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selected projects | COM.POST #1 This City Is Build On Sand




COM.POST #1 This City Is Build On Sand

8-Channel Soundinstallation, CD- Release, Kunstradio edit sentt 13. 09. 2009

DE PLAYER, Rotterdam






Wind, water, traffic noises, etc., in all their fluid varieties, are familiar acoustic impressions for the inhabitants of Rotterdam. In Peter Szely’s eight-channel concert installation, these sounds slowly come together in an hour-long voyage through the cityscape. Speakers are installed at the four points of the compass and serve to frame the event. From each of these four directions the microphone records, slowly approaching that place where all the elements of the performance culminate – namely the 'electronic poem' by the Austrian sound artist as performed in DE PLAYER last January. As a 'stranger' from Vienna, Szely experiences Rotterdam as a place of migration and one which always seems to be in motion – a place of constant arrival and departure as well as a prosperous trade centre – both a melting pot and a crossroads for very diverse cultures.


The result has to rock
Typical for Szely’s process is the combining of diverse artistic methods, which, despite the seemingly highly conceptual approach and the technical demands of a live setup, still allows for an acoustic investigation and therefore also for new interpretations of his raw material. Original field recordings are the basic framework. Combined with these, sound fragments composed earlier join with live improvisations in different timbres. In this way, during the performance, he does a new take on his own earlier idea, in which musical communication between the participating artists, in the form of an acoustic-electronic jam, leads to a piece that completes itself anew. Szely on his own method notes that, ’I collect sound environments. I meet people and record their instruments. Then I take parts of these recordings and work them into my music. By adapting and manipulating the material, I fashion it into my own.’ This shows that the exercise of freedom to experiment when developing an acoustic performance is not necessarily precluded by a conceptual approach, and that the latter does not necessarily have to result in pretentious heaviness. Like Szely says, ’The end result has to rock, groove and make sense.’ He approaches his subject in a particular way, working with local people and inviting them to add things to his music. At the core of Peter Szely’s creative process are both his own impressions as an outsider in the city and the incorporation of the views of the local people, who have themselves been part of a migratory movement and who have found their new home in Katendrecht. Interviews and recordings of musicians with an immigrant background are part of the performance, to which rapper MC Unorthadox adds yet another local perspective. His lyrics are about politics and the discord between his native country and his life in Rotterdam. Szely: ’My plan was to take an almost naive look at this movement, the movement of people. I have compared it, to some extent, to my own movement. For me, it was an exciting starting point, to take my own stories to Katendrecht and to collect some more whilst I was there. By this I mean that I went to immigrant musicians’ homes and recorded them and their instruments.’


Everything flows
One part of the ‘four points of the compass’ approach, took Szely to the peninsula by water taxi, over the river Meuse. What we share with Szely is the experience to come to Katendrecht with an outside view, from Austria – a country with no direct access to the sea. The constant presence of water and its particular sound make Katendrecht into a special place. For us, this experience of living ‘on the water’ is quite extraordinary. Even waking up in Katendrecht is almost surreal. You open your eyes and outside your window are huge ships, loaded with innumerable containers, ready to sail halfway around the world. And beyond, more ships, lots of wind and – very importantly – everything flows.

Images in my head

DE PLAYER is situated on the history-laden peninsula of Katendrecht, former seaman's quarter, popular shore-leave destination and the first point of contact for many travellers. Right across the harbour is the building now known as Hotel New York, formerly the headquarters of the Holland-America Line and accordingly the gateway to the 'New World'. Szely: ’I interviewed an employee of the city of Rotterdam who told me a lot about the city’s history – which immigrants came to Rotterdam in the past and which are still coming now? Why is the city such a magnet and how did its harbour get to be so big? Bits of this interview are worked into the soundscape of my performance.’ So Szely takes a formal approach to the neighbourhood as well as looking at elements of historical content. Accompanying him on his soundwalks was Reinaart Vanhoe – an artist in his own right, making his debut as a visualist in this project. Vanhoe made digital video recordings of Szely’s rambles. Szely: ’I often see images in my head when I compose or listen to my music, situations that turn into visual memories. This is just one of the reasons why, over the years, I have often collaborated with visual artists. This is a way of integrating a visual component into the work. Katendrecht is portrayed as an immigration destination, but numerous other changes have also reshaped it, especially in recent years. For Katendrecht, I took the sounds and the music that came from the people, also from amateurs and dilettantes. The point was that people living in Rotterdam try to connect with their native country through their music and their instruments. In the music, this connection, this road, becomes visible. In that respect, Reinaart’s visuals were very important, adding yet another layer to the whole thing.’


Cosmetics and exclusion
The artists explored a neighbourhood still inhabited by a large number of immigrants. Many others have already moved away as a result of city planning and redevelopments. Everything is going to be renovated or rebuilt and should be embraced by the city centre – a corresponding price tag doubtless ensuing. In the studios and apartments of the DSPS foundation it was possible to experience Katendrecht caught between these two phases – at the moment when the cosmetic improvement of this so-called social tinderbox and the related eviction of the less prosperous inhabitants had already been decided, but was yet to be realised. During our stay in Katendrecht we felt these changes in different ways: we could see the construction of new houses in front of our
studio, but we were still able to profit from the Asian shops around the corner that supplied us with instant soup and was much closer than the nearest supermarket. Frequently we would find mail addressed to the former inhabitant of the flat where we were staying – and we wondered where he had moved to, and why he left. This atmosphere of diversity, combined with forced social change, pushed our artistic work further and helped us to develop a new perspective on the social situation in Austria as well. The development described above is symptomatic of many expanding cities, but here it takes place in a radically small and hermetic space on a peninsula, making the venue for this performance even more topical. It would be worth doing some more artistic investigation into the political questions surrounding the mechanisms of social inclusion and exclusion. The 'electronic poem', This City is Build on Sand, is a first attempt at this. It can seem almost playful, but thematically, and due to the location, it also has a political dimension. Szely: ’For me, this neighbourhood in Rotterdam is more than just a piece of the shore front – there are so many nations represented there, so many people, and from so many different cultures! That’s always an enhancement and I can’t understand why anyone would find this worrying ordangerous. Think of the food alone! Austria would be a desolate place if you could only get Austrian food. When you start to think like this, it shows the absurdity of xenophobia.’ Yet, on the peninsula too, where, comparable to the situation in many European cities, a preoccupation with economic growth and deregulation are seriously affecting already
underprivileged groups and the consequences of the politics of exclusion are becoming visible. It is not surprising that for many people in Rotterdam,
immigrants are becoming the scapegoats, blamed for social and economic problems. In this context, a collaboration between artists of different
backgrounds could also unlock the potential of a new common ‘language’ and perhaps produce diverse and constructive answers to the xenophobic tendencies mentioned earlier. These possibilities are far from exhausted.
Ingo Leindecker and Doris Prlic