processes in virtual space or
"What can we hear in SOL?"
In 1798, Joseph Haydn decides to work
on an oratorium about the genesis. His problem is the
beginning. How should he, with the means of contemporary
music, describe what is put into form only later through
the process of creation and only then exhibits structures
that can be reflected by a composition? After many
attempts, Haydn takes a revolutionary way for his time:
he starts with a description of the chaos itself, which
programmatically becomes the title of the first movement:
“The idea of the chaos".
Apart from the idea of the “Programmmusik",
that was invented hundred years later, we find here
an almost forgotten ancestor of the experiments of
contemporary music dealing with order and disorder,
a specific concern for the electronic and computer music
that most often has no interpreter while performed.
Since the 50ies, structures from nature through to chaos
as more or less controlled chance, serve as raw material
for the “appearance”, and are the staged
equivalent for human creativity. These materials were
used as an aesthetic appropriation of nature and served
as source and starting point for computer-aided compositions.
Furthermore, Haydn’s example demonstrates, how
strongly our sensual experience and aesthetic categories
are rooted in concepts of history, society, and community.
Just as Haydns musical chaos, which we hardly comprehend
today, appears calm and domesticated, so is the debate
about technical mapping processes, although mostly discussed
in technical terms, strongly influenced in a historical
an cultural way and this not only in the musically
Haydn’s attempt to compose the genesis out of
a religious understanding of nature leads directly to
the similarly abstract questions we face in the project
“SOL”, that is situated between science
and art and that expounds the issue of artistic appropriation
in a modern way. In “SOL”, we see a translation
of complex scientific data of the sun transformed
into image and sound. The immediate insight conveyed
by the installation - "this is how measured data
from the sun sound like” - provokes the question
about the underlying translation processes and the
thus established relation between scientific data
mining with its exploration of sound and image, and
the sensual musical – aesthetic listening experience
of structurally and in terms of sound exciting music.
The established methods in this field are numerous and
questionable. They contain examples such as plotting
the data followed by a sonification of the plotting
noise or complicated mathematical mapping methods.
In all these methods, data are used as an abstract
reservoir of symbols and are mechanically related to
parameters such as instruments, pitch, and volume.
The fascination of these ideas dates back to the beginning
of algorithmic composition after World War II. These
concepts of objective aesthetics appeared in the Renaissance
for the first time, and even more so in the context
of Romanticism, when the ultimate goal of human deeds
and also of art was to imitate nature.
In this process of transformation, non-mechanic, semantic
translation processes between different systems, in
this case art and science, go back to a new third system
they both have in common: the computer as a universal
Turing Machine, as a prototypic medium for simulation
in art and science, that is able to erase every aspect
of history and emotion and which thus provides data
as abstract information for free use and aesthetic
Just as the term "the digital", "information"
is an abstract description for a medium, the form of
which can appear as sound as well as images. And this
is why there is no actual digital music, nor a digital
image. After a transition from the digital to the analogue,
we perceive sounds that display digitally existing
data. The problem with the description of such events
is, that we cannot observe the displaying medium and
thus not the digital itself; the transformation process
remains hidden for us.
Media, also the digital ones, can only be observed by
the forms they allow or exclude. At the beginning of
the digital age, they showed what wasn't possible yet:
images revealed their pixel-structure, music was noisy
and sounded techno like, scenes were plunged into pale
moonlight, movies were flickering, the Net kept us
waiting. This forced us to create styles that played
with this form of the medium. In the process of perfection
of media, their peculiarities gradually disappear, they
become invisible, loose their form, disappear slowly
below the perceivable threshold just as behind their
next media generation.
Once the medium has completely disappeared below the
threshold of our attention economy, we can still observe
the form of the medium, in which the results of our
manipulation beyond the A/D converter appear, which
can be music for instance. But because of the indifference
of information and form we can no longer distinguish,
if the sensual event that we hear or see is the result
of a calculation of the computer, the information
of a digitalized image or text, or if they are finally
complex measured data of a scientific observation of
the sun. As pieces of information, the resulting sounding
data obey a logic, that has to be realized using a finite
reservoir of discrete signs in addition to their rules
of connections and operationalized methods, guaranteeing
their redundant exchangeability.
We obtain this for the price of loosing historic-aesthetic
connotations as well as all artifacts below the digital
Its is this pragmatic oblivion that
offers us a new chance of a productive and artistic
re-appropriation that is innocent in its compositional
approach and that, just like Haydn did, puts the focus
on information and investigates it, looking for perceivable
structural artifacts and patterns of complexity. This
is the structural part of what we hear in the installation.
Even the acoustic part may be extracted in the same
process: By the prohibition of the discourse of digital
oblivion beyond what is real between two samples, it
is possible to have operational access to the material
itself and to thus enable universal manipulability.
With regard to music, this means that the available
data as information can be directly transformed into
sound. According to Turing, the basic principle of
universal machine, a “number cruncher”,
is a program-controlled simulation that contains methods
for sound synthesis. Referring to the processes of
transformation, virtual soundscapes of the medial
forms of the digital are the issue. In the installation “SOL”,
such a virtual soundscape, can be experienced, as
aesthetically transformed and musically reinterpreted
sound installation, com- posed and transformed by
Halbig from measured sun data provided by the national
Geophysical Data Center.
As guideline for what we hear in the installation, we
may take the idea formulated by Halbig, to take up the
originally four-dimensional data and to musically reestablish
the sound artifacts analogue to the four visual projections.
The perceivable and musically attributable levels follow
the ideas of the content of the measured data, which
are the Irradiance of the sun, various measurements
relating to the Solar Wind, the distribution of Sunspots,
and the Solar Magnetic Mean Field. By this duplication
of the referential systems as a scientific starting
point and as an aesthetic concept of transformation
we find a dense and interesting sound installation.
The abstract results of the sun's activity are not represented
linearly, but play with our ability to perceive and
understand highly complex facts when presented in
a sensual and aesthetical way. For this purpose music
contributes as a genuine time-based medium.
Therefore the attributable sound levels exhibit a musical
interpretation of the research ideas, as they are most
clearly presented by the sound of a piano. Here we find
the idea of digital simulation of a classical instrument
most significantly correlated with the musical interpreted
research result. It is the number of sunspots, which
is the only solar phenomenon that can be directly observed
by using an appropriate instrument, which produces a
stochastically regular pattern within 11 years.
More abstract sounds that point to the electro acoustic
field lead to similar questions, which in a broader
sense, correlate with the other three dimensions of
sound. The choice of the sound, digitally at hand an
in this way manipulated, adds to that direction. Like
the rest of the sounds, even the imitated piano is abstractly
digitally produced, successfully simulating its instrumental
origin. The other more abstract and mathematically complex
combined results are presented by electronic sounds
that do not follow a simulation paradigm. As basic material
they use strings, cello, or double bass, but are distorted
in se- veral dimensions presenting an abstraction far
from its origin. Yet they stay structurally dense and
from the sound impression, stylistically point towards
Its spatialization, according to the reinterpretation
of the dimensionality of the basic research results,
make the sound similarly "crispy" and brittle,
whilst moving in space and time like the underlying
data. The musically convincing result of these intertwined
processes shows the necessity of the conscious compositorial
manipulation, especially regarding to the micro cosmos
of sound design.
The 20th century was full of debate about form and
structure in music as the ending point of a long history
of increasing control over the material, at the
of which we find a redundant dimension of serial techniques
and the ending of bourgeois representational music.
Techno and allied styles finally break the inflexible
form and musical structures of Rock and Pop. A continuous
beat replaces their structural elements, on top of
which freedom in sound and structure dominate.
Compositional awareness can unfold on this basis in
all dimensions: sound, structure, form, etc. without
necessarily having to refer to a classical background,
but in direct contact with experimental club culture,
as well as with the new media of production, reception,
Florian Grond, Frank Halbig, Jesper Munk Jensen, and
Thorbjorn Lausten are searching in this historical situation
for a different sustainable basis for aesthetic experiments
and find it in the sciences, which, similar to the digitally
produced music, produce contingent data streams of natural
phenomena and provide material for artists to find their
own appropriation and medial presentation.
We therefore see no “victory over the sun”,
as postulated in the title of a famous Supremacist book
about techno, but an encouraged work, which focuses
on the discussion about the relationship between art
and the world in difficult times.