Garage 2004, Interface Black box White Cube :: Robert Curgenven

2004 :: Stralsund, Germany

Impressions, postcards and polaroids
The garage was a garage. Not a three-week festival of minimal Detroit techno. Relief. As with a garage, there are few spectators. In the garage, which is a normal car repository for eleven months of the year, there is just key personnel: the organisers and a loyal team of people making it happen, some locals teaching and making the whole thing work and the artists with maybe the occasional girl/boyfriend and the occasional blow-in spectator. But even he participates. Fronted by a 300 year old cobblestone street, canal, sandstone gothic church skyline framed by a pier, in a coastal town of 70,000 people and over 700 years old, the setting was not very garage.

Enter the garage. A jackhammer mounted on the wall transforms hits on the garage website (from the four computer boxes inside the garage or the e-world outside) into hits on the wall. Technology mediates entropy. The experimental tradition of the tools in the shed out the back enjoys an immersive continuity in the garage and it’s adjoining speicher (old grain storage warehouse). Traditional white painted walls (a la gallery style) in antique buildings create a hub, a field for the play, for the three weeks of the ‘festival’. A radio in the garage’s bathroom plays a compilation of field recordings that comprise the Soundscape FM project (micro-transmitted from out the back), rendering a trip to the toilet a round-the-world experience (the sample of the woman on the swings screeches through hourly, a prominent feature in the ‘live’ mix in a walk-through of the realtime garage ‘site’. A radio on the table in the garage plays a randomly accented computer voice announcement of passwords from the micro-transmitted password FM project (submit your most secret details and have them anonymously announced). Headphones on the four computers invite you to listen to streams of performances past and present or browse links to software and streamed contributions to the festival. Headphones by the bar offer a CD of last year’s pieces if ordering a drink in German is too hard or talking once you have bought it is tantamount to deutsch doppel speak.

Immersion, installation and fun
Outside the canal serenely awaits your inspection, relaxation and meditation. Boats bob by. The ‘raving dutchies’ (the self-dubbed name of the punks of garage – the feeedback society – who perform accompanied by a camera attached, like a spinning gun, on the end of a drill at 1400rpm) finally relent and jump off the bridge into the skanky water. All too much. Enter the Speicher behind. A speaker, mounted on a rotating arm, turns to inspect you as you enter the large room, belching digital bleeps at you. Stand on the circumference of its arc long enough and you may disquiet it enough to cause it to whizz round at 100km/h, screaming (searing, calling) at 100db. An exercise in-group dynamics. Or just sit in the deckchair and watch the tourists who walk in from the nearby pier become befuddled. (Don’t worry kids, there’s a fence, so you/they won’t lose your head).

Back round past the open garage, up the stairs, looking over the tables where the artists meet and eat each morning and evening. (FrŸhstŸck – breakfast, literally ‘morning piece’, but I prefer ‘peace’ -at 11am is the slow start where everyone ate breakfast and dinner, allowing us all to spend time together in this shifting community, and, as the precursor to the night’s activities, coming together again for dinner.) Now enter the rear speicher. The technology behind Password FM hides behind a wall, misted by CO2 gas swimming amidst a single green laser beam. Right and downstairs (now behind the garage) is the Automaten bar, a self running bar with it’s own currency, exchanged from Euros, used to buy drinks, and users can entertain themselves with the music menu or just stay out of the sun. If it’s autonomous automated autonomous you want, then lift the curtain and enter the dark rumble of ‚Turing Tables’, one of my favourites.

A darkened long room displays the projected white text of a computer readout, collated from live streamed tectonic data, of the 100 most recent earthquakes, spewed like a manic supermarket receipt across the opposing end walls and you can listen to the sonified weather of the planet, as it kicks and breathes. Half an hour in here sets a reverberation that starts up from deep within the psyche, suggesting the rolling of a beast in its gravitational sleep.

The language of sensation
With luck another level will open to you. Like the old arcade games where you wander halls looking for clues to hidden doors, another black curtain in the dark room may become apparent at the far end, next to one of the subsonified texts. Quiet. Two curtained ‘change rooms’. A sound suit, sixteen speakers that attach to the body by bandages: heads, shoulders, knees and toes (no eyes but internal ears speak to your resonant body). Clicks and whirrs enter through the skin as the mediating interface. Designed by a sculptor this piece calls for new compositions…

If You Don’t Know There’s A Question How Can You Get The Answer?
Mechanical Pong continues the arcade effect in the adjacent room. Next door, a series of flashing concentric circles on a tabletop beckon you to touch the pads and make your own variations on a sampled minimal techno permutation/combination game. And if you’re lucky (it took me a week), behind the PongMechanik is the white room with the white couch, a DVD and TV with 21 black boxes on the floor. Unpack the boxes and create your own adopted lounge room festival. Or, if you find it in one of the boxes, read ‘A Brief History of Time’ to settle you down a bit.

Soundscape and landscape
You don’t necessarily leave the rooms the same way you came in.

The technologically mediated form of sound art
Countless laptops and their owner’s performed over four nights a week during the three weeks. Some clicked, some cut, some droned or screeched. Some cleared the room, shook the dust from the ceiling, welcomed you in, or left you out. On occasions the boxes made some ‘I can’t-believe-it’s-not-dance-music’, took you into a rendering of another world or just an adjacent reality, unmediated by the stark realities of language, accent and melody. A highlight was ‘silence but louder’.

The space between ears, minds and bodies
Spatial resonances, sonification, feedback, close listening and the artifacts of the digital realm – a technical rendering of the hisses, hums and clicks of the soundspace without an origin(al) signals – became the leitmotifs of these variations on the theme of interface. Black box, white cube. What box, which cube?

This nexus, this long, deep immersion of sound, thought and words (a sound community) has opened doors for the extension of my own practice which, through the provision of the professional development grant, ANAT sought to extend and take to the ‚next level’, The random opportunities within the festival to participate (outside just being there) such as: a semi-spontaneous hollowblowthroughitwoodresonator meets the black boxes improvisation to finally wobble to the resonant frequency of the garage (harmonics and all) with Umatic/Soundscape FM’s Derek Holzer on a otherwise unoccupied night; a solo and a collaborative ‚quiet’ multiple-CD DJ set during the 72 hour HeadPhone Festival (you Know who your Audience is when they’re plugged in on the floor and they stay for the whole set) and an unofficial invitation to sit in on the second day of a small two day radio art meeting (Re-ênventing Radio I, auspiced by Kunstradio, see link for more details), an often vigorous discussion about a medium that has done much to encourage and promote sound art worldwide.

Many thanks to ANAT for making all this possible – the ‚no strings attached’ aspect took a few confirmations to believe – and for their understanding the value of talking to people face to face (especially curators, label people and like-minded artists). Special thanks to Charity Bramwell, Alison Leach, and Patrick Tam at the ANAT Adelaide HQ for all their help and to Chair person Caroline Farmer of 24Hr Art, Darwin who told me last year (and again when she sprung me in Adelaide) I should go overseas and through her encouragement planted the seed.

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