Most sound art directs its focus outward, endeavouring to create an environment which explores the sonic qualities and cultural or aesthetic resonances of an object or musical instrument, an event or ritual, an interior space or an exterior geographical location.
Florian Hecker’s uncommonly intense installations, by contrast, turn their gaze inward, using a sound environment to address the physiology and the psychology of the listening process itself. Take his recent exhibition at the South Audley St outpost of London gallerist Sadie Coles, nestled deep in the heart of old money Mayfair.
Its principal work, in the gallery’s ground floor space, is the English version of Chimerization. In its complete form Chimerization comprises three readings of an “experimental libretto” by Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani, one each in English, German and Farsi, all of them recorded in an anechoic chamber. All can be downloaded from the website for the Documenta exhibition, where the work was first presented. Vinyl fetishists may opt for Editions Mego’s three LP editions.
Chimerization pivots heavily on triplings. Each of the three versions is read by three narrators. In the gallery setting it’s a three-channel piece, with the speakers arranged in a triangular configuration (pictured above).
It also plays on doublings and echoes. Recorded in an echo-less space, the narrations are echoed back against themselves – broken down, then reconstituted in a process Hecker terms “decomposition”, to be repeatedly blurred and degraded, the treatments differing subtly between each version.
The English readings are swamped with all manner of distortions and modulations, generating heavily detailed blasts, illusory shimmerings and ripplings, and elaborate yet highly abrasive refractions and mirrorings. The work’s ear-rinsing ferocity is amplified by the physical context – a pristine, perfectly-maintained white cube environment, with Mayfair’s overpriced boutiques visible through the gallery frontage.
That aside, this is a breakthrough show for Hecker, one which builds on his core preoccupations whilst opening up new areas of exploration, and which is notable for a unity of concept and sound design. Its linguistic dimension gives his work additional sonic and conceptual scope, allowing him to investigate the notion of psycho-acoustics ever more deeply.
It also maps out new sonic territory. Over the past few years Hecker’s releases have concerned themselves with sequences of discrete sounds arranged in evolving, mutating strings, with emphases on spatial dimension and intricate causal relationships of velocity, pitch and rhythm.
Chimerization favours compositional density, generating outlandish swarms of complex text-sound hybrids. Presented alongside it is Hinge (2012), a 26-minute three-channel composition described by Hecker as a “sequel” to Chimerization. As in Chimerization, the libretto’s texts are fragmented, its meanings conveyed elliptically, with sentences, words and phrases recurring in a dispersed, scattered flow.
Weighty questions are implied: how do we perceive sound differently in different physical contexts? How do we understand a text differently when we read it, read it aloud, or when it is read to us? What effects do the narrator’s accent, tone of voice and choices of emphasis have? What does the process of listening involve? And, fundamentally, how do we listen?
In the downstairs gallery is 3 Channel Chronics (2012), a surprisingly delicate work, all elegantly arcing glissandi and sustained tones. Each of its three speakers are paired with photographs of an installation of the same work in a Vienna gallery, modified using an algorithmic programme called SIFT Flow, a customised version of which Hecker commissioned for the project:
3 Channel Chronics (2010 – 2012), 3-channel electroacoustic sound, loudspeaker system, c-prints. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
More echoes – the images provide a visual parallel for the compositional techniques used in Chimerization. And the same software was used to treat the images which appeared in the Documenta exhibition guide:
Courtesy the artist, Sadie Coles HQ, London; Galerie Neu, Berlin
And on the sleeves for Mego’s vinyl editions of Chimerization:
And another: Negarestani’s Chimerization libretto will soon be published in book form, its type similarly “chimerized” using new which deconstructs existing fonts, then modulates and resynthesizes them into a new typeface. These linkings add a dimension missing from Hecker’s previous installations, in many of which the only visual element in the gallery was the speakers themselves.
These characterics are somewhat compromised by the flawed presentation of this show – the degree of sound bleed between the two spaces means that the volume levels for both are insufficiently loud. Regardless, this is Hecker’s strongest and most convincing installation to date, one whose rigour rewards the intensity of listening and thought which it unapologetically demands.