Interview with Carlo Peters, Musician and composer of „Noises“

Carlo Peters (*1974) works as sound artist and composer in the fields of art, film and architecture. Numerous sound installations and performances at museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions. His work features collaborations with various visual artist like Rosemarie Trockel, Carsten Höller, BLESS, Paulina Olowska and Bojan Sarcevic. He studied media and cultural theory at Merz-Akademie Stuttgart and teaches aesthetics of music at University of Siegen and University of Applied Arts Vienna. Lives and works in Cologne.

Tobias Ruderer: I’d like to ask about your initial strategy: In your production of the ‘Noises’, were you attempting to imagine the spatial nature of the architectures, or was it rather: to design the music in a way that enables it to work within these architectures?

CP: More the latter: My approach was not to emulate space but to make the history of ideas about space, and the cultural history of space, audible. The sound design, meaning the overall aesthetics of each of the sounds used, relates to the language of material and form of the particular ritual architecture by Mike Meiré. What I wanted to create here were acoustic relationships. As a result, ‘MEM’ is very spherical and flowing, while ‘Elemental’ is also imbued with archaic and piercing passages. ‘Logic’ is more exact, more algorithmic, but it also plays with the aesthetics of digital errors.

TR: Did some of these aesthetic ideas go on to take on a life of their own in the musical material, or were you always looking to couple your work with the ritual architectures?

CP: Both. Lots of things come about as the result of the process and as the result of a musical logic, and there are also the recurrent acoustic and spatial associations that crop up in the layered dialogue with the point of departure. Often, the exchange with Mike Meiré on one of the finished first drafts pointed the way for further developments, too.

TR: In producing these works, did you progress from minute to minute, or did you have a concept for the entire piece relatively early on, a concept that you then proceeded to flesh out?

CP: Here to, I have to say: Both the one and the other. There were certain anchor points or planned tensions, and one thing added to this, more than anything else, is the re-emptying of the Soundscapes. Other than that, I have difficulty issuing such ‘reports from the workshop’; the things I work with tend to involve artistic criteria and music-historical forms more than particular rules. ‘MEM’, for instance, is the product of a host of interrelated artistic techniques, and I have great trouble putting things like this into words. You also run the risk of providing a mere description of the music, and the concepts also recur tonally throughout the various layers of the Soundscapes.

TR: How did your experience in film scores (such as for the meanwhile award-winning art film, ‘Jivan Up There’ (for the E-R-S Energetic Recovery System installation, Dornbracht Edges 2002)) enter into your work producing ‘Noises for Ritual Architecture’, a project in which you were able to orient yourself not by a pre-specified time limit but by nothing more than the aesthetics of a space?

CP: Insofar as the designated space, as a place of cleansing, is primarily also a space for activity as well, the experience with film scores was actually very helpful: Like a film score, the landscapes of sound for the Noises project also involved acoustic narratives for spaces in which activities are carried out. In the case of film, there are similar techniques of interweaving a script and the emotions it involves with the effects of space, or if you will: with architecture.

TR: To pick up on that notion: what script does the sequence/the structure of the various noises follow?

CP: The composition reflects potential events in the respective ritual architectural setting, both in physical form – the actions and movements of the user – as well as in a chemical form, meaning the variable nature of the materials used, such as the oxidation of copper. Aside from that, the Noises can be viewed as structures that invite the listener to ever-new interpretations. The musical script seeks to involve the listener and his or her perception of space, producing an inexhaustible store of new relationships between the listener and the installation. The musicologist Helga de la Motte-Haber once characterised sound art as a ‘networking of space through tonal structure’, and even as a ‘elaboration of architectural theory’. That’s quite fitting, I think.

TR: Then there is also the arrangement of the Noises into the respective tracks...

CP: Yes, that’s right. ‘Logic’ or ‘Elemental’, for instance, play with a classic three-act structure, a structure that is then musically broken up in order to open up new acoustic spaces or forms.

TR: In ‘Logic’, during ‘255.230.2 [a yellow]’, I noticed these short speech samples featuring a woman’s voice. They’ve been manipulated, and the things the voice is saying are unintelligible. There’s a similar passage in the recordings of a women’s choir in ‘Aes Cyprium’ on ‘Elemental’. Is there a message hidden here?

CP: No, not at all. What I was doing was to use the voice as a sound, and to strip language of its meaning. These are actually audible fragments of a transformation of syntax with the communicative purpose of generating a musical ‘mood‘. The natural sounds and water sounds incorporated in the works don’t mean anything, either. In tonally altered form, they have an entirely different function and open up new tonal spaces through lengthening or modifications of pitch.

TR: Which brings me back to the aspect of cleansing. One of the concepts of ‘acoustic ecology’ is the notion that the experience of a listening that has freed itself from recognition of meaning or message, a listening that consciously hears only the sounds as such, can result in a liberation, can result in a cleansing of the sense of hearing.

CP: Yes, and possibly in a reappraisal. More precisely, at the same time this liberation of hearing is scarcely distinguishable from the ‘liberation of sounds’ envisioned by the futurists or the proponents of musique concrete. Each approach also represented an expansion of the conceptual or intellectual space, not only situating this space in the ears but also creating new space between the two.