“Technology is nothing more than the vessel for an idea”
Last year German artist, Florian Tuecke, won with his project Urban Audio the first edition of Paseo Project: New Creative Models to Experience the City. This September 11, Tuecke will come to Zaragoza to produce its project, a sound art research project in the public space where the acoustic structure of the cities and its urban situations are tested in terms of its compositional and musical configuration. All his research and an exhibition about all the sound receiver instruments he has designed and fabricated over the last years will be shown at Etopia Center for Art and Technology, the brand new venue in the city about innovation and new media culture.
Hi, Florian. Where do we catch you now? I think you are pretty busy making “some” boxes… How everything is going?
Of course a project that size takes a lot of effort; also in preparation: designing new instruments, building boxes for shipping, preparing the van, building additional equipment, cables and adapters… But I can say, that things are going ok.
Why sound? What does the sound have to appeal to your artistic creativity?
Sound is an phenomena that we find all around us. On our planet we experience sound mostly as variation in the density of air. But sound also travels inside solid or liquid materials. And when we widen the understanding of sound towards vibrations and cyclic or rhythmic patterns, we will find sound-like phenomena in the smallest bits of matter (rhythmic movements of atomic and sub-atomic particles) as well as in the universal scale (rotations of planets and stars or any movement that happens in circular orbits). But when we focus on our own existence and our perception of the world, we notice that the sense of hearing gives us essential information about the world we live in. While our eyes enable us to obtain directed and focussed information, our ears receive general, and often unconscious information about the world. Our sense of vision is connected to our rational thinking; sound connects to our subconsciousness and our emotions. In our visually dominated perception of the world, the effect of sound on our biological and psychological existence is often neglected. This makes it an interesting field of artistic research to me.
How started your interest on working with sound in public spaces and in particular your project Urban Audio?
I was working with sound-installations for some while. I utilized these installations as musical instruments for concert-like performances. In this situation I was looking for a way to reduce my compositional influence on the sonic result. At the same time I was starting to work on artistic strategies in public space and I noticed, while paying attention to urban traffic situations, that compositional aspects are immanent in these structures. I started to understand traffic as compositional structure that is unconsciously created by the decisions, actions and interactions of numerous individuals. So I started looking for ways to translate these structures to the language of music. This is how the idea of Urban Audio was born.
And in which way this project has changed or evolved throughout the time?
When I started the project I was working with single instruments and applied them in urban space to translate the acoustic output of a traffic situation into musical sounds. After I had made a project in the USA during which I was traveling cross-country to record the musical output of traffic in 26 cities, I decided to pay more attention to the specific structure of each traffic situation. I noticed that I had to work with more instruments at a time in order to cover a wider area and thereby to approximate further towards the complexity this of a urban traffic situation. So I equipped a van with a mobile recording studio, a wireless transmission system and with a set of 8 instruments that are each tuned differently.
How do these instruments work?
These instruments basically work like string-based acoustic filter, whereas the frequencies of the filtering are defined by the tuning of strings. This equals the working principal of the first single instruments, but now I had 8 instruments with different tuning that i could distribute in the area of an entire traffic intersection. This technique enabled me to create a more sophisticated and detailed musical transformations and to thereby translate more of the individual complexity of each traffic structure into a collaterally created musical composition.
You are an artist that works with sound technology. In which manner technique have an influence in your creativity? Does it condition your projects?
For me, technology is one of the possible media for artistic work. Working with technology, or technology-based media is one of the techniques to realize an idea. It is not much different from a painters brush. More than conditioning, technology can help to express an idea. Besides, I am enjoying to work in a rather analog scale which makes the necessary technology or their components in most many most available or producible. Admittedly, some ideas are easier to realize than others. But in the end technology is nothing more than the vessel for an idea.
Is there any particular artist that may influence your work?
There are several artists whose concepts and approaches have influence on me. Obviously, artists who re-thought the concept of composing, like Terry Riley, John Cage and LaMonte Young -just to mention some- gives a certain basis to my works, but also contemporary artists like Christina Kubisch, Sam Auinger or Georg Winter.
Can you tell us something in advance about Urban Audio Zaragoza?
In one part of the project I will investigate 5 major traffic hotspots of Zaragoza with my mobile equipment. Visitors can come to the van and listen live to the musical translation of the particular traffic structure. An other part of the project will be a more extended idea of composing. Citizens will be involved in the compositional process. For this part of the project, I have designed a set of 6 lightweight and easy-to-use instruments which will be handed to local people. The decision about which specific situation in Zaragoza to record is in their hands. All recordings and that are collected by the participants will be published in an online-map where they can be re-played in free combination. The idea is to involve the City of Zaragoza on different levels in the process of composing.
Urban Audio Zaragoza was the project winner of the first edition of the contest Paseo Project and you had the opportunity to come to Zaragoza a visit Etopia, the Center for Art and Technology of the city which will launch its activities this september. What can you tell us about it?
Above all I want to congratulate the City of Zaragoza on launching an art and technology center during these difficult times. I think a step like this not only proves courageousness, but also shows a sense for visionary thinking. Supporting cross-disciplinarity and open structures – especially in the field of technology, arts and entrepreneurship – is a key step towards future sustainability. I am convinced that Etopia has as well the potential of playing a significant role for the development of the region as of being an internationally acknowledged institution.
In addition to your project, there is going to be an exhibition about the sound elements you have made in the last years. What can you explain about them? Do you consider yourself like a some kind of sound luthier or sound craft maker?
I would like to keep it as simple as this: the instruments that I need to achieve certain results simply don’t exist; so I have to build them. Instrument-making surely is a part of my practice as an artist. And although artist-made objects are commonly considered sculptures, I consider them instruments due to the fact that all their design and construction follows the purpose they are made for. So I would rather consider myself a luthier than a sculptor. At the other hand, the instruments are not the end of the story. They are tools for projects to investigate compositional strategies.
Thanks, Florian, for your time. We are looking forward to seeing you in Zaragoza this next September and make Urban Audio Zaragoza real.
Thanks me too. I am looking forward to being in Zaragoza and play around with the sounds of the city 🙂
Image: Florian Tuercke working with his urban sounds receptors