Essay written for Silvia Ploner and Nicholas Perret’s exhibition Island Songs at the Grimmuseum Berlin 24 April - 22 May 2016

Places Hardly Exist

a text by Salomé Voegelin

Nýey as it is installed at the Grimmuseum produces approximately 1000

cubic meters of sound. This unit of measure seems most appropriate as

the work generates a dense mass of erosion, sand and wind that does not

create a flat land or a linear path, but a volumetric territory that impresses

on me my own geological formation rather than a mammalian birth.

The churning, turning motions degrade the surface of the gallery

walls performing an erosion of their visual permanence through the invisible

mobility of sound. They make me sense a space materialise rather

than already being there, and my listening reciprocates this geological

process through the materialisation of my own shape on its slow and

rolling ground.

Centred by but not at the centre of the shifting textures of field recordings

made on the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland: slowed

down, equalised, filtered and reversed; worked through the basic gestures

of electroacoustic music, I respond to decay and reconfiguration

with my own vibrational density. My body becomes a slice of this geological

formation, not in an anthropocentric or colonial occupation,

but through serendipitous collaborations with its invisible movements,

whose textures show me my smallness and instil in me the responsibility

of my own position.

The vibrations of the island as they proliferate through these rooms

make a world appear from invisible connections within which my body

oscillates as a thing amidst other things. The rolling configuration

moves as I move through its composition, feeling rather than hearing

the waves that erode the very fabric of its certain form, just as they erode

the form of the volcanic island, down to its heart, the Palagonite, within

which it might live a thousand years.

Vibrations sound the inexhaustible condition of the world and the

infinitude of this work, which grasps what was and what will be through

the intensity of a geological continuum made from the movement of

rocks, sand and earth as they form dense and invisible sounds that register

their appearance and disappearance, and show us what is there, and

what else might become visible from the as yet unseen and even from

the as yet unheard.

The piece creates the exhibition space as a vibration-environment

that does not sound the geography of the island or the architecture of

the gallery, but the dynamic of the world as a transformative mass without

boundaries but with thresholds within which we can hear not only

known sounds but also new sounds and what we like about them.

The notion of field recording binds the work to a real place, the island

of Surtsey, which is surveyed once a year for four days, charted in

minute detail to understand and compare what was and what will be. In

the context of this exhibition however, the island ceases to be an actual

land mass and becomes a conceptual device to survey not rocks but a

geological fluidity whose vibrations sound as an arche-sonic: the mobile

material of an invisible and inexhaustible texture that illuminates the

possibilities of the world and binds me into their weave, which I join

through my modest participation.

All Depends on the Sun composes sentences of scientific speculation on

the existence of audible sounds accompanying the ‘Aurora borealis’,

the lights of the northern hemisphere. The syncopated rhythm of the

phrases calls for participation in the uncertainty of the heard and makes

us consider how we might talk about its invisible materiality when no

cause, source or relationship can be found to anchor it in. These

places hardly exist Sound brings us to the controversy of what is

not supposed to exist, what cannot be scientifically proven to exist but

defies expectations by existing nevertheless. We started to discuss

what this could be Following the recountings by the scientists of

the noises that they tell us appear during the aurora the doubt in the

heard becomes the motivation to suspend habits of scientific research

and the preconceptions of measureable knowledge to reach the ephemeral

and call the invisible by its proper name. There would have to

be some new word to describe it What would this word be and what

could it communicate of the heard at the highest latitude of this world.

And how could this name once designated reverberate other unheard

sounds, illuminating other possibilities of this world which equally remain

unnamed and thus unable to make themselves count within what

we consider to be actually real.

Onomatopoeic performances try to grasp those unnamed sounds on

the body, to give them a home and an anchor. But my body and my voice

do not form an unaffected conduit for the noises of the world but bring

my own disturbances to the heard. Thus how can we witness the ephemeral

and share in the invisible to give it a vocabulary without descending

into a ventriloquism that generates myths and parallel fictions? In other

words, how to transgress the borders of accepted truths and facts without

supporting a solipsism that defies communication and reality.

As if in response instead of closing perception into mythology the

sounds that appear to coincide with the Nordic Lights guide us beyond

the possibilities of this world into its impossibilities: that which for physiological,

aesthetic, ideological but also for socio-political or economic

reasons we cannot or do not want to hear. Listening to sounds that might

or might not be there opens perception to other variants of this world

that I can reach in experience rather than in truth. Once I accept them

as the real fictions of my auditory imagination, I can start to hear other

things; I can expand my sonic sensibility towards other realities that

are not untruths but are the truths of an involved and practice-based

experience that generate real possibilities which impact on what I see

and hold consequences for how I know. It is very possible that these

persons who have made these observations are more sensitive And

thus, rather than forming a non-human interpretation of the world, ascertained

in scientific proof in order to avoid the solipsism of individuated

perception, All Depends on the Sun frames perception as doubt and

invites participation in the unknown vis-à-vis which I have no certain

and permanent place but only a temporary existence. I mean you

should not be there The rejection of the non-provable rather than

enabling a non-anthropocentric worldview focuses the dominance of a

human-centred perspective on the limits of our scientific ability and

reach. It is thus maybe not in scientific analysis, but in engaged ears

that I reach, temporarily and in great doubt another world, which is not

a parallel world, easily dismissed as ‘wholly other’, but is the plural reality

of this world, which includes the incommensurable not as another

measure, but as its possible impossibilities: that which might well be but

which we cannot see even if we hear it rumble.