We’ve heard a few items from German sound artist Christina Kubisch over time, but not encountered many instances of her installation work, so it’s good to get our ears around this copy of Unter Grund (GRUENREKORDER Gruen 160). These two tracks might be taken as a partial, representative snapshot of a much larger and highly ambitious 26-channel installation piece which she made at the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen. It’s to do with water streams both above ground and below the ground, and her work has led her into a detailed research of the history and geography of the area, as well as an understanding of the workings of this 19th-century mineshaft.
Zollverein, now inactive, became a UNESCO world heritage site a few years ago, but the rugged beauty of the equipment is not what interests Kubisch; rather, she is keen to point out the profound changes that intensive mining has wrought on the land, not to mention the hints of ecological damage, alluding to the Ruhr area being gradually changed into a “swampy seascape with contaminated water”. More than that, she’s intrigued by the power of this elaborate tunnelling system, an industry that required permanent pumping and transport of mine water just to keep operating. The piece gradually becomes more abstract and conceptual in nature (at any rate, the sleeve notes go that way), conveying something about our primordial fears of unseen, underground forces; and terrors of how nature may one day turn against us.
For a similar exploration of water coursing through a vast industrial complex, see To The Cooling Tower, Satsop by Christopher DeLaurenti, which I reviewed in 2015. Kubisch may share some of the American’s critical view of modern industry, and I think they are both aware of how the realities of these things tend to get covered up by political forces and other agencies who would simply prefer us not to find out about the extent to which our planet is being altered by these interventions. However, Kubisch is less interested in the aesthetical transformation of these sounds, and the record is pretty much a stern, unblinking documentary of water passing above and below ground, with zero electro-acoustic manipulation. That said, it still passes on the sensations of anxiety and doom she is attempting to convey. A full colour booklet provides photos and annotations of this awe-inspiring work. From 26 January 2016.