Jacob Kirkegaard, finding the hidden in sound!

"I think that one of the times I feel most alive, is when I record sound."

By Nota Tsekoura, on 27th Jul, 2013 13:35

Jacob Kirkegaard, sound & media artist                          field recordings + composition + installations

Jacob Kirkegaard is best known to the general public for his project “Labyrinthitis”, where he explores the action of hearing through a sonic, as well as a scientific approach. Jacobs' work is focused on field recordings that result from sound compositions. His interest to deserted places as spaces of interest for retrieving possible existing sonic realities and his focus on sonic environments that are not directly perceivable by common hearing, are few of the subjects that we explored in our conversation. We wanted to find out how perception of space could vary with regard to the listener, and possible cultural layers that could exist beyond that.


The interview    

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  Nota Tsekoura   We are interested in the way that you manipulate sound and the way that you decode space in your installations. Would you consider sound as a metaphysical language?

 Jacob Kirkegaard  I guess that in my installations both space and sound collaborate in a way so that they can achieve the effect of a more complete bodily experience where one can feel the sound, feel the space and at the same time feel himself in it. 

The metaphysical aspect might be quite evident or more recognizable in sound, due to its immateriality, but space can as well be used as a metaphysical language. 

Often it is expressed through the effect that it may have to an observer instead of its pure form. And this is how I decode space in my installations. In my work I use the potential resonance of buildings to vibrate the human body. In my Chernobyl projects for example (AION, 4ROOMS and BLOKU) I recorded four different rooms, located in these now evacuated cities and villages.  Each room was suggesting a different function, at least given that people had been using them in the past. I therefore felt the connection between what I recorded and what might have been already encoded to these rooms. One might say that my intervention in each space generates a new type of communication between sound and space, where they give a continuous feedback to each other.

 NT  Could you say that architectural space is one of the agents that you use along with the audience that participates?

 JK  One might say that, since among others I try to understand space trough certain methods.The sound layering recording method that I used in Chernobyl is something that I do live as well. Last time I carried out this process was in a really interesting space, the Rothko Chapel  in Texas. The building is a void in a way and its space within has this very strange shape. It feels like a dead place or a mausoleum. I carry out my sound layering recording method as followed: First I record the ambience – or immediate silence of a space. Then I play this recording back into the same space, while recording the space simultaneously again. By repeating this process of recording and playing back the ambience of a space on top of each other, resonant frequencies of that space start to grow out of the space. Of course I never know what frequency or what sound will occur, since each room’ s unique shape, materiality and design determines its resonant frequencies.


© Jacob Kirkegaard

 NT  Time is also an important factor in your work. How do you deal with it? We were thinking of time boundaries and how one can deal with those between eras or between past, present and future, especially in your Chernobyl project. We could swear that we heard echoes from the past so lively mingling with the now.

 JK  Definitely time is quite an important factor in my work and i think that the boundaries between past future and present are quite blurry. One of my pieces evidently deals with the concept of time and consequently with our perception of it.  The name of this piece is Aion and it comes from the Greek mythology cronos (χρόνος), kairos (καιρός), aion (αἰών), and it doesn’t only mean eternity. It means an immensely long time, a time that reaches beyond our understanding, a mystical and pure time, kind of transcendental, it transcends on our perception, that was precisely the reason I called it Aion. Because the time of radiation in Chernobyl is an aion to me, something that I do not understand, something that reaches beyond me. I cannot imagine how much seventy thousand years is. Radiation is really a testament of our time, we are building tombs for it like they where building pyramids for dead kings, four thousand years ago in Egypt. And what might happen is, that another fifty thousand years from now somebody will find these tombs of radiation and understand this as our cultural heritage. Of course to me sound is really important, but it is also closely linked to time. And time plays a bigger role in sound than in an image. I visited Chernobyl only 20 years after the disaster and it was already almost consumed by nature. These rooms are containing the feeling of Aion, because within these walls you have some energy that will last for aionic dimensions. I wanted to try and understand this time, so I was recording 12 minutes and then playing them back in the room while recording another 12 minutes on top, and after a while I could listen to ten layers of twelve hour in twelve minutes, because of the layers of recordings. For me this was in a way like listening into the future. It is a time experiment; listening to it time after time, it is also past, present and future; it scattered my perception of that space, because afterwards I felt I could hear the sound that I evoked, as if it had always been there, resonating between its walls.



© Jacob Kirkegaard

 NT  This seems like a constant travel through time, like a continuous resonating sound that is being transformed each time...

 JK  Yes…

 NT  How do you deal with work and personal life? Is it linked with your personal or everyday life?

 JK  That is a very interesting question. I am not sure though. Of course there is a personal aspect in an artist's work. All the truly great artists are the honest artists,I think. People who can somehow canalize something inner, personal, within themselves and bring it out to the world, rather than those focused on money or fame.

I was in Tanzania to record for a film for one month and it was a pretty tough situation. But I had brought with me the series "Twin Peaks"  and I was watching one chapter every night in my plain room without electricity. And there is a guy called The Giant who appears in agent Cooper's dream every night and he says to him: “The owls are not what they seem”. This phrase for me could be similarly applied to sound, sound is not what it seems; you can not take for granted that what you hear is really the full sound. It really depends on how you listen, and how much time you spend with that sound, how you record it, how you interact with it.

Recording with different tools I am trying to understand sound. I want to understand what it is and then try to open it up. This could be considered as trying to find what is hidden in the sound, perhaps a hitherto unheard frequency and then let it grow until it reaches a point that it can stand alone unfolded. The same process can be applied to something personal; I try to maintain a similar attitude towards people as well. To give an example, if we are friends or you are my girlfriend, I would not want to change you. On the contrary I would try to understand who you are and work with that and then see if I can compliment more on the attributes that I feel that you already have. So the same goes for everything in life, it's not only about what I want, but about what we can do together. And I ultimately believe that this is when I get the most out of something. I can get more out of you if I let you be you, rather than wanting to change you. And the same happens with sound.

 Mirto Xenaki  What is your favourite place in the world? Could you tell us what that place means to you, and some of the interesting things you experienced there?

 JK  To me Ethiopia has something deep, something that touched me a lot, and when a place on earth touches you, it means it speaks with you and you can identify with it. I think Ethiopia has so many layers that I can dive into, its not so concrete or one-sided. Last time I was there I was with a French filmmaker Vincent Moon . The year before I had discovered a place that I wanted to introduce him to; Merkato. It is a market, perhaps the biggest outdoor recycling market in Africa. Deep inside this market is a place where people re-shape oil barrels. They bang on them into their initial shape, cutting them into half, and then sell them as water baths for laundry. But basically what you see are all these people sitting and banging like crazy, and it sounds mesmerizing. Like wild tribal drumming without the intention to be. I wanted to do a portrait of what is going on there, and he wanted to do a portrait of me recording this place.

 MX  What is the source of your inspiration?

 JK  Life. Nothing particular. And then again; everything. My personal wish to get closer to a deeper meaning, a deeper knowledge about myself and the world I live in. I feel that the act of listening brings me closer to these concepts.

 NT  Is it a meditative process for you?

Yes, very much. I think that one of the times I feel most alive, is when I record sound.

 MX  Would you say that there was a person in your life like a mentor?

 JK  Many people have inspired me but I wouldn’t say that I’ve had a mentorMy mentor has been life and all that comes with it. Studying theatre when I was young taught me so much. And later meeting my cello teacher. And two bright professors at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne; Anthony Moore  and Siegfried Zielinski . Zielinski also wrote a book called “Deep time of the Media”. Through his lectures and our conversations I noted Empedocles’ theories about vision, and the light radiating eye. Following a similar logic, I would like to think that both our eyes and ears are not only receivers but transmitters of light and sound as well.

That is also the concept behind my project Labyrinthitis, which is a composition created from sounds generated by my own ears. The phenomenon is called otoacoustic emissions which are tones generated by the vibration of hair cells in the inner ear. Labyrinthitis is composed in such a way that it triggers the ears of the listeners to generate tones (otoacoustic emissions) in response.

 NT  How important is the conceptual part in your work?

 JK  It is really important to have a strong concept but apart from that it is really wonderful if a sound can be experienced alone as well. My new album on Touch , Conversion are transcriptions for strings, brass and percussion of my two pieces ‘Labyrinthitis’ and ‘Church’. Hopefully it can be enjoyed as pure sound only. And maybe it could tell a story as well, or teach us something on a deeper level.

+Learn more about Jacob Kirkegaard