An organ exhibition in the context of contemporary art? Isn’t that a bit old-fashioned? As soon as you enter the concrete hall of the Silent Green, where the show “Modular Organ System” by Phillip Sollmann and Konrad Sprenger started this Wednesday, expectations of traditional organ sounds à la Buxtehude and Pachelbel are widely dispelled.
While walking through the approximately 30 meter long tunnel to the venue, the audience hears a whoosh from an impressive loudspeaker system. This in no way detracts from the organ theme: There is a lot of hissing on organs, even on traditional church organs. The noise is old too. The fact that it itself WILL be staged as part of the music is relatively new.
The hissing – like all mechanical background noises and even small technical mistakes – usually just blurs in the dense sea of sound of church acoustics. The interplay of organ and church acoustics is ultimately based on an idea: pure, transcendent, divine music, detached from the profane material body of the instrument and its technical background noise.
With Sollmann and Sprenger quite the opposite happens: once you have left the initial tunnel of noise behind you, you soon come into a room in which the instrument is, so to speak, disassembled. A few pipes stand and lie freely in the room; many of them funnel-shaped and untypical for organs. In addition, some are traditionally open, others designed as reed pipes, some even have small motors that can be used to remotely control their tuning – a novelty that the artists have developed especially for this installation.
The composition is never finished
The only thing they have in common is the type of air supply through typical organ blower motors. Some pipes, such as the longest, measuring almost ten meters, lie horizontally in the room. This allows the audience to hear the sound from different perspectives. Everything that works well hidden in the background in a classical organ is openly visible here. You can put your ear to one of the engines and listen to its soft roar. Or stand in front of the funnel opening of one of the large horns and experience how a deep bass tone sounds when it is not coming from a loudspeaker.
Compared to a tube, whose natural self-resonance is so low, the vast majority of loudspeakers that struggle with such low frequencies act like simulants. “We actually do exactly what we always do here: build sound apparatuses, design sounds, work with spatial sound,” explains Sollmann, who may be known to many visitors to Berghain by his DJ synonym “Efdemin”. lately, however, has increasingly turned to non-danceable art music. The fact that this work is now close to the venerable church organ has nothing to do with religiosity, but simply with the fact that organ pipes and the technology are available.
“When I’m working on the instrument, I have blinkers on,” says his art partner Sprenger, “a kind of tunnel vision where I ignore the cultural. Even if I am of course aware of it and wonder what we are actually saying with organs. First and foremost, however, the organ is simply an instrument like any other.”
Incidentally, the system is played by a computer that controls the use of the pipes according to a composition worked out by the two. However, Sprenger and Sollmann can and will intervene during the exhibition, changing individual volumes or the overall sound of the system and the composition. The piece is designed to never reach a finished state. In this way, the performance should have the character of a music laboratory in which the possibilities of instruments and space are constantly being explored.
Organ sound and contemporary music
In the course of the five exhibition days, further guest musicians will appear to intervene in the sound. The drummer Will Guthrie will play gongs, the Berlin sound artist Arnold Dreyblatt will play various apparatuses and the ensemble Brass Abacus will close the gap between the trombone-shaped horn pipes and classical brass instruments.
With the composers Ellen Arkbro and Kali Malone, there are also two internationally renowned organ experts who, in recent years, have already improved some of the instrument’s refreshing organ compositions with new ones and seamlessly connect its sound perception to varieties of contemporary drone music : Music made up of long, spatial sounds whose origins lie somewhere between Tibetan throat singing and the work of the US sound artist La Monte Young, who, for example, had a significant influence on the band The Velvet Underground with his installations in the 1960s.
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In architecture, modular means that something new does not have to be conceived from scratch, but can be reassembled from prefabricated parts. If you want, you can span a bow from the idea of modularity to the “society of singularities”, as the sociologist Andreas Reckwitz reveals in our present – the modular, in other words, as an expression of a zeitgeist in which large connections and majorities appear fleeting and unstable. “Modular Organ System” also as a social system that has become music. If you don’t want to, you can of course just listen.
The performative sound installation by Phillip Sollmann & Konrad Sprenger forms the first of three parts in the “Modular Music” series, a cooperation between “singuhr-projects” and the CTM Festival. Wednesday to Sunday in the concrete hall of the Silent Green, 35 Court Street, from January 19th to 30th. Tickets and more information on the Home page of the organizer