Sound has been increasingly significant in Sandra Peters’s recent work. Yet it would be simplistic to call her output “sound art,” a label that, in the past twenty years, has come to designate a distinctive genre. 11See for example Alan Licht’s definition of the term in his distinctive monograph Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories (New York: Rizzoli, 2007), 9–47. Sound is merely one, though a central, aspect of her continuing engagement with architectonic structures, an exploration that her steadily expanding suites of interrelated works translate into a variety of media and formats. This translation is in turn informed by the artist’s ongoing dialogue with professionals from diverse fields, from craftsmen and graphic designers to It specialists and sound technicians. In this sense, Peters functions as the instigator of a group practice that helps her collaborators see their own fields of expertise from new angles, and engages them in the question of how architectural, sculptural thinking can be translated into an acoustic structure, in which the temporal dimension is primary. In addition to perpetual shifts between media and formats, Peters’s works are characterized by a continual change of perspective.
The communication between the various specializations and the drawings, scores, and models associated with them plays a central part in her art. As a consequence, the relationship between these intermediate steps and the finished work of art is subject to ongoing reformulation and re-mapping in each new context.
Sound Column : Circling Sound
Sound Column : Circling Sound (2010), a work Peters first realized as part of her exhibition Interplay at Kunstsaele in Berlin, grew out of a sculptural intervention titled Modifikation—stetig steigende Steine (Modification—Constantly Climbing Stones, 2009). For the latter, a response to the architecture of the Kunstverein Ruhr’s exhibition space in Essen, Peters had the two square pillars in the museum’s gallery walled in using brick courses that yielded a convexly and a concavely curved surface. That original work already constituted a transfer: the columns’ helical shapes alluded to the chimneys of Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, Germany. The symbolic removal of the chimneys extricated them from their architectural context and turned them into self-contained sculptural objects. For Interplay, Peters translated this work into a “sound column” emitted by eight speakers suspended in a circle from the ceiling above the gallery’s entrance area. The audio moves from speaker to speaker, causing the column to “rotate”; it begins with a sonic spectrum that uses strong stereo effects to define space. From the spectrum, loosely connected series of dissonant notes, sometimes at very high frequencies, sporadically emerge. These series are repeated in fugue-like patterns. the sounds eventually subside, leaving only a steady bass drone, before the recording loops back to the beginning. The swelling and decaying pitches, and the contrast between the slow, fairly indistinct soundscape and the clearly articulated tone sequences, underline the composition’s circular structure, which—unlike the columns at the Kunstverein Ruhr—should ideally be experienced from the center of the setup. Thus, in this instance, the transfer not only involves a switch from one medium of implementation to another but inevitably also alters the mode of reception. The view of an architectural-sculptural structure gives way to an acoustic experience of its interior.
Mounted on a wall nearby, a large printout of the score on which the composition is based provides insight—at least to viewers with musical training—into the music theory and conceptual considerations underlying the sounds. An artist’s edition Peters produced in conjunction with the exhibition contains a recording of the eight-channel sound installation’s music in a version adapt- ed for conventional stereo devices, allowing visitors who would like to immerse themselves in the composition to listen to it again at home. The vinyl LP is an object that remains when the exhibition is taken down, and as an artist’s edition can be acquired. The liner notes explain the theoretical reflections that went into the score and the phases of collaborative work leading up to the finished installation in space; the folded sheet also includes photographs illustrating the production stages and, on the inside, a copy of the score. As a lasting material document—converting the sound sculpture into yet another medium—the record stands in for a more traditional exhibition catalogue. This artist’s edition is both a condensed compilation of the project’s facets and a work of art in its own right.
Peters’s authorship of Sound Column : Circling Sound is not in doubt, but the work demonstrates that teamwork is essential to her mode of creation. It took several steps to realize what initially circulated as an abstract idea: the translation of sculpture into sound. The artist’s conversation with a fellow architect led to a meeting with the mathematician and pianist Stefan Sechelmann. The sound designer and musician Masayuki Ren and the art historian Gregor Stemmrich subsequently joined the project. Stemmrich took inspiration from the characteristic helical representations of tonal systems in musicology textbooks to develop a structure, loosely based on the numerical relations between the bricks in Peters’s columns, that continually transforms tonal into atonal relations. This structure served as a basis for possible scores. Meanwhile, Peters, to give Ren a better idea of the rotating sound that she imagined, produced a series of circular oil-crayon drawings she enhanced using an engraving tool. Peters worked with Sechelmann in the studio for electronic music at Technische Universität Berlin to test the motion of sound in space and its effects on listeners. Sechelmann later developed a computer program that, unlike conventional instruments, was capable of rendering the intervals Stemmrich had calculated. This software enabled Ren to translate Peters’s spatial-acoustic ideas into a multichannel composition for synthesizer. The visual representation of the underlying calculations by the graphic designer Julia Fuchs, which was on display in the exhibition and included in the materials accompanying the record, once more recalls the shape of the brick columns at the Kunstverein Ruhr.
The artist’s conversations with acquaintances drive her projects forward; each step necessitates negotiations as well as the communication of knowledge and technical expertise in various fields. The painstaking documentation of each work’s progress, with the names of all collaborators listed in formats such as this catalogue, liner notes, Peters’s website, and exhibition leaflets, allows viewer-listeners to retrace the work’s genesis. The works and exhibitions related to the artist’s second sound piece, SonicCube (2014–), exemplify how this creative principle entails a nonhierarchical conception of the relation between drafts, models, and finished works of art. More explicitly than the artist’s earlier output, these works and exhibitions were informed by a close critical study of central positions in twentieth-century architecture and sculpture, which Peters have engaged in an imaginary dialogue.
Like Sound Column : Circling Sound, SonicCube grew out of a sculpture: Interface No. 1 (2012). Each face of its white powder coated aluminum cube, which measures 140 x 140 x 140 cm, is an eight-by-eight grid derived from a detail of the ceiling in Rudolph Schindler’s Los Angeles How House (1925). Unlike more traditional grids, the pattern’s struts branch off from one another in alternating directions at right angles. The gaps between them reveal the inside of the structure, while the staircase-like, zigzagging diagonal at the center suggests a sense of direction. But the variable orientation of the cube’s six faces relative to one another lends the object a peculiar immanent dynamism. The size of Peters’s cube was not chosen to suggest the dimensions of the human body or of a conventional piece of furniture. As a grid transposed into three dimensions, it evinces a distinctly anti-narrative quality, 22See Rosalind Krauss, “Grids,” October, no. 9 (Summer 1979): 50–64. its origin in an actual piece of architecture notwithstanding, since this formal element has been isolated from its original context, Schindler’s How House. The object as such, by virtue of its materiality and modular facture, recalls the cubes Sol LeWitt started making in the early 1960s. As LeWitt emphasized in his essay “The Cube,” first published in Art in America in 1966, it was not the cubic shape as such that was of primary interest to him; rather, the cube served him as “a grammatical device from which the work may proceed.” 33Sol LeWitt, “The Cube,” Art in America, Summer 1966; repr. in Sol LeWitt, ed. Alicia Legg, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978), 172. While working on his three-dimensional cubes—which he termed structures rather than sculptures in order to relieve them of entanglements with art history and an overly traditional conception of art—he continually rendered his idea in wall drawings, photographs, and other media. His Incomplete Open Cubes (1973–74), for instance, a set of works that is as central to his oeuvre as it is hard to classify, derive from the classical cube; the artist systematically explored the possible variations of this basic shape in drawings, photographs, and three-dimensional structures that appear “incomplete” only in relation to the notion of a perfect cube. 44See Nicholas Baume, “The Music of Forgetting,” in Sol LeWitt: Incomplete Open Cubes, ed. Nicholas Baume, exh. cat., Wadsworth Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, et al. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 22. The realized works were not intended as final products and should always be considered in light of the conceptual considerations that went into them, as well as their documentation.
For Peters, too, the cube is a foundational element—although in her cube, unlike LeWitt’s, the diagonal is the dominant feature—a fact that became fully manifest in her exhibition Bilateral, Diagonal, Cubical at Galerie Aanant & Zoo, Berlin, in the winter of 2012–13, where Interface No.1 was first on public view. Together with a large-format wall drawing (Corner Piece / Interface 1, 2012)—of the six sides of the cube, unfolding from a corner of the room—the work functioned as a central connector not only between the gallery’s three rooms but also between the other works on display. As visitors entered, their gazes were caught by a photograph of the How House, including the ceiling detail in question, taken through one of the villa’s window panes. In addition to this keynote picture, the first room also contained a selection of graphic studies of the villa’s facade (Untitled (Facade Studies I), 2012), as well as the model SIX (2012), an ensemble of six cubes each measuring 60 x 60 x 60 cm. A sample from the altogether 262,144 possible constellations in which the faces can be arranged relative to one another, SIX is also intended as a scale model of an outdoor sculpture to be realized at some point in the future. The objects were arranged in two staggered rows of three cubes each, the cubes set at an oblique angle to achieve the greatest possible variety of interactions between the grids as seen from different viewpoints.
The slide projections Within : Without (2011) and Flux Balance / Rotating Wings (2010), shown in the gallery’s back room, took viewers on tours—from garden to interior and back again—of the How House and West Hollywood’s Schindler House (1921–22), which now serves as an art and architecture center. Overlaid slides in portrait and landscape formats in combination with the regular click of the two projectors lent this presentation a film-like quality. 55Peters has used the term moving images to describe these works. See Sandra Peters, “flux balance / rotating wings,” MAK/ZINE, no. 1 (2011): 94–95, 126–27. The superimposition of the photographs—and hence of the architectural elements they show—echoed the facade studies in the first room, which are composed of overlapping pieces of colored paper. Like the liner notes accompanying Sound Column : Circling Sound, the constellation of the exhibits in this show provided insight into the stages and procedural steps of Peters’s searching engagement with Schindler’s architecture and the resulting processes of abstraction and translation. As the title indicates, Bilateral, Diagonal, Cubical extended and elaborated on an earlier work by the artist similarly inspired by the ceiling design at the How House: the floor piece Bilateral—Diagonal (2011), which the artist installed in a yoga studio in Hamburg.
Therein lies another significant difference between Peters’s approach and LeWitt’s: the central principle of Incomplete Open Cubes is subtraction. As LeWitt himself noted, such art defeats a narrow critical focus on morphological similarities.66LeWitt’s observation was prompted by the charge that he was copying various European artists and claiming their innovations for himself. See Sol LeWitt, “Comments on an Advertisement Published in Flash art,” Flash Art, June 1973, repr. in Legg, Sol LeWitt, 174; and see Pamela Lee, “Phase Piece,” in Baume, Sol LeWitt, 49. He remained faithful to seriality, in which a whole—however paradoxically incomplete it might be—results from the variation of a set of elements. Peters, by contrast, adds piece after piece to an emerging ensemble of interrelated works; neither its overall form nor its compass is necessarily foreseeable in the beginning. It makes good sense that she describes some of her works in this process as “models,” though without setting them apart from her other works. The models may be said to represent intermediate stages that prepare the ground for the next translational shift, and are explicitly put on display as such. They are, in other words, always both models of and models for something.77See Bernd Mahr, “Modellieren: Beobachtungen und Gedanken zur Geschichte des Modellbegriffs,”in Bild, Schrift, Zahl, ed. Horst Bredekamp and Sybille Krämer (Munich: Fink, 2003), 59–86. Following her exhibition at Aanant & Zoo, Peters developed another model based on Interface No. 1, suspending six square faces from the ceiling of her studio in Berlin. Though still suggestive of a cube, the arrangement seemed to float in space and rotated freely, casting off the static quality of sculpture. A score Peters derived from the varying placements of the grids relative to one another then formed the basis for the model’s translation into sound, for which she would collaborate with a composer/sound artist. SonicCube consists of eight directional loudspeakers in a cubic setup, with one speaker placed at each vertex. The sound that a given vertex emits is based on the properties of the three sides of the cube that converge there. The transposition of the properties of a three-dimensional object into modular, synthetically generated, superimposed sounds engenders a space in time. Arranged for individual and purposeful listening, the sounds emitted by the directional speakers meet perfectly at the center, but layer unevenly at listener positions away from the center. Like the circular drawings Peters produced while drafting Sound Column : Circling Sound, the earlier model operates as a sort of materialized thinking process, charting the path from a sculpture with clear contours in space to a sound sculpture organized in time-space. Though recognizably derived from the predetermined grid structure, the latter, given the varying density of the acoustic material, is primarily characterized by the dynamic tension between approximation and abstraction.
The Art of the In-Between
Historically speaking, what is regarded as classic sound art today often entailed a deliberate move from one context into another. While Maryanne Amacher regarded the exhibition setting as a natural extension of her compositional practice and experimentation with sound,88See, for instance, her City-Links (1967–81). both Max Neuhaus and Bernhard Leitner, when beginning to work with sound, abandoned the contexts of their earlier activities: in Neuhaus’s case, the established avant-garde music scene; in Leitner’s, the world of architecture as conventionally conceived. Neuhaus, who had started out as an ambitious percussionist with good connections to New York’s avant-garde, shifted his interests from the “time of music” toward a “space of sound.”99See Christoph Cox, “Installing Duration: time in the sound Works of Max Neuhaus,” in Max Neuhaus: Times Square/Time Piece Beacon, ed. Lynne Cooke and Karen Kelly (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2009), 113. Thanks largely to his piece times square (1977–92, 2002–), installed on a traffic island at the intersection of Forty-Sixth Street and Broadway in New York, he is widely regarded as a key early figure in sound-based art. 1010Another piece by Neuhaus, Drive-In Music (1967), is generally thought to be the earliest sound installation. In an interview in 1982, he emphasized the implicit affinities between his own practice and sculpture: “In terms of classification, I’d move the [sound] installations into the purview of the visual arts even though they have no visual component, because the visual arts, in the plastic sense, have dealt with space. Sculptors define and transform space. I create, transform, and change spaces by adding sound.” 1111Max Neuhaus in an interview with William Duckworth in 1982, in Max Neuhaus: Sound Works, vol. 1, Inscription (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 1994), 42, quoted in Alex Potts, “Moment and Place: Art in the Arena of the Everyday,” in Cooke and Kelly, Max Neuhaus, 46. In other words, Neuhaus was expressly concerned with using sound to alter the way a site is perceived, and sound was only one aspect of his work. By using acoustic material, he brought a temporal dimension into play that, given the lack of a defined beginning and ending, was markedly different from musical performance in the classical sense. The reference to time in the very title of the piece, times square, is hardly coincidental, and surely more than simply a specification of location.1212Cox, “Installing Duration,” 124.
Neuhaus’s Austrian-born contemporary Leitner, a trained architect, began including acoustic material in his work in 1969. Unlike Neuhaus, he mainly conceived pieces for interior settings and exhibition contexts and labeled his multichannel works sound architecture, a concept he defined as “space created through traveling sound.” “Sound architecture,” he elaborated in a programmatic essay in Artforum in 1971, “is an overlapping of architecture and the world of sound. It creates new conditions for human behavior; new values in the fields of psychology, medicine, sociology and acoustics as well as for those we tend to consider specialists in sound or space, musicians and architects.” More specifically, Leitner described his Soundcube, each of whose walls consists of sixty-four loudspeakers, as an “instrument for producing space (with sound)”: emphatically not a space built for music-making, it is a laboratory for experimentation and studies that accommodates “environmental research, definition and character in space,” as well as a stage for the public demonstration and presentation of the findings.1313Bernhard Leitner, “Sound Architecture: Space Created through Traveling Sound,” Artforum, March 1971, 44–49. Tempo, timbre, pitch, intensity, rhythm, rests, and repetition define the space created through sound.
Peters’s SonicCube and Sound Column : Circling Sound build on this legacy, but again with a fundamental difference. Unmistakable formal resemblances to Neuhaus’s as well as Leitner’s approaches notwithstanding, her embrace of sound does not mark a discontinuity in her practice, nor was her aim to stake out a new field. Leitner and Neuhaus felt compelled to coin terms (sound installation, sound architecture) to signal the novelty of their endeavors. By contrast, Peters’s work with sound, like Amacher’s turn to the gallery space, is an organic extension of her sculptural vocabulary and her investment in collaboration. In this perspective, the architectonic structures Peters selected provided a sort of abstract score out of which she developed, through an interim sculptural stage, concrete notations that then underlay their acoustic implementation. In this process, the relation between the realized work of art and the associated intermediate steps is in constant flux as works of art become models and vice versa; so is the relation between the various finished works. Not only does each individual implementation open up another dimension of experience, gradually shifting from space toward space-time, but the translational process itself becomes a central element of Peters’s work. The translation into sound with which each suite of works concludes lingers in an intermediate condition that Alan Licht summed up in the title of his monograph on sound art: “beyond music, between categories.” In that sense, although Peters’s work is initially inspired by specific objects such as the chimneys at Cecilienhof Palace or the ceiling structure of the How House, all works that develop in her creative engagement with these sources are ultimately equiprimordial—reproducible originals. One may, but need not, see them in relation to the stages that directly preceded or followed them, and each change of medium or format entails new referential connections, revealing the defining aspect of Peters’s approach to be this in-between state, the interplay in the aptly chosen title of her first major solo show. And so the exhibition emerges as the native format of her art: it lets individual works produced chronologically relate to one another spatially, and affords viewer-listeners the freedom to perceive them from diverse perspectives.
- 1See for example Alan Licht’s definition of the term in his distinctive monograph Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories (New York: Rizzoli, 2007), 9–47.↩
- 2See Rosalind Krauss, “Grids,” October, no. 9 (Summer 1979): 50–64.↩
- 3Sol LeWitt, “The Cube,” Art in America, Summer 1966; repr. in Sol LeWitt, ed. Alicia Legg, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978), 172.↩
- 4See Nicholas Baume, “The Music of Forgetting,” in Sol LeWitt: Incomplete Open Cubes, ed. Nicholas Baume, exh. cat., Wadsworth Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, et al. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 22.↩
- 5Peters has used the term moving images to describe these works. See Sandra Peters, “flux balance / rotating wings,” MAK/ZINE, no. 1 (2011): 94–95, 126–27.↩
- 6LeWitt’s observation was prompted by the charge that he was copying various European artists and claiming their innovations for himself. See Sol LeWitt, “Comments on an Advertisement Published in Flash art,” Flash Art, June 1973, repr. in Legg, Sol LeWitt, 174; and see Pamela Lee, “Phase Piece,” in Baume, Sol LeWitt, 49.↩
- 7See Bernd Mahr, “Modellieren: Beobachtungen und Gedanken zur Geschichte des Modellbegriffs,”in Bild, Schrift, Zahl, ed. Horst Bredekamp and Sybille Krämer (Munich: Fink, 2003), 59–86.↩
- 8See, for instance, her City-Links (1967–81).↩
- 9See Christoph Cox, “Installing Duration: time in the sound Works of Max Neuhaus,” in Max Neuhaus: Times Square/Time Piece Beacon, ed. Lynne Cooke and Karen Kelly (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2009), 113.↩
- 10Another piece by Neuhaus, Drive-In Music (1967), is generally thought to be the earliest sound installation.↩
- 11Max Neuhaus in an interview with William Duckworth in 1982, in Max Neuhaus: Sound Works, vol. 1, Inscription (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 1994), 42, quoted in Alex Potts, “Moment and Place: Art in the Arena of the Everyday,” in Cooke and Kelly, Max Neuhaus, 46.↩
- 12Cox, “Installing Duration,” 124.↩
- 13Bernhard Leitner, “Sound Architecture: Space Created through Traveling Sound,” Artforum, March 1971, 44–49.↩