Miloš Vojtěchovský: The audio art in Holland and The Tonality Czech Visual art

catalogue texts, Hermit I

The audio art in Holland

Hollan dis a place where so called audio or sound art has a short but important tradition and many artists and several institutions are concerned specially in this multimedia genre. Since 1960 a growing number of attempts to make music with space and colour have received international recognition.
The Fluxus influence can be be detected in the frequent anti-art element and irony, together with major signifikance of John Cage.

The pioneer of the electronic music in Holland – Dick Raaijmakers has had an enormous influence on many areas of art specially on the field of audio art. In 1967 he paved the way for the live use of electronic and he was also involved with the inception of the Foundation for Electro-Instrumental Music (STEIM) in Amsterdam. The aim of this foundation was the development of electronic instruments that can be used live at concerts and in theatres. STEIM i salso still a laboratory for composers, an educational organisation and a facilities centre for advice, sound recording and for the renting of equipment. The former director Michael Waisvisz set up in 1960 with Misha Mengelberg and Willem Breuker (both freak jazz muscians) the „Instant Composers Festival“ (I.C.P.) and was one of the organisers of the famous „Claxon Sound Festival“.

His own work consisted of what he later called the „Crack Instrument Project“. On the basis of this idea Waisvisz constructed crack boxes, mini crackers, the case crackers and many other different sound objects. One of this later was called „The Hands“ – alluminium constructions that look like oven gloves and are attached to the players hands. Sensors in the Hands ensure that movement of the fingers, hands and arms are translated into a series of strčit instructions to a computer sound system.

In amsterdam are beside the „Steim“ also other institutions which pay frequently atention to sound installations and audio Art. „Ears and Eyes- Who listens, sees“ was a credo which inspired the first „So und So und So“ audio festival in 1985. The last festival in 1998 (Holland Audio Art) organised by „Het Stichting Time Based Arts“ and „Het Shaffy Theater“, presented many Dutch artists who have been seminal influence over the last decade. Sound installation find their way also in the space of Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (the exhibition  „energieen“) or in the Gemeentemuseum in Hague.

The „Apollohuis“ in Eindhoven directed by Paul and Helen Panhuysen (formerly together with visuals artist and composer Remco Scha) was very important for many multimedia projects in Holland. „Het Apollohuis“ provided last 15 years a forum for visual art, music and performance and nortured countless sound sculptures and installations. In 1984 and 1985 there was held the „ECHO Festival“ where were presented many famous European and American sound artists and were edited publications which contain a general survey of the development of sound art and a bibliography of the literature, records and cassets, that have been published in the field of sound or audio art. Paul Panhyusen, who colaborated with meny artists all around the world, has achieved international fame by suspending installations of musical long strings which produce oceans of harmonics. His String installations and other works represents a „personal attempt at a synthesis of various disciplines, encopassing aspects of sculptures, architecture, improvisation, interderminancy and music composition“.

In Eindhoven also worked, among many others, sound artists Horst Rickels, RIck van Iersel and Joop van Brakel on a multi-media project „The Simulated Wood“. THis was a combination of visual art, literature and music, played on self made instruments. Each of these artists continues today to work on their new solo projects, based on the exploring of the universum of the sounds and construction of new string, percussion and brass instruments.

Hans van Koolwijk builds in Amsterdam enormous music installations – pipe organs using as materiál the bambu wood and creating real land-scapes of harmony between this natural materiál and space. From a different technological point of view constructs Ad van Buuren from den Bosch his mechanical „Dynamic panoramaphon“ using the systém of reel recorders and transforming the tiny sounds of simple instruments into a musical and visual interno.

These are only few names from the wide spectrum of the sound and audio art in Holland and many interesting artists are not mentioned. But there is enough literature about this issue and the archives of the Apollohuis and The International Audio Art Proejct in Anhern ort he Vleeshal exhibition center in Midelburg can give a more complete picture.

The technological approach is typical for many Dutch sounds artists and this is probably corresponding with the general development of the contemporary music and visual arts in Holland. Some institutions and festivals are entirely dedicated to the integration of several disciplines in art, and sound art has together with video art a stable position as a new complex language there. Paul Panhuysen wrote in his contribution to the book „The Images of Sound“: „ Removing the boundarries of the media an amalgamation of artistic disciplinares are necessary in order to learn once again to grasp the cohesion that exists in the world. Sound art explifies this struggle.

Miloš Vojtěchovský

The Tonality of Czech Visual Art

The 19th century believed that each „national“ culture hides inside, beside all of the various established symbols and visual iconographic patterns, also some kind of common melodic line, which makes each particular different from the other. Maybe it´s true to some extent: each landscape has its own tuning and specific rhythm, which are furthermore reflected in the organism of language, movement and eventually in the specific was of vision in a certain region.
Music always plays took a significant place in the hierarchy of artistic disciplines in the modern history of Czech culture and played an important role in the process of emancipation of Czech national self-confidence within Czech art. It was also Czech music, contrary to visual art, which was successful in entering the broader European context, especially in the first half of the 20th century. This relative success was the reason for maybe too conservative a picture of Czechoslovak culture prevailing in the West. In the modern history of Czech art, a number of artists and musician engaged themselves in exploring the relationships among colors, shapes and sounds, but the summary of this activity is not, as far as I know, available, or maybe in the process of being made. The first post-war retrospection of one the foreign members of the international group „Les artistes musicalistes“ took place as late as last year. The fondues of this group, Henry Valensi and Charles Blanc-Gatti, together with the poet Paul Valéry and musicians Arthur Honegger and Maurice Ravel, also invited Arne Hošek (1855–1941) to join the Paris exhibition in 1933. Hošek engaged himself in painting, architecture and theory, and today he is considered one of the most significant representatives of the so called „musicalists“.
Hošek could reassume the pioneer work of František Kupka, Vassily Kandinsky or Vojtěch Preissig for which musical elements were an important background for the composition of their painting. He was also a contemporary of a generation which, similarly to him, perceived music as a connecting harmonious force and as a model which can aim towards a clear, non-materials and non-ideological view of the world. In his water-colors Hošek endeavored to express a color hearing – synesthesia. From the opposite side the founder of Czech musical avant-garde, Alois Hába was approaching this field, and a lonely explorer in the field of experimental music, Miroslav Ponc, in his color scores. Lively communication and interdisciplinary characteristic of the avant-garde culture between two wars (Devětsil) contributed to the fact that many artists were moving on the boundary-lines of various artistic disciplines. But this situation was soon abruptly interrupted by the political evolution in Europe and it only turned into an echo of the long-lost happier times for a long period to come.
It was possible to reassume this tradition in the end of the 50s´, when young visual artists and musicians, who stayed away from the socialistic „creative! Pragmatism, started to meet again and cooperate. Composer Rudolf Komorous, together with his friends from the Academy of Visual Arts Bedřich Dlouhý, Jan Koblasa, Jaroslav Vožniak and Karel Nepraš, established a diversionary group, the Šmidras, which, in the midst of the grey academic realism of the 50s´and 60´s, took care in creating an extraordinarily grotesque and colorful art, both visual and musical. Komorous´ poetics, later inspired by eastern philosophy, influenced not only his colleague composers such as Jan Klusák or probably the best-known representative of the Czech New Music Petr Kotík, but also the already mentioned representatives of the art movement Czech Grotesque, the group which also had its own musical division.
In the stifling years of normalization in the 70´, the spiritual atmosphere definitely didn´t favor the creativity of modern art, but on the other hand, in way it unveiled an empty cliché and eventually found its expressions in the intensive private work and communications within the semi-legal circuit of friends and colleagues. The musical period of Milan Knížák, a Czech representative of movement Fluxus, also played an important role. Knížák, who always did everything in his own way, brought to the mostly restraint and lyrical artistic scene, features of anarchy and destruction, in the beginning strongly social and anti-academic. Towards the end of the 60´s he established an anti-musical group Aktual, which accompanied his poetic-proclamative texts. Later he engaged himself in damaging records (Broken Music) and only now he is coming back to „pop-music“. His early work is in many aspects akin to later Czech modification of underground art, strongly musically oriented. The most exalted stylization was assumed by the visionary performance of the „cursed“ rock group DG 307, led by Pavel Zajíček and Milan Hlavsa, or the naivistic-dadaistic group Sen noci svatojánské Band, which mixed the poetics of a pub brass band with symphonic music and persiflage of land art and outdoor trips.
Contrary to the underground, which by incessant persecution was sentenced to almost a mythical character, to doubts about its own existence and in connection with all this maybe also sentenced to incessant innovations, some experimental music groups managed to survive on the brink of legality. It was for example „Autentickej z Gokytňan“ or „Kilhets“ who, enlightened by the music of the group the Residents, mixed in the beginning of the 80´s, in their scarce concerts, the atrical features of rock performances with elements of improvisational and aleatoric music. Another interesting ensemble on the borderline of sound and visuality was Žabí hlen, producing a grotesque version of concrete music, in some ways maybe related to musical performance of the Fluxus, the group HUM or the George Maciunas group. In the ensemble, besides Vladimír Zadrobílek, there was also a sculptor and painter Aleš Veselý active, who later in the 80s´derived sound electronically from his bulky steel sculptures. These sound recording added on to his monumental work another important dimension.
Since the mid 60´sMilan Grygar has been engaged in the acoustic of drawing. He records the mechanics and the time dimension of ink drawing on paper and what used to be just a random subsidiary sound, acquires an important value in the work. His experiments with sound evolved in the broad series of the so called „ground-plan scores“, where the drawing is conceived on a geometrical plan and captures the configuration of sound sources: mechanical toys, glockenspiels or the creaking stick and their movement on the paper are recorded. Sound plastic scores became a ground for several audiovisual realization home and abroad, among others interpreted by the percussionist and composer Alan Vitouš and saxophonist Jiří Stivín. The sound aspect of drawing is also a subject of interest for Karel Adamus. In his peripatetic drawings, created while walking, the whole atmosphere of the landscape – wind, water and light – interplays with the rhythm of the steps and with each other’s. Marian Palla works towards the acoustic recording of an action from another point. He merges sound, performance and visual aspects in a number of various solo, private or group rituals (ensemble Florian), which enact the seemingly most simple activities together with the most enigmatic ones. The music Florian produces consists of the rolling of stones, smoothing down wood or pouring water, and also from utterly soundless actions such as falling of a thread or combing hair.
Another artist lately engaged in constructing acoustic sculptures is Luboš Dalmador Fiedler. He emerged in this field after a long period of activity in Prague´s alternative music scene, where ´he for example collaborated with the sculptor Čestmír Suška and musician Pavel Richter in Výtvarné divadlo Kolotoč (Graphic theatre Carrousel), in an ensemble which interconnected sound, theatre, film and sculpture. „Zapomenutý orchestr Země snivců“(The Forgotten Orchestra of the Land of Dreamers) plays the variable sound installation made of iron objects and their music, inspired by Bali gamelans, sound nevertheless entirely European, in the same was the acoustic work of Vojtěch and Irena Havels, influenced and minimalistic music, sound. Music and visual art complement each other harmonically in the work of painter, graphic artists, poet and musician Vladimír Kokolia. His serial paintings, in many cases created by an organic texture or rhythmical repetition of shapes and ornamental figures, are the opposite to the sound sheets and intermingled rhythms of the group E, of which Kokolia is a member and a singer
The discipline of sound installation, as it emerged in Belgium, Holland and Germany, doesn´t have many advocates in Czechoslovakia and most of all, it lacks space for its operations. Lately Miloš Šejn, with his students at the Academy of Visual Arts in Prague, pursues the relationship between the sound and sight. But we can capture musical sensitivity in the work of many painters and sculptors, and there are good reasons to believe the latest evolution in interconnecting various different media will also open new dimension there for the art of sound.

Miloš Vojtěchovský

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