A basic condition - René van Peer - 200624/11/2009
A basic condition
René van Peer
Basically sound art combines visual and sonic elements into integrated works. Ideally sound and image are so much interlinked that separating them renders the work meaningless, or puts it out of existence. Translating light into sound Maria Blondeel's installation projects not only operate at the core of the sonic arts, she takes as her starting point the very precondition of visual art. In these works photoelectric sensors alter electric currents that power sound generators. These produce square waves, the pitch rising and dropping with the changing intensity of the light falling on the sensors. She can install this setup indoors and outside. She can attach it to moving objects, such as cars or buses, which she did in Berlin and Brussels, among other places.
These installations offer a sonic impression of the overall luminosity at a given spot, and the way it may change over time. A 45 minute film shot in one take during a ride over the circular road around Brussels at dusk documents this extraordinary twinned experience. A camera on the dashboard is pointed straight upwards. What you see is the sky and anything else that is overhead - trees with bare branches, street lamps, traffic lights, the top storeys of buildings alongside the road, but also the lamps on the ceiling of tunnels that the car drives through. Each of these influence the intensity of the surrounding light, which is at the same time gradually fading to darkness.
The scraggy hum and whine of the generated square waves rises and falls with each of these incidences en route. This sound makes the objects, which would otherwise take centre stage in one's perception, give way to the shifting quality of the light itself. Sound and light move along parallel lines, reinforcing one another. Even though the objects themselves are always recognizable, they become ever more abstract.
In her recent work Sunlight she has taken abstraction to a deeper and different level. At first sight the connection with this installation and those preceding it is not immediately apparent. The piece asks of the visitor to lie down with the head on pillow that is fitted with loudspeakers. These emit sounds at a low volume, sounds that gradually take on direction and meaning. Listening to them is like trying to follow wildly undulating and interweaving lines, the way ivy seems to scurry along the stem of a host tree, eager for its livelihood. The low sound level however counteracts any tenseness that the movement of the lines might cause. Moving one's awareness along with the sounds, trying to grasp what their source is and how they are structured, soon becomes a captivating, yet remarkably relaxing, experience.
The sounds actually come from a recording similar to the one Blondeel made in Brussels. So, lying with your head on this pillow, you are listening to light. Quite like lying on the grass with closed eyes, and letting the sun light up your eyelids in warm hues of orange, which are darkened when clouds float by. There is one more twist, though. In this recording Maria Blondeel has chosen pitches that counterbalance the effects of tinnitus, an ailment she has been suffering from for several years now.
For a sound artist this must be a deeply alarming disorder. In this work Blondeel turns around and confronts it head-on, highlighting the other condition that is basic to sound art - the perception of sound. And she has transformed it into a hospitable environment, one that you might wish to remain in for an indefinite period of time.
René van Peer, April 2006
Sonambiente, Berlin 2006
Published by Helga de la Motte-Haber, Matthias Osterwold, Georg Weckwerth (p. 42-43)