Posted on

Artistic practice within the scope of conceptual and process art, site-specific intervention, sound sculpture and performance. Paul Gründorfer develops process-related systems and explores variable or unstable conditions within the occurrence of sound when exposed to amplification, feedback and plural signal streams. His works focus on processes that evolve in a social space, where sound is considered a found object and event that directly relates to, influences and reflects the environment. They deal with the instability of systems, questioning the role of control and reaction, and researching the mechanisms of hidden signals.

You just had a residency at Prague’s MeetFactory as part of your SHAPE+ participation. What project did you do there?

Before coming to Prague, I was thinking about a setup with different speakers – multitimbral diffusion. Although I don’t generally use multi-channel systems or follow any kind of simulated acoustic environments – maybe because they behave differently when it comes to the live aspect of getting into a state or a zone of sound or something that’s uncertain or unstable.

I talked to Maria Komarova, whom I met through a friend, and we thought we could work with amplification levels. She is using analogue elements that are also in a certain state of balance, unbalance or correlation.

We played with a system we called trees or towers, which has different resonances, speaker characteristics and amplification, and no locatable sound sources. We integrated these two approaches to digital signal processing and analogue actions with feedback.

Because you also work now with site-specific processes that are developing in interaction with an environment.

At least this is a starting point for how to approach a certain setting, to think about how a setting can be influenced or transformed into another situation by sound or some kind of intervention in space. It’s probably correlated to presence.

We came from different areas, but were thinking about sound as a presence. Michal Cáb has done more conceptual actions before, like releasing cicadas as bioterrorist composers in the Czech parliament, for instance.

Is it also important if people / an audience are present or not? 

That’s the difficult thing about these interventions, you do them for a certain time, and then they are gone. Installation work has the quality of being there for a longer timeframe, as something that is constantly happening for people to experience it in different states. But perhaps the essence of interventions is the possibility of thinking about its happening. What could happen?

I once was part of a project in a remote place. A friend of mine, Nicolás Spencer, started the project Terra Ignota, researching the south of Chile. We went to oil refineries and to nature parks, both in the old Yahgan and Selk’nam areas, indigenous land. There you can still experience immersive nature, but also repeating social power structures. It’s very remote and scarcely populated.

We worked on projects concerning the strong winds there – a kite for a VLF antenna and an oscillation system with wind. We did it for the few people present, but then we also took part in the Tsonami Festival. So in the end, you transport this impression of what could have happened and maybe, in an extended form, of what is still an issue there.

So there, for example, there is still this issue about how indigenous lands and people were occupied by the Chilean and Argentinian governments, and then, as an artist, what do you do there with the wind? You make an intervention, but then it’s gone again.

But meanwhile, you meet quite different people while working there… for example, we were staying on the island of Cape Horn, and there was just this family with three kids living there at the military outpost because they take care of the area. We ended up being stuck there for days due to severe winds. And in the end, we did these interventions on the island with the kids. One of them was accompanying us all the time through the thickets on the island. We flew the kite and did antenna measurements, recordings and some documentation together.

In a way, if there’s no audience, it still happened, I guess. 

With a lot of these installations, the documentation of an installation is kind of like the work itself, because if there’s no audience, or if you make a piece of art without an audience, what role does it have? 

It is also related to how things are perceived, advertised, represented. There are different situations where it has different effects. If you make something visible, hearable, something that seems attractive, people go there, but what happens then in that space: Is it order? Is it chaos? Something that was expected? Is it prepared? Is there some risk?

These questions could also be related to experimental sound itself. It’s more about having the chance to somehow find a trace – whether it’s technical or it’s abstract or conceptual, and as long as this is possible, you can get something back that’s not just a product. And then the question about the public, or how big your audience is, is not so important because it can offer something to anyone present. You also have to question what their position is. I think it’s more an open discussion or confrontation.

It’s interesting, the question of who all this is for, whether people do it for themselves, as art for art’s sake, or for their fellow artists? Or actually for an audience. 

It depends on how you balance it and what themes you are dealing with. Whether it’s a social and kind of site-specific, maybe environmental concept. Maybe you also don’t find things without having this kind of confrontation or an emancipatory thought about communication or exchange with people.

Is there a more political aspect that influences your work or it is more the aesthetic, formalistic side that you’re interested in?

Hm, I think the way of making something happen and how to organise that is also a way to integrate or to approach social and political issues. Also within the abstract work of sound itself. 

With friends, I have organised various concert series or happenings, open space parkours. It’s about creating possibilities. Someone might be interested, others might not. If it’s accessible or if there’s some open kind of transformation or confrontation that you didn’t expect, it’s a way to proceed. Maybe from the participants’ side, or from your side, or you fail or whatever.

How much does feedback influence you, feedback in the literal sense, site-specific feedback? 

It is not so much that people give you direct feedback, but you hear and you experience with different perspectives and perceptions of people. So if you listen together, it changes the way you approach or listen, especially to process-oriented sound – sometimes you hear it differently and then you understand something else that’s only possible with others.

And also the space itself; I guess it also has its own communication with people.  

Do you prepare ahead of performances, or there is also room for improvisation?

I have always been interested in exploring things, even if they are not solved from my side. I am particularly intrigued by non-pre-recorded, but very functional sound happenings. And then there are so many possibilities to work with. People have different knowledge or strategies, so if you encounter something that you didn’t know before, for me it’s worth spending time trying to make it happen. 

If you have to plan exactly what the outcome will be, it’s much harder because you want to control it. So maybe that’s my personal strategy. I prepare what I know or what I have available and then in some way react to a certain space or environment. 

I did a project with high-intensity light controlled by audio input. I was more interested in what happens when DSP audio is directly connected to amplify light and whether you perceive something else within that audio domain when it’s somehow also visible but ephemeral, like audio. When I tested it, it was quite intense, ghostly. And then you might have to adjust and calibrate it to make it work for others.

You also work with unstable systems, systems that can fall apart at any time. How do you work with that? 

That’s kind of how I started, because I had no idea how to produce electronic music. 

But I found this no-input mixing strategy, where you put the output back into the input and you have a circular system, which is a kind of an oscillation, but it doesn’t behave linearly. With this aspect you introduce a kind of unpredictability, but at the same time, you gain some surprise. 

It’s about this balance: if you have a lot of surprises, you might be disappointed. But if you control everything, you have to think about your surprises beforehand and then it’s not a surprise anymore.  

In this way, I think the unstable things also come from researching how technology works, because you have a vast amount of possibilities and you want them to function. But what does it mean to function or not to function?

So, if you take it apart a little – and that was the start – how does signal communication work? An antenna and the transmission of data, streaming to access points where you have your IP address. But what if you have an open transmission such as radio? Using old and new technology makes you think about questions like: Is it still accessible? Can you modify it or take it apart? Not just to modify it for your use, but to see what’s going on through that technology.

The possibilities are also endless, especially with a lot of new technologies, you can do nothing and everything. 

Yeah, horrible, it also needs constant attention. A friend and I built a sound sculpture during lockdown and it worked fine. We have now been invited to show it again, so we have to put it all back into the ‘black box’. It’s also strange to reanimate technology. 

Also how people used it back then, and how they use the same technologies now with knowledge of newer technologies. Whether you approach old technologies with the mindset of working with new technologies.

You also grow up with a certain approach and generational perception and then you see young people doing crazy stuff and old people don’t know what it is or what it means.

I’m also interested in that transformation, that kind of change. 

Have you been surprised by some of the reactions of these processes that you’ve been doing?  

There are certain things you need to control, and maybe you’ll find a little path that opens up that it’s done by itself. Sometimes it’s enough not to control it. I think the most surprising was when someone showed me how to build a small AM transmitter. He knew how to do it because he worked in cave research. 

The researchers go into a cave and they can’t communicate with current technology because there’s a lot of stone mass to go through, so they need a certain old school technique – AM radio.

I wanted to do something with small AM transmitter zones. Like there were these micro- transceiver projects from the 70s/80s in Italy and Japan. They had these open network transmission strategies, but with FM. 

It was a bit difficult and took some time to build the AM circuit because it is a resonant circuit and has to be calibrated, otherwise it burns and then all the radios blast away with sound. So I was always afraid of burning it again.

Then I was part of a small exhibition in St. Petersburg, next to the Hermitage. At one point I heard all this crackling noise from the radios and I thought they were on fire, but they were working fine. And then I saw the lights in the main building fluctuating. So there was no constant current from the main power grid. And this small electromagnetic field was connected to this huge empire of a power system and was reacting to it with distortion in the AM field from time to time.

And the same thing then happened in Beijing, where I had a residency. It behaved in the same way and it somehow sounded more interesting than when I was developing it, because it had these noise bursts and was influenced by and also pointing to something much bigger.

In Vienna, you’re also involved in several institutions like Velak and others. 

Well, I have tried to organise some concert series and spaces. There’s a platform that’s been around for a long time, but it’s still a bit underground and these days nomadic, called Velak, which I’ve been involved with for quite some time.

You’re soon going to the legendary EMS Studio residency in Stockholm.

I’m lucky at the moment. I don’t know. It’s a glitch in the system. Then I’m also going to Brussels to Q-02 for another residency.

Will you develop a different project for each residency or will you concentrate on your own work?

I will try to do something similar with these tower speaker systems and how they behave in space. Which is kind of related to feedback. How they behave when they are directly bound to the sound source, or when they are diffused in a kind of unlocatable way. I think that’s the research I’m interested in at the moment, and how to make generative or non-predictable small fragments of data for sound.

Do you do art full time? 

I try to. But in the past I’ve worked for galleries and set up exhibitions, done audio engineering and recording for TV and cinema, built PA systems for locations, done some teaching courses… I still do all of that, of course, and work for people who need some sort of technical solution, if I can manage to provide it.

Is your background more artistic or technological?

I would have liked to learn more about some technological aspects, so I’m still struggling with that. But I think I started ‘researching’ by just taking random photos, more like intervention. And somehow, through all this, I ended up studying at the art academy, for a while also with Harun Farocki, who initiated a discursive platform about ‘moving images’ and opened up a context for research – in relation to movie and documentary film and how image and also narrative are shaped, and how we can analyse them from multiple perspectives.

Interview by Lucia Udvardyova

Link Facebook Twitter Linkedin Pinterest Mail
Next article
‘I would almost say that drums chose me’: An interview with Sébastien Forrester