Sound as a realm of experience. On the work of composer Roland Dahinden
What is distinctive in Roland Dahinden’s music can perhaps be best comprehended by appreciating the creative work of the Swiss composer and trombonist as the search for new ways to impart perception and experience. In the field of performing arts such a claim is by no means something new; what is indeed special is the strategy Dahinden chooses for its realisation, in order to do it justice, because the unspectacular and likewise compelling nature of his works doesn’t even permit a didactic character to even emerge, as it occasionally appears to the point of moralising in other art productions. This essentially relates to the logical conception of Dahinden’s work, which aims for an integrated experience and – this is particularly significant for the context of presenting music within the framework of an art exhibition – creates an intermedial component in interaction with the visual exhibits, which retroact on their part on the perception of the exhibition spaces. The prerequisite for this is a convergence of creative conception, based on which Dahinden has already been stimulated to devoting his time to artist Inge Dick’s creations: he hence composed lichtweiss for vibraphone (2000), a musically immanent counterpart to Dick’s image series Ein Tages Licht Weiss, dedicated his third string quartet to her, mond see (2001), and in the case of himmelblau (2004) he designed a sound installation for the bleu de ciel (Zug 2004) exhibition.
There are very specific parameters of creative work that play a role in the art of Roland Dahinden and Inge Dick, as both dedicate themselves to the moment of perception to apparently simpler circumstances, thereby avoiding however everyday life experiences by focusing on details that are normally faded out and stimulate recipients to a synthesis. There is above all a commonality in that both artists delve into the materials in their respective professions by dissecting ideas of monochromy and using specific approaches to show the variety of qualitatively different nuances that can be concealed within an apparently monochrome structure. In his works emerging on the occasion of the current exhibition, Dahinden’s starting point is Dick’s conceptual photographs, as previously in himmelblau. The artist’s idea of visually documenting a cinnabar colour surface which is subjected to the changing natural light conditions of an entire day and its changes from black to brown to red into a nearly white background and then back again, is reflected in two works, which are simultaneously the starting point and the challenge in Dahinden interacting with Dick’s art. One of these creative fixations on the course of a day consists of the arrangement of 29 large format Polaroids, which are hung in chronological order on the wall of an exhibition space, documenting individual phases of the cinnabar colour surface.
Dahinden refers to these visual impressions in his musical composition zinnober for violin, violoncello and percussion by realising a numerical analogue structuring of 29 different sound situations, the sequence of which can be freely determined by the interpreters. The description of these sound situations – which generally encompass one page and less commonly two pages of score - as “images”, which is laid out in the composition’s caption, expresses the analogy regarding the distinctive features of Dick’s Polaroids: As these are based on the choice of a single colour, Dahinden’s zinnober is based on the availability of a monochromatically oriented material reservoir, the components of which are constantly combined differently in the individual “images” via a choice made by the composer, so that each of the respective sound situations, despite their general commonalities in certain aspects such as sound sequence, sound or noise intensity, more or less intensely stand out from one another. For their compositional work Dahinden uses primarily graphic elements – to an extent with recourse to the traditional five-line stave system – whereby the point in time of initially hearing the sound and the duration of its sound, as well as the actions of the percussionist, can only be determined approximately. With respect to the qualitative embodiment of the string sounds, in addition to frequent use of flageolets, the composer prescribes various intonations with complex sounds or noise spectrums or rich in overtones, however also gradual developments or abrupt transitions of the sound into noise and gestural, improvisational phrases out of a rapid succession of closely neighbouring pitches, while he assigns a vast arsenal of swishing , beaten and stringed sounds to the percussionist.
While Inge Dick’s 29-part Polaroid installation freezes the changes of the photographed colour surface in static situations, the artist has digitally filmed cinnabar throughout the course of a day in a second fixation, and made the process of the permanent colour changes visible in a film. For the space in which this film is projected onto one of the transverse walls, Roland Dahinden has created a sound installation, which is transmitted via a total of six small speakers placed along the length of the walls. The periphery of a sound space is marked by this speaker arrangement in which visitors to the exhibition find themselves upon entering the space. The sounds – 29 natural flageolets, which Dahinden has in turn selected as an analogy to the other Polaroids exhibited in another place – were recorded by two musicians on violin and violoncello, under consideration of a verbal concept for the variable duration of sound campaigns (between 17 and 29 seconds) and phases of silence (from three to 13 seconds). As sound materials these pre-recorded string sounds are moved electronically within this space - artificially designated by the speakers - during the entire duration of the exhibition in accordance with certain principles and form a constantly changing constellation as an auditory counterbalance to Dick’s Film; another version of this work is mixed by Dahinden into a stereophonic panorama for two speakers on a CD, which is part of the exhibition catalogue.
In the works entitled zinnober Dahinden considers the aesthetic implications of Dick’s art under the premise of musical creative possibilities and adds a component to the visual, spatial as well as - due to the film - temporally arranged components of the exhibition space, which makes an intermedial reference to the image and hence transport its effects via musically imminent means to another level of perception. Similar as Dick carries over visual impressions with the tools of digital technology into the “time shape” of a film and thus injects them with a different medial appearance, whereby she does not, like in the Polaroids, emphasise the situation, but rather on the contrary the process of the colour change, Dahinden in both cases provides similar basic musical material via a changed form that he dissociates the sound events from the performance of his composition and arranges them in the space under new premises, whereby they become the installation. It can be particularly recognised in this conception how Dahinden ultimately links composition and sound installation with one another, two different areas of his work, within an experiential process. While the composition zinnober is targeted at the process of a sound production by the interpreters and thereby shows, how the in many aspects open forms of notation join to form a sound entity in the moment of the performance, which is valid however only for the concrete performance situation, the arrangement of the electronically available sounds as an installation – although based on a series of freely wieldable musical guidelines – is designed for a specific space situation. Due to its lastingness, it provides visitors with totally other modes of perception as an instrumental live presentation, namely a pre-existent sound space, which can be entered and exited at will. As the visitor can also move freely within this virtual space, his/her relationship to the sound does not remain static, as in the case of a typical seated concert audience member. In addition to the already spatially moved sounds of Dahinden’s installation comes the perceiver’s own movements: He/she can relate in the widest variety of ways to the sound space and transform the process of listening via independent activities to a new, physically driven listening experience, which coalesces into an integrated art experience with the visual perspective of the cinematic film showing the colour changes.
Both creative types of work – composition and installation – result however only in their collaboration in something that Dahinden comprehends as “sound sculpture”, as a combined presentation form, which is comprised of temporally and/or spatially separate performance as well as installation aspects. The realms of composition and sound installation encounter each other here displaced with respect to time and/or location: Dahinden creating the possibility of contrasting his sound installation zinnober based on 29 flageolet sounds with the 29 “images” of the composition, results in him provoking a process of remembering in the recipient. This results from the fact that visitors to the exhibition must themselves source the relationships between sound, time and space, by linking the sounds offered in various rooms at different times in his memory as a sculptural arrangement, and on this basis synthesises the various impressions into a coherent whole. The perception process is hence ultimately coupled with a memory process dependant upon the performance of remembering, as it likewise appears – albeit generally unconsciously –when viewing a traditional sculpture, the overall impression of which is basically initially created in the viewer’s head by moving around the object: as a simultaneity of the non-simultaneous, which in reality cannot always be seen. It is consequently not always defined how perception and memory merge in Dahinden’s work, but rather – entirely in terms of the openness, which also determines the structure of his works – dependant on the respective viewer and their perspective of perception. Roland Dahinden’s works hence avoid the tendency of defining in favour of an individual approach by the recipients. As they thereby relate to Inge Dick’ works, they contribute to an integrated work of art reception, in which auditory and visual moments play an equally important role as the visitor’s course, as he/she moves through the exhibition space in constant interdependency with this intermedial meshwork.
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