Living with Acousmatics

Nicolas Wiese is a German all-rounder artist based in Berlin – responsible for some dense and fascinating audio-visual installations, samples of which play on his ultra-cool website in a highly seductive manner. He’s also strong on graphic design and drawing, and his work has manifested itself in the form of collages, radio art, drawings, and film. And he’s an electro-acoustic composer to boot, and some examples of his compositions are now available on the LP Living Theory Without Anecdotes (CORVO RECORDS CORE 005), a high-quality object presented in a nice window-cut cover designed by Wendelin Buchler with typography by Wiese and an unexplained image of some lilies. The album contains four acousmatic (which is the term composers use when they intend the music to be used exclusively for playback over speakers) works dated 2009-2011. One of them is a collaboration with Rom Rojo Poller, another uses samples provided by Thorsten Soltau 1. I think at least two of the others recycle older existing compositions by Wiese himself. Most of them are composed out of samples, and he uses a good deal of processing and reprocessing to arrive at the finished product. There’s a concern with layering, with structural depth, and in some cases with creating a very immersive environment, with detailed sound samples arranged in near-architectural forms, creating aural illusions of depth and space, intended to surround and envelop the listener.

Wiese certainly creates a unique and effective sound. To those listeners familiar with contemporary electronic and electro-acoustic music – especially that produced by digital means – the record may superficially appear quite familiar at first, but this impression will last about five seconds. After you let these four suites draw you in, they will wrap you up in polythene like a pupae in a cocoon and then boot you out of the whitewashed doors of the art gallery, after which you’ll be a changed person…there’s an air of abiding unreality, of unnatural sounds that have little or no direct correspondence to real life, even when they may have been derived from string samples and recording sessions where acoustic instruments (zither and cello, for instance) were involved. The very title “without anecdotes” confirms Wiese’s indifference to “narrative” forms in art, and his dedication to utter abstraction. It’s not unlike being invited to make your camp for two weeks inside a Mark Rothko painting, with no outside communication allowed. I don’t mean to make it sound unpleasant though, because this record’s slow-moving and elegant forms do exude a strange non-musical charm. Above all there’s that almost oppressive sense of enclosure, imaginary walls hemming you in. At times I have the impression of great precision combined with an equally great vagueness…these thoughts arise as I consider Wiese’s working methods…as though he were able to draw a very accurate map of a topography that is impossible to chart, has no limits, and doesn’t even exist. No wonder I feel lost after only a few moments wandering in these brittle soundscapes.

As I consider the term “precision”, I’m then drawn back to think about the work of John Wall, our favourite UK composer who for a long time has worked exclusively with samples. For years he has been riveting his sounds to our skulls using his hard-edged digital editing techniques, following a trajectory that was bound ever deeper into the minimal realms. His work is nothing like Wiese’s though. It might be instructive, for both parties, if we could begin to understand why that is. From 15 July 2013.

  1. Thorsten made one half of a picture disc for this label called Grün Wie Milch in 2011, noted here.

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