FIRST ENCOUNTERS – VALPARAISO/BONN
Prehistory. There was an artistic residency scheduled for November 2019 in the port of Valparaíso, Chile, that was never performed. A month before our social revolt began, after several unsuccessful attempts to reprogram, the Covid-19 pandemic started. The residency was finally carried out in June 2021 in Bonn.
A few days before to flight to Germany, I went to Valparaíso to perform a soundwalk through the city. There was no previously plan designed, I didn’t want to think much about which ones were the most significant sites, my intention was so simple: start the residence in the city that was an important part of the program but it will remains as a ghost, especially for my german fellows that couldn’t come, and somehow take a part of its atmosphere and energy. I began this experience in the house of Fernando Godoy who kindly walked with me to the distance, taking some photographs, while I just let myself be carried away by the lonely streets in a kind of initiation rite through perception and emotions.
Once in Bonn, together with my colleagues, we took a group bike ride guided by a soundmap of the city created by Sam Auinger. We started with the farther places and then we got closer to the city centre. The autobahn, the quarry, the bridges over the Rhein river, parks and cycle paths, the floating pier that sings, buildings, streets and pedestrian walkways. The field recordings that I made in those places were a perfect representation of the sound of the city. Through this augmented listening, time and stillness, it was possible for me to find a deeper relationship with the space and the conditions in which the urban life was working those days in the city of Bonn. (At the same time my city, Santiago de Chile, was under quarantine) IM05 – IM06 – IM07
I get in motion and I began to make different types of experimental recordings, searching through machines, structures and spaces, sounds that would satisfy my unconscious curiosity about what could be happening in a hidden way in front of us. In other words, moving attentively through a city in the same way that one walks through a forest, trying to decompose moments or circumstances into layers, searching for elements that make sense and somehow hit you inside.
THE RHEIN SITUATION – SUBAQUATIC UNKNOWN SOUNDSCAPES PT. 1
Of all the places we visited, the one that certainly captured our attention was the underpass to the Konrad Adenauer Bridge. Visually it is huge, sonically it is pure science fiction, the noise intensity and the reverberations that float under it are a trip to the afterlife.
We decided to make a second visit, this time provided with different objects to perform experiments on the spot, to use it as a kind of open laboratory. We played and tested with balloons and tubes, a ball, a loudspeaker, our own voices and clapping. When I heard that noise under the bridge for the first time I wondered what it would be like to hear it from the river, I mean under the water. So that afternoon, about five or six meters from the shore, in front of one huge pillar that supports the bridge, trying to simulate a stereo image with one left and one right source I installed a pair of hydrophones and sat down to listen.
While I was recording, different phenomena that were impossible to appreciate without having “underwater ears” were evidenced. I began to listen to the ships long before they approach. The “desynchronized shadow” produced by the rock support of the bridge where the sound of created by the propellers appears and disappears as the ships transit. The creaking of the structure under the water as result of the movement and weight of the tram over it, and the weird dissociation between the subtle vibrations produced by the boats and its robust and heavy image. These discoveries guided my interest to work with the underwater sound of the river, it was the invitation to the unknown that I was looking for, that listening situation was the territory to explore. If these phenomena appeared during my recordings, perhaps if the listener was not always the same, others could be evidenced, what remained to be developed was the way of introducing it, of opening it to others. This is how the idea arose of creating a device that would allow us to widely contemplate that underwater soundscape in an organic, minimalist, even childish way, that its rustic and basic appearance was at the same time an invitation to share and that its simplicity triggered the curiosity to want to know what was happening down there. What followed was the design of an acoustic device, without microphones, pick ups or electronic circuits, that would allow transducing those small vibrations, a kind of submersible stethoscope to listen to the phenomena produced.
After several tests and some changes in the original design, I managed to use a metal tank as a membrane to capture vibrations that propagated through the air contained in the tubes and hoses to reach hermetically directly to the listener’s ears. It was also necessary to get away from the bridge, it was too disturbing to settle there for a long time, its noise would mask any attempt at more subtle listening.
On Friday July 2nd I installed the final prototype on the river. All my fellow artists who arrived in Bonn that week for our final group exhibition were invited. One by one they sat down to contemplate.
I made a sound recording of the performance by the Rhein, however that time I was much more interested in what happened outside the water than under it. I wanted to know the impressions, comments, feelings and appreciations of my colleagues, and shared ideas deeply related to that listening action. Here are some of those feelings: It’s just like if you put your ears on railways, like fishing too, you should wait, like a meditation, even when there are no boats there is silence, but another kind of silence all these boats have different sound signatures, there is a disconnection between what you are listening and what you are seeing, it’s not easy, you really need to pay attention, you can feel the waves even with your neck, the movement is related to the listening, there is a nice sensation, a special silence, it´s different than silence in the air.
THE EXHIBITION – SUBAQUATIC UNKNOWN SOUNDSCAPES PT.2
The last part of this process was to prepare the final exhibition where we had the opportunity to share part of our creative process and some type of documentation about it. The best way that I found to document the process of creating the device and its subsequent installation in the riverside described above was creating a second device with similar characteristics, a kind of “indoor brother” that respected certain genetic relationships, but above all tried to evoke that deep abstraction through the listening situation.
The contrast was more than evident: an open and alive landscape, versus a white, closed and cold space. However, it was possible to establish some connections. The bare space of the room made the material come to life, those plastic tubes also are more related with this space than the river, and with the naked eye it was possible to observe the harmony between its design and the room architecture, where the pipes climbed to the top, finding courses to move ahead.
Another fundamental aspect of this sound installation was to respect the visual and listening disconnection, keeping the mystery of its invisible source. However, for those who could not deal with the curiosity and followed the pipes, they got their reward. Finally, I would have liked very much to carry out an exercise similar to that of the river where I could share with the listeners and learn from their perceptions and feelings.