Review – Extract, Portrait of Soundartists(nvo) 2007 – by Tobias Fischer, tokafi

EXTRACT (2CD + book by Non Visual Objects)

Intensifies the brain’s hunger for information and input: A fascinating read and listen throughout.

In rock, everything is personal. In soundart, it seems, nothing is. That is why a project like “Extract” is much more than just a nicely layouted book with two CDs packed with music. It is a tangible result from the conclusion that our understanding of art can benefit from the knowledge of the composer’s personal history – and that the genre as a whole has the potential to be appreciated by a much larger audience if it allows itself to open up. That’s no buy-out, mind you, but the simple realisation that by its very nature, soundart will always have a certain disadvantage: While crunching guitars, dazzling drums, gripping vocals and the ebb and flow of verse and chorus are mainly self-referential and an effort to offer one’s own ego as a projection screen for others, the attempt to understand the world around us through its audible emissions is of a much more subtle nature. In fact, where the music is firmly placed first, the performer naturally steps back, turning all but invisible in the service of the composition. The functional and mostly faceless aesthetics of the genre have made it doubly hard for experimental works to compete with the bright lights of popular culture in the media. This is where “Extract” steps in.

A hole in the ground: Twenty-two biographies

Twentytwo artists have followed the invitation of Heribert Friedl and Raphael Moser, the masterminds behind the Nonvisual Objects label and contributed music, visuals as well as text to the book. Twentytwo entirely different biographies and twentytwo unique views on sound have resulted in twentytwo short but vivid introductions to their work and their life.The nature of these contributions is highly diverse. Friedl and Moser have set up a basic interview with questions on the background of the musicians, their influences, their methods and their stance on collaborating with similar-minded colleagues. While a large chunk of the “Extract” line-up is presented through their answers to this questionnaire, others have chosen idiosyncratic approaches. Keith Berry tells a story from his childhood and how the mysteriously beckoning drone of a “monster of a heating system” in his parent’s house would hold a deep and inexplicable fascination. 12k founder Taylor Deupree fills his four pages with small snapshots of a Japan-tour which, as he points out, “may mean a great deal to some, sparking memories and stories, or may mean nothing to others”. Dutch Roel Meelkop is represented by a short piece of prose entitled “Another piece of general fiction or how I came to be a sound artist” (a hole in his garden apparently played an important role), while seminal American visual artist and composer Steve Roden has scanned entries from his “work diary”, which go from scetched drawings of bagpipes to thoughts on the importance of calligraphy in Zen. Parts are intellectual and require repeated perusal – such as Richard Chartier’s detailed and precise description of his technique and intentions. Others come in the form of personal reflections, such as I8U’s France Jobin looking back on her early days as a sound explorer: “Being a difficult child, it didn’t take long for my parents to realize they could keep me quiet and out of trouble by placing me in between two speakers.” It’s a fascinating read throughout.

Minimalism is the main criterium: Two and a half hours of music

The music is equally eclectic. Miguel A. Tolosa, who runs the Con-V netlabel and operates under the name of Ubeboet, has called this the release of the year and the two and a half hours of material certainly allow for this kind of superlative. From his own sacral choir ambiances to Friedl’s minute incisions and crackles, from Bernhard Günter’s urban field recordings to Steinbrüchel’s perfect drone pulses, this collection offers a plenitude of moods, ideas, approaches and philosophies. Friedl and Moser talk about a network which has formed thanks to interactions between artists all over the world, whose categories for inclusion are very much open: Minimalism is the main criterium, other than that the spectrum and the scope of “Extract” are wide and all-embracing. Nao Sugimoto drove to the outskirts of Tokyo, placed a speaker next to his car, put on a playback of a prerecorded acoustic guitar piece and taped it from a sizeable distance. Jos Smolders meanwhile, withdrew into the solitude and comfort of a grandfather clock ticking in an infinitely condensed space. Some of the harmonic and “musical” tracks reveal their analytical origins, while many of the purely sound-focused pieces take on a hauntingly emotional meaning: The music seems to speak to the listener in a very direct way. “Perhaps the appeal of minimal art”, Tomas Phillips writes, “is that it provides a very particular bridge between self and other, one that meets the artist’s needs to contribute to a community, whilst allowing the listener/reader/viewer space in which to offer his or her own experience to a “collaborative” project”.

That’s not only an excellent observation in relation to the arts in general, but to “Extract” in particular as well. While the common train of thought has been that the cold design of the scene has served to spark the imagination of the listener, forcing him to make his own picture of the composer, this book proves this theory wrong. The more one finds out about the personalities behind the music, the more one is able to appreciate the nuances of their oeuvre, the differences between similar results and the analogies between starkly contrasting contributions. The wealth of information “Extract” offers does not set the brain to rest, but only goes to intensify and increase its hunger for information and more input. Many of the artists talk about how they felt like outlaws during their school time for preferring “the sound of tires rolling over snow” above crunching guitars, dazzling drums, gripping vocals and the ebb and flow of verse and chorus – I am thoroughly convinced that if this book became part of the curriculum, many more would feel the same. Not everything in soundart is personal. But much more than anyone previously thought possible certainly is.
(tobias fischer, tokafi)