Report on A Day of Noise: Everything is designed, the rest is noise

Last Saturday Sonic Acts and ArtEZ Academy for the Arts presented A Day of Noise in Eindhoven as part of the Dutch Design Week (see for more photos our Flickr page). Dutch artist Rosa Menkman reports on the day:   Everything is designed the rest is noise Our day of noise takes place at TAC, the Temporary Art Centre Eindhoven, as part of the Dutch Design week. TAC is a beautiful space, with a huge industrial open floor plan. Endless possibilities. However, for the occasion of the Dutch Design week, the space is filled with pastel-coloured design lamps and vectorized tea cups exposed in a designerly fashion by this years Dutch Design students. Everything but noisy.    TAC hosts the hacklab in the back room, away from the collection of new Dutch Cute. This location kind of reinforces the ‘group’ feeling but also makes it harder for outsiders to enter during the day. A lot of the Dutch Design visitors only dare to peek into the room of noise and then move on. I guess they see this weird nest of wires, a noisy breeding ground and feel this is not what they came for.   The day starts with a workshop hosted by Gijs Gieskes, who lives in the neighbouring village Geldrop. In my opinion, Gieskes, a qualified industrial designer, is best described as an electro-magician. His creations are some of my favourite contraptions in the world of electronic art. Their existence oscillates between drawing, synthesizer and breaded clusters of wires that seem to act as objects you would have thought never needed to exist. But then, when I finally encounter them, their existence does seem necessary somehow. A hard drive embedded in an analogue synth kit, a Casio that keeps crashing and rebooting following only the rules of chance art. Euro rack modules that light up the room while a clock keeps step. It’s funky.   I believe Gieskes’ greatest contribution to contemporary music is that he is continuously expanding the field of musical instrument building. A sentiment that might be shared with the participants at the workshop, because besides a group of adventurous ArtEZ students there are quite a few advanced tinkerers working on complex concepts of noise, artefacts or simply new instrument building, who I already knew from the Internet. There is Robert Jordan from Melbourne Australia, who is working on his 100-in-1 Midi Master at Steim; Carolyn from Brussels who researches the use of noise in public space; Paul Tas from Errorinstruments; and Gottfried Haider who researches circuit drawing.   The Stigma of the Wire, LED as the saviour We start by breadboarding simple LED oscillator circuits. Soon these designs patch into other weird musical toys in which the LEDs play only an uncertain role. In the eight years I have known Gijs he has become more and more of an LED man; these days I believe every device he builds incorporates several if not many little lights that blink in response to the electrical pulses. While our tables gradually fill with LEDs, pieces of plastic, toys, wires and resistors, Gottfried and I talk about the general act of concealment at (media) art exhibitions. Wires are tucked away, circuits obfuscated and surfaces polished white (or indeed pastel). These easy-on-the-eye surfaces actually strengthen the stigma of the wire: as a sign of production wires seem to signify the mindset ‘it was just created, it must be dangerous’, or ‘with this product we indeed failed to participate in the great wireless age’. The actual circuitry, which is where the magic of electronics lives, is not part of the final presentation. According to this superficial divide, the artist-engineer can only exist in the back room, where knowledge lives but where the audience is kept away. But then again, maybe it was just Dutch Design week and we focus on (end) design here. Perhaps LEDs can indeed be described as the bridge across this divide.   Kairos as moment/um The lectures begin. Remco van Bladel gives an overview of noise as design methodology for visual design artefacts. His collection seems to illustrate that the outcome of noise in design is generally overly structured and clean, an outcome I am somewhat disappointed by. After Van Bladels lecture, Hillel Schwartz takes us on a hike through a cultural history of noise, or as he calls it, ‘a poetic excursion of grime and time’. In the second part of his lecture – by far my favourite part – Schwartz discusses three concepts of time and their connection to noise. He explains how the Greeks divided the experience of time into three different forms. First there is aeon time. This is universally ongoing and impersonal time. As an eternal flux and flow it is always ‘just there’. Schwartz connects aeon time to background noise, the noise that has been there since the Big Bang, the noise that will always exist and is usually suppressed but remains part of any system.   Then there is Kronos, from which the term ‘chronology’ stems. Kronos refers to linear, one directional time, business time or incremental, daily routine time. Schwartz connects Kronos to repetitive noise, such as the noise of a dripping faucet. It is repetitive, sickeningly rhythmic and does not move backwards. Finally there is Kairos, which we don’t have a modern equivalent for, but which is best described as the time of opportunity. This time is dangerous and thrilling, however it can also present itself subtly. Schwarz connects Kairos to the noise of revolution. It is the shriek of invention. The time when someone urges you to seize the moment. This form of noise to me is directly related to the Moment/um I described in the Glitch Moment(um) (Institute for Network Cultures, Amsterdam 2011). Here the concept of Moment/um exists in twofold: first of all there is the moment, which is experienced as an uncanny, threatening loss of control, casting the spectator into the void (of meaning). This moment then becomes a catalyst, with a certain momentum, a power that can change perspectives and create new forms.     Something surprising happens when the performance evening finally begins. Gieskes’ table looks like a Wunderkabinet of electronics and everybody stands very close, to catch a glimpse of his intrinsic instruments in concert mode. The audience expects the noise concert to start any time now. However, Gieskes seizes the opportunity to demonstrate the functionality of all his different instruments. In this moment, the sound of his voice transforms into a composition that bridges the gaps between the performances of each instrument. The audience is only left wondering if this is really a concert, and if so, if Gieskes voice is part the music.  

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