For Ebensperger’s first exhibition at its new venue in Kreuzberg, electronic music artist and composer Jan St. Werner sonically activates the gallery spaces of Fichtebunker with custom built loudspeaker instruments beaming electronic sounds through a sequence of resonating chambers. Focus points are in motion, visual identification and object orientation are in question. Exhibition space, club, echo chamber, stage: “Excitation Resonance” challenges the conventions about how space can be thought and defined.
Participatory Space Synthesis Installation For Two Rotatable Speaker Panels And Electronic Sound
With Michael Akstaller, Thomas Richter, Oliver Mayer, Marcin Pietruszewski
With his two experimental sound stations, Excitatory Yards, Jan St. Werner allows the architecture of the Bundeskunsthalle to be perceived in a conscious and different way, as the installation functions as an acoustic amplification of the building and the outdoor space in dialogue with the visitors.
A single loudspeaker is actively rotated by visitors, triggering different sounds and creating the opportunity to acoustically experience and explore the Bundeskunsthalle in the inner courtyard and its surroundings on the museum forecourt at different sound frequencies. In addition, the ear itself is activated and phantom sounds can emerge. The work combines three important aspects of the phenomena of sound and hearing: Sound generation, impulse response of the environment and interpretation of the human perceptual apparatus. The artist thus invites an experiential construction of visual and acoustic spaces in which the visitor is not only an observer but also a protagonist of this ‘spatial synthesis installation’.
The environments of the two ‘courtyards’ – a small, enclosed one (inner courtyard) and a large, open one (museum forecourt) – are co-actors in a composition. This includes the two spaces as well as the deliberately disparate experiential movements of the visitors. Although the two ‘courtyards’ are part of an overall architectural concept, they are too far apart to be experienced simultaneously and together. As visitors explore them, they become intertwined: One remembers certain sounds, reflections, and perspectives and links them to the experiences of the slightly more distant surroundings; in individual perception, sound and environmental coordinates come together.
A greater awareness of the architecture, the space, and one’s own acoustic and visual experience in a game of distance and proximity is an essential part of the work.
Edited by: Çağla İlk, Jan St. Werner Texts by: Michael Akstaller, Nikola Bojić, Louis Chude-Sokei, Damir Gamulin, Çağla İlk, Gascia Ouzounian, Patricia Reed, Jan St. Werner, Oswald Wiener Graphic Design: Rupert Smyth German, English 2023, 252 Pages, 60 Ills. Paperback with flaps 235mm x 210mm
How can one inhabit a sound? What perspectives open up through the encounter of space, resonance and perception? And how are participants changed in the process? With Space Synthesis, artist and composer Jan St. Werner, known as one half of the duo Mouse on Mars, designs a radically new understanding of sound and space. The interplay between the two becomes a method of exploring architecture and social contexts.
Space Synthesis is the catalog for Jan St. Werner’s first solo exhibition and, at the same time, the document of a practice that turns against seemingly fixed knowledge and explores the productive power of sound from multiple perspectives. Numerous contributions deepen the understanding of his artistic work.
Jan St. Werner’s (*1969, Nuremberg) sound works always refer to an exchange with the visual arts. Werner has realized sound interventions and exhibitions in the context of documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Lenbachhaus in Munich and at the 6th Ural Biennial. Werner has taught at the Nuremberg Academy of Fine Arts, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in Boston, and the New York University Tisch School of the Arts in Berlin.
This sound installation offers an auditory experience of spatial depth via distance. You see the height of the staircase and instantaneously understand that the noises and voices from the ground floor are reflected above its height and back down to the ground floor. In addition, new sounds are created along the way: artifacts, echoes, resonances and distortions. The proximity and immediacy of listening to this auditory scene via headphones makes comparability plausible: “Where is the location of the sound that I’m hearing? How close is it to me? How far apart are Original and Echo? How do my interpretations the sound? How many layers does one sound consist of? Is a sound essentially shaped by its surroundings? Does each listener construct their own acoustic space?”
The staircase of Serralves Chapel becomes an instrument that creates, filters and colors sound. The association with our ear canal is obvious, because depending on the incoming frequencies, it shapes acoustic signals and even produces them itself. Through listening we explore our surroundings as an ever permeable reality which we actively alter and perform.
With Space Synthesis, St. Werner, best known as a member of the duo Mouse on Mars, transforms the Kunsthalle into a sound space, a large instrument. The exhibition embarks on a dynamic investigation of human thought about sound by assuming that each of us perceives sounds differently. Between different sound sources and sound-reflecting surfaces, a stage – continuously changing in size and shape – is created. Sounds, shadows, walls, performers, and listeners become part of a moving, multi-perspective scenario.
Sound is usually understood as a medium of representation, a portrayal or interpretation of a source. In Space Synthesis, however, sound is a method of exploration and the Kunsthalle its subject. Supported by light, movements, distractions, and interventions, a parkour through the exhibition is created in which each room represents a separate section of a composition that is altered by the movements of each individual visitor.
Space Synthesis conceives of space not as a static object, but as a multiplicity of perspectives that are intertwined and react to each other. The careful use of light creates an immaterial architecture that intervenes in the space, but can also dynamically change itself. Thus, the space is constantly in motion, in dialogue with the visitors. By intervening in the structural design of the Kunsthalle, resonances are created that make the building speak. Sounds blend and combine, each frequency in the space creates new frequencies, each echo generates new echoes depending on where in the space the listener is located. Architectural elements are positioned at certain points that have a diffusing effect and divide the space in an invisible but audible way.
Dialogue and exchange play a central role in Werner’s investigation of the relationship between sound and space. Only they make it possible to rethink space, sound, senses, and not least ourselves. Space Synthesis is thus also a practice that opposes the notion of history as fixed knowledge, often manifested in monuments and rigid structures. This practice counters singular monumental thinking and static histories with multiple perspectives and a dynamic interdependence of the senses.
For Jan St. Werner, this approach is a logical continuation of his many years of work as a musician and composer. His first solo exhibition is not designed as a retrospective, but was conceived specifically for the spaces of the Kunsthalle. Curator Çağla Ilk is thus continuing a curatorial concept that she established when she took over the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden in 2020 together with Misal Adnan Yıldız. Instead of merely exhibiting art, the Kunsthalle becomes a vivid oeuvre in itself in which art and architecture coalesce in a transdisciplinary manner. Ilk thus resumes a long tradition of the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, which recurrently dismissed familiar exhibition concepts in favor of an examination of the building, for example in exhibitions by artists such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin in the late 1980s.
Space Synthesis is part of Jan St. Werner’s two-year association with Kunsthalle Baden-Baden as house artist. With this position, the Kunsthalle is establishing an instrument from the theater in an art institution to ensure a sustainable production basis. In the form of a two-year tenure, the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden offers four artists the opportunity for artistic research, engagement, and production in a long-term relationship with the city through public space.
Curated by Çağla İlk
Curatorial Assistance: Sandeep Sodhi
Speaker design and exhibition realization: Michael Akstaller
Light: Matthias Singer
Exhibition architecture: Jan St. Werner, Michael Akstaller with Bilge Kalfa
Art Direction: Rupert Smyth
Video: Joseph Kadow
On three weekends in May and June, the exhibition was enhanced by an extensive para-curatorial program with performances and lectures by many artists and theorists.
Diana Deutsch in collaboration with Jan St. Werner
“Our ability to recognize speech is amazing. We can recognize words and phrases that are produced by different speakers – including those using dfferent dialects – and we can also recognize words that are produced by the same speakers when they are in different emotional states. But to achieve this, we need to draw on an enormous store of knowledge, and also on our beliefs and expectations, to make inspired guesses as to what is being said. But this very process of guesswork can also lead us to perceive phantom words and phrases that are not, in reality, being spoken.
Some years ago, I discovered a way to produce a large number of phantom words and phrases in a short time. Sit in front of two loudspeakers, with one to your left and the other to your right. You will hear a sequence that consists of two words, or a single word that is composed of two syllables, and these are presented over and over again. The same repeating sequence is presented from both loudspeakers, but off – set in time so that when the first sound (word or syllable) is coming from the speaker on your right, the second sound is coming from the speaker on your left; and vice versa. Because the signals are mixed in the air before they reach your ears, you are given a palette of sounds from which to choose, and so can create in your mind many combinations of sounds.
On listening to a phantom word sequence, you initially hear a jumble of meaningless sounds. But later, distinct words and phrases suddenly appear. Those that seem to be coming from the speaker on your right are usually different from those that appear from the speaker on your left. Then still later, new words and phrases appear. If you wander around the room when these sounds are playing, you will likely hear new words and phrases. These illusions show that when people believe they are hearing meaningful messages, their brains are actively reconstructing sounds that make sense to them.
For this special installation I am following an invitation of Jan St. Werner to diffuse the phantom words via several loudspeakers. The audience can thus navigate between the various sound sources and add new layers of interpretation depending on their position within the acoustic field. The dynamics of continuously shifting listening perspectives activate the listener’s ears own senso-motoric system and make playful use of the reactions and reverberations of the architecture in which the installation is placed. Eight new phantom words were composed for this edition.” — Diana Deutsch, October 2021
In this performative tape composition custom-built loudspeaker panels emit five continually shifting frequency bands in narrow sonic beams. The panels are handheld by five performers who choreograph their movements to allow for exchanges between their frequencies and to evoke acoustic responses from the surrounding room. The piece mixes electronically generated material with recordings of instruments including saxophone by Mats Gustafsson, bagpipes by Erwan Keravec, percussion by Dirk Rothbrust and electronics by Jan St. Werner. The speaker panels were built by Michael Akstaller. Composition, in this performance, also means an exploration of space through sounds in motion.
“Spaint Chords” premiered in April at the opening of the German Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale comissioned by Maria Eichhorn. In addition it was performed at Cukrarna Ljubljana, the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, Kunsthalle Baden-Baden and Lenbachhaus Munich.
David Grubbs and Jan St. Wernermet in the mid-1990s when Grubbs was playing with Gastr del Sol and the Red Krayola and St. Werner in Mouse on Mars and Microstoria. After years of exchanging ideas, they’ve finally begun locking horns as a duo, with live appearances and a full-length album on Blue Chopsticks on the horizon. Steel yourself for a winding corridor of electronic fanfares and spontaneous musical miniatures threatening to grow wings and graduate into song.
David Grubbs has released fourteen solo albums. He was a member of the groups Gastr del Sol,Bastro, and Squirrel Bait and has performed with Tony Conrad, Pauline Oliveros, Luc Ferrari, Will Oldham, Loren Connors, the Red Krayola, Royal Trux, and many others.
Jan St. Werner is an artist and electronic music composer best known as one half of the group Mouse on Mars. He has collaborated with Oval’s Markus Popp as Microstoriaand written music for installations and films by visual artist Rosa Barba. Recently his work has prioritized installation and interventions with spatialized sound, including a number of collaborations under the name Dynamische Akustische Forschung (DAF).
The Space Academy follows its own principles of knowledge production via oral exchange and a non-hierarchical application of technology. Its research is based on dialogue. Knowledge acquisition follows the particularities of each given topic. There are no standards or written rules of how to navigate other than dialogical exchange which will be documented in various media. Each new member joins on the basis of trust of previous members. Members extend and verify the navigational perspectives of the Space Academy and are therefore navigators. A main concern of the space academy is the orientation through space via sound. Sound is defined as a quest itself: a phenomenon of continuous sending and receiving, of activation and interpretation. the academy has no local center. It moves. Everyone who contributes knowledge navigates. The academy starts with one collectively framed question which continuously generates new perspectives while research is performed.
The participants of this hybrid seminar & workshop will be introduced to artistic concepts of how to work with sound as a non-hierarchical mode for alternative reality conceptions. The workshop is not about music production but a different sensing of spatial dynamics through sound. We will engage in listening sessions, initiate field recording trips, develop strategies of collective performing and reflect on practice and theory. The workshop aims at experience without neglecting critical reflection and conceptual framing.
Fotos Cukrarna by Petra Cvelbat
Fotos Museum of Modern Art Zagreb by Sanja Bistricic
Jan St. Werner isa founding member of the music group Mouse on Mars and releases solo work on his own Fiepblatter Catalogue. St. Werner has been a visiting lecturer at MIT’s Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) and served as Professor for Interactive Art and Dynamic Acoustic Research at the Academies of Fine Arts Nuremberg and Munich.
Michael Akstaller studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Nuremberg, at the HfG Karlsruhe and civil engineering at the Nuremberg University of Technology. His research focus are spatial perception via directed sound sources in sound installations, interactions between hydrodynamics and morphological processes in fluids and pure acoustic phenomena. Together with Jan St. Werner, he initiated the Class for Dynamic Acoustic Research at AdBK Nuremberg, which is now operating as an independent artist collective.
April 24-28 CUKRARNA Poljanski nasip 40 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
With this solo exhibition of electronic musician Jan St. Werner, the idea is to put audio at the forefront, positioning it at the same level as visual work within the framework of digital art. The nine compositions that make up Polyarrythmia—which can be taken as a set of sound works, a performance, an exhibition, an album—are being released as NFTs through Feral File, available both as individual compositions and a full set. Here’s St. Werner on Polyarrythmia, in his own words:
“Polyarrythmia is an album or an exhibition or a selection of pieces, or maybe just a narrative in sound. None of the compositions have a strict metronome; there is no click or clock. The album as a whole has these interlocking peaks, micro-moments and movements, and then larger arcs, which meet and then disperse. To me that is very much what rhythm is, thus the name Polyarrythmia.
“The compositions were mastered to be as present and intense as possible. The actual files that people download when they collect will provide the maximum resolution that people will be able to play back. I’m happy for listeners to experience the compositions separately, but to me, Polyarrythmia is a set, it’s a narrative as a whole. The pieces were all constructed in relation to each other, based on a visionary brain space, let’s call it. I was thinking, how far can I let these things drift off? How much space can I give it to unfold and go its own way? When I draw it back, that’s what becomes an individual composition or a piece.
“I think that when we work in the field of art, or creating, it’s a manifestation of thoughts. The tool that you use to make these thoughts manifest might be animation, or it might be paint, or graphics. Or the thoughts might translate into sound—sound that changes drastically, or holds a certain vibrational moment. I think of these decisions as a necessity or a convention, which is sometimes put upon us. I don’t think anyone who works, let’s say, in the field of visual arts thinks only visually, or in the field of sound arts thinks only in audio. The output is an expression of an artist’s thoughts, emotions, and connections—how you respond to the world, and how you feed those thoughts back into your world.
“What’s really interesting about working in this field of digital art is not that I’m especially interested in the aesthetics of the digital or the futuristic. For me, it’s more of an expression of intuitively interfacing with the world with the means you have at hand. With NFTs, there’s a new possibility for doing that, and there’s an intensity and sensuality to it, interfacing with direct call-and-response modes of communicating with the world and other humans. We can call it poetic, or experimental, or critical. We can call it interfering, bonding: us becoming some of that new technology, or that new technology feeding deeper into our neural-networks, maybe eventually becoming fully, intuitively performable without any physical restrictions at all. The digital realm is also a territory of unprecedented surveillance and manipulation, so we need to formulate how we want to push up against that, build alternatives, parallel strains, add bifurcations, and openings to the code.”
If HKW were one big instrument, what would it sound like? The four-day festival The Sound of Distance takes this question seriously and seeks answers in the expanded resonance chamber of concerts, performances, talks and sonic activations, indoors and outdoors, in a radius that includes the carillon in the neighboring bell tower and the echo of the surrounding government buildings.
Curated by Jan St. Werner and HKW
Sound significantly determines the spatial perception of things and events. Sound waves are constantly in motion. The Sound of Distance makes it possible to experience them over different distances. Artists present works – some conceived especially for the festival – between guitar drones and cello sounds, sound installations and works by avant-garde composers like Annea Lockwood and Alvin Lucier. Much can be experienced by audience members in individual rhythms, with their own accents and intensities – whether the sounds reach all the way to the Bundestag or arise as otoacoustic emissions directly in the inner ear. Thus, along with acoustic perceptions, The Sound of Distance also sharpens the sense of personal location. Creating new configurations of human and object, visible and invisible, proximity and distance.
With Alvin Lucier, Andrea Belfi, Annea Lockwood, Anthea Caddy, crys cole, David Grubbs, Diana Deutsch, Dirk Rothbrust, Dodo NKishi & Tunde Alibaba, Dynamische Akustische Forschung, Hani Mojtahedy & Andi Toma, Helga de la Motte-Haber, Jan St. Werner, Judith Hamann, Louis Chude-Sokei, Marcin Pietruszewski, Maurice de Martin, Oren Ambarchi, Patricia Reed & J.-P. Caron, Sam Auinger & Katrinem, Sam Dunscombe, Stephen O’Malley, Wibke Deertz, Zwerm
Squares Will Fall is a multidirectional loudspeaker choreography performed by three acrobats of the Ekaterinburg Circus. Three elements of the composition are played via three loudspeakers hanging from the circus ceiling. The performers mix the sound elements in real time by moving the speakers. The audience is free to change position during the performance and make audio recordings for personal use.
Featuring Justin Vernon & Uma Barba, John Colpitts, Zach Condon, Mats Gustafsson, Hilary Jeffrey, Ben Lanz, Dodo NKishi, Kyle Resnick, Jeremy Ylvisaker
Performed by Danil Balakin, Sergey Fedorenko, Denis Karpov
Production: Anastasia Dergousova, Alexander Tkhomirov, Nikita Shvalev, Natasha Andreeva
Squares Will Fall spins around the themes travesty, farce and clownery. Clownery is the title of a Russian underground movie from 1989 a tragicomedy of the absurd based on the works of Russian artist Daniil Kharms (1905–1942). Trying to recreate the reality of the 30s, the director reenacts the style of filming and acting of that time and enters the picture thus achieving a maximum reliability of the author’s text and sound to help the viewer to immerse themselves in the atmosphere, in which the classic absurdism lived and worked. This is a world of illusions, allusions and associations, reflecting a stream of consciousness in an era of detachment.
A resonating bass frequency on floor one is the basis for Jan St. Werner’s sound piece. Werner responds to the continuous swell and decay of the busy traffic noise that surrounds the tower by adjusting two sine wave oscillators to its unstable metrics. One sine wave is played through one of two open holes in the ceiling facing downwards into the first floor of the building. The second sine wave is played through the second hole facing upwards into floor two. The two signals overlap and create circulating sound patterns that activate and connect the spacious floors of the tower.
Thank you Nikita Shvalev, Michael Akstaller, Cagla Ilk
The RDD system utilizes a custom built uni-directional speaker that produces a tightly focused beam of sound, like a sonic spotlight, which can be robotically aimed in any direction from any single position within the performance space. This robotic speaker is in effect a mobile soloist, however the resulting experience upends expectations: cast into the room, the RDD’s sonic beam bounces and blends with the reverberant space in subtle and surprising ways. Much of the time the sound appears to originate from invisible yet mobile sources in the room or from the walls, floor and ceiling themselves. We look around for another sound source, only to realize that the room’s own reflections are transforming this robot soloist into a spectral ensemble. Though we can rationally connect the sound’s source to the position of the robot, its ventriloquistic projections open the potential for sounding to the entire volume of the room. No longer a simple container, the room becomes a respondent and the sonic coauthor of a spatial drama. Likewise, as the speaker’s narrow beam reflects it produces complex patterns of sound that vary widely by listening position, such that a listener’s own movements produce striking changes in what they hear. The audience for an RDD performance is invited to move and explore these acoustic effects, to displace themselves from their passive position as audience-receivers and into a system of feedback and response as listener-collaborators.
RDD’s robot is not intended to be the work’s focus, but is important primarily for the displacements it can effect: controlled disorientations and sensory redirections which invite a refreshed engagement with the choreographed situation, toward a sense of space that is multi-perspectival and responsive. These displacements begin with the speakers themselves. Spatialized audio, whether multichannel surround or wave field synthesis, is delivered traditionally from a set of fixed loudspeakers. Movement is simulated by the transition of sound between these fixed elements. This defines what RDD co-founder Jan St. Werner calls a ‘room within a room’, a kind of virtual space of listening placed within the real space we occupy as persons.
Robodynamische Diffusion (RDD) ist ein Projekt von Michael Akstaller, Nele Jäger, Oliver Mayer und Jan St. Werner
Gefördert von LEONARDO – Zentrum für Kreativität und Innovation TH Nürnberg und Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden
Mit freundlicher Unterstützung von Evocortex
Fotos & Video Joseph Kadow / Single RDD Foto Eunice Maurice / Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden
Encourage The Stream (2021) by Jan St. Werner, half of the electronic music group Mouse on Mars, functions as an acoustic amplification of the Oos River, which flows through the park as the heart of Baden-Baden and shapes its nature. In an attempt to communicate with the Oos, Werner places a microphone just above the water to transport the sound of the river via a directional loudspeaker beyond the riverbank into the park toward the Kunsthalle. Thereby, Werner creates the possibility to explore and perceive the Oos at different frequencies of sound (acoustically) and create new spatial relationships. The active act of listening creates a perceptual experience of distance and proximity. The acoustic supersedence of space and time also stands for engagement with the forces of nature. It is therefore no coincidence that the first large-scale public art work commissioned by Çağla İlk and Misal Adnan Yıldız for their tenure as directors of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden is a single project of an experimental artistic practice that brings together the fields of visual art and sound.
The duo of John Colpitts aka Kid Millions and Jan St. Werner brings together the minds of two mavericks committed to exploring new avenues of musical expression. Kid Millions is one of the most sought after drummers and improvisors in NYC, known for his expansive solo work as Man Forever, as well as collaborations and performances with the likes of Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Boredoms, and So Percussion. Millions’ acclaim is equally rooted in his work with rock bands such as his own Oneida, as well as working with bands like Royal Trux and Spiritualized. Jan St. Werner has consistently remained at the vanguard of electronic music with his work as one half of Mouse on Mars as well as with his solo work and collaborations with The Fall’s Mark E Smith, Oval’s Markus Popp, Stereolab and The National. On their debut collaboration Imperium Droop, Millions and Werner, along with special guests Mats Gustafsson, Andrew Barker, and Richard Hoffman, created a collection of beautiful pieces built on surprising sound combinations. Together, the works on Imperium Droop are a joyful listen and an exhilarating foray into the unknown.
Imperium Droop is the continuation of an ongoing musical dialogue between the two musicians that began in 2016, when Werner invited Millions to perform an interpretation of his Felder album as part of a series of curated concerts and interventions around the globe. Oddly prescient of the events of 2020, the unique performance was held at Oneida’s practice space with an extremely limited audience of one – songwriter Helado Negro. The concert was to be the first in an ongoing series of recorded collaborations between the two musicians, from improvised live performances in New York and Berlin. In addition to a series of concerts accessible via the internet, the duo slowly archived a wealth of recorded material that would form the foundations for Imperium Droop. Revisiting and reimagining this material, the duo meticulously edited and arranged elements of the recordings, from full sections to individual sounds, sculpting new pieces from the library of improvisations. Another equally important component for the album was Mouse on Mars’ collaboration with Lee Scratch Perry which had a profound effect on Werner’s artistic practice and approach in the studio.
Werner’s application of a seemingly infinite arsenal of textures unleashes colorful swaths of energy. Mats Gustafsson joins Werner on the maximalist “Color Bagpipes,” unleashing torrents of swiveling melody and breathy clicks over the exponential thunder of Millions’ drum kit. Pieces like “Dark Tetrad” and “Astral Stare” demonstrate the duo’s mastery of space and surprise. Dark flutters flow in slow pulses across “Apotropaic” where erratic swirls of sound twist and mutate on “Sorrows and Compensations,” unified as a single force by the overwhelming diversity of sounds. Millions’ drums effortlessly ride each wave of Werner’s prismatic deluges and channel their energy into dynamic movements. Through his singular prowess, Millions’ tireless rhythms and subtle gestures mirror Werner’s boundless textural palette and drive each piece towards transcendence.
On Imperium Droop, Kid Millions and Jan St. Werner have combined their powers into an incomparable work of gripping and intrepid sonic fluctuations. In exploring a liminal space between improvisation and composition, the duo manage to expand their musical dialogue beyond the physical limitations of space and time, striking a truly unique balance between the urgency and unpredictability of improvised performance and deliberate nature of studio composition.