Sound from Ergan in Bud, work in progress, 2020-
Based on techniques for acoustic analysis, I want to investigate the musical potential in the sound of Ergan Kystfort in Bud. By combining acoustic analyzes of Ergan Kystfort with musical use of space, new possibilities open up.
The most common medium of music is sound and the space of the sound is part of this sound. But the space also shapes the very creation of the music and the musical composition is adjusted based on the characteristics of the space. This is evident in the music that the composers Pérotin and Léonin wrote for the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in the late 12th century, where the long lines were adapted to the space’s long reverberation time.
This active use of space continued in the Renaissance and Baroque with the Venetian polychoral style in which various choirs sang successive, often contrasting phrases of music, a style that had its origins in the architecture and acoustics of St. Mark’s Church in Venice. With the beginning of electronic music in the 1950s, it became possible to control the relationship between space and music in a very detailed way. In Karlheinz Stockhausen’s electronic composition Gesang der Jünglinge (1956), the music is played back by four loudspeakers placed in the space, and the position and movement of the sound are an integral part of the composition.
The sound of the space
The space’s potential for musical composition is not limited to the location of the sound sources in space. The space also has its own sound, something the composer John Cage showed in the composition 4′33″ (1952). In this piece of music without sound, the sound of the space’s itself appears more clearly and we become aware of the sounds we do not usually listen to. This form of extended listening is further developed in R. Murray Schaefer’s book The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (1977). The soundscape are the sounds that we surround ourselves with at all times and Schafer connects this with a critical reading of the acoustic environment in an ecological perspective.
How one experiences the sound of a place is more than just the sum of the sound sources that together make up a sound environment. The acoustic properties of the place also largely color our experience. In Alvin Lucier’s composition I am sitting in a room (1969) we hear the composer’s voice reading a text. The recording of the text is played in the room he is sitting in and then recorded again. This is repeated many times and each time the resonances of the room are amplified. We gradually move from intelligible speech to chord-like sounds caused by the resonances of the room. In Lucier’s composition, the acoustic space itself is the musical material.
In parallel with this musical development, there has been a technological development. Before using electronic reverberation, it was common to use so-called echo chambers. These are spaces with a speaker located at one end and microphones at the other. The sound played through this system absorbs the acoustic characteristics of the space. For example The Capitol Studios sound studio built in 1956, has eight such echo chambers built underground, and another example of characteristic echo chambers is the record company Motown’s echo chamber which was located in the attic above the sound studio.
Simultaneously with the use of echo chambers, analog electronic reverberations such as tape echo, spring reverb and plate reverb were developed, but it was not until the introduction of digital reverb in the 1970s that we got reverberations with a sound quality that could match the echo chambers. Thanks to the development of microprocessors, integrated circuits and digital to analog converters it was now possible to use digital models of acoustic spaces.
Although the digital reverbs from the 1970s and 80s were groundbreaking for their time, it was only with the so-called convolution reverbs that one could make credible simulations of specific acoustic spaces. This technique is based on acoustic measurements of the space, so-called impulse responses, which are later used to create digital simulations. Apart from specialized software, there were few tools available to work with this in the 1980s and 90s, but with the introduction of the Altiverb software (2001), this technique became widely available. Since then, this has been widely used in connection with sound for television and film, where the sound designer is dependent on creating credible simulations of various spaces such as domestic spaces, urban environments or natural environments.
Despite the popularity of the convolution reverbs in commercial sound work, it has not had the same impact in experimental music and art. The ability of the convolution reverb to emotionally transport you to a specific place is a powerful artistic tool. With this technique you can take an acoustic impression of the space and later use it for artistic work. If you combine this with field recordings from the own sound of the space as we find it in commercial sound design and in the Soundscape tradition, we get a complex representation of the acoustic identity of the space.
It was on the basis of these techniques that I wanted to investigate Ergan Kystfort as a sonic and historical phenomenon during Møre og Romsdal Art Center’s project week in September 2020. Ergan Kystfort was established by German troops during World War II and the heavy manual labour in connection with the construction was carried out by Polish and Soviet prisoners of war. Ergan Kystfort is a result of historical processes at the same time as it is also a complex sound phenomenon.
I am now working on further developing the field recordings and impulse responses from Ergan Kystfort for a musical composition where the experience of space is central.
The project is supported by Møre og Romsdal Art Center.
Ergan is a work in progress.
Thanks to Atelier Nord, Haraldr Bjellvåg, Bud Kystmuseum, Notam, Romsdalsmuseet, Madeleine Park and Møre og Romsdal Art Center.
More about Ergan:
Sjaastad Hagen, Rigmor 2020. Captures the sound of the bunkers in Bud (in Norwegian only).
Detail from Ergan Kystfort. 3D models: Asbjørn Blokkum Flø.
Recording of impulse responses. Photo: Asbjørn Blokkum Flø.
Recording of impulse responses. Photo: Robert Farstad og Sonja Vestad.