Chapter published in ‘Nachtschichten’, book edited by Jörg Köppl in conjunction with Radio Lora and the Institute for Contemporary Arts Research ZHdK (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste), Switzerland, Edition Fink, ISBN 978-3-03746-128-0

Night Train


        Radio depends on who is listening when and where. Any radio transmission is contingent on the temporal and spatial circumstance of listening. The radio broadcast, emanating from its sightless box gives the room it enters different colours; working with the tones that are already there, it stretches them centrifugally beyond its walls into the body of the listener. This invisible re-decoration is exaggerated at night. Helped by the dim light and the quietened soundscape, the radio sneaks into every nook and cranny, filling the house with ever-new layers of memory material and furnishing a present perception (1). This present perception is phenomenological, the radio house a life-world of auditory non-materiality, spooking and entertaining its inhabitant, who might not even notice that his or her sense of place and self is transformed by these invisible emissions.

        The invisibility of radio-sound enables a multiplicity of perception. The listener becomes producer, inventing his or her own contingent reality between what is heard and the time-space of its perception. This innovative listening uses the darkness of radio as a cave, abundant with sound. Here, no image preserves the listener’s hold on an authentic sense of reality, and thus no sense of non-reality limits his or her imagination.

        Radio is a formless stream, emanating from a faceless, boundary-less place. The association of this fleeting stream with a concrete actuality is, accordingly, achieved through a momentary steadying by the individual listener. Sustaining this transitory fact, durationally, all through the night, exaggerates its fleetingness, producing quite categorically a constant stream of now.

        This constant now does not produce a certain object, but incites figments of the individual imagination. It does not affirm the surety of a location or object but produces its own reality as a perceptual non-certainty. This individual and momentary certainty, produced through a contingent and innovative listening to a shared broadcast, is a solitary reality. The listeners are a collective of individuals, listening altogether alone, propelling the sonic materiality into a multitude of private imaginations. This is the paradox of radio,  emphasizing the ideology of shared and synchronised sounds, streamed into the non-synchronic ears of a multiplicity of listeners.

        To produce a constant flux of durational pieces that invite individual imaginings, as Nachtschichten does, means to abandon the parameters of commercial radio: conventional productions that aim to entertain and inform a collective audience, arranging time and aspiring to create a sense of listenership and a civic identity. Instead it involves working with the structure behind radio: listening itself, the auditory space-time relationship, and the production of a transitory, invisible materiality. It foregrounds the paradox between collectivity and solitude and achieves a different knowledge about sound and listening itself.

This text focuses on five of the artworks that are part of Nachtschichten, a series of works produced for durational night-time listening, broadcast during the Summer-nights of 2006 by Radio Lora in Zürich. It observes, studies and contextualises these works from a phenomenological point of view, contemplating them through my contingent experience, rather than pursuing a structural reading. This critical text engages with the work from an informed listening position. Hearing some of the issues that determined the parameters of the series and motivated the conceptualisation of the works, whilst listening to the sensory material. What is examined are the radiophonic works, their context and comparison, as well as listening and the parameters of hearing.


I listen as if departing on a night train: alone in the compartment, settled into a seat shared by many fellow travelers past and future, producing the landscape slipping by in the dark on my journey North.


The following focuses on the temporal specificity, the night, and the site-specificity, the radio, and how these parameters are heard and generated by the listener of Nachtschichten. It will consider how in turn he or she is transformed by this auditory engagement in the dark of the night, adapting his or her listening to the circumstance of the works’ dissemination.

The suggestion is that the series not only produces knowledge about the world evoked by the sounds, voices and tones, of the individual works, but that it also engenders a self-reflective knowledge of the listener onto him or herself, reciprocally existing in this dimly-lit and utterly sonic, nocturnal world. In this way the work is thought of as mirroring the subject hearing it; his or her subjectivity accordingly understood as auditory; and the auditory in turn identified and discussed as a phenomenological concept.

The series’ emphasis on duration, automation, incidentality and imagination is considered in this intersubjective radiophonic life-world through the consideration of five of its works. The works discussed are Benjamin Federer’s Klang:Zeit:Klang, positioned vis-à-vis Stini Arn’s Microscopic trips; Karen Geyer’s Graufilter, considered in relation to Jörg Köppl’s Dichten; and Mirjam Bürgin’s Mille et une nuits discussed on its own yet inviting comparisons with all of the former.

The aim of this text is not to pre-empt and restrict the listening to these works, but to invite and challenge pre-conceived notions of what can be heard. In this sense, these five pieces are examined in relation to the focus of the overall series as well as their individual influence.

A durational insistence pervades them all. Whilst some pieces include the incidental via personal interactions, others use generative and automated processes to produce an aleatory incidentality. However, all works discussed encourage a relationship between the sensory material and the listening imagination. Broadcast invisibly over the airwaves, the works are fleeting and ephemeral. Heard only once, the connection between the real materiality and its perception is tenuous indeed, granting the listener licence to produce rather than receive.


Benjamin Federer’s Klang:Zeit:Klang resonates with Stini Arn’s Microscopic trips. Both are entangled with the bare bones of time and space, respectively. The genealogy of their pieces is very different, their interests seemingly apart, but they share a focus on structure rather than content. Both use sound to narrate not the story itself but the structure of the plot on which the individual narrations of the listeners are to be built.

Federer’s work sounds, by and large, like a sine-wave synthesis, produced principally from sounds that resemble those of a small clock tower in a little mountain chapel and the lapping rhythms of tidal waves. The piece makes audible the passing of time, symbolically and materially. Not particularly fast nor particularly slow, just passing, all on its own.

The sounds and processes re-sound some principles and ideas of Karl-Heinz Stockhausen’s Elektronische Musik compositions from the 1950s. However, where Stockhausen insists on the craft of ‘handmade’ synthesis, controlling between his ears and hands the synthesis of each pre-drawn sample, demanding a kind of virtuosity, Federer, 50 years on, has no such obligation. By his own admission he generates his work in Max/MSP (a programme that allows a composer to generate a synthesis and develop a composition of the chosen samples according to mathematically determined pre-sets). The chosen samples that Federer synthesises are his sounds and rhythms of time. The sonic processes that he starts off are automated within pre-set parameters and roll on, hour after hour, filling time through algorithms.

In terms of pure listening the distinction between handmade or generative synthesis barely matters. It is a conceptual differentiation, affecting the comprehension of the sheer mass of minutes and hours rather than its momentary experience. On the one hand, automation ensures at least a relative equality between composer and listener. Federer, too, appreciates the work through listening rather than composing. He is here with me listening through the small hours.  He allows time to hurry forth rather than hold it in his hands, painfully crafting every second. This is boundless time quickening my ears. The rudderlessness of its passing provokes the notion of a democratic radio production. It is a time that belongs as much to me as to him or to anyone else listening.

On the other hand, however, the lack of human effort might make a traditional listener question Federer’s compositional integrity, take away some of the intensity of the work, and discourage the extended commitment so needed to physically rather than intellectually understand the piece. The idea that somebody composed all these hours engenders a very different expectation than the knowledge of automation. The human element in the work, the authorship and craft, fills the hours with a different weight, but only when I think about it. This is not an ethical issue but it does potentially influence the reception of the material.

Listening rather than thinking, entering its rhythms, this composed time becomes my time, and leaves the computer to one side. The pulse of seconds and minutes turn my radio into a great big grandfather clock. When I wander through the house at night, up and down the stairs, I can always hear it, faint and far away, or ever louder and distinct, measuring my roaming through the place by the sound of its time.  When I am close I can hear the shoreline of the intermittent tidal sounds and the small, insistent, almost irritating rhythms of a cymbal/triangle-like sound that my body cannot shake off, even when they temporarily hide underneath bigger / larger fragments of time. Here, in the unrelenting repetition of these small high-pitched particles the work turns into a dance track for tiny people, for the slow mood at night.

Arn’s Microscopic trips take time to construct the places she is passing

through. Between Los Angeles and Zürich, any place is imaginable. The events on her journeys are odd enough and ordinary enough to make me hear my own trip. I know she had to have been there as her firm presence is the work, but I do not necessarily know where she is, nor do I ultimately care.I know where I am.

The work sits between soundscape research and a sound walk project: producing a sound walk in a space of my imagination, preserving the sounds of my own memory in my present listening. I can linger on some incidental stories, ignore others, and forge a relationship with other sounds heard in the dark of the night. There are highlights, staged moments, accidents embraced, as well as incidents where she withdraws and hurriedly switches off the microphone. But on the whole moments go by without recourse to the ‘exceptional’, and after a while her soundtrack is my sphere of listening. I do not think about its source anymore as I potter around before bedtime.

The continuity of time is mine rather than hers, and the places passed are constructed in my imagination. What we share is the temporal distance, end to end, that produces my location on her base line.

Whilst Federer’s work delivers the time behind the music, not minus the music, but at the base of music, Arn outlines an invisible spatial construction to be furnished by the listener (2).   One enables the imagination of time, the other the innovation of place. Heard side by side they re-evaluate through sound the dialectical relationship and expectation of time and space. Listening to both pieces I feel freed from a dialectical vis-à-vis and encounter a much more complex relationship where time is space in motion and space is time made traceable. In this monistic ensemble the listener, too, is re-evaluated as a spatio-temporal subject, inhabiting the space in time and the time in space, complicit at the centre of the production of a place for him or her.

It is over time that this involvement happens, through the night, as it were. It requires devotion, takes time. I need the duration to sense the dwindling air in Ferderer’s work and focus on the bony time line provided, and I also need this sonic expanse to inhabit my personal imaginings that are teetering on the brink of Arn’s scaffoldings.

Arn’s space is an acoustic ecology, an environment heard. In many ways I hear it in the context of work by the contemporary composer Hildegard Westerkamp, whose compositions since the mid-seventies have focused on environmental sound, and who uses location sound to produce places that encourage a focused listening whilst enticing the production of a new place. Such compositions are torn between preservation and invention. The issue here is the Real and what it is in relation to soundscape recording. Where is a soundscape produced, manipulating the listener’s sense of space, and where is the emphasis on an authentic sense of place, for the purpose of preserving endangered sounds and fostering acoustic awareness; a ‘cleaning of the ears’ as envisaged by R. Murray Schafer, the founder of the World Soundscape Project, in his text The Tuning of the World (1977)?

The combination of poetry and science in Westerkamp’s work foregrounds that sounds are, by their very nature, endangered, floating by, gone. What they sound out is substantial and in need of preservation, a bird species, a woodland or beach life soon to be overrun by the approaching sounds of a motorway. The sounds themselves, however, remain fleeting, poetic rather than scientific, and elude preservation. The contradiction then of recording its sound, the one thing that is guaranteed to be gone as soon as it is heard, points to an artistic play with futility. Imminent defeat made poetry in soundscape composition. The composition admits the tragic loss in the poetry of its arrangement whilst fighting a conservationist’s war with the microphone. And this quandary is exacerbated on the radio, where the potential of recording, the possibility of repeated playback, is lost in the flow of the broadcast.

Arn’s construction of place is not exactly a soundscape composition, lacking the poetic intention and educational drive. It is a far more incidental document, somewhat like a sonic diary: a sound walk blog. Oozing with the authenticity of the personal overheard, and the sense of real-time. What makes it sound authentic is its bareness, its lack of focus. There is no general undulation between poetry and reality; when the two occasionally converge, it is incidental and experienced only by the individual listener rather than composed intentionally into the sonic material. It simply is what enters the microphone. This sense of the authentic, the trust it inspires, is heightened by the duration of the work. Westerkamp’s pieces are short, poem-sized. Arn’s work is potentially endless. For all I know it might still go on, unheard but nevertheless recording. This produces not a sense of listening to, but of listening in. Listening in to the goings on elsewhere that mingle with the goings on over-here, and build the basis of my own journey.

Thin lines loosely coming together to produce sheer traces of a space that no sooner has it arrived it dissipates.

Federer’s time is equally thin and almost static. I experience it beat by beat, pulse for pulse. I am only ever now and quite brutally so. This is what it is to look at a clock with too much vigour, time stops. I am kept painfully in the now. The short interludes of waves breaking are a welcome relief from the intensity of this now. However, this prison of time is compulsive. I want to stay in it, hour after hour. I am caught staring, captivated by the realisation of my own time ticking away. I am solipsistically enveloped in my own process of being.

After a while, when this sonic time has sufficiently permeated my listening space even the grandfather clock that had previously provided a visual referent has gone. Now it is sheer time. I am not listening to anything anymore, but only hear time passing. In a sense I am listening to listening. The line becomes bare and the air rarefied in these small hours. The space has shrunken to its time only. There is nothing left to move. It is now that the notion of ‘timespace’ (3) becomes perceptible rather than conceived as an abstract concept.

The concept of Federer’s Klang:Zeit:Klang surprises in its success on an experiential level. The desire to make time audible via generative software seems bound to fail. Mathematically calculating and programming pulses, rhythms, and tones to provoke sensory persuasion seems potentially a contradiction. The mathematical is liable to empty out the very feeling it tries to evoke. But it does not.

Whether it is the sober calculation, fragmentation and automation of the smallest particles of time made pulse, or simply the symbolic quality and rhythm of the samples chosen that achieves the work seems irrelevant in its success. The concept can stand, as a statement, as an experiment, as a way to think about the idea of time through sound. The practical work stands as sound, a sound ringing the time behind music. This is not a space that music has abandoned, but where music never was but might be in the future. Rather than an intellectual knowing of time this produces a poetics of time. Time explored, not reduced to a visual map, but charted by the listener.

It produces time on a bodily level, a body memory index of time becoming the subject in space all the time. In that space we meet the personal meanderings of Arn’s work.

While Federer makes time the parameter of the listening space, Arn makes space the parameter of the listening time - mathematical exactitude and imagination meet in the listeners’ ears, provoking a sonic sensibility.

The insight gained via the auditory stamina of listening through both works produces a bodily understanding of the philosophical concept of time and space. It generates a different awareness of the self and one’s environment, to be applied beyond the night’s listening into broad daylight. This aspect of auditory endurance makes it crucial that these two pieces, as well as the other works of Nachtschichten, are broadcast on the radio rather than distributed via CD box-sets.

Box-sets are things I want to own, thinking their presence on my shelves might reflect my sincerity about sound work and music. It is a display of abundance, a collecting and hording of sonic material rather than an invitation to listen. This is the work as archive, where the sleeve notes and the design determine its appreciation. The details of the content are secondary to this overall sense of the set as a material document. And whilst both works are conceptual and could be displayed with purposeful sleeve notes and interesting cover designs inviting an involved discussion, the sensory aspect of the work emerges only from a sustained effort of listening. And this deliberate ‘practice of listening’ is more easily engaged in when the work comes at you, unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, rather than when you are left to choose to finally indulge in a few hours of Merzbow, say. (4)

There is never the right time to do that, so it is never done. However, once the work is broadcast into my home it streams in, without a name or cover design, undetected. It takes the time it plays rather than the time I am prepared to listen. It takes over my time and my space, rendering my circumstance its timespace, and I am quite happy to surrender. It is the non-decision of listening to such a vast quantity of sound broadcast over the airwaves that in the end seduces me into an inhabiting mode.

The next three pieces also seduce the listener through their unexpected emergence and temporal tenacity, but additionally they feature direct narrations that render the radiophonic context even more relevant for a phenomenological engagement. Their respective narrators enter into my private space, uninvited; leading me through the witching hours, keeping me company, and yet leaving me in the solitude of my night.


Karen Geyer’s Graufilter meets Jörg Köppl’s Dichten in the effort of language. Köppl visits contemporary poets, while Geyer’s interviews of the over-seventies bring to the ear a generation who knows how to remember. Their strategies of sonic production are different, their historical backgrounds apart, yet their pieces come together in the capacity to memorise, to know through rhythm and verse, and the ability to produce in words.

In Köppl’s work a contemporary struggle with words is made audible in form and content. His work evokes Concrete Poetry and Burroughsian Cut-Ups from the 1950s and ‘60s, developed in the contemporary context of digital technology. Geyer’s piece makes audible past struggles of war and loss, recollected through poems remembered. Her work practices Oral History, documenting personal pasts through the voice-in-thought. Both works meet in the poetry and intimacy of language, one conceptual and automated, the other spoken and raw.

Köppl’s Dichten produces a sonic typography. Sounds are moved about the page, edited together like in a calligrame by Guillaume Apollinaire (1918). Non-dialectical time and space are the outer structure within which the textualities, spoken and sonic, are moved about, finding new juxtapositions all the time. These juxtapositions are not decorative but concrete, in the sense of useful. They produce meaning, semantic meaning disjointed and extended in timespace, allowing for a personal sense between the denotations of words and sounds, in the gap, at the place not of signification but of signifying.

The actual theme of this sonic poetry is the poet him or herself. The work contains fragments of interviews with contemporary poets from Zürich. These form   the basis of the piece and are the main samples in a generative production with other cut-ups. Recitations of poems, music, environmental sounds, synthesised sonic occurrences, computer-generated voices and voices recorded during this post-production process itself are the sonic material that is cut up and spliced together in an automated process.

In this way Köppl produces flexible and multiplicitous combinations, presenting not a singular understanding of the poets in question, but complex ideographic characters. As ideogram the poet is produced from diverging depictions, which in combination produce an expression that is complex and remains forever incomplete. I will never hear a clear and comprehensive picture of the poet, but am invited to inhabit the constructed world he or she is presented in. I inhabit poetry itself to hear the poet speak.

This need to be present and inhabit the world portrayed, is similar to the position I am encouraged to take when listening to Graufilter. Karen Geyer achieves a comparable complexity not through cut and splice and its automation, but via the raw fact of conversation. The tension between two people talking: stops, stutters, shyness and unease as well as shared laughter and sudden understanding. The fact that she delivers not just the questions or answers but the exchange between two people opens up similar gaps as do the ideographic characters of Köppl’s concrete poetry. Here, too, a personal sense of the work is enabled, in between the speakers, in the signifying practice of listening to an exchange.

The more I accompany Geyer from one nursing home to the next, the more I appreciate the sensitivity she brings to the subjects interviewed. I do not know whether I would like my own mother interviewed in this way, but it is as sensitive as you can get when producing an oral document of a time past, whose surviving witnesses might display their own weakness and, through a long and possibly hard life, acquired prejudices in their voices. These aged voices make audible an insight and honesty that exceeds any truth spoken, and at times I feel I ought to protect them from their own articulations. On an ethical level this parade of potential weakness and self-incrimination is redeemed by the fact that Geyer does not protect herself either. She is in the conversation, clumsy and eloquent. Her questions and reactions stand in lieu of the prejudices of a younger generation, connecting to the past and acknowledging proximity rather than protesting a time long gone.

Köppl’s cutting and pasting within an automated concrete scheme is also sensitive to the poets in conversation. The works are not disrespectful reductions of the subjects interviewed but present a clear understanding of the impossibility of pinning their complexity and individuality down, whilst also acknowledging an affinity between them through their compositional method. Like their poems, the work suggests rather than explains. Their personalities, their relationship to language and place come out sidewise, from different angles, spilling over and remaining contained. The characters are built from language rather than described through language.

Time and space interpenetrate materially as well as conceptually in both works, sustaining a position produced in the work of Federer and Arn. Concrete poetry manifests a visual persuasion, a preoccupation with the architecture of letters and signs in space. Köppl’s sonic use of such a strategy produces a timespace architecture. By bringing an equivalent temporal aspect to the spatial dimension of concrete writing, he renders the structure physical and sensible; phenomenological rather than semiotic. The ‘concrete’ is the conceptual paper of this timespace. It works as the structural agent in this sonic architecture, allowing the words their poetry whilst granting the production of meaning. As if hinting at this textual foundation the piece includes recurring samples of paper rustling in the wind. These samples produce a virtual materiality, which strengthens the work’s muscular effort of writing.

The place of this paper rustling is taken in Graufilter by the background soundtrack called Grauton. Grauton is what Geyer calls her music. If not exactly shy, it is nevertheless a rather chameleon soundtrack. Grunting, scraping, clicking, and squeaking, it quite literally becomes the tone of the rooms in which the interviews take place; a kind of grotesquely living wallpaper that moves at the edge of vision but stops still the moment you try to look in its direction. At times it blends in with building work and other environmental sounds going on, at other times it sounds intensely alone. It affords the space of the stories told another time, a now time, the time of my listening. Tick-tock, it passes, even when nobody is speaking.

Geyer composes with home made instruments, prepared motorised wheels that produce ever-changing noises. Despite the turning of wheels, rotation does not produce repetition. Every burping sound is fresh and new. She produces generative compositions without a computer. The aleatory processes of her music meet the personal chance of life in the stories told. Together they keep on evolving, round and round, always new and yet touching old furrows.

Like Federer’s Klang:Zeit:Klang Köppl’s Dichten is automated in Max/MSP. However, in his work, too, the mathematical parameters manage to seduce and achieve experientially as well as conceptually. The samples do not negate and arbitrarily erase each other but build, layer after layer, the complex structure that is the poet in poetry. The automation produces coincidence and simultaneity rather than linear consecutive thought. Conceptually the work presents a coherent ideological continuation of concrete poetry understood as a response to the new technology of the typewriter. The computer is its contemporary equivalent; its typographico-structural possibilities expand concrete poetry beyond the organisation of letters and words on a two-dimensional page into three and four dimensionality. Its algorithmic possibilities offer a fifth dimension: the aleatory organisation of sonic cut ups in constantly incidental timespace.

Geographically this timespace is anchored in Köppl’s repeated question about Zürich as home, influencing identity and the process of writing. The question seeks a dwelling for lyrical creation. It is about poetry and writing and the poet in writing and the poet in Zürich rather than anywhere else in the world. The place-boundness enabling or limiting the poetic imagination.

Köppl’s insistence on the importance of location evokes Rainer Maria Rilke’s need to be at home when writing.  Apparently, whenever the early 20th century poet and novelist was in a new town, he consulted local maps, studied local history, and needed to acquaint himself with the town and its environs before he could compose anything. Rilke needed to feel in place, and so Köppl questions its significance but never really gets an answer.

The fact that Geyer chose Vienna, Berlin and Zürich as the locations for her investigation makes the work pertinent in terms of an oral history project. Revisiting these centres of the German-speaking world through the generation who lived there during the Second World War produces a contemporary understanding.

In many ways the sonic document produced complements Studs Turkle’s American recordings transcribed in his book ‘The Good War’ (1985). American ex-servicemen, Japanese internees and ordinary citizens talk about their place in the war. In other ways, however, it bears little resemblance. It is broader, less edited, less focused on the war. The memory of the war is one thing all speakers share and which no doubt has shaped their lives greatly, but unlike Turkle’s interviewees, Geyer’s are allowed to speak around and away from the war into the consequence of their lives.

It is the trajectories of their lives that unfurl in their voices. They briefly share a horrendous collective event and yet are incredibly private. They have that in common, and the tradition of reciting poems in school. This was a generation that still learned to recite, to remember through words and to connect through poetry. Some of these words became undoubtedly difficult afterwards, but it is also in their poetry that they might have encountered Turkle’s American servicemen. The poems are collective certainties amidst misremembering and forgetting.

Graufilter could be a conventional radio broadcast but the sheer number of interviews recorded, the tenacity of the time it plays, makes it different. And it needs this expanse. One interview could never achieve the density of life I am hearing. I need to hear more than one story. Each augments the other, each conversation creates more knowledge about the subjects speaking but also about Geyer, about her intentions and my opinions of them. Slowly a map appears outlining the distances between Zürich, Berlin and Vienna. These trajectories overlap and interweave to produce a complex collage of history and geography, drawn in a timespace of movement rather than the certainty of national borders. The radio broadcast, emitting furtively from its sightless box supports the transitory nature of this land.

There is inevitably an archive here, a cultural document to be stored away. But there is also the invitation to listen to it now that persuades me. Listening to the voices as cultural raw material implicates me and my own voice via Geyer’s questions. It calls on my loneliness at night to engage and follow the narrations into my sleep.

Köppl’s Dichten goes beyond the normal duration of poetry, producing a recitation without end. The automation of his material could go on indefinitively. The end is like its starting point arbitrary, hidden in the pre-sets of the automation.  And so my sleep becomes its end.


Mirjam Bürgin’s Mille et une nuits produces a poetic knowing not of another time but of another place. A cultural knowing emerges from her collection of narratives. Knowing through sound, the sound of spoken language, not exclusively from its semantic meaning but also through the body it inhabits. These bodies are not the concrete bodies of the poets constructed by Köppl’s Dichten. Rather, these are sensory bodies, which come to me in their flesh, intimate and intimidating in their presence.

Unlike the other works in Nachtschichten, whose durations are more or less constant, Mille et une nuits exists in short snippets and longer takes of the private overheard, chats and laughter, directed recitations and plays, flirtations and intimacies, rhythms of work and earnest tales. They are for my ears only and yet not for me at all. I am an unseen listener, an écouteur, silent. No questions or interviewers allocate me a position. I have to find my own, nestling undetected between the stories and conversations. At times I think I hear a close up whisper, cough or hum and wonder whether that is me.

As the night goes on I understand that the smaller pieces expand and the longer ones accommodate and frame them in their uninterrupted arrangement. A rhythm emerges and complex relationships begin to arise. The pieces start to talk with each other, forming intricate layers of conversations and interpretations. I stand in the middle of these juxtapositions, increasingly surrounded by sonic expressions, rhythmical processions and acoustic environments.

Heard together the fragments of Mille et une nuits meet Arn’s Microscopic trips. The micro are the snippets of auditory narrations and plays, the trips are assumed. However, Arn’s work makes a lot of room for the incidental and only builds a frame of place. Bürgin’s work is its place. Arn’s work is walking, walking with a microphone, from L.A. to Zürich. Bürgin’s microphone is static, by contrast, located somewhere in West Africa; the microphone is a still recorder, the place passes by. The incidental is narrated and edited rather than happening.

We are offered a concrete and focused selection of events and stories, producing a sonic document rather than Arn’s personal blog. On some levels this is an earnest endeavour, but sound makes it playful and uncontrollable enough to be a lot else.

I believe that I recognise and understand Mille et une nuits through cultural prejudices and a European notion of the French language, when one segment throws me off my listening trajectory and forces me to engage differently. Local dialects and the raw physical sounds of exertion and work confound me. All I am left with is the rhythm of the voice as it speaks and moves, the bodily utterance, which becomes the place of my signifying. I lose the ability to decode semantically and drift off to imagine the land of the work rather than recognize the people tilling it.

My listening shifts from deciphering the discrete elements of the work to imagining the whole in-between the recitations, staged plays, work and conversations. This whole, built from complex parts, never offers an absolute understanding but only a momentary sensory engagement. The work on this level is a collage. It is a collage as temporal tapestry. It does not negate the autonomy of each element brought together but its complex simultaneity challenges the listener. The tapestry spreads out in front of me, complex patterns and intricate relationships rolling out in time, challenging the totalising strategy of hearing a finished piece.

Thus changing my mode of engagement from foraging for information to listening as bricolage of intersubjective associations, the piece grows and expands. What I start to hear now is not only the sounding object, but also becomes layered with my inner sense of it.

At this moment the works exists in two guises. One is a sonic anthropology, a research project that deserves a scientific staging and examination. The other produces an auditory construction of a place and its people that provokes imagination rather than truth. The anthropological invites a listening as deciphering and classification. The sonic construction invites an inhabiting and imagining, a sonic tourism. In my listening I float between both, undulating between hearing a sonic knowledge and creating a momentary truth for me. Like all radio work, this truth is contingent and personal. I imagine from my position to imagine, no more no less.

My imagination builds the stage for my perception. The stories are recited, the conversations engage, and what I hear are people narrating themselves through formal practices and informal utterances. I become enveloped in their rhythms and entertained by their stories. Between the body discussed and the body at work, I come to my own narrations and corporeality, in a self-reflexive listening mode.

In one sense I practise what Pierre Schaeffer, the French composer and originator of Musique Concrète (5), terms reduced listening (6). I hear the sound removed from its visual identity, just sound. This stripped down hearing is enforced through the blindness of radiophonic transmission. There is no guide, visual or otherwise. The sounds become divorced from a visual source, in a phenomenological époché - acousmatic. This frees my ear but also challenges what I am meant to be hearing. Not an easy encounter, challenging sensory pragmatism, as sound itself becomes the object I hear.

This is a phenomenological inhabiting where my listening implies my hearing. Once I let go of recognisable signifiers, I am the sound I hear. The radio broadcast produces an inter-subjective timespace. I produce the land and people I hear through hearing them, and in this listening I am implicated and produced as its hearer. This listening is a motor-sensory gesture towards the sounds and narrations heard, the hearing my experiential signifying. My subjectivity is established in the conclusions drawn.

But this is not really a reduction at all. Sound is never less than the image or the visual perception. It is at least equal and probably more. Rather than reducing, I am distilling, focusing and creating. From the dark space of radio I generate what I hear in an effort of innovation. This innovative listening expands rather than limits what I can hear. It creates an understanding beyond the semantic meaning of the actual place and people recorded, and past the sonic object heard, in my contingent reciting of their narrations, conversations, plays and work. I practise rather than hear their words.

In relation to its anthropological aspects, the work compares with the recordings of Graufilter. The stories of Mille et une nuits, like Geyer’s interviews of the over-seventies, produce a document of people in a particular location and time. However, Bürgin’s recordings do not produce an oral history but a phonographic record. The people are not interviewed but are talking, narrating, playing with language. They are observed in their present doing rather than in their remembering of a past. The focus is on the now, the flesh, the living.

The conversations and plays are about mores and rules for life now: marriage, sex, men and women, work and play - lived and present. However geographically remote the narrators, I increasingly contemplate the tales and their consequences for my own life. Here, sound is a tool, added to many other devices of discovery and exchange. The listening of the anthropologist does not produce, invent from the dark, but augments and develops an understanding unseen. This listening focuses not on what confirms the visual but on what produces knowledge and an understanding of a place and time, that is, a culture, that escapes vision. It brings to light the invisible: culture as dynamic rather than its artefacts.

When this sonically gained, dynamic understanding meets language in the demand for a report, difficulties inevitably arise. How to transcribe an auditory experience into the fixed visual structure of words without hiding the very essence of its insights produced in real-time sensory participation? Sound is more powerful and direct at narrating the place and time than any report written: it surrounds me, making me sense rather than understand. I will never know the place recorded but only the place heard.

This is why this work is strong on the radio where the narrations are temporal recitations, local and small in the sense of the French Philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s petit récit (1983). The petit récit is an oral narration that produces and legitimises knowledge through its practical performance. The knowledge gained does not come from the grand ideological narratives, the power base of empirical science and institutional knowledge and truth, but is a contingent knowing as a complicit act between speaker and listener. This small narration is language at play, a one-off live event. I cannot stop the radio, I cannot re-hear, the small and bigger snippets of Milles et une nuits pass by me in the night, providing a momentary entertainment and insight that only leaves a trace and a sense of knowing, bodily and privately, rather than the certainty of impersonal knowledge.


All the works on Nachtschichten narrate themselves in this way: intensely present and local.  They play now, resonating through the dark hall of remembrance that is radio. I can hear them still. As memory material, they furnish my present listening and, reciprocally, my present perception builds them a temporary home. Nachtschichten in this sense is an auditory life-world that my listening generates for me and that generates me through my listening, continuously in the present. And although Lora broadcasts from Zürich, this does not have a bearing on my auditory dwelling place. My listening stretches beyond its moment and time, ahead and backwards, away and closer, but it always starts from me, wherever I am. I am its contingent here and now. And that is why Nachtschichten presents the perfect life-world, continuous, eternally present, produced in my generative listening. It is the inventor’s parology, giving room to my curiosity and furnishing my doubt.

All the pieces insist on a complicit audience inhabiting the work in such an intersubjective act of listening. They demand a commitment without making that demand apparent. I gradually slip into it, seduced by the time of night and the long duration of the work. The long night-time hours blur my boundaries of time, stretching my ears into the dark space ahead of me whilst drawing on the dusk behind me.

Nachtschichten, as a research project, researches listening, my own listening and what it is I hear after a while. It clearly marks listening as a practice rather than a mode of reception. The authors have become facilitators, enablers of perception, and the perceived is generated in my practice of listening. There is nothing that precedes that exchange, no artefact outside the event of hearing it. As with the falling tree in the deserted wood, there is no Nachtschichten if there is no listener. If the work is not heard, it is not produced. It demands such engagement. Simply to know that it plays is not enough. The materiality of all the works needs to unfold in the listeners’ ears. It is in those ears that the pensioners of Graufilter, Dichten’s poets, the passing strangers in Microscopic Trips and the African voices of Mille et une nuits come to live and dance to the ticking of Klang:Zeit:Klang.

On one level Nachtschichten is a practice ground to train one’s ears for greater attention and endurance before taking them out into the soundscape of the everyday. It serves to introduce a different engagement and attain a patience and complicity with the world as an acoustic environment.

The consequence of applying such a trained ear would be a different knowing, always now, challenging and augmenting visual knowledge. It would produce an auditory understanding that complements and stretches visual preconceptions and questions visual inevitability.

On another level Nachtschichten is a night-time party-line for dreamers who hate going out but like company.


1. Memory, according to the French philosopher Henri Bergson, is gleaned from the present and realises the present perception from its sensory-motor elements through movements towards that which it perceives (1991). By suggesting that radio broadcasts produce memory material I mean to say that radio’s sounds, transmitted blindly into my listening space, evoke a present perception through an auditory remembering. The main tenet of this suggestion is that memory is not something we summon from the past, from which we are temporally and geographically remote. But rather that the present perception is memory actualised now, and that in turn, memory is triggered by a current event and becomes materialized in a present perception.

In relation to the radio broadcast our present perception is the present remembering of all radio ever heard, and so it is the actually transmitted sound in its remembering that fills the house presently. This sonic memory material produces not a nostalgic experience in the sense of a recognition of the past, however, but triggers a current auditory production of memory in a continually present perception.

Further elaboration of this idea of sonic memory material can be found in my text Sonic Memory Material as ‘Pathetic’ Trigger in ‘Organised Sound’, Journal of Music and Technology, Cambridge University Press, April 2006.

  1. 2.In this sense Federer realises in terms of time what Stockhausen sought in relation to space. In the contemporary context, Stockhausen’s dream of

an ideal space

for musical performance, which he eventually found to be spherical with the audience placed in the centre (Osaka-Projekt: Kügelauditorium EXPO, 1970), is overtaken by the need for a musical time that enables the production and perception of contemporary sound art that is not necessarily performed in a location but is transmitted in the contingent time-space of the radio, the internet, the i-pod.

  1. 3.I am quite deliberately removing the dash between time and space to avoid any possibility to rearrange the parameters of perception in an

oppositional manner. The term ‘timespace’ defines the non-dialectical simultaneity between time and space. Timespace is not a ‘thing’ but a conceptual practice of perception that involves the subjects, as active agents, inhabiting a place in time. Timespace acknowledges a critical equivalence between spatial and temporal processes, and is conceptually auditory since sound is movement in space whilst the image only captures movements.

  1. 4.Masami Akita aka Merzbow is a 1979 initiated Japanese experimental music project recognised as one of the earliest elements of the Japanese

noise scene. In 2000 Merzbow released a 50 CD Box set of noise music. Neatly packed in a black custom designed box with a metal nameplate, the Merzbox also includes a book, CD-ROM, a medallion, a T-shirt, a poster and postcards as well as stickers.

  1. 5.Musique Concrète works with concrete, real sounds, recorded, cut and spliced in the studio and then played back in a musical context.

  1. 6.Schaefer’s term Reduced Listening promotes the idea of listening to sound for its auditory materiality and substance, without being guided or side

tracked by a visual source. The listener performs a stripping bare of sound, removing all the references to a visual signifier, in favour of the sensory materiality of sound itself.


Apollinaire, Guillaume, (1925) Calligrammes: poèmes de la paix et de la guerre (1913 -1916) Paris, Gallimard

Bergson, Henri. 1991. Matter and Memory. Translated by N.M Paul and W.S. Palmer. NY: Zone Books

Burroughs, W. S. (2005), The unseen art of William S. Burroughs: paintings, targets, soundworks, scrapbooks, cut-ups, fold-ins, film & documentary evidence, London, Riflemaker

Lyotard, Jean-François,  (1983) La condition postmoderne, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit

Schafer, R Murray (1994) The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, Rochester, Destiny Books

Schaeffer, Pierre, (1966) Traité des objets musicaux: essais interdisciplines, Paris, Édition du Seuil

Stockhausen, Karl-Heinz, (1963) Texte zur Musik 1963-1970, Köln, Verlag M.DuMont, Schauberg

Turkle, S. (1985) The Good War, London, Hamish Hamilton

Voegelin, Salomé, (2006) ‘Sonic Memory Material as “Pathetic” Trigger’ in Organised Sound, Journal of Music and Technology, Cambridge University Press