An album and a building
From November 2019 to February 2020 Espen Sommer Eide is presenting his new sound exhibition ‘The Waves’ at Marres in Maastricht. The idea from the beginning was to make both a spatial album as well as material for the exhibition.
In the year preceding the sound exhibition, Sommer Eide recorded the album with help of several artists and musicians, and with instruments that were especially designed for this project. The pieces cause a collective stream-of-consciousness that make the spaces, architecture, and history of the house tangible. Following the shadows of the musicians, the audience experience a musical journey that transports them from one room to the next. They hear sequences, melodies and rhythms where the voices and perspectives of the performers are multiplied and heard from many angles at once, as in an imaginary hall of sound mirrors. A music that highlight the building itself as container for possible worlds, unobserved, unoccupied by any particular subject.
Espen’s thoughts about The Waves
Growing up in a small town, like I did in Tromsø in northern Norway, you had few possibilities to have alternative music experiences live. The transformative experiences had to come from obscure records and copies of cassettes and mixtapes one by accident got hold of. Well, not completely by accident, but through a kind of underground network of music that existed at the time. Like David Grubbs writes in his essay ‘Records ruin the landscape’ there was often a shroud of mystery around these recordings – often the simple mystery of how someone actually could have released something so impenetrable and weird in the first place. The mystery could only be solved through repeated listening. Repetition becomes a central part of the listening. You don’t have to get everything the first time you hear it, like you have to while listening to a live improvisation for instance. Listening to an album at home or on headphones somewhere, you can choose your amount of concentrated attention. This is the unique strength of the recording, and of the album as a format. It creates a kind of diffuse listening that opens up for many alternative experiences in parallel, and that reaches beyond the work itself and is mixed with the daily activity and the memories of the listeners personal life.
Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves is an important source of inspiration. The Bloomsbury group, inspired by philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, were interested in exploring the question what the world would be without humans, that is, without anybody seeing or hearing it. Stream of consciousness is important for me as a belief in multiple simultaneous perspectives, parallel stories and inner and outer monologues. You find in the circle around Woolf the immense influence of the new electromagnetic wave theories, that suggest that the world is one enormous entanglement of events and people. It was also a time where scientific experiments were inseparable from performative art works. Huge crowds would come to witness the scientist Helmholtz do an acoustic experiment with tuning forks transmitting sympathetic resonance. In The Waves, you don’t exactly know where the voices are coming from or who is speaking.
The text collage with quotes mostly from Woolf, and a few from Whitehead and Russel, is not here to convey a particular message, but to be the raw material for our improvisations and permutations. The sound of words constitutes a layer of meaning that surrounds us all the time. It creates small misunderstandings or “mis-hearings” and propels our conversations forward often without us being aware of it. This soundscape of language is to me like very old music. A band that has been on tour forever.