The sculpturality of sound
Florian Hecker’s acoustic illusions
“Florian Hecker: Hallucination, perspective, synthesis”: the title of Florian Hecker’s exhibition at Kunsthalle Wien speaks volumes about his work as a whole. The artist’s audible works mine the possibilities of sound research and audio manipulation, breaching the coherence of experience.
Sound as sculpture: while it is true that Florian Hecker has exhibited alongside installation artists such as Cerith Wyn Evans, Mark Leckey and John McCracken (artists with a penchant for psychedelic effects), Hecker has a fundamentally different idea of what a sound sculpture could be. Hecker’s works do not turn sound support media into minimalist art objects that visually interact with one another, asserting their physical presence in an otherwise stripped-down space. Artistically socialized in the Vienna electronic music scene of the 1990s, the artist does not make sound visible – a desire he alludes to in the title of his 2009 exhibition “See this Sound,” hinting at a condition of sound art’s entry into the white cube of the Lentos Museum. Sound is to be explored in its material dimension rather than its visual translation, becoming a subject of study in a digitally manipulated state. In contrast to a work by Mark Leckey, for example, the speakers in Hecker’s installation are not space-consuming fetish objects of a gleefully dissident, emotionally-charged pop and youth culture, but modest functional fixtures.
At an initial level, the sculptural quality of sound – more precisely, its spatial quality – emerges from a perspectival, decidedly non-immersive directing and control of sound intensity. This is also evident in Hecker’s purist rejection of multichannel mixes, both in the installations and in his physical recordings, which have been released by such electronic labels as Editions Mego and Pan. In an art space, perspective means first and foremost that the hearing experience changes drastically depending on the visitor’s distance from the sound sources. His recent work takes this same principle a step further, in that he manipulates the order of computer-generated sounds in a way that disrupts the ear’s sense of orientation in the space. Hecker generates acoustic illusions in which the visual location of the sound source no longer corresponds to what is being heard, or acoustically perceived, for that matter. Borrowing a term from otolaryngologist Bertrand Delgutte, Hecker calls this illusion-generating process “chimerization” – the systematic molding or reshaping of one audio source through a second.
Recent years have seen Hecker expanding this practice of changing “topological volumes” (as he calls his data arrangements) from reference-less, computer-based sounds to the human voice and its manipulation. The artist’s fascination with the materiality of sound-as-object shows his proximity to speculative realism, a movement associated with such philosophers as Quentin Meillassoux. Hecker even refers to Meillassoux’s notion of “hyper-chaos” in a text accompanying the CD “Speculative Solutions,” describing its compositional concept of sudden intensity changes of multiple squashed sound episodes into bursts of noise that appear extremely crystalline. This context was also the starting point for “Chimerization” at the 2012 documenta 13, a work based on a recorded voice libretto from the Iranian writer and philosopher Reza Negarestani that explores the transition from semantics to sound, from narration to stammering. Hecker understands his work with the possibilities of sound as dealing with “immaterials” – the same paradoxical forms of being that French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard presented in 1985 as part of a widely-acclaimed exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. These intangible immaterials are generated and later edited in cooperation with a team of specialists in signal processing, audio programming and psychoacoustics, by way of specially-developed algorithms. Hecker’s artistic and scientific authorship beings with the programming, not unlike today’s fragrance creators who design at the molecule level, intervening in a reality that is at first imperceptible to human senses and can only be experienced later. Hecker describes this tension between the exploration and manipulation of the perceptible as a Möbius strip. One side of the strip captures what can be formulated in algorithms before it continues in a dislocated form on the other side. All things considered, it appears that “Hallucination, perspective, synthesis,” the title of Hecker’s new exhibition at Kunsthalle Wien, speaks volumes about the artist’s overall intentions.