1979: Preliminary note by Joanna Bailie
The work is inspired by a short story by the German writer Salomo Friedlaender “Goethe speaks into the phonograph” from 1916 and reproduced in its entirety in Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone Film Typewriter. It concerns the story of a professor, who in order to impress the woman he loves, visits Goethe’s study, and endeavours to capture the long dead author’s voice and reproduce it. The professor’s experiment is based on the theory that no sound in a space is ever really truly lost — that sound waves continue to exist long after the initial source has left the room, bouncing between the walls at ever more minuscule amplitudes for eternity.
memory of a space
Friedlaender’s story inhabits an intersection between the advent of recording technology, science fiction, memory and poetics, and it is this location that serves as the starting point for something more contemporary: a piece for a world that has forgotten how things work. One hundred years after the story was written we still have no way of detecting or capturing these super-low amplitude sound waves, or indeed have any proof that they exist at all. What is certain though, is that the very idea of them, of their steady and quiet accumulation into a theoretical background noise, and the way they might function as a kind of memory of a space, is a seductive one. The normal notions of sound as ephemeral and intangible are turned on their head, and replaced by the idea of sound as a growing substance.
from noise to song
What would we hear in a space then, if we could pump up the volume of everything that ever sounded in it? In 1979 musicians and speakers line the perimeter of a room, representing the points where sounds bounce against the walls, in a staging of a very theoretical idea. The history of a space is truncated through a kind of sonic equivalent of time-lapse photography into a 45 minute-performance. Time is run backwards in this piece, so that it starts with the moment of maximum aggregation of sound, and gradually unravels until the initial ‘noise’ is resolved into individual strands of song. Speculative science and complexity are counterbalanced by a transparency of approach and a desire to find the human story at the core of the theory. Sonic reverberation (or ‘echo’) becomes a phenomenon in which history reveals itself, and provides the basis for an alternative kind of musical dramaturgy