Posted on

Robert Schwarz is a sound artist from Vienna with a background in computer music, sound studies and architecture. His current work explores the acoustic dimensions of insects, focusing in particular on spatiotemporal patterns resulting from the coupling of swarm behaviour and time synchronisation. In his compositions, synthetic sounds interact with audio recordings of insects, following their internal logic while creating new and abstract entities. By deliberately obscuring the distinction between synthesis and field recording, Schwarz suggests profound and dissociative states of listening.

Can you talk about your background? Your work lies at the intersection of computer music, visual arts and architecture. Was this initially where your academic and personal interest comes from?

I think I have always been a sound person. Instead of practising my piano skills as a child, I dismantled the piano and was amazed by the hidden sound potential. I spent my teenage years in the 90s and made my own way from post-punk to electronic music throughout the decade. Music and counter culture were extremely important and identity-forming for me. Nevertheless I studied architecture, maybe because I thought I should have a practical education. I found it quite interesting, especially the theoretical part. There were no tuition fees in Vienna at the time and you could easily find a side job in an architectural office to earn a living. But my passion for sound never left me and I spent more and more time at the institute for computer music (ELAK). Being the first in my family to go to university, I sensed a subtle pressure and after 18 semesters I finished my architecture degree with a theoretical paper on urban soundscapes and sound walk. After a few months of full-time work in an architectural office, I felt like I was going slightly mad. I tried hard and got a scholarship to study Sound Studies in Berlin. I really wanted to delve deeper into sound art because it seemed like the ideal combination of all my interests.

Your sound work explores the difference between sound synthesis and field recording. Dissociative and “associative” listening of sorts. Could you talk about production and perception of your sounds?

Dissociation can be a useful disorder that allows us to see beyond rigid representations and think in new topologies, which also applies to our ways of hearing. Although I work with recorded sounds of animals, I am mainly interested in their sonic qualities. And I want the listener to leave behind causal and semantic ways of listening and drift into reduced, deep or profound listening modes, whatever you want to call it. And so it is very helpful to deliberately obscure the difference between field recording and synthesis. Although this act of obfuscation is actually a natural byproduct of my intimate approach of imitation. I don’t use synthesis to merely imitate natural sounds, but see it as a kind of physical modelling, where I follow the logic of the natural sound source, but by making it available as a model, its possibilities can be extended into the speculative.

Field recording is a very popular practice for many sound artists, and has become a genre of its own. What is your approach to this discipline?

I work with field recordings because I aim to find interesting patterns. Especially spatiotemporal patterns that result from the coupling of swarm behaviour and time synchronisation. And I’m curious about sounds that are usually hidden from our perception because they are too quiet or outside of our hearing range, like bat sounds. I’m not interested in field recordings to decorate compositions with fake meanings or atmospheres, and I’m certainly not looking for any kind of sensationalism. I’m more on the musique concrete side aiming for non-referential listening, believing in the objet sonore.

You are based in Vienna, and quite active on the music & art scene there. Could you talk about it?

I wouldn’t say I’m very active in Vienna, most of what I do happens somewhere else. I like living here for various reasons, but the local music scene is not one of them.

You’ve also been involved in curating and creating events and other series in Vienna. Can you talk about your curatorial practice?

I started PARKEN to create a worthy setting for experimental music that I felt was missing in Vienna. To attract an interested audience from different scenes and to invite international artists who otherwise would not come to Vienna. And when I do that, I really think about all the details, not just the curatorial aspect. The space has to be appealing and ideally not culturally coded, the sound system has to be great of course, but it is also very important to me that everyone gets paid well. Because that is your responsibility as an organiser too. The kind support of the Cultural Department of the Social Democrat-run City of Vienna gives me the opportunity to create these settings and invite my favourite artists like Lee Fraser, Marja Ahti, Christina Vantzou, Marcin Pietruszewski or Jessica Ekomane, just to name a few from the last two seasons.

I started this series in 2016 with Shilla Strelka, and since she’s doing unsafe+sounds, I’m curating it alone with some input and help from friends.

The other series I did, these Loosbar variations, was driven by a different approach. The concept of scales and proportions played an important role and we also scaled the sound, lowered the pitch or celebrated the sad hour following the individual variations. It was more on the entertaining side and nothing like deep listening.

Does the theoretical/curatorial/social aspect of your practice influence your sound making one, and vice versa?

I hope so! I guess it’s hard to forget years of architectural training. I might need a concept, a foundation and a structure so that I do not get lost in my work.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently finishing an album and have to decide which label to work with. It revolves around the motif of stridulation, the sound production of many insects, and oscillates between ethnographic collection and speculative re-synthesis, with the boundaries between them constantly being redrawn.

I’m also planning a small EU tour with my label friends from ETAT, Jung An Tagen and RM Francis this summer and the next PARKEN edition on 20 and 21 July. After that I will be busy with commissioned work for a while. I have been making sounds for theatre, film and other artists for many years. I enjoy working with other people and it gives me more independence in my own work.

Interview Lucia Udvardyova

Link Facebook Twitter Linkedin Pinterest Mail
Next article
Disconnecting from the reality you live in: An interview with Nemerov