My House is a Decayed House

Excellent piece of sound art / installation art from two contemporary German artists Daniela Fromberg and Stefan Roigk. Their Unfamiliar Home (EDITION TELEMARK 923.09) is one of the more absorbing and mesmerising pieces of building-derived field recording we’ve heard…the actual record here is quite short, just 13 mins a side (it plays at 45 RPM), but it’s part of a much larger installation work.

The story of it is that their apartment house in Berlin underwent renovation in 2012. For two years, they suffered the agony of building works which I’m sure are familiar to many readers; the artists say “we were forced to inhabit this estranged place that used to be our apartment”. During this time, their lives changed – they couldn’t look out of the window or sit on the balcony, dust fell on their heads, bricks fell on their possessions and broke them, and above all there was the continual noise of drilling, hammering, and sawing. “A hostile but fascinating atmosphere,” is how they describe it. It’s this experience they have now made into art. Needless to say, they recorded all the sounds they could as they sat tightly shuttered inside their rooms, and started to perceive these sounds as some form of infernal life going on around them.

Those on-site recordings are now presented here on the vinyl record, although they’ve been I think condensed, mixed, and arranged in some way; at any rate it’s combined with any sounds produced by the installation artwork which they subsequently made, and exhibited in Ausland in Berlin in 2018. For that, they gathered a huge number of old window sashes which they picked up off the streets of Prenzlauer Berg, and assembled them into a sculpture piece, along with angle brackets and lampshades. This was equipped with speakers, amplifiers, “sound exciters”, and waveplayers, so presumably visitors to the installation would provide additional sounds as they entered its rather unusual and disorienting space (which at first glance seems to me like a compacted version of the demonic house in the movie 13 Ghosts). Numerous photos are provided with the release, in the form of full-colour art prints, so you can get the general idea.

As you may have guessed by now, there’s a critical dimension to the work; it’s not just complaining about their own treatment at the hands of their landlord and his “shifty” lawyer, but observing a general trend across Berlin, i.e. greedy real estate developers buying up properties, and renovating them in order to generate more income streams, exploiting our general need for a place to live. Our artistic duo evidently regret the loss and wastage of “vintage construction materials” within this unstoppable process, which is why they’re singled out these charming window sash constructions and building ornaments, now artefacts from a lost time when perhaps builders took a certain pride in their work and affordable quality housing was once a basic standard. All of this could be taken as a critique of one aspect of late capitalism; it’s a monster that is capable of devouring and destroying the past, even as it replaces everything with products of inferior quality, and causes much disruption in the process. It all resonates with me, as all of 2023 has seen me suffering through a similar disruptive and unwanted “renovation” to my own property, carried out with the sole purpose of bringing in more rent money for the landlord.

Besides the underlying “message” to the work, which to their credit the creators don’t belabour or overstate, this is a very rich and rewarding piece in the genre of site-specific field recording, greatly enhanced by the decision to condense it into a very listenable and fascinating record. It’s full of events, to put it mildly; besides the drilling and hammering, the handy shopping-list printed here indicates there were also blow-torches, gas-heaters, falling plaster, wind, the plastic scaffolding cover, general tremors…and, with some relief, the final dismantling of the scaffolding. As you listen you’ll find yourself pulled into a semi-impossible space, where time has been compressed and events layered on top of each other. It’s not just documentary sound; you get the feeling the creators have poured their entire two-year experience (unpleasant as it must have been) into the work, and managed to sublimate it very successfully.

With lacquer cut by Kassian Troyer and mastering at D&M, this is a beautifully presented and fully-integrated work of art. Recommended. From 6th April 2022.