Spaces by Jos Smolders

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Jos Smolders | Spaces
Moving Furniture Records (2xCD/DL)

The premise for this set of recordings is one I can get behind, the elusive open halls and passages of architecture, specifically museums. Being one who has been in my fair share, shown there, and wondered about the contents, the curation, the sense of remove between the viewer and that which is on public view has much to be desired through discourse and consternation. That said, it’s great to get an opportunity to once again listen to a new work by Dutch sound sculptor Jos Smolders who it is said has gathered these sounds since 2008, composing them from 2015-18. At hand he wielded a Roland Edirol R-09 digital recorder and a pair of Soundman OKM II and Luhd binaural microphones to capture the space with their soaring ceilings and gallery depths. The official release date for this is October 19th. I can most definitely appreciate the subject matter:

Screen Shot 2018-03-12 at 11.13.47 AMM_US__EUM, Neon, 2007, Bureau for Open Culture (TJ Norris, Scott Wayne Indiana)

Here on Spaces we have six various locations broken out over two discs and into sixteen tracks running over eighty minutes. The fact that these spaces are meant to pay reverence to especially rare examples of exceptional quality of fabrication and concept really puts an emphasis on the space in and around the actual objects, with a keen focus on spatial dimensions of ‘negative space’ to some extent – so its about a contemplative place. The broken silences of Oeil Poché eek out the haunting sense of hollow containment, with the occasional metallic rattling from doorstop. You can feel the reverberation of the space in any random whisper, and gamelike pings from ancient African relics, the squeak of boxes opening and a mix of blurry chimes. It’s unsettling when you are not there to see what’s going on in person. You can cut the atmosphere with a knife, it’s bloated to the very outer edges. Some of the sounds may be bleeding from other connected rooms, but Smolders has left that a bit anonymous, as he has abstracted some of the tail end with slight overlaps and a bit of static.

A=F=L=O=A=T, which takes up the remainder of the first disc was recorded at Paris’ Fondation Louis Vuitton (by Frank Gehry). It begins with a low pitched flute sound that emitted from a work by Cerith Wyn Evans. The rustle of footsteps by visitors adds an interesting percussive counterpoint to the rather forlorn sounds coming from the work suspended from the ceiling. In this light you get a true sense of the entire room in which this is presented. A setting that sounds as though you are hovering in space while a lone player warms up, but when he adds more pitch it becomes a bit of a cosmic perambulation. The frequencies are built into the work, and the space in which it’s presented is exclusively lit in artificial light.  In the seven vignettes here Smolders has managed to capture the sculptural work from various vantage points, and though the work itself may be static, it showcases how spending time with art may reveal the unexpected.

Recorded at MoMA (NY) is Ode á L’oublie and this interacts with the phenomenal Louise Bourgeois exhibition that they held in 2017. The silences here are so nuanced by the in-situ situation, also more of a chatty crowd. The composer notes one of those odd museum experiences that many have had: “The visit included a crazy adventure when I inadvertently entered the service elevator and only after a few rides up and down got back to the exhibition space.” This goes to show for the impact of inertia to a large extent in the recording itself, the way museums are built to infuse a sense of wonder, of getting lost to a certain extent. He translated the sense of neurosis in the artist’s work in the densely drone-filled re-imaging. It becomes a super thick forcefield of white noise after a while. In an instant it sounds as if you are on the tarmac of an international airport with the rev of jumbo jets nearby, but that peters out in the end to a gorgeous fadeout.

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Again in Paris at the Le Grand Palais (2008) we have Dans La Nuit, Des Images. This to me seems like eavesdropping on his fellow sound artists’ installation works and projections. This sounds as if it was recorded outside of where a crowd is watching a live performance, sort of where vendors might be, or perhaps an adjacent bar. Anyone who has been in a large crowd for a stage event knows that feeling of exhilaration, and of course, its repercussions. being on the outside listening in is quite interesting here, one step removed. Smolders has made a very emotional work to my ears, one that speaks of separating the ‘you’ from the crowd. By adding a light crackle of vinyl (posing as rain) with intermittent flashes of the roused crowd he’s grasped this awkward inner voice that is powerful. It whispers as powerfully as it roars. By far my favorite work of this suite of recordings.

Traum des Künstlers is broken into five parts, all around two minutes or under and each a bit of a reworking of the original ticking sources of doors closing and a child wanting attention. Recorded at Germany’s Museum Küppersmühle the reworkings remind of the video work of Dara Birnbaum (in particular her piece Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman – 1978-79). It’s a sonic noise collage balancing caustic awkward silences. In his description of the work he uses the word ‘gestalt’ which this echoes in spades. His use of reverse looping techniques with the rolling repeat of the wide open space is perplexing, an animated abstraction.

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Finally at the DIA Center in Beacon, NY Smolders offers Torqued Ellipse II. This is a great space on the Hudson River (for some the middle of nowehere, for others a forested paradise) for some large works that are on permanent display. He notates that this is the quietest museum he’s ever visited (I felt this same thing when I went to Marfa’s Judd Collection). Smolders mentions: “Upon entrance I was immediately immersed by the vastness of the exhibition spaces. Walter De Maria’s 360 I Ching for instance, some 6 meters wide and 50 meters long. The vastness and the emptiness and silence are awe inspiring. Richard Serra, a giant in the art world with a consistently high quality production, has several of his Torqed Ellipses on permanent display in a relative dark, rough and industrial hall.”

Of course the work of Serra has always been to introduce this very physical response, one that has to actually “contend” with the work rather than be contented by it. He manages to capture the eerie angular feeling of gazing upon the work, with the light murmuring of a visitor or two in the room. The piece takes its sweet time over its ten minutes or so. There is this sense of metallic resonance likely influenced by the Serra piece, often made of rusty CorTen steel. It’s a barren and cyclical drone, with a few hand-held percussive sound effects (like pool balls breaking) – that forms, diffuses and vaporizes. It’s a powerful recording of deceptive passages that has been turned left-side down.


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