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MCD#70 - ECHO / SYSTEM - "Music and sound art"
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Last night in Scopitone 2011
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More blog entries
the most famous performance of the Austrian artist Kurt Hentschläger,
is a real success and goes from one festival to another. A total piece
of art, petrifying, that offers a perfect occasion to penetrate into
the sensorial universe of this intriguing multimedia artist.
The spectators, squeezed and seated on chairs in the middle of the
room, are progressively letting themselves absorb by the insistent
electronic music around them and the images of floating bodies
projected on the screen. A discursive and penetrating atmosphere slowly
insinuates. Then all of a sudden, a heavy puff of smoke floods the
space in a brutal burst while strobe lights shoot from four sides.
Drowned by infrabass and hard frequencies, the senses dazed by the
audiovisual confusion beating down on them, the visitors fall back on
their conscience mistreated by this subliminal aggression.
It is rare to be confronted to a work like yours, so intense in its
immersive approach and pushing away as far as possible the limits of
the physical stamina and of the human perception thanks to the strength
combined to sounds and lights. What interests you the most in this
confrontation to such an unsettling environment?
It’s both easy and difficult to answer. Easy because I firstly create
my work for me, before thinking about the audience. But I have to admit
that even if this work is very personal, it also engages those who are
receiving it. A performance like Feed refers to the series of pieces
that I’ve been working on for fifteen years. Some aspects, like the
complete immersion in an audiovisual mass, the perceptions
unsettlement, the physical feeling of infrabass are here to create a
state of conscience in which everyone can feel troubled and calm at the
same time. It can seem contradictory, but it’s the potential starting
point from which the experience is going to fluctuate.
In Feed, guiding the audience seems important to you. It’s fundamentally a live project, isn’t it?
Yes, live performances kindle the excitement of an audience that is
gathering to live and share an experience. It becomes a ritual, an
event, with a beginning, a curve and an end. It is a collective
approach inside which the individual finds refuge. It’s very different
from an installation work that is very often transmitted in a
continuous loop or without linearity, and in a place where each visitor
can come and go, to a point where individual perceptions can greatly
It seems that performances like those refer to real
hallucinations under influence and end up questioning the collective
and individual unconscious mind. Don’t you sometimes have the
impression to be like a shaman converted into new technologies?
I had never thought about that, even if I think this association is
quite funny. I’ve always been attracted by these intense conscience
states of the mind and the body, where the two hemispheres of the brain
are working together without upsetting each other. The questions around
the capacities of human perceptions, external or internal, real,
dreamed or fantasized, are fascinating me. The perception, of even
better the interpretation of what we perceive, put the foundations of
our own existence in this world. Psychedelic drugs, like all those
which are interacting with our brain, and that make it confused by
grilling synapses, are scary because they show us the malleability of
If we take a look at your past, we see that you first studied
architecture before getting involved in video and interactive art
through the creation of the group Pyramedia. How did this mutation
towards this multimedia profile happen?
It’s true that I first studied architecture, and it has always been one
of my passions and a recurrent inspiration in my work. But after two
years, I changed for the Arts Academy of Vienna. I wanted to integrate
the new course of Peter Weibel [Austrian artists, multimedia pioneer,
artistic director of Ars Electronica in Linz for years.], who was then
a young teacher. At the same time, I started to make electrified
sculptures and short films, more bizarre than experimental.
I was very much attracted by the Russian constructionism, the Italian
futurism and of course the German Bauhaus. And mostly, by this vision
of a next culture, at the same time inspiration and reflection of the
industrial revolution but of a certain utopia as well. For me, the
digital era is a kind of second industrial revolution, with similar
significations for humanity but also for artists, with its explosion of
cultural techniques, of communication means and of amplification of
I then started to work in my studio, in an alternative cultural centre
of Vienna. That’s where I met all the people who then joined me in the
Pyramedia adventure. It is important to say that at that time, in the
late 80s, techno music and raves were exploding. It was very exciting.
Especially because raves took me back to the idea of Gesamtkuntswerk,
an event during which everything was colliding: music, visuals, smells,
drugs, and of course dance. It was a very creative time and Pyramedia
was part of it. We were making all kind of videos, live ads for TV. It
was very experimental.
Soon after, with the creation of the Granular Synthesis project, with
Ulf Langheinrich, things became serious; up to the point where you
represented your country during the Venice Biennale in 2001…
We were very ambitious. We started working together because we liked
each other’s works and we could see a certain potential in joining our
forces. It has not always been easy because we were always negotiating,
but since the beginning the results were very complete. We didn’t
except to have such a success, but we hoped for it and we therefore
worked very hard, year after year, for it.
Most of the performances and installations of Granular Synthesis were
following a similar aesthetic approach, faces appearing on
multi-screens, in the dark, with heavy sounds and crude lights. I
remember performances like Modell 5, built on frontal images of pain
expressions on the face of the performer Akemi Takeya and on heavy
vibrations (1996), of Noisegate, in which the audience was circulating
along a dark corridor only illuminated by the projection on a screen of
a twisted face and of a virulent noise (1198), or Pol, with visual
samples of Diamanda Galas (2000)…
In fact there were two types of distinctive works in Granular
Synthesis. First of all the initial, that was introducing human beings,
especially faces, and then later, a new approach, more composed with
abstract landscapes, using more or less intensive flickers. One of the
ideas, behind the human face, was to create ambiguous, hybrid people,
human and machine at the same time. Another was to use authentic human
expressions and to transform them into artifice, in a constructed way.
Ulf and I were both coming from the “dark side”.
Subjects like isolation, suffering and unsteadiness were always on the
foreground, reflecting in a way what was happening to us in our
dependence to machines and multimedia tools. The extreme volume and the
reinforced use of bass of classic pieces like Modell 5 and Pol were
coming from the idea that we needed something very intense visually and
musically to create an immersive space capable to make you forget the
outside world, like during rock concerts. Moreover the use of faces was
referring to an idea of ego, to connections and quick identifications.
Presenting them on big screens, like half-gods, was clearly referring
to narcissism and vanity.
Is it from Sinken that the second cycle of your work, more abstract, started, i sn’t it?
Yes it started with Sinken and then continued with Feld, Reset, Minus,
Lux, Areal. This work of abstract landscapes was gladly more meditative
and peaceful, even if sometimes there were few reminiscences of brutal
expressions, of vague souvenirs. There were still infrabass and intense
noises, but with high dynamics and without pounding the ears. It’s
nearly melodious. Those works deserve to be appreciated on the long
term. They then reveal themselves as living plants, growing at a slow
but sure rhythm, in directions sometimes unexpected. When the première
of Feld took place in Pittsburgh, I was told that people kept on coming
back, again and again, after their day at work, to experiment the
Do you still work together? I’ve learned that the installation Form +
Sinken was programmed at the Lentos in Linz from August to January…
All the works of Granular Synthesis are still played, live and as
installations. This year in Eindhoven, during the STRP Festival, the
first Granular Synthesis retrospective took place and it was very well
received. We keep on playing together, but sometimes we interpret works
by ourselves, depending on our availabilities. But I’m surprised to see
that the interest for Granular Synthesis is still big.
What took you to work in solo from 2000?
I think that both of us wanted to have more liberties for our
individual decisions. After ten years together, a certain routine
arrived. Otherwise, my interest fill remains more or less the same: the
concept of civilization opposed to men/devils, the perception
psychology and the fantasies of the technological omnipotence…
Your solo work now seems to have the predominant place,
especially Feed that you have been presenting for years. Aren’t you
It’s true that the premiere of Feed took place in September 2005 and it
has always been shown since then. But, because of its complicated
parameters, it took some time to develop all its potentialities, and
especially a protocol of coherent work. Therefore it hasn’t been seen a
lot in the best conditions. But I’ve certainly seen it too much, so I’m
thinking of terminating my active role and training an assistant for
him to perform for me. I think that, like Modell 5 of Granular
Synthesis, it’s a work of art that is made for the long term. In any
case, the interest of the audience for it doesn’t weaken. It will be
presented in Madrid at the end of November. But it has never been shown
If some of your solo works seem to be very closed to the universe
developed in Feed — like Zee, which invites the audience to penetrate a
space of smoke and psychedelic light – others seem to be more subject
to cover new technological environments: the virtual spaces and the 3D
characters of Range, the relaxing frame of Karma with its characters
floating on a screen like curls of smoke, the freezing and minimalist
tempo of Scape… Your work seems to be more and more contemplative.
There is no doubt, the older I get, the more I get attractive to
contemplative pieces of art, with this romantic notion of the
landscape. It is a bit a reaction to this frantic all-technologic that
operates since the beginning of the 21st century. A reaction to my own
life, with these never-ending trips, those multiple projects, those
conferences, etc. I don’t find this situation particularly oppressive
because I enjoy what I’m doing, but sometimes I reach the limits of my
capacities. The idea of introspection, meditation, the fact to simply
remain calm and still, to enjoy the moment, is crucial to any
Interview by Laurent Catala
Website : www.hentschlager.info
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