world as sound-resources; his unique ability to conceptualize the mediation of those hidden sound-resources in a way that makes the listener feel included and inspired to carry on the search for hidden sound-spheres her-/himself, making everyday-life seem less mundane.


In November 2006, when I was invited to curate a project for the Swiss Institute in New York, I was very concerned with parallel- systems in the art-world that can be understood in analogy with Schaeffer’s distinction between ‘music’ and ‘sound’ – also in the art-world there is a sort of filtering taking place determining whether the sensations one is subject to in the exhibition space are intended (art) or random phenomena irrelevant to the purpose of one’s visit. While your ear catches the sound of steps in the hallway, you smell the citrus-soap the cleaning lady has used to clean the floors – all the while you are looking at a photography hanging on the gallery wall – which sensation is the most important? – The photographic representation of a situation hanging on the wall? Or, the first-hand experience of the smells and sounds of the gallery space?

The 5 senses are our alarming system helping us to decide whether we are in danger or not – for this reason it is a sort of luxury, but also potentially confusing that we stimulate our senses to the extent it is seen with impressions serving an entertaining, exciting and/or pleasing purpose, because it blurs the differentiation we, human beings, have to make to be sure that we are safe. Our highly developed ability to differentiate helps us defining what is important and what is irrelevant to us, and our existence: the surrounding world is important as it serves as the framework of our lives and presents us to people of similar and of different interests. The art object is important because someone said so – it was created with a purpose and a thought in mind and carries its justification within its shape and medium. But, the random phenomena such as sounds of speeding cars, objects in the street, shifts in weather and the like are possibly meaningless – or, it is up to every one of us to interpret them, experience them – provide them with meaningfulness.

As I interpret the ideas of La Musique Concrete, its precursors and descendants, and like-minded people within the field of visual art, their interest is to encourage the listener/viewer to be equally awake when meeting the world as when experiencing art, which in the concept of La Musique Concrete is a selection of already existing phenomena rather than a newly designed piece developed for presentation within a neutral framing: in the art space.

The convention of the White Cube renders the actual space almost super-natural as it is thought of as an invisible ‘non-space’ transformable into an ‘any-kind-of-space’ by the installation of art-projects. But, just as it happened to witchcraft in fairy-tales and the hills of elves that were invisible and impossible to escape once one had entered, the neutral art space (the White Cube) is a mythical heritage from the past that has to stand the test against contemporary pragmatism to prove its validity and existence.

Thus, Jacob Kirkegaard was asked not to mediate sound from other acoustic sphere to the Swiss Institute’s audience, but in stead to focus on the space in which the piece would be exhibited: the actual physical space of the Swiss Institute gallery. This was done in an attempt to reveal an underlying nothingness by means of his acoustical exorcism – to see if the gallery-space behind all the sounds resonating in it, would be only this: a neutral, silent and objective space for exhibiting and experiencing art?


The gallery-space at Swiss Institute is similar to other SoHo spaces that have undergone thorough restoration: it is a typical NYC-loft with high ceilings and large windows, the floor seems to be the original floor, and the space as a whole comes across as rough, but also elegant, with the white walls that at the ceilings leaves space for the naked brick walls to show. By designing the space this way, it seems that the architects have wished to tell us that there is no way a space with that location (495 Broadway, SoHo, NYC) will come across as neutral – New York is in your eyes, ears and mind when you walk in from the street and will without a doubt influence on the experience you will get in the space. So, why bother, why not just walk the line and let New York shine through in all aspects of the interior architecture as well?

The gallery is split along the middle by a line of white columns running through the 8 storeys of the building. Since it is mainly made and carried by cast iron the building clearly transmits the sounds of its surroundings, and especially of Broadway running at its feet with the subway-lines N,Q,R & W rumbling underground. This was the discovery that Jacob Kirkegaard made while going through the specifications of the space in November 2006: when listening to the columns he could easily hear how the building resonated with its surrounding: i.e. the capital of the Western world, New York, and its main street: Broadway! And, the idea for the sound-installation, Broadway, was conceived, as a reflection on the dubious objectivity of the exhibition space exemplified by the gallery at the Swiss Institute.

Our working thesis was that ‘every space is a space of its own, a specific space with its own characteristics, pros and cons’ and the aim was to let the characteristics of the Swiss Institute gallery
shine through, as exorcised by Kirkegaard’s advanced method. His idea was simple but brilliant: to use a contact microphone to make a recording of the resonance transmitted by the columns and then amplify this resonance by means of exciters, making the columns play their own sound, which is the sound of Broadway and Soho and ultimately: the sound of New York.

SoHo, which is the abbreviation for the neighbourhood situated South of Houston Street in the lower part of Manhattan, is widely known to be the home of a line of underground - to be overground - artists of the 70s and 80s; and, it is the memory of those days that has provided the area with its bohemian reputation: the place to live out the American Dream within an artistic context.

The idea of New York as an embracing refuge for cutting-edge art and artists is still recycled, even though the rent in SoHo - just as in the rest of NYC - has reached heights that make it impossible for anyone to live there unless s/he has a generous sponsor or is out of a rich family. Today the city and its development are governed by commercial interests, but it is still thought of as artistic, cutting-edge and bohemian.

It is therefore no surprise, but still striking that what you hear when you listen to the sound of the columns running through the Swiss Institute gallery, is not the audible reminiscent of past times’ glamour, but in stead the well-known noise of an urban commercial district. And, it is the very essence of this, which underlines how times keep changing: the popularity and gentrification of the district has caused the move-out of the artists, who initially caused the area’s popularity to rise. What is now left is the tale and the memory of a reality belonging to the past, where SoHo was a place driven by artists’ initiatives.


For his project at the Swiss Institute, Jacob Kirkegaard chose to focus his piece on the acoustics of the space: that it is singing in resonance with its surroundings. As mentioned earlier, he recorded the resonance as conducted by the columns only to play these recordings back into the space through the columns on which he had attached a total of 60 exciters, 12 on each column, to make them oscillate, and thus amplify the recorded sound: the sound of Broadway. When you listen to the columns, you hear the sound of accelerating cars and the underground subway-traffic, and when recording these sounds you will get two very different gamuts of frequency: one that is very low at 0-100 Hz and a high-range one of 800-100 Hz.

Since the piece, Broadway, is focusing on the columns and their mediation of the sounds of their surroundings, Kirkegaard chose to work with the gamut in the high end of the scale, as it would enable him to intensify this phenomenon and let the hollow columns fill the space with their metallic sound. Would he have chosen to work with the low frequencies, it would have applied a different angle to the piece and given it other connotations, as it would have affected the body quite violently making you feel the bass in your chest and stomach. Furthermore, it would have endangered the building that could ultimately collapse from the low frequency oscillations.

As the piece, Broadway, turned out, the columns sing their own resonance out loud pointing at the fact that both the columns and the space are hollow; empty spaces to be filled by what is going on around them. The piece that was exhibited at the Swiss Institute is nothing but a reflection on itself and the space that generated it. This makes it extremely site-specific, as the concept would come across remarkably different if it was to be carried out and exhibited elsewhere. This disarms the myth of the completely neutral exhibition space, since what was exhibited was an enforcement of the gallery space’s own characteristics – if it was a neutral space there would be no sound to record and amplify! Hence, it is not only, as in La Musique Concrete, an abstraction of an actual sound-resource, but rather an enforcement of this sound- resource in its own surroundings.

Broadway is singing metallically and beautifully as the intensity of each column rises and falls independently of the others, and generally the installation comes across as rather distinct from the known sounds of a machine-driven metropolis like New York.

Maybe we succeeded after all – but only through the filter of the arts – to reach the essence of the exhibition space, which is not a space of nothingness, but a specific space defined by the art that inhabits it. The sound of the singing columns is generated by the specific location of the Swiss Institute, and their song is the sound of the exhibition space – because, without the art in the space, their song would not be directly audible. So, Kirkegaard succeeded in defining the character of the art space through his piece that illustrates the essence of a gallery as such: an art space that communicates its art flexibly but not neutrally.

This leads me to think that the neutral, objective art space is a virtual space rather than a physical one; a potential of our awareness that might be awakened by the right stimuli: visual art, books, music, news – of which the most important ones are exactly the ones, we ourselves think of as valuable, since this virtual space is our own space and located somewhere between perception and the act of taking a stand.

This is the fact that Broadway and Kirkegaard’s other pieces become an emphasis of: that the greatest of all wonders is the fact that we exist, and that we are capable of experiencing and perceiving the world we are a part of; just as Kirkegaard perceives and documents the sound of a gallery with his recording equipment, all and every one of us capture and store certain memories and experiences of value to us that become important when forming an opinion and taking a stand in life. And, I guess this is when art is at its best; when the viewer becomes more than just an extra in the piece, when s/he is actually inspired to become an actively perceiving user of art- pieces, but most importantly: an active user of the world.

1. Recommended Records Quarterly magazine, volume 2, number 1, 1987 by Tim Hodgkinson
2. Touch, 2005
3. 'Blind Sound' by Daniela Cascella. 'Sound Art', Resonance Magazine, London, June 2005



Roger Batty, Musique Machine, July 06

Jacob Kirkegaard is a sound artist, who has thus far released two albums on UK's Touch label, along with a collaboration with Philip Jeck. His first album Eldfjall (2005) investigated the sounds made by the geothermal vibrations of Iceland's volcanic geyser regions. His more recent release has been 'Four Rooms', which was recorded within the isolated zone around the Chernobyl area. Here he investigates if radiation has a sound, I reviewed the album here. Jacob kindly agreed to give me an email interview, talking about the fascinating project 'Four Rooms' and his future work.

How did you first come about with the idea for Four Rooms?

The idea partly derived from a workshop that I did at the Danish Academy of Architecture in 2004. The idea for this workshop was to explore ways to listen to rooms and to explore time related to architecture. Another idea, came from a room. He recorded his voice in a room and played this recording back into the room, while recording it again and again. Lucier's piece does also bear an architectural aspect, as his voice changes according to the space he is located in. I thought it would be interesting to carry out this process in abandoned rooms, but without speaking like Lucier did, simply just to place a microphone in a room and to leave it alone.
Lastly, the most important motivation for 4 Rooms was my interest in radiation and the time-aspects attached to it. As we all know, some radiation in Chernobyl will be there for thousands of years to come, it is an incredible amount of time to imagine. By travelling to this zone and placing a microphone inside some of these radiating rooms, would I be able to record something of this time? If I then layered this on top of each other, would I then be able to listen to a longer span of time in a shorter time?

How did you go about getting permission to get in to the isolated zone?

It took a good amount of time on the internet untill I found out that there was an administrative office for the so-called 'zone of exclusion'. There I got in contact with a guide, who explained to me that I would have to write a letter explaining the purpose of my visit, including info about myself (passport number etc), and for how long I wanted to stay. After a couple of weeks I received an email from my guide, who told me that everything was alright and that I was welcome to come. I never received any official invitation, only an e-mail. It was actually not so difficult to get in as I had thought in the first place. I basically started my research, without any knowledge of how to enter, so it was of course very exciting to find out that I could now go. Once it became clear that I was actually going, I was so thrilled and nervous at the same time. I imagined that I was going to outer space, to hell or to paradise. Some no-space for sure.

Did you find yourself effected by the radiation?

well, during this whole project, the planning, the actual stay and now, I have gone through various states of feeling mentally effected. I have felt no signs of physical effect. As we know, the physical effects show later on, if at all. I will never know for sure. Before going, I spent at least 6 month's researching on radiation and the risks of going there. After reading articles and talking to radiation scientists etc. I arrived at the decision that it would be OK for me to go. Or else I wouldn't have gone.

Visiting the zone was undoubtedly the most interesting journey, I have ever been on. I spent three days travelling around in this wasteland, Surrounded by an outermost astonishing nature. The air seems so incredibly fresh. Of course you don't smell or see radiation, you just know that it is there, and this makes everything seem very artificial. Nature all of a sudden looks and sounds so artificial, or 'unnatural'. Very much like Tarkowski's landscape in Stalker. It was very filmic in fact. The effect that 'something is wrong here', but it hasn't revealed itself yet. Even the silence sounded strange. Radiation has added another dimension to what we know, something transcendent and mystical. Travelling for hours in an extremely lonely, but colourful and overwhelming landscape in an October autumn, knowing that there is something in the soil, something around me that I cannot see, evoked a feeling, that is very difficult to describe. I have never found myself feeling outside reality (literally alienated from the world that I understand). There is a different spirit inhabiting the place, it is divine, but devilish. Something that eats you slowly, but there is no monster to see, only wild nature. It is like a spell.
So it is an extremely interesting place, and it reached beyond myself. Experiencing Chernobyl is like entering another zone in myself.

How did you go about choosing the four rooms? And where exactly are they? Are they near each other?

I was interested in finding rooms, which had once been active meeting points for people. The rooms should contain a good resonance. The rooms should also bear a visual strength, since another part of this Chernobyl project involves video. This is now an installation entitled AION.
My guide around the zone was a fantastic person, she understood my project very well. Without her brilliant insight and knowledge of the zone, this project would have been very different. I explained to her about the project, she proposed some rooms, that she found interesting.
The three rooms were the swimming pool, the gym and the auditorium, all located in Pripyat city. The church is located in an abandoned village named Krasno. There are no churches in Pripyat, because Pripyat was built strictly on communistic ideas . So the 3 rooms are all located inside Pripyat, which inhabited 50.000 people. I don't know how far Krasno is located from Pripyat, but it took more than an hour to drive there, as the road was very bumpy and there were also trees to lift off the road on our way...

Explain in detail how the tracks were created? Over what period of time was each track completed etc?

Each track on the CD is the sound recorded in the respective rooms. For example, Swimming Pool is the sound of the swimming pool. The drones, tones and overtones that are heard on the track are the last sound layers I recorded there. At this point the room had started to sing. Creating the track, I didn't do much mixing or any processing of pitch or reverb, or anything like that. The sounds stand, purely as they were created on the spot. It is the technical approach in how to obtain this kind of sound that interests me, rather than to work with processing at home on my computer. I equalizing the sound file in order to let the already existing frequencies appear clearer. With some equalization, the dense layer of evoked overtones unfold.

How did you first become interested in sound art, this form of working?

I started creating music when I was around 12 years old, trying out all sorts of instruments, starting out with guitar and finding sounds inside my dad's oriental instruments that he had collected. I've studied classical cello as well, Bach and such. I was 19 years old, when I stumbled over Walter Ruttmann and also Pierre Schaeffer and they completely opened my horizon. They inspired me to think about 'the world' as being an instrument, contrary to all the obvious instruments, which were created with the intension of being an instrument. So I started recording the world and putting it together to my own puzzle... later on, studying at the academy of media arts in Cologne, Germany, I was introduced to exciting recording tools, aside from the normal acoustical microphone.
The accelerometer (a super sensitive contact microphone normally used for scientific purposes), inspired me to 'listen behind the surface' of things and this opened a very large world for me. Imagining that things dont sound as they immediately seem to. I could dive into them and listen from behind or below the sound. The quality of sound would only sound according to our perception or according to the tools we would use. The medium is of course always the message, but then I guess the less obvious, or hidden messages are the more exciting to explore.

What are your future plans for sound art work?

I have a whole lot of different projects for the rest of this year; After my stay in St. Petersburg, where I'm now enjoying a NIFCA residence. I will go to Italy, to set up work for the Eco e Narcio project curated by Daniela Cascella. My contribution for this project concentrates on a similar method, as the one I carried out in Chernobyl, namely to evoke a sounding space by layering the sound of a space. In Italy I found spaces with echo inside and outside astonishing landscapes.
In August I will create a work at the west coast of Jutland in Denmark, it will be a 16-channel sound tunnel right on the tidal sea, sand, and in the water. I will also present AION, at the Waves festival in Riga and do concerts in Sweden, London and Rotterdam. In the next issue of Leonardo Music Journal (MIT press) I will appear with a previously unreleased track from my Chernobyl trip entitled Concert Room.

Thanks to Jacob for the interview, Jacob's site can be found here here and here. Both albums can be ordered direct from here. All pictures were taken with permission from Jacob's own site.
[ Roger Batty ]

MUSIQUE MACHINE. Multi-Genre Music Magazine http://www.musiquemachine.com/
Review of '4 ROOMS' http://www.musiquemachine.com/reviews/reviews_template.php?id=773
INTERVIEW by Roger Batty (July 2006) http://www.musiquemachine.com/articles/articles_template.php?id=80



Bruel & Kjaer magazine November 2005 (http://www.bksv.com/4000.asp)

For Jacob Kirkegaard, an accomplished musician turned sound artist, the natural world is filled with music, hidden and unedited deep within the earths surface or caught in the current of an urban waterway. Equipped with a Brüel& Kjær accelerometer on his latest project, Jacob was able to uncover and capture the raw harmonies of a rumbling volcano, spewing geysers and crackling ice to create organic symphonies.


The causes and effects of environmental sound have been explored for centuries with specific theories, mathematical equations, methods and instruments devised to gather, measure, analyse, explain and compensate for the sonic phenomena that surround us.
While most commercial and industrial studies are focused on man-made noise sources and resolving their effects on the environment, Jacob Kirkegaards investigations tend to be more art than science.
In his earliest work with natural elements, Jacob used a microphone to capture the sound of water dripping from his kitchen tap. Realising the natural rhythm and tonal beat hidden in a single water drop, he incorporated the recording samples into his compositions and played them at concerts and exhibitions. Today, he travels the world documenting hidden music in the environment and composing them into sound art.


Jacobs career in sound exploration began with musical instruments. He began studying guitar from the age of 12, continuing on to the cello, and ending his studies with an intense five-year programme in Classical Cello under the expert guidance of renowned cellist Niels Erik Clausen. But it was a radio programme showcasing concrete music, which truly captured his imagination. Inspired, he and a colleague researched and collected the sonic rhythm of Europes cities, and exhibited these diverse urban sounds in a multimedia project between 1996 and 2001.
He has since been involved in a number of sound installations at various world institutes, museums and festivals; created performance pieces for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation; and, recorded an array of collaborative and solo music CDs. He is currently finishing his Masters at the Academy of Media Art in Cologne, Germany and teaching, concurrently, the archeology of sound at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Being part of the sound department at the Academy of Media Arts, he was introduced to accelerometers and hydrophones. That introduction opened a whole new world for him from recording city noise with acoustical microphones to documenting the volatile pitches and drones of lifes vibrations using an accelerometer attached to a bridge railing. I am not especially interested in the technology behind the discoveries I make, but rather the possibilities the technology permits me, says Jacob. "Everywhere in the cosmos, there are such things as sound cells...if I can put my ear to their membrane, to the vibrating skin of such a cell, in order to record what is going on in there then I am very happy."
According to Jacob, sound membranes can be found wherever things melt and divide, such as the ice layers of a frozen lake, the fission centre of an atomic reactor, or the volatile landscape surrounding an active volcano. The accelerometer allows him to dive into the earth, go between layers and discover sounds known perhaps only to scientists, but which are normally hidden from everyday society. The natural tones and resonances that emerge, transforms what might normally be a basic scientific investigation, into an exploration in environmental art. As Jacob puts it, I am creating sound art, with a scientific approach.


In his latest project, Jacob travelled to Iceland and stumbled across the sonically rich wastelands around Krisuvik, which bubble and explode with volcanic activity. Equipped with a general purpose DeltaTron Accelerometer Type 4514-002 in his bag, Jacob mounted the accelerometer on a sharp- tipped probe and dived in to have a listen. With titanium housing and unique design, Type 4514-002 provides high seismic resonance and ruggedness, and is capable of operating at extreme temperatures.
Powered by Delta Tron Power Supply WB1372, the accelerometer converted the geothermal vibrations to electronic signals as the earth heaved, constricted, bubbled and spewed, and Jacob recorded every rumble, rattle, murmur and roar transmitted through the accelerometer. The earth has an incredibly interesting sound, because there is such a large spectrum in it, with the deep warm tones, high frequencies on top and a movement that gives associations to rhythm and music it is ideal for playing at home or performing at concerts, a statement that Jacob meant quite literally. In 2004, he released a music CD with recordings from the expedition. The unmanipulated sound tracks may not be what most people would consider dance music, but the pure sounds and high resolution allow the listener to journey into an underground world, which, for most of us, is beyond our reach.



Chris Toenes, POPMATTERS.COM, May 2005

Where is electronic music today? Some would say it is everywhere, seeping between the cracks of a porous society that supposedly has no use for blips and beeps; "it all sounds the same" seems invalid now. This column will address shifts in the landscape of electronic music, in its permutations as dance music, artistic computer constructions, and reflections of the past. The "where" of electronic music presents a modern question of how digital compositions work in contemporary art today, how computer musicians are partnering with visual artists, dance choreographers and using field recordings in different contexts to bridge the gap between conceptual art and "new" music. Although the synthesis of installation work and environmental recordings is not a recent development by any means, technological strides and the sheer saturation of artists working together ratchets up the interplay between these forms. As with any art form presented on a semi-large scale, these productions can be costly, so financial issues are also a mitigating factor, whether determining the details of a project, or encouraging the work as a paying job by the artists. Examining this cross-pollination through some of its practitioners and recent projects, I hope to explore the current reverberations bouncing through electronic music culture and the art world.
By incorporating all aspects of a project into the musical or audio composition, i.e., the structure, be it minimal sound-scapes, constructions of samples or digital patchworks, the site itself is used as an input or source of reflection. These works play on the idea that works of electronic nature can aptly mirror their surroundings.
Since recorded sound was available to artists, the mixture of mediums fascinated. With the tape collage experiments of the Fifties and Sixties, sound poetry and visual art were conjoined. Bruce Nauman, an artist always fascinated with language in his work, recently turned heads with his "Raw Materials", an aural collage at the Tate Modern. Arranging "bands of sound" across the width of the museum's Turbine Hall, Nauman sets up a living space with audio representations of people, so that the digitally reproduced audio becomes sculpture itself. From Tate curator Emma Dexter's notes, "The Turbine Hall is filled with voices, some clearly audible, others indistinct, which merge with new, 'found' sound from the voices of visitors. In Raw Materials, Nauman has transformed this cavernous space into a metaphor for the world, echoing to the endless sound of jokes, poems, pleas, greetings, statements and propositions".

In site-specific works, location is everything. In the case of the recentSpire project, an ancient cathedral provided the backdrop, music and informed the compositions. Reinterpretations of classic organ music by performances of classical composers' work paralleled new digital reconstructions. The live event was held at St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva, considered the crucible of the Reformation in 1534. The audience rotated between three separate venues within the cathedral area. Since the cathedral was the focal point of Jean Calvin's faith during the Reformation, spirituality is the common thread. The three distinct spaces provided individual contexts for the works. The main cathedral hall housed the actual organ works, with Charles Matthews and Marcus Davidson playing, via computer-controlled organ, five modern classical pieces in the pristine acoustic setting. In the second phase, BJ Nilsen and Philip Jeck performed on both organ and used manipulation. Nilsen's work was playing a duet by himself, between his electronics and the gigantic baffles of the organ for "Rues Basses". Jeck's appearance in the archeological site beneath the cathedral, appropriately called "The Crypt", shifted from the organ source to rock guitar samples, and cultural detritus from old records, in a way reflecting on the organ and traveling with it through time constructed by his various examples and inputs; a version of his own sonic archaeology. Christian Fennesz tied it together in the small Macchabees chapel, in a long-form passage of recombination, using the old and new sounds in a final statement of purpose within the stained-glassed walls of the giant cathedral.
Terre Thaemlitz works against the grain of most typical electronic music while retaining a deep love of its dance floor beginnings in disco and house music. His complex theories on music, transgender issues and critical theory, often included as texts with his recorded work, move with a searing sense of humor and wit. "Roller discos in the 70s were probably where I was first exposed to electronic music on a regular basis, although largely through disco with a bit of new wave crossover (Gary Numan, Devo...). Of course, rock was the dominant music, and within that I was drawn to groups like Styx (synth solo to "Come Sail Away", etc.). As I wrote about in "Replicas Rubato" (http://www.comatonse.com/writings/replicas.html), Gary Numan's "The Pleasure Principle" was the first record I ever bought". Even as a child, Thaemlitz "played" with how sound interacts with environment. "I started manipulating tapes during recording, by using weak batteries to record at a slow speed, which would result in fast playback with good batteries; or to only partially press the record button, causing the tape to start and stop, distorting the input signal... very basic, but there are somehow still parallels to how I produce music today. I played with this similarity of sound on "The Opposite of Genius or Chance" record I did for the EN/OF art-record label, including a recording I made at age 10 on one side, and a minimally altered digital "remix" on the other side".

When the source material is the earth itself, things can get really interesting. Jacob Kirkegaard is a sound artist working with geothermal recordings. His recent collection of field recordings, Eldfjall, captures sounds emitted around the area of Krisuvik, Geysir and Myvatn in Iceland. Kirkegaard uses accelerometers, vibration sensor microphones, to map the sounds of the geysers, producing rich layers of grumbling volcanic activity at the surface of the earth. "After using specific tools for capturing a sound, I naturally became more interested in its source, element and indeed also their space. Before, what I captured, was the sound from my immediate surroundings, something I desired to form and re-arrange, like when a poet picks up words and re-arranges them. Now I was all of a sudden able to explore gates to underworlds of sound, with the use of recording tools, enabling me to capture sound differently from the obvious acoustic way of hearing. I believe, that just because sound is invisible and abstract matter, it doesn´t necessarily lack space, movement or even the visual in it".
For many electronic musicians who integrate their work with site-specific work or collaborate with visual artists, their origins are in more traditional forms, like techno, breakbeats and dance-oriented genres. Thaemlitz's experience shows another angle. "In my case, it's rather the opposite. I started doing site-specific projects while still going to art college, then worked my way into DJ-ing (which is also a kind of site-specific performance, and that was in tranny clubs which also involved a kind of collaboration with drag queens, playing their show tunes, etc), and ultimately creating my own studio and working by myself. So, I guess DJ-ing was really the transition point". For Kirkegaard it was always about how to capture "that sound" in the best way possible. He adds, "It was the rich possibilities I found, when starting using electronic equipment for modulating the real sounds from my surroundings, which got me into this field. My first revelation into this world began when I heard a radio program on the pioneers of musique concrete, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, which motivated me to capture and modulate the sounds that fascinated me. Experimenting with old broken 78 records versus samplers I found a world where these fluent, invisible and abstract audible airwaves from my surroundings suddenly became within reach".
Asked if there is a favorite project over the years, Thaemlitz responds with an act of art prankishness and subversion. "My favorite collaboration would still have to be John Consigli and my unauthorized installation of beeping devices under gallery benches at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. That was back in 1989. We didn't really consider it an audio project - it was more of a "guerilla art" tactic to make museum-goers more aware of the industrial sounds and institutional environment around them (emphasizing the gallery space over the artworks on the walls). It was really fun and secretive. The beepers were all eventually found, and removed when we looked for them a few weeks later".
The implications of some of the artist's works in this field are historic, as in the spelunking in the cathedral at the Spire event, or, as in Kirkegaard's case, approach the mythological. He elaborates, "The vibrating earth recordings are not only rich, but they also come right out of the cooking earth, like if it was the earth mother herself, breathing". Recreating this in another space, like his surround concert of the Eldfjallrecordings can be a difficult goal. "I often present these earthly vibrations through multi-channel systems, in order to relocate this living event into another context and in this way enabling a new experience of sound".
A distinct reality for these projects is their appeal to artists as paying gigs, supporting the community of artists who cannot typically survive on the sales of their works. Thaemlitz adds, "These attempts are generally conditioned by budgets, whether the collaborators are actually able to physically work in the same space, whether that space is the actual final location, etc... I think it's really important not to get too starry-eyed about the heights of an art-form without also being pragmatic about the financial, political and social lows. I think one large factor for the sudden "interest in audio art" is the ongoing collapse of the commercial audio marketplace (such as the distributor EFA's closure, which forced many labels out of business, etc), which leaves a lot of producers like myself scattering for alternative income and taking it on like part-time work. A lot of musicians and artists don't like to talk about economics, but in the end, it's funding that drives this stuff, even if we're still talking about low-pay and even pro-bono work".
The converging of location into sound art continues and progresses at a rapid rate. With digital technology leading music in ten different directions, the manipulation of sound and its pathway into art presents an intriguing outlook on the future of electronic music and its offspring, leading to the ultimate: a complete sensory experience processed with infinite detail, individual to its place.
[Chris Toenes] POPMATTERS.COM, May 2005 (http://popmatters.com/music/columns/toenes/050516.shtml)


Sarah Schulze, Stadt Revue, Cologne Germany. March 2005

Jacob Kirkegaard gets vibes off the hidden places

Music, from the inside of things: a rhythmical clattering that blends into a chord of buzzing signals and then dissolves again; a distant drone that comes closer until your skull and your intestines start to hum quietly. The acoustic spheres of sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard originate from resonant spaces hitherto unheard and undreamt of - deep in the earth and high above the arctic horizon. On the occasion of his CD release "Eldfjall" on London-based label "Touch", the 29-year old Dane presents a sound installation at the Kölner Kunstverein in Cologne, Germany. His recent spatial-acoustic compositions involve natural phenomena that the artist discovered himself. For the tones that sing and rustle on Kirkegaard's tracks would not be audible, let alone admirable for their musical potential, if he had not fished them out of the silence. If these tones existed at all as long as there was nobody to listen to them?  An interesting question, but none that matters much to Kirkegaard.  After all, he is not an "Eksistensfilosof" occupied with ontological matters but quite practically employed with the excavation of sound material. 
Kirkegaard knows how to approach Being and Time in Nothingness without taking a leap of faith: by diving right into it with a measuring instrument.  
Accelometers and hydrophones have become indispensable working tools for the artist. He was first introduced to them at the Academy of Media Art in Cologne where he immatriculated in 2001 to study with Anthony Moore and other renowned artists and media theorists.  Beside his own work and musical collaborations - e.g. with Philip Jeck for the CD "Soaked", also released on Touch - Kirkegaard is now involved in a wide variety of artistic projects. In Cologne, he compiled a sound collage for the award- winning experimental documentary film "Visit Iraq" by Kamal Aljafari. Also, Yoshie Shibahara's dance performance "ISA - Ultima Thule" with ice sounds of Jacob Kirkegaard won the Cologne Dance Award in 2004.
Most of the time, however, Kirkegaard is out sound-hunting: chasing after volatile sounds in the ether and after locked resonance spaces in which he suspects a hidden music. His hunting equipment consists of a bag full of complicated contact microphones - small spears and antennas and magnets that he uses to impale the prey and apply leeches to it.  Thus he captures noises that have never reached the ear: in the nuclear fission center of an atomic power plant, in the crystal tears of an ice block, in the fire craters of geysirs and volcanos. The volcanic earth sounds of the "Eldfjall"-project, for example, Kirkegaard brought home from a trip to Iceland in 2004 when he was translating the frequency of the northern polar light into the acoustical. With the spheric "solar wind" he arranged an installation, which is presently exhibited at Kiasma in Helsinki. The trained musician and performer understands his expeditions as research excursions into phenomena that have been explained scientifically but hitherto remained inaccessible to everyday experience.
"Everywhere in the cosmos there are such things as sound cells, with their own interior lives", Kirkegaard explains. "They are independent, autopoetic organisms without any direct relation to us, but nevertheless indirectly formed by our existence. If I can put my ear to their membrane, to the vibrating skin of such a cell, in order to record what is going on in there - then I am very happy." 
His artistic and artificial way of sound documentation represents a challenge to the claim to objectivity of any  "true to life" acoustical recording. For Kirkegaard's work proves that if we listen to things from another perspective, nothing sounds - naturally! - as it sounds to the ear:
"It's as though I can climb into it. And the listeners are no longer kept outside, either, but they can enter and feel the darkness. The sounds in there are so much denser, and more compressed."  By presenting these sounds in an art context in clubs, museums and at festivals throughout the world, Kirkegaard wants to offer to his audience not simply music but also "make their brains fly" with a concept:  "After all, this here is not just a guitar solo. It is nature speaking its own language."  Kirkegaard particularly emphasizes the importance to leave a free space in which everyone can find their own access to this language. In fact, the recordings he made of the earth are in themselves so multi-faceted and expressive that the artist decided not to manipulate them - out of respect for their overwhelming natural strength and beauty.

During his latest explorations of natural forces, Kirkegaard has also come across the Rhine, which he calls " the most powerful resonant body in Cologne". Presently he is working on a "sound-mapping" project that concentrates particularly on the river and its acoustic environment and is to be presented as a radio piece by the "Studio für akustische Kunst" at WDR. "The Rhine has a lot to offer, sound-wise", says Kirkegaard contently, "above all those long metal railings along the riverbank promenades. And the bridges. There is so much volatile movement in it, and a lot of secrets."  If, as the German philosopher Sloterdijk once said, the world is not sound but the space of its possibility - then the Danish namesake of a philosopher has a great eavesdropping potential awaiting him there.

[Sarah Schulze
] Stadt Revue, Cologne Germany. March 2005