Carl Michael von HAUSSWOLFF

in conversation with



VIENNA, 16 December 2015


GW I’d like to talk with you about the freq_out project. And first I am interested in the history of this project. What would you say, what was the main reason to start such a project? How did the project occur to you and did it take a lot of energy to organise with all the different people?

CMvH It started with an invitation from Copenhagen… the invitation was little bit odd for me because it was an invitation from some people that I didn’t know anything about — I couldn’t fit them into the music and art worlds known to me. But they asked me if I wanted to do a workshop, and I was used to doing workshops for students in art academies and so on, but not really a workshop for other kinds of people. This workshop was to be held in Charlottenborg Exhibition Hall in Copenhagen, which is a very nice exhibition space. So this triggered me and I was wondering in what way… and yet it should be made into a kind of installation, and it should be sound…

GW Ah, that would be my next question, what role sound plays in it…

CMvH …sound was essential. It said in the invitation: to work with sound. So from this point I thought: how can I set this up, and I didn’t really want to think about a workshop as such. I just thought about an experiment instead… and about inviting some artists to participate in this experiment. And as I had been participating in many exhibitions that included sound art and sound installations, and quite recently — I mean, this invitation came in 2003, and earlier, from maybe 1997–’98, until then — there had been quite a lot of sound installations as group shows… and it was hyped up at the time. Which was good, you know… I mean, it was introduced more efficiently into the visual art world by Catherine David at documenta X in 1997, by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rosa Martinez, and at exhibitions in Tokyo, Oxford, Berlin, London, Vienna, etc. So it was kind of in the air. But many of these exhibitions (perhaps not the ones I just mentioned) were done by curators who had more experience with visual art. So of course when you pressed the on-button on the opening day of an exhibition, it just became a kind of chaos because of all the sounds. And it seems many of the curators didn’t really have thorough experience with sound and how sound travels and how sound appears in the space and so on. It became a very confused situation. And I was a bit angry about this, because it is not that difficult to read a couple of books about sound when you do a show that includes sound. There were some very good shows too. For example Frequenzen [Hz] in 2002, curated by Jesper Jörgensen in Frankfurt; but he isolated all the sounds with sound-absorbing materials. So I thought about how we could experiment with an exhibition where everything is out in the open… with twelve artists that I decided to invite… and then how can we have all these twelve artists compose one piece each, and play it in the same space at the same time… without their frequencies interfering with each other… so that the sounds don’t clash. It is okay if they kind of merge… or if the sounds work together, like paintings… like normal exhibitions, where certain objects or projects kind of intervene with each other as energies. This is okay, I thought, this is one of the meanings of a group show. And then I decided that I would subdivide the frequency range of audible sound… from the lowest frequency up to the highest — or up to the highest tone that my own perception allows, 12,000 hertz. Children have better hearing than me … up to 16,000–17,000 Hz. And then I scaled it down to 0 hertz … but of course this is not audible. It is audible with a normal sound system from let’s say 15 to 20 hertz. I divided that range into twelve parts. The experiment was to see if the artists could compose twelve different pieces, but only using this frequency range. And then let us see what happens.

GW So the reason that you said you wanted to do something with frequencies was that you wanted to bring several artists into one space, but with their own works? With their own compositions, so to speak? As a form of exhibition of sound?

CMvH Yes. I wanted to explore individuality in a collective as well, because I think this is quite important… that sometimes if you do a group show you can have this kind of collectivity… that everybody is forming the same piece, in a very old-fashioned way… but I also wanted to maintain the individual status of each artist. To see if the ego versus the collective works, and to see how much individual artists can actually accept their fellow artist’s work… if they can respect this fellow artist’s work … .

GW That is actually a nice idea. The normal system is that different artists get invited to show their work — not to do something together with the result of doing an exhibition.

CMvH It is also quite usual that, normally in visual exhibitions, you have artists’ works curated side by side… and all can’t neighbour all. Most artists are also very egocentric in a nervous way… they say: “My world is the only world that matters”… and they kind of hate everything and everyone else… they create very negative vibrations, so to speak, when you create the exhibition. I have noticed that many times in larger, biennial-type group shows, in Venice or elsewhere, you have these prima donna artists. It’s not really their fault though… it is the fault of the system of artists, curators, organizers, galleries, museums, media, etc. The artists are not properly informed that there will be fifty other artists working in the exhibition too… and the cohorts working with each individual artist always try to place their object — the artist — in a central position as something for sale. I want to eliminate this psychodrama…

GW Let me ask one question again. You got invited for a workshop in Copenhagen. But workshop normally means that you come and teach some students or some other interested people who take part in the workshop. Was it their idea to invite you to bring other artists into your workshop, and not a normal workshop audience, so to speak? Because it’s a totally different thing, and the freq_out project, which we’re talking about now, is much larger, and the fact that it actually starts with the idea of a workshop, this is interesting…

CMvH Well, it was intentionally a workshop. You have to define “workshop”. You don’t have to use it as an educational form, you can just use it as an experimental form. Then it is more open for what the results may be. If you have something like an exhibition, you are supposed to come up with a result, which is sort of a final result… a final exhibition result that the audience will accept. But with a workshop there might not be a result at all, because maybe it collapses. I like this kind of experimental situation! So it could have collapsed: nothing came out of it… or it could be the other way around. In general, in workshops you actually invite anybody and they can sign up and then you have a certain number of these anybodies who come and participate. But I asked specifically if I could invite certain artists. I wanted to have different types of sound artists… that they don’t work in the same sonic fields. I wanted to have, for instance, some artists that came from architecture, some artists that came from rock ’n’ roll, some from electroacoustic music — classic style —, and then pure sound-installation artists and so on. And I wanted to see if that whole range of sound art could actually talk to each other side by side.

GW That is very nice. But did a normal audience take part in that first presentation, which was a workshop at the beginning?

CMvH It opened up after a few days of working. It opened up as a normal exhibition. Anybody in Copenhagen or anybody could come for the opening — but, of course, not as participants. It was up there for two days or something as an exhibition.

GW But not longer. So it was not planned that the workshop results in an exhibition. And the title of the project, was it there from the beginning?

CMvH First of all, it was intended to be an installation. Not a concert or anything like that. It should become a form of installation. Which means that it was intended to have an opening for the public, as an exhibition… an exhibition that can be twenty-four hours or three months in duration. It didn’t really matter how long.

GW So it was clear. You got invited for a workshop and the result of the workshop should be sound and should be an installation visible for a short time for the audience.

CMvH Yes… and the title [freq_out] was not there from the beginning. The installation in Copenhagen became rather good, I think — and it was also good from a social-artistic point of view because most of the artists who were involved were really enthusiastic about it. It wasn’t really intended to be a series of exhibitions. It was just intended to be this one and only in Copenhagen… but then everybody said: “Well… we should do this again!!!”.

GW As a result of the first presentation you were thinking about going on.

CMvH Everyone in the group was really positive about it. And I was… you know… I was totally positive too, but I didn’t think about it in terms of more projects at the time. Then one of the artists, Jana Winderen, contacted the Ultima festival in Oslo… and so we were invited, via her, to the Henie-Onstad Art Centre in Oslo, to do an installation there. And this is when we started to think of what it should be called.

GW So the title came up for the second edition of the project. That means that the first presentation had a different title?

CMvH It never really had a title. It was just the title of the general workshop, which was “Sound As Space Creator”.

GW So it was actually not clear that it was the first of now twelve.

CMvH Yes. Exactly. We just had a sound installation. No title.

GW That’s interesting. And the second edition was one year later?

CMvH Less than a year… eight or nine months… in Oslo. So we came up with a title and we also produced a CD from the first edition released on Mike Harding’s label Ash International. The title of the project was suggested by Jim Thirlwell, and as many people realise, it comes from the first album of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!, which was, for most of us who were around in those days, a very important record. Frank Zappa was quite an important artist and musician for me early on… and this also comes from a time, the 1960s, when there was an openness… the hippies and the flower power… all kinds of openness, experimentation and curiosities. We just needed that kind of freak and frequency… and we shouldn’t forget the ’70s disco culture with Nile Rodgers’ Chic and their hit Le Freak… ha ha. So you have this kind of opening up of frequency ranges in this project… and so on. Then there was also the question of how to curate it, because all the artists wanted to take part in the second installation too. Generally in exhibitions you just invite new artists. In documenta for example, you don’t have the same artists… well, some artists always seem to come back again and again… hmm… . So I tried to figure out how to manage this. More or less all the artists said: “You have to invite me again”, because they really wanted to do it again in a new space… because a new space means a new experience. So then I decided that I would rotate the frequency range for each artist. So if somebody had 0–25 hertz, they would now have 25–65 hertz instead… so they didn’t have the experience of working with the same frequency again.

GW And you rotated it in a clockwise direction?

CMvH Yes, it was in this way.

GW Because it is also divided into twelve parts.

CMvH Yes, indeed. So the artist that had 12,000 hertz suddenly got 0–25 hertz. And then I kept that circulation… and then for the Oslo show, there was one Danish artist, Hans Sydow, a composer of electroacoustic music, who could not come… so I realised: ah!!! this is also a problem. What do I do when somebody cannot come? Of course I have to invite a new artist.

GW Meaning that from the moment you realised: we are now doing it a second time and maybe a third time with the same artists, the project took on the form of an orchestra?

CMvH Yes. So, the second time we actually did the orchestra part for the first time… in Oslo.

GW In addition to the installation, you did the first concert or performance.

CMvH Yes. The first concert for freq_out Orchestra was in Oslo, in connection with the second freq_out installation, from which we produced a second CD published by Touch Music. So first I had to come up with solving the problem of inviting a new artist. I decided I will invite artists from the country that we are working in at the moment, in this case Norway, and then I asked Jana Winderen who she would like to suggest, and she said: “Well, Maia Urstad will be good”. I didn’t know anything about her, but as this whole project is also built on trust, it sounded good and I invited her. But what to do with Hans Sydow? If I invite Maia Urstad, and if there’s going to be a third installation, I can’t say to Maia Urstad: “You are no longer participating, because I am taking back Hans Sydow again!” I couldn’t do that. This is not a very nice way to go. So I had to say to everybody: “If you cannot come, you are out of the game, unfortunately. It is not your fault, it’s nobody’s fault… but this is how the rules are.” Anyway… this is the way the project has continued.

GW With number three, four, and again…

CMvH Yes. Number three was… already in Oslo, Jim Thirlwell got a message from Paris… that they wanted to do it in something called “Nuit Blanche”… an annual twelve-hour all night event throughout Paris, where the whole city is full of concerts, installations and people out the whole night… so JG Thirwell co-curated the Paris freq_out with me.

GW This was freq_out 3 ?

CMvH Yes. In a beautiful building by architect Oscar Niemeyer in Belleville — the French communist party headquarters.

GW So the project started in 2003 in Copenhagen and will soon end now in 2016 in Vienna. So when came the decision to do it twelve times?

CMvH Because when you have rotated the frequency calendar, you come back to the beginning. The artist that had the 0-25 hertz at the first freq_out will be having the same if you do a thirteen. We can come up with other solutions if we want to continue. If I want to continue. But this is maybe enough. We did a freq_out 1.2 version as a permanent installation in Uppsala, Sweden… in the garden of a new hospital, the Skandion Clinic for cancer treatment…

GW I understand. And using exactly twelve ranges, what was the reason for that?

CMvH I don’t know. It had nothing to do with any frequential, mathematical or numerology things. It had to do with my hearing. I was just sitting with an old Phillips oscillator and I decided only from hearing which range sounds good.

GW And finally it was twelve.

CMvH Finally it was twelve.

GW Great. In combination with the clock this is a very nice number. And also the idea to change the range for each project is a good practice for the artists, because in this way they have to do the same work again and again, but with different materials.

CMvH With different frequency ranges, right… but also the place itself matters. Where you are… in Copenhagen, Oslo, Berlin … underground like in Berlin at “Schlossfreiheit”, in this hidden tunnel system under Schlossplatz, in your second sonambiente festival, and here in Vienna.

GW In Berlin was number four.

CMvH Yes. The idea is also, for the artists, that they can, or rather should, use/include the concept of the place, the sounds of the place… or the concept of the city… or the history of the city or whatever, as long as it has something to do with the place you are in. It is recommended… but it is not strictly necessary that you have to, it is only recommended. It also means that the geographical place colours the installation differently each place you are in. So having a new space to attend to each time makes it really important that all the artists are here in person.

GW Yes. To be aware of the situation, to realize where they are, to record sounds, maybe to use them. But there was not always a new concept. The concept was the same? So you and the artists didn’t write new concepts for each city, like Berlin, Paris, Oslo, etc.?

CMvH No. It is the same as it was from the beginning. I haven’t had any proposals from myself or anybody else to change it. I mean, it works actually quite well. There was a slight change in the setup when we did the permanent freq_out installation in Uppsala in 2014. That meant that I went back to the first iteration of freq_out. I called it freq_out I.2 and everybody that was in untitled [freq_out 1] and still in the freq_out group was invited. And they had the same frequency as they had in untitled [freq_out 1] … but they didn’t have to go to Uppsala. They could stay at home, working from there … and the concept platform was cancer … or related. It was recommended because everybody knew it was a hospital for cancer treatment, for proton and laser treatment. So various artists used different types of methods … .

GW For anyone who wants to get an idea of how freq_out 1.2 sounds, there is a record available released by Ash International, London. Is there a text included in the LP booklet that delineates the differences between untitled [freq_out 1] and freq_out 1.2 ?

CMvH No. There are not really any texts that are different from the first one we used. In Uppsala I was invited by quite a daring curator, Lotta Mossum, to do this. In Sweden it is not normal to use sound art for permanent installations. Curators and people in general are quite nervous about that, because of the quality of sound as it travels and moves around in a smaller place — it travels over the streets and into private homes, etc. It’s a totally different thing to install a sound piece… .

GW Perhaps you could tell a bit how it was installed and how it has been working after being installed now for one year.

CMvH I was actually there a week ago, just to see if it was still on. With technology and other electronic works, you never really know if it works… if the cables are okay… but it was on! It is working and it sounds very nice. It is an outdoor installation in a small garden belonging to the hospital… and it’s on day and night, winter as well as summer, spring and fall, and you can sit and hang out there in this space… very cool.

GW How big is it?

CMvH It is not really that super large. You can hear all the loudspeakers and frequencies in certain spots even if the volume isn’t very loud.

GW It’s on around the clock, for 24 hours?

CMvH Yes. It is not for 12 or 24 loudspeakers though… but for eight of them, so I had to pre-mix selected works with others into four stereo sounds… four times two … and then they were mixed “live”… so the sound from the loudspeakers runs crosswise and pans between each other.

GW And how is this piece connected to the hospital? Or were you totally allowed to do what you want? Or is there a connection between the sounds and the kind of hospital?

CMvH Yes there is… but each artist has to answer for that by him- or herself… from an individual point of view. I know that two artists used a certain type of homeopathic technique… to actually cure illnesses… involved also were sounds from a magical point of view… so there are certain elements that are in these sounds that actually relate to the hospital and to the treatment there. Also, when I had the initial discussions with the organisers who commissioned it, like the hospital staff and the doctors there, we were actually talking about this installation in various ways, about including the music and the sounds in the concept of the building and the activity.

GW You were invited to do it or was it a competition?

CMvH No, I was invited to do it. It was not a competition. I don’t like competitions, because I am a terrible loser. I was invited to the hospital to talk about it first, and we talked about sounds and about the quality of sounds and how it travels and how it works. We talked about aggressiveness and aggressive sounds, and I said: “Well we just have to see what comes out of it. I am sure it will be quite an ambient and pretty relaxed installation. But this we will know when it is done, so to speak. We have to take certain chances.” At the same time, when I wrote to the artists I explained quite clearly to them what this was about; that this is a hospital for cancer treatment, where they treat children and other persons who are unlucky enough to have this horrible disease. When you know these circumstances, you actually automatically have an urge to compose something that is not so edgy and kind of sharp and brutal… you tend to get drawn into a more softer sound and you don’t want to have a kid with this illness sitting in this garden with a sharp, brutal, aggressive attack of a sound. And also it is up to me, because I am finally the leader of this and I make the decisions in the end. Even if I receive certain ideas from the invited artists, I make the final decision. I am the soft dictator in this project.

GW Or is it more like a conductor?

CMvH I am a conductor too, but I am also a dictator when it comes to the final mix. Because I choose and in the final say, I am the one who decides… unless I tell somebody else to make the decision. I just delegate it… I can do this too. If I co-curate freq_out here in Vienna with Franz Pomassl (or in Paris with JG Thirwell, Marrakesh with Jacob Kierkegaard, Oslo with Jana Winderen), we talk and I listen. I am a good listener and I have very much respect for my fellow artists.

GW So most of the freq_out installations in the last ten years were indoor installations?

CMvH All except the permanent one in Uppsala and freq_out 5 that we did in Chiang Mai in North Thailand, together with Nico Dockx and Building Transmissions from Antwerp.

GW In a garden. How was that? What was the difference between doing it outdoors and doing it indoors?

CMvH It was quite different. I mean outdoors is outdoors, and if you have a larger area outdoors I always find it a bit difficult, because the sound wants to travel out somewhere and everywhere in the space. It doesn’t want to be confined in a box. So we had a larger PA system… it was set up in the evening… from early evening until late night… and we had carpets all around and a lot of Thai food and drinks. People in Thailand always make fantastic food, so we had a kind of party at the same time. A lot of people from the neighborhood came for eating and talking. It was more like a very social event at the same time as these sounds were going on. It was co-organised with Rirkrit Tiravanija and Kamin Lertchaiprasert, so you can understand that there was a lot of sweetness and Thai Buddhist generosity around. Very different from freq_out 6, which was in Budapest. This was a very small space, where the loudspeakers were almost stacked upon each other… a kind of confined place. Of course every space, even outdoors, has its own sonic qualities, and that also adds to the experience. No place is a bad place. Every place is a good place.

GW There will now come a very special place here in Vienna. Let’s talk about this a little. After you saw it, what did you think about the sewer situation?

CMvH The first thing you think about is, of course, the acoustic qualities of the largest space, which becomes the main space. The acoustic quality there is fantastic and it becomes a challenge to see how we can do this. It will be different from all the other freq_outs and then it’s still an experiment. You never really know what the outcome from it will be… but judging from my experiences from earlier freq_out projects, it will be probably the most magnificent freq_out — because of the qualities of the space and the history of the space. You have the history from the film The Third Man by Carol Reed with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton… Second World War… but also the space itself from an architectural point of view. You just realise that the underground architectural size that is here in Vienna (also elsewhere in the world, where they have this kind of sewer system, underground river, catacomb thing) is an amazing architectural oeuvre… but on the other hand, Moderna Museet in Stockholm was also a great place… .

GW So it is actually public space, but totally hidden.

CMvH Totally hidden… and also constructed to be efficient. It is a new experience and I am looking forward to it.

GW Let us finally talk about freq_out 11, because freq_out 12 will be the last installation. You were in the situation of having to decide now what could be number 11. Because you can’t do number 12 before 11. You had an idea for another kind of space, which was a surprise for me, but I think it is a great idea.

CMvH This space is as many spaces as there are rooms, or as many as there are loudspeakers in the world. I thought about making one for the radio. My ambition is that everyone can listen to a freq_out installation on the radio… and it will be a web-based radio… and hopefully there will be a mixer you can see on your screen where you can mix freq_out by yourself… which is quite nice, because then you can have a certain type of mix — any you like. Maybe there can be pre-mixes too, like my mix which is set in my way, or Thirlwell’s mix which will be set in his style, or Georg Weckwerth’s mix which will be set in another way… or you can mix it yourself and maybe add your name to a list. I don’t know. The idea can be as long as there are possibilities… and then you can listen to it anywhere and if you get a bit tired of that mix after a couple of months, you change it. You’ll just change it into something else.

GW All the other editions were located in cities. What would you call the venue or the space? “Radio” of course. But it is actually web radio.

CMvH I mean, it takes place wherever there is access to the Internet. But it is not happening on the Internet. It is happening in everyone’s home or headphones or whatever people use when they listen to it. Maybe it is a new omni-spatial piece. You could maybe call it that because it includes any kind of space anywhere. Yeah! Omni-spatial freq_out.

GW By the way, do you have a radio station in your own virtual country?

CMvH In Elgaland-Vargaland?

GW Yes.

CMvH No. In Elgaland-Vargaland we don’t have a radio station … but we do have a Minister for the Airwaves … and we have a Minister for Digital Food, Ulf Bilting, who has come up with an interesting program for the freq_out radio version.

GW Normally a radio station…

CMvH … sends out the propaganda. We have had a few projects where radio stations were involved in sending out the propaganda. Like with the radio station WFMU in New Jersey, which covers most of Manhattan, we had a one-night live broadcast in 1996. So we have had some tests with radio. But so far we don’t have a radio station of our own.

GW And is freq_out 11 planned as a permanent installation?

CMvH Yes. It could be permanent. It just depends on the radio stations that are interested in having it. And how long they will live, because they can shut it down in a minute, it’s just a computer, right! We were talking with two radio stations here in Vienna, Radio ORANGE 94.0 and ORF KUNSTRADIO … and I have also already talked with an experimental online radio station in Copenhagen called The Lake. And maybe they can link each other. Many radio stations could take part. You can actually have it on any kind of server and then link it to any radio station.

GW Well Carl Michael, thank you for that interesting overview of the history of freq_out.