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04.12.2019 | Words by: Angelina Nikolayeva

Max Neuhaus once said: “Our perception of space depends as much on what we hear as on what we see,” coining the term “sound installation.” Our senses feed our perceptions, and our perceptions feed our senses, defining the way we experience surroundings. Already a familiar face to De School, Boris Acket invited three of his friends, Salvador Breed, Nick VerstandPoul Holleman and Marcel Smit to take over De Aula as part of their artist in residency program to explore this phenomenon. Equipped with their custom-made modular system created together with Sjors Varkevisser, they will be playing with our perception of space by altering their set up each week. I sat down with the collective to find out more about what we can expect from them during the coming month.

A: Before diving in, can you briefly describe what you're up to in December in De Aula of De School?

B: We're bringing in a modular installation consisting of multiple elements, such as a spatial sound system, lasers and light pillars. With these objects we are creating audio-visual works, which we will reposition every week to play with the perception of the visitor. On top of that we've invited artists to join us during the residency to create a series of concerts and performances throughout the month.

A: How did you approach selecting the artists for your residency nights?

We were looking for artists who would feel comfortable in this specific setting. Artists who aren’t shy to experiment and are able to connect club music to ambient and experience. This really goes for Nadia and Mattheis who have made their fair share of dance floor material but are also quite experienced with more experimental works. I am also immensely looking forward to Kaap's set. He's playing an electro-acoustic set with self made instruments (amongst others a tape violin).

What About Now is the night we curated together with Tamar Brüggeman and Georges Mutsaerts from Wonderfeel Festival. So this programme turned out much more classical and with a lot of acoustic instrument-based live performances. I love classical music and find it really electrifying to have acoustic textures “flying” around you. We will be using a spatial looping system in which we can slowly fill a seemingly living sound environment. Maarten Vos and Sarah Jeffery are playing cello and flute over this system.

A: How did the idea of this residency come about?

B: I've been playing with this idea ever since I did my first performance in De Tuin in May of 2018 as Working Titles. De School is such an experiential place, it is perfect to host these kinds of experiments researching the boundaries between installation, performance and concert. The only element always missing in these projects is time. So, a residency format is ideal as we finally have the time to develop our techniques with actual shows and installations happening for audiences in between.

A: Who is joining the residency programme?

B: Since the idea for this residency came about, my collaboration with Nick Verstand, Poul Holleman and Salvador Breed intensified. As we developed so many works together recently, this residency feels like a logical conclusion of these years working in collaboration. That's why we decided to enter this residency in a collective form, bringing together all our shared knowledge and disciplines. Also included in the main group are Marcel Smit, the coder behind our custom light framework and Sjors Varkevisser, the co-designer of the light pillars we’re using.

A: The term “negative space” refers to the empty spaces around, between, and within the subject that affect the way the viewer perceives it. How did you become interested in this particular topic and why did you choose it as a theme for your residency?

N: We tried to find some common ground in the projects that each of us does and came across the idea of “Ma”, a Japanese concept that stands for the void or interval between compositional elements, or, in other words, negative space. It suggests that nothingness in-between events creates the work. Since our research focuses on investigating the way people perceive the space around them with sound and light, this concept connected with that really well. There are so many gaps that give room for your mind to wander.

A: What did you mean by the space between the events?

N: Take for instance 4'33' by John Cage. It’s basically a score instructing the performer not to play their instrument. This idea suggests that if you take a couple of markers in the space and draw a point on each of them, your mind creates a continuous shape. The same goes for a speaker system the way we use it, there are multiple speakers scattered around the room that create an illusion of something of a certain shape and size travelling through a space. The emptiness between all the objects is actually part of the design because your mind completes it.

A: You are using a 4DSOUND powered 24.6 multi speaker system. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

P: With 4DSOUND we create spatial sound technologies – a combination of hardware and software. For this occasion we are bringing some of the software tools to power the multi speaker system in De Aula, and enhance and expand our interactive tools. These tools are able to connect with other immersive media such as light and movement.

In the 4DSOUND software artists spatialise sound in an environment instead of the usual flat stereo setup. It’s important to understand that you are not dealing with speakers, but with virtual sound objects that move around and change in shape, size and behaviour over time.

The 4DSOUND software can be used as a live performance tool, a musical instrument that enables to intuitively control embodied sounds beyond basic panning. Indeed, we use a number of speakers to realise this, but the amount is irrelevant. Please listen to the sounds themselves.

A: How is the distribution of the sound being controlled?

S: You work in a 3D environment in which you place the sound, give it a shape, movement, behaviour. You’re able to place walls that reflect and/or deform it - It’s like sonic architecture.

A: In your installation, you are planning to use that same modular light systems you used for the performance of Maarten Vos in Janskerk, Blazing Suns in WAS and the A/V club at Wildeburg too. What is the difference in the way you approach that same medium in different settings?

N: When you base your work on the space you’re in, it will always get better. We are building new software now. Let’s say we have a 3D sound object that changes in size and travels through a space, and as it hits the light pillar it would light up at the exact height. 

S: It creates a bridge between virtual and real.

P: This residency is important for us not to focus on one specific result as in our previous installations, but to further explore our toolkit as a set of instruments to control these complex systems on the spot and perform interesting shows for ourselves and other artists.

N: We use the same approach for most of the projects we do, also individually. We work in different environments and always have to adapt our work in a modular way. It’s all about the process but it’s also essential that we have all these events every week that set deadlines for us to create a refined result for the audience. 

A: Nick, in one of your old interviews, you talk with Anna Bogomolova about POLARIS. You mentioned that you learned that “in order to communicate a story, you don’t need so many people involved — the simpler, the better.” What is the working dynamic among the four of you? 

N: We have a lot of experience working with this group, so we are very intuitively in tune with each other. It feels almost as if you were making it yourself. At the same time, we are all quite critical which makes our collaboration so powerful.

P: Each of us is involved in all aspects, providing feedback and sharing ideas.

A: I think all of you, before starting to work with visual arts, focused mainly on music. How does this experience influence your way of approaching visual disciplines?

B: We want to create an “instrument” that is playable instead of connecting the software and making it very technical. We want it to be used in a more intuitive and musical way and we will let some artists – Kaap and Eversines during Het Weekend – play with these “instruments”. We will instruct them on how to operate the system, so they are able to send signals from their machines through the spatial planning.

N: The way we approach these kinds of installations is analogical to composing a song, in terms of rhythm, harmony, arrangement and tension arc. Even the audiovisual composition tools that we design are run in a music sequencer, as we all are familiar with it. Because it’s so intuitive it’s also shareable with other artists. In return, they will give us feedback on how to improve the “instruments”. 

A: You often mention the interaction of space and the audience. How do you see it changing throughout the month of your residency?

P: We change the setup every week, shifting from surrounding light to a light object with a particular shape in space, to laser beams behaving through physical models. With each arrangement we try to challenge a different relationship with the audience. For instance, with surrounding light we are able to project light objects, these projections can also be further away, even far outside of the actual space. This is a direct translation of how we work with virtual objects in 4DSOUND and an example of how sound and light will be integrated as these objects will be represented in both domains simultaneously. In other setups, the light pillars and lasers are more objects in their own right. Similarly, this is a dynamic to play with when it comes to sound. It can be fluid and fast, or dense and static.

N: The tools we built evolve throughout the residency and impact the final result for the viewer. The medium we chose gives us a lot of freedom to experiment and we expect to come up with new ideas every week. Being all here together, we can share our ideas and change the content, by continuously changing the tools and setups of our modular system. We hope to evolve the concepts by testing them with the audience and see what works and what doesn’t, then adapt it and develop further. We hope that the last installation will bring the best results.  

Negative Space opens this Saturday with an opening concert by BEA1991, Salvador Breed, Boris Acket, Nick Verstand and Maarten Vos. Throughout the residency there will be different live shows in collaboration with the collective: Kaap, Eversines and Rural Juror on the 7th (during Het Weekend), Mattheis on the 14th, Nadia Struiwigh on the 21st, and Maarten Vos, Loma Doom, Sarah Jeffery, Oscar Kocken, Windsor Consort, Salvador Breed, Boris Acket, Nick Verstand, Uri Eugenio, Camilla Bundel, Poul Holleman, Nadia Struiwigh perform live during What About Now. Tickets for all concerts are still available online and at the door.
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