Archive for April, 2011

Are people living in urban residential towers a different species from people who live elsewhere? I don’t know but perhaps we will know more about this in the near future. As I’m typing this I’m carrying a small GPS-transponder that tracks my whereabouts for a week or so, as part of a research project by the Delft University of Technology. This device will map my destinations and the routes I follow (e.g. walking, cycling etc.). Meanwhile, I will have to tag the points where I have been. Because I do this together with some 50 other people, the researchers should get a tentative idea about our whereabouts. The main reason for this research is that the city council would like to know how the high-rise people go about in town in order to know which areas should be improved to attract more people to live in the city center. Despite looking spacious and somewhat empty, this city lacks space for large-scale residential areas. The easiest solution is to develop residential high-rise. But such apartments are only bought by a particular group of people (and generally don’t sell as well as e.g. semi-detached town houses). By knowing and understanding their daily urban pattern, it may become possible to cater for their specific needs. Personally, I’m even more interested in what ‘we’ do than in where we do it. I’ll keep you updated when research results become available.

Open Street Map by Tom Carden and Steve Coast


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From winter to spring

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Following my interview with Zeno van den Broek, a.k.a. Machinist, I want to point you to a recording of Transform Your Herz, recorded during the Motel Mozaïque Festival 2011 in Rotterdam. Enjoy!

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It is with great sadness to report that emeritus professor and famous town planner Dirk Frieling passed away last Wednesday at the age of 73. Dirk Frieling gained most of his fame as the town planner of Almere. In 1973, when he as appointed as the head of the planning office, Almere was a tabula rasa with ample room to experiment. In fact, Almere was one big experiment. Some of it failed, a lot of it succeeded. Almere is currently the biggest city in the Flevoland province and one of the fastest growing ones in the Netherlands.

I first met him when I did an internship at ‘his’ Vereniging Deltametropool. He was the official representative of the society. In fact, the society was not his as such, but his never-ending devotion to the cause of metropolitan development of the Randstad Holland made him an undisputed leader. Dirk Frieling was very energetic, sharp, and focused on the metropolitan cause. It came as a bit of a shock for me. With a background in Public Administration, I was used to think in terms of constraints or opportunities to further a policy goal. Dirk wasn’t. He was a visionary with clear ideas and goals and the current situation was no constraint for him. So the first thing I learned during my stint at the society was that ‘chasing dreams’ is as important, if not more important, than thinking about what is perhaps impossible given the current state of affairs.  The second thing I learned was that ‘good’ is not good enough. He could be quite strict and demanding to his relatively young crew. He could be harsh in his criticism but he could be equally complimentary. Most importantly, he was always willing to learn and paired his clear focus with the ability to readjust his thoughts to new insights and ideas. He spoke kind words when I graduated with a thesis about envisioning the future in policy networks.

We kept in contact over the years. One of the later highlights  was his final symposium when he retired from the TU Delft. The audience, including this country´s most important policy makers, planners, experts and scientists, was invited to vote for or against a number of propositions about metropolitan development. The fact that by far most people voted in favor of metropolitan development came as a testimony of his work. It is largely thanks to Dirk Frieling that I can only think of the Randstad as a system. A complex system, perhaps, but a system nevertheless. It means that any spatial development that does not take this systemness into account is a failure. Dirk Frieling knew that and he has inspired many with his ideas. He will be missed.

Update: official announcements can be found by clicking here.

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Perhaps one of the artists who come very close to understanding the urban to its full extent is Machinist, a.k.a. Zeno van den Broek. An architect by education but musician and audiovisual artist by profession, his multi-layered work experiments with our perception and experience of space. He does this in a very convincing fashion. Machinist has released several musical works on CD, his most recent ‘Viens Avec Moi Dans Le Vide‘ and upcoming ‘Of What Once Was‘, and has made video-art, paintings and installations. He will present ‘Transform your Hertz’ on next week’s Motel Mozaïque Festival in Rotterdam. It is time for an interview.

Hi Zeno. As Machinist you have experimented a lot with the sonic perception of space. More recent work has become more abstract but in a way also more concrete because you focused more on spatial distribution of sound and the use of field-recordings. Why this change?

When I started out with Machinist I was mainly focused on an immersion of the audience by making sound like a concrete wall; thick, heavy and impenetrable. Most of the time I created a very oppressing atmosphere from which there was no escape. But when I started working towards ‘Viens Avec Moi Dans Le Vide’ (2010, Betontoon – LG) I became interested in the notion of the void, let’s say the negative space which the ‘concrete wall’ created. My fascination for the void continues today and coincides with an evolution towards a more open atmosphere. I try to let the music and sounds be more open for interpretation by the listener as opposed to bombarding them with a clear cut mood in which there is nothing left to be discovered. I see my work as a constant evolving process, like a research by design and creation, so I can and will only speak about the current position and the relation of this point to the previous line of development. This also runs parallel and entangled with my video and spatial work. Perhaps by the time your readers read this interview my quest has already progressed to a next level.

At this moment I’m working with two main ingredients in my work: sine waves and field-recordings. I’m fascinated by the contrast of the non-spatial tones from the computer to the always-spatial sounds of the field-recordings and I try to use these ingredients, contrasts and cohesions to create spatial experiences which are open for interpretation and association.

You make considerable use of field-recordings from cities, industries and even nature. What is your opinion about the extent to which field-recordings should be manipulated?

For me context is everything; I like to manipulate the experience of the auditor by putting different field-recordings in context to each other and to the abstract tones I mentioned previously. By working like this I try to stimulate the listener to be immersed by the sound and to let them create new (mental) spaces from the details of spaces (the field-recordings) I supply them with, by discovering the(ir) context and relation between the sounds.

I can see that. So, what is the relationship between your music and sounds and the urban?

I like to be confronted with the unknown, to be enriched by something I previously didn’t know of, or to have had a view altered. For me the urban is a coalescence of heterogeneous spaces, people and other occupants which together form a constantly evolving entity, the city, and thus the perfect space to be confronted with this ‘unknown’. In some of my video works I work with these urban spaces, most of the time registrations of ‘uncontrolled’ areas with no video-control, commercial or private interventions, which I see as the true public domains, spaces in which the unknown can be encountered unfiltered.

You have a diverse background and seem to have a broad interest in the urban. What are you main sources of inspiration?

Besides from the city itself my main inspiration comes from visual and spatial art. Yves Klein has been a big inspiration with his notion of the void for ‘Viens Avec Moi Dans Le Vide’ and also for a part of my new release ‘Of What Once Was’ (released this April on Moving Furniture Records). The first half of the album is inspired by his monotone symphonies, in which a chamber orchestra plays only one note for twenty minutes, followed by an equal measure of silence. I take up this concept as a premise on which I’ve build an electric guitar piece in d, with the only variation being the length of tones and different shapes of resonance. Besides Yves Klein some artists I value greatly are: Richard Serra, Michael Raedecker, Tjebbe Beekman, Sigmar Polke, Giuseppe Penone, Daniel Richter, Lucio Fontana, Constant Nieuwenhuys. Your education is in architecture, you were trained as an architect. To what extent does music or sound play a role in designing buildings – or should it play in case it does not?

When designing architecture or creating music I aim for the same ‘goal’; creating a worthwhile spatial experience. I focus on the same issues when I design sound or architecture. I’m fascinated by Swiss and Japanese architecture where  a minimalist approach to expression is coupled with great attention to detail and texture. That attention for detail and texture is carried over into my music, I find it more important than grand sweeping statements. I’m mostly concerned about two connecting elements: space and its context. This context is addressed in my sonic works. When I record a CD, it doesn’t really matter where and when it is played, the pieces are not connected to a certain locality of the listener. The sound installations, however, are strongly connected to a certain area. My composition for Motel Mozaique will be featured in Soundpiece Schouwburgplein, at the central square designed by Adriaan Geuze. It addresses the role of this void in the city and the way the festival permeates in different areas in town. The composition addresses this particular area and time and will become meaningless if played in a different locality. Another work is ‘6.2.2’. This consists of two archetypical volumes, from which 6 compositions, each lasting 2 minutes, can be heard. The volumes derived from a research into negative space that comes into existence in this room placed in relation with the compositions to alter the experience of this space.

You hail from Rotterdam and it is great to see ‘Transform your Hertz’ in your birthplace. However, you moved to Utrecht recently. To what extent has ‘Rotterdam’ influenced your work and has this changed due to your change to Utrecht?

What fascinates me about Rotterdam is that it’s always in transition, which results in many spaces that are ‘in between’ their previous state and what they will become. I grew up in a suburb of Rotterdam, living on a high floor of an apartment building I spend many hours gazing at the Rotterdam skyline and analyzing the city, the building blocks and the space they create, which I think has influenced me greatly and is one of the sources of my fascination. Utrecht is a more static city of a different scale and where there are less spaces in transition to be found, I’m sure this will have its influence on my work but that takes a while to develop.

Let’s see, indeed. Thank you very much for your time and good luck with your upcoming exhibitions. ‘Of What Once Was’ will be released this spring through Moving Furniture Records and ‘Viens Avec Dans Le Vide’ was released through Betontoon.

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