My relationship to the topic of Prague paving is based on two sources of inspiration. The first is my professional career in the field of sound art, thanks to which I met the British sound artist Peter Cusack in 2009. He was invited to Prague by the then curator of the Školská 28 gallery, my friend and teacher from FAMU Miloš Vojtěchovský, who knew Peter as the author of the Favorite Sounds project.
This project began in 1998, first in a regular program on the London art radio station Resonance FM, later transformed into other forms, including a web archive of sound recordings not only from London, but also from New York, Beijing, Berlin and Jerusalem.
In 2009, Peter came to Prague to initiate the creation of a domestic version of the web archive, where anyone can publish audio recordings from various parts of our metropolis. At the end of his residency, a meeting took place in the gallery, at which Peter presented the recordings he had made during the past few days.
The key moment for me was the question Peter was asked during the discussion: “Which sound do you consider Prague to be the most characteristic?” The answer was: “The sound of car wheels moving along cobblestones”. This moment resonated a lot in me, and my attention was focused on the Prague pavement as an exceptional phenomenon and, from the point of view of sound art, a commodity of our home environment.
The second source of inspiration influencing my relationship to the topic of Prague paving is my cycling experience in Prague. There are several places in Prague that are very challenging terrain for cyclists, and this is mostly due to the use of road paving on the road or tram lane. The two places that stand out in my cycling topology in Prague are the sections of the Národní třída and Václavské náměstí tram stops. The way in which the surface of the paved road shakes one main bicycle, I used in the second mentioned place as a means for musical performances, which I managed in 2016 as part of the Transitional Zone sound art festival.
By riding this section on my bike, otherwise I had large shopping bags hung on the handlebars, the contents of a total of about 50 empty beer bottles, I managed a randomly generated rhythmic music composition, which I named Kocky. The name, in addition to the Slovak version of the word cube in my native language, is also a cipher for the colloquial naming of large road paving blocks as “cat’s heads”.
I also used the principle of sonication (rendering through a sound medium) of the cobbled surface of Prague’s streets in the performances Scepter, which I demonstrated at this year’s festival. Here, the hazel cane I ever brought home from a trip home became a transforming element. It remained leaning in a corner of the hall, and after about a year I accidentally found out that its wood had dried up beautifully, and when the hole came in contact with the floor or the sidewalk, the stick resonated beautifully. As with an imaginary scepter, with this stick, a principle similar to the use of a gramophone needle, I set to music the surface of the Prague royal road from the Powder Gate to Prague Castle.
The described principle, ie the transformation of the rhythm, encoded in the composition of paving stones on the road or sidewalk depending on the size of the blocks and the gaps between them, I also used in the composition of abstract sound passages in the radio documentary itself. I used sound recordings from the mentioned performances, and using a digital process that captures the individual amplitudes of the dynamic range of recordings (moments with maximum volume during the recording), in these moments I triggered fragments of spoken word or recording the sound of knocking tiles when laying tiles.
The way in which paving, as the subject of the content of a document, is commonly imprinted in its sound form, and in some moments the rhythms, imprinted of the tiles into each individual cube, were revived in a metaphorical sense. If, from such an angle, every cube in the city contains a fragment of the rhythm and sound of a tile hammer, then our daily steps through the city follow hidden music. These are the ideas that the Prague pavement evokes in me and which I wanted to share with you, in addition to historical and technological information on the chosen topic.