Jacob Kirkegaard - Conversion

Vinyl & download only
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft
Cut by Jason at Transition

Track listing:

Side One: Labyrinthitis ll 17:24
Side Two: Church ll 16:22

In collaboration with Danish ensemble Scenatet, Jacob Kirkegaard's two pieces Labyrinthitis and Church are here interpreted by classical instruments. The intention of this transformation into an instrumental score is to explore the musical dimension and potential of the sounds that were used in creating the original works.

Church (from "4 Rooms", Touch, 2006) originally consists of ambient recordings of an abandoned church inside the radioactive zone in Chernobyl. Laybrinthitis (Touch, 2008) is a canon of oto-acoustic tones generated by the artist's own ears. Like most of Kirkegaard's sound works, both pieces are characterised by a strong focus on methodology, and by the artist's wish to omit any deliberate emotional or "musical" intention.

Jacob Kirkegaard is a Danish artist focusing on scientific & aesthetic aspects of resonance, time, sound & hearing. His installations, compositions & performances deal with acoustic spaces or phenomena that usually remain imperceptible. Using unorthodox methods for recording, Kirkegaard captures and contextualizes hitherto unheard sounds from within a variety of environments: a geyser, a sand dune, a nuclear power plant, an empty room, a TV tower, and even sounds from the human inner ear itself.

Based in Berlin, Kirkegaard is a graduate of the Academy for Media Arts in Cologne, Germany. Since 1995, Kirkegaard has presented his works at exhibitions and at festivals and conferences throughout the world. He has released five albums (mostly on the British label Touch) and is a member of the sound art collective freq_out.


JACOB KIRKEGAARD : CONVERSION

Composed by Jacob Kirkegaard
Ensemble: SCENATET
Clarinet: Vicky Wright; Percussion: Mads Bendsen; Trombone: Andras Olsen; Violin: Kirsten Riis-Jensen; Viola: Mina Fred; Cello: Sofia Olsson
Scenatet was founded in 2008 by Anna Berit Asp Christensen and Niels Rønsholdt as an ensemble of soloists and artists for contemporary art and music.
Recorded by Scenatet at Studio 3 at The Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen, Denmark June 2012
Mixed in Berlin by Jacob Kirkegaard
Executive Producer: Anna Berit Asp Christensen
Instrumental Supervisor: Niels Rønsholdt
Recording Producer & Sound Engineer: Peter Barnow

Thanks to SCENATET, Danish Arts Council and Danish Composers' Society for their support.

Reviews:

The Sound Projector (UK):

A pithy, innocuous title enclosing a tidy double entendre here: ‘Conversion’ signalling both the ecumenical matter of (side B’s) ‘Church II’, and the orchestral transposition of two of Danish composer Jacob Kirkegaard’s earlier, field-of-science recordings. ‘Labyrinthitis II’ is a taut but sombre exercise in which a single, suspended cello and clarinet lines are subjected to meticulous, miniscule modulations over seventeen minutes, purveying an emotional stasis somewhere ‘twixt the snowbound realms of The Thing and The Shining, albeit mitigated by the odd ray of survivor-spotted sunshine.

Traditionally, the sequel cedes superiority to the original piece, so if it is the case here then the earlier versions must have been intriguing to say the least (I say this not having heard them). Their origins are anyway: Kirkegaard’s methods aim to expose ‘potential musicality in hidden sound layers in the environment’ and ‘inaudible acoustic phenomena’, and so in the original version of ‘Labyrinthitis’ – named after an inner ear disorder – Kirkegaard amplified the sound of his own inner ear’s ‘Distorted Product Otoacoustic Emissions’ 1 and allowed the audible results – a ‘third tone’ (via deep inner-ear microphones) to play out for some 40 minutes, apparently with interactive potential for each listener: their ears being empowered ‘to sing’ as it were. My own hat (if I had one) I would doff out of respect to the scientific prowess applied to reifying an otherwise mystifying/mystical phenomenon.

‘Church II’ applies similar methodology to a comparatively conventional recording of an abandoned church that lies within the contaminated zone in Chernobyl, resulting in a pleasant (if predictable) stretch of arctic yawn over endless plains of nowhere, which is conducive at least to a contemplative state of mind. Interested parties are encouraged to bring the relevant apparatus (ears) and contextual awareness to the proximity of this recording, which has much more to offer than a mere ‘drone’ record.

Brainwashed (USA):

As an artist, Kirkegaard has made it his focus to create art that is as disconnected from emotion or traditional musicality as possible. Which makes the premise for this album all the more compelling: two of his previous works are rearranged and presented using classical instrumentation by the Scenatet ensemble. The resulting work is much more akin to his initial compositions than a traditional classical recording.

"Labyrinthitis II," originally released as a stand-alone piece in 2008, is based on the notion that when perceiving sound, the human ear creates a unique internal frequency, which formed the basis of the original album. Unsurprisingly, this does not carry over explicitly when recreated via strings and horns. What does shine through, however, is a sense of intermingling sound waves resonating amongst one another. Without paying explicit attention, it is almost hard to believe that such traditional instrumentation could be generating these sounds.

The other piece on the album, "Church II," is based upon a piece from his 4 Rooms album in 2006. Originally a recording of silence within a Chernobyl church and then played back and rerecorded in the same space, here it conjures the same mood. Echoing, distant roars of percussion fill hollow spaces, creating an effective sense of scope from an architectural standpoint, and of cold desolation.

The resonating sounds grow and become heaver, oppressive and uncomfortable. A sense of abstract and disconnected drone is prominent. It sounds like a natural phenomenon, generated from anything but organic instruments. When the more overt strings finally come in, they simply conjure up a sense of dread and depression, a perfect sonic accompaniment to the barren, lifeless location in which the first recording was collected.

Both Kirkegaard and Scenatet deserve high praise for Conversion, for the former his unique sense of concept and composition, and the latter for translating it from field recordings and electronic works into distinct compositions that redefine the type of sound classical instrumentation can produce. Even detached from the original material it was based on, Conversion stands alone as a beautiful piece of sound art. [Creaig Dunton]

The Liminal (UK):

Conversion sees Danish sound artist and composer Jacob Kirkegaard re-interpret two of his more experimental sound creations as instrumental compositions, performed by his fellow countrymen Scenatet. The first, ‘Labyrinthitis’, was initially produced using sounds created by the composer’s own ears (!), a form dubbed “oto-acoustic music”. Here, these vibrations are reinterpreted as overlapping, ever-evolving string drones, starting off in a fragile high register, before more insistent, extended lower tones shimmer out of the omnipresent haze. While the original may be more surprising, ‘Labyrinthitis’ is steeped in the tradition of slow-burning minimalism, and the way Scenatet recalibrate Kirkegaard’s organic source as stirring, increasingly present micro-tones that is deeply affecting. ‘Church’, meanwhile, initially started out as field recordings captured in an abandoned church near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. On Conversion, Scenatet recreate the ambiance of emptiness and vastness suggested by the piece’s origin, again creating a work of music that evolves gradually in and out of near-silence, to deeply dramatic effect. [JB]

ambientlog.net:

Jacob Kirkegaard is well-known for his unusual sonic concepts, "capturing and contextualizing hitherto unheard sounds from within a variety of environments: a geyser, a sand dune, a nuclear power plant, an empty room, a TV tower, and even sounds from the human inner ear itself".

The sounds he presents are always extremely fascinating, even when heard without knowing about their actual context - but of course it does help knowing where the sounds originally come from.

Capturing the feedback sound from a deserted Chernobyl location may not be easy. This also applies to recording interactive sounds to make the listeners own inner ear play an active part in creating the sonic end result.

But can you imagine concepts like this being translated to a performance of a string ensemble?
I couldn't.

Scenatet could.

On Conversion - released on Touch as a vinyl-only release (including a digital download) - the Scenatet Ensemble performs two of Kirkegaard's projects in a musical setting using clarinet, percussion, trombone, violin, viola and cello. Considering the original concept, one would not consider this possible at all, but the result is jaw-dropping - to say the least.

Labyrinthitis II, shortened to nearly 18 minutes (because of vinyl limitations, I guess) translates into sustained string chords, resembling some of Ligeti's work as used in Kubrick's classic 2001.
Somehow it feels like it is detached from the original concept completely, but the music stands firm as if it were a completely new composition especially created for this purpose.

Church II - one of the Chernobyl spaces in which the original sound was recorded - starts true to the original recording but slowly, almost unnoticeably, introduces the ensemble section as an extra added, enhanced musical layer - retreating again to make 'room' for the original sound recording.

To my ears, this combination of conceptual electronic music with a contemporary classical arrangement is unequalled, beyond competition.

And almost even beyond imagination....

Experimedia (net):

In the past Danish sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard has occupied the five releases under his own name with a scientific bent and was always careful to "omit any deliberate emotional or 'musical' intention," according to the press release. That changes considerably on "Conversion," at least in approach. With the help of the six piece ensemble Scenatet, Kirkegaard takes two prior recordings issued by Touch – one of ambient stillness from a church in Chernobyl, the other consisting of tones generated by Kirkegaard's ears – and interprets them with the bowed strings and gliding tones of classical instruments. It's a tall order considering the abstract and ephemeral source material, but Kirkegaard does follow a lineage of having works for tape and electronics transcribed into classical ensemble pieces, particularly Gregg Kowalsky's "Tendrils in Vigne" and Wordless Orchestra's version of William Basinski's "Disintegratoin Loops." "Conversion" maintains its roots more than those two works, and the results are excellent and unexpected. – Ryan Potts, Experimedia

In collaboration with Danish ensemble Scenatet, Jacob Kirkegaard's two pieces "Labyrinthitis" and "Church" are here interpreted by classical instruments. The intention of this transformation into an instrumental score is to explore the musical dimension and potential of the sounds that were used in creating the original works. "Church" from 4 Rooms (TONE 026CD) originally consists of ambient recordings of an abandoned church inside the radioactive zone in Chernobyl. "Labyrinthitis" from Labyrinthitis (TONE 035CD) is a canon of oto-acoustic tones generated by the artist's own ears. Like most of Kirkegaard's sound works, both pieces are characterized by a strong focus on methodology, and by the artist's wish to omit any deliberate emotional or "musical" intention. Jacob Kirkegaard is a Danish artist focusing on scientific and aesthetic aspects of resonance, time, sound and hearing. His installations, compositions and performances deal with acoustic spaces or phenomena that usually remain imperceptible. Using unorthodox methods for recording, Kirkegaard captures and contextualizes hitherto unheard sounds from within a variety of environments: a geyser, a sand dune, a nuclear power plant, an empty room, a TV tower, and even sounds from the human inner ear itself. Based in Berlin, Kirkegaard is a graduate of the Academy for Media Arts in Cologne, Germany. Since 1995, Kirkegaard has presented his works at exhibitions and at festivals and conferences throughout the world. He has released five albums (mostly on the British label Touch) and is a member of the sound art collective freq_out.

kindamuzik (Netherlands):

Geluidkunstenaar Jacob Kirkegaard maakt fascinerende installaties en albums die veelal werken met klankperceptie. Zo ving hij in 4 Rooms in navolging van Alvin Lucier de echo van de echo van niets dan omgevingsgeluiden om zodoende de inherente 'klank' van ruimten binnen de radioactieve zone in Tsjernobyl te presenteren.
Labyrinthitis werkte juist met tonen die het binnenoor zelf maakt na daartoe getriggerd te zijn door bepaald frequenties. Op Conversion worden Kirkegaards exercities uitgevoerd door Scenatet, een Deens ensemble.

De minutieuze geluidsinstallaties, -performances en -releases van Kirkegaard lenen zich niet per se tot her- of vertaling naar klassieke instrumenten. In die omzetting gaat de basale en experimentele insteek verloren en daarmee ook het in eerste instantie beoogde effect. Kirkegaards werk is immers voor een groot deel methodologisch van aard en hij zet daarmee niet in op een emotionele of muzikale intentie of reactie.

Los van de oorspronkelijke context van de twee stukken is Conversion op zichzelf buitengewoon geslaagd. In de omzetting naar strijkers, klarinet, percussie en wat dies meer zij, blijkt met enig compositorisch kunst- en vliegwerk wel degelijk een kern te liggen van abstracte hedendaags klassieke brille. Introspectief en tragisch, zoekend, dreigend en atonaal tot drone-achtig; Conversion zoekt en vindt muziek in Kirkegaards experiment en tilt concept naar en voorbij verbeelding. [Sven Schlijper]

VITAL (Netherlands):

Did we review the two Kirkegaard CDs that are at the basis of this record? Yes, we did, in one case. In Vital Weekly 653 we reviewed 'Laybrinthitis', Kirkegaard's work for 'otoacoustic emissions', highpitched tones that resemble tinnitus. Since then I heard a live version of this and indeed rang for long in these ears. I think I liked the CD version better, which I found was not unlike Alvin Lucier or Phill Niblock. On this new LP it is conversed into a classical piece, as performed by the Danish ensemble Scenatet, which is a bit like what Zeitkratzer did when they commissioned pieces by the likes of Terre Thaemlitz and Merzbow. One side as 'Laybrinthitis II' and one side has 'Church' from the '4 Rooms' CD, which wasn't reviewed. That CD brought Kirkegaard recognition worldwide since it used field recordings of the radioactive zone in Chernobyl. The instruments of the ensemble consist of clarinet, percussion, trombone, violin, viola and cello. In 'Church' this results in a very dark piece of subtle movements of the percussion and ultimately the entering of a two note string piece, that sounds like a fog horn wailing in the dark. I could have bet there is electronic sounds in there, but apparently it's not. It's a fine piece, but the one I liked even better was on the other side. Here the sine wave tinnitus experience is converted into a great subtle, orchestral piece of slow cascading glissandi, working majestically along and against each other. Slowly rising, slowly dropping, and more ship horn than fog horn like, and not at night but on a slightly unstable sea at day light. Gentle yet also, somehow, somewhere, urgent music. Beautiful slow static music, which reminds me easily of the best of Arvo Part, especially 'Laybrinthitis II'. A great conversion. [FdW]

France Musique (France):

"La curiosité discographique de la semaine est un très bel album vinyle paru au catalogue du label Touch réunissant deux titres de l'artiste sonore danois Jacob Kirkegaard. Kirkegaard est né en 1975, il est diplômé de l'Académie des Arts et des Médias de Cologne et son travail est tourné vers l'exploration d'espaces acoustiques, de sons environnementaux souvent imperceptibles dont il étudie la musicalité en les enregistrant dans des pièces vides, sur des volcans, dans des paysages de neige et de glace, sur des zones abandonnées, parfois contaminées, autour de centrales nucléaires mais également à l'occasion de phénomènes atmosphériques particuliers. Un travail musical assez scientifique qui l'amène à utiliser des accéléromètres, des micros hydrophones et des récepteurs électromagnétiques de sa conception. La particularité de cette curiosité discographique et qu'elle consiste en une adaptation de son travail pour un ensemble de 6 musiciens, une clarinettiste, un percussionniste, un tromboniste, une violoniste, une altiste et une violoncelliste. Une transcription peu ordinaire dont les sons d'origines proviennent d'une église abandonnée dans la zone radioactive de Tchernobyl pour la pièce intitulée Church, et de l'oreille interne de l'artiste pour l'autre pièce intitulée Labyrinthitis. C'est dans un style très Ligeti que l'on se laisse glisser dans cette oreille d'artiste avant de découvrir l'atmosphère à peine perceptible mais suffisamment inquiétante de cette église contaminée." [Eric Serva]

Norman Records (UK):

Always a treat to get a vinyl release from the Touch camp. This I believe is the Kirkegaard’s second release (4th - ed.) for the label and consists of two of his pieces transformed into scores using classical instruments by the capable hands and ears of Denmark’s Scenatet ensemble. If I recall correctly the original ‘Labyrinthitis’ was created in such a way that each listener’s experience would be different. Two frequencies into the ear create a third vibration by the inner ear and as everyone’s ears are different the experience would be unique.

I think the intention here may be to have a more explicit unified experience but I could be wrong. This interpretation consists of layered and extended strings, overlapping, seemingly creating something new which resonates but I honestly can’t tell if this is exactly how it will be heard by another listener although I think the meat and potatoes of the piece will be interpreted universally. I must confess that ‘Labyrinthitis II’ failed to evoke much of an emotional response from, me however after reading some info on the artists it seems this is an intentional quality inherent in the sound which is more focused on methodology.

‘Church II’ is based on an original piece constructed from ambient recordings of a Chernobyl church right in the radioactive zone. It’s a little like the sonification of radioactivity, ie. this is what I imagine radioactivity would sound like if it indeed produced a sound. An unseen force or intangible energy hovering, the overall effect is gloriously spooky.

CHAIN D.L.K. (net):

The spreading of crossbred genres like the so-called narrative ambient must not let you think about a new branch of ambient with relations to philosophers, as some people could envisage after reading the title of this release and the name of its author: it's possible that the notorious religious author, theologian, philosopher and poet Soren Aabye Kierkegaard could be an ancestor of Jacob Kirkegaard as they both come from Denamrk and Jacob's maverick sonic research could recall the definition of genius by his possible forefather, who wrote that "geniuses are like thunderstorms -­ they go against the wind, terrify people, cleanse the air", but this album has nothing to do with his conversion or any other religious theme, even if any possible hidden meaning of "Conversion" could be considered as holy to a certain extent. Jacob's aesthetics and compositional methods are quite outside the box indeed and this release with converted version of a couple of bizarre projects from his previous releases confirms his eccentricity. He decided to translate "Labyrinthitis", a piece which was the recording of oto-acoustic tones generated from Jacob's ears (...have you ever imagined to listen the ear of a musician?), into musical language with the help of Scenatet ensemble and the resulting "inverted" canon, which sounds not so different from some works by Gyorgy Ligeti such as "Lontano" or "Atmospheres") is so catchy that it could be considered a sort of enrapturing tribute to the intimate and mysterious wonder of hearing. A similar process of refurbishment has been applied to "Church", a track built on the sounds taken from an abandoned church within the contaminated area of Chernobyl: the first part of this second version is quite close to the original one, but the instrumental ensemble gradually rises and blends into the heady radioactive organ-like drone as if it were the chant of some spiritual inhabitant of that holy place after mutation. [Vito Camarretta]

textura (USA):

No one should come to Jacob Kirkegaard's work expecting to be emotionally overcome—in that regard Conversion is the antithesis of Górecki 's Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). Instead, Kirkegaard's desire is for his work to focus on methodology and be “free of any deliberate emotional or ‘musical' intention”; consistent with that credo, Conversion (available in vinyl and download formats only) is less musical work than sound sculpture.

On conceptual grounds, the recording is fascinating, as the Berlin-based sound artist has collaborated with the Danish ensemble Scenatet (consisting of a clarinetest, percussionist, trombonist, violinist, violist, and cellist) to re-present his original pieces Labyrinthitis (2008) and Church (2006) in instrumental form. Such a transformation is designed to bring into sharper relief the musical dimension of the sounds used in the original works. And what were those sounds? In the former, sounds (“oto-acoustic tones,” if you prefer) generated by Kirkegaard's own ears, and in the latter ambient field recordings of an abandoned church within Chernobyl's radioactive zone.
During side A's eighteen-minute “Labyrinthitis II,” suspended strings waver for minutes on end, their vibrating tones initially pitched at a high register before being paralleled by others at a low level. In this case, Kirkegaard's hazy material presents itself in a spectral style suggestive of a soothing kind of microtonal minimalism. The opening minutes of “Church II” evoke a cavernous, desolate emptiness—especially when the metallic, gong-like tones reverberate so powerfully—until the ensemble surreptitiously emerges to augment the drone before eventually withdrawing to once again place the focus on the original sound material.

While admittedly one comes away from the thirty-four-minute Conversion less affected than one would be by a work possessing conventional musical and emotional dimensions, the recording is nevertheless very much in keeping with Kirkegaard's approach, which has seen the Danish artist and freq_out member capturing in aural form generally unheard sounds, including those produced by a geyser, a sand dune, an empty room, and so on. The idea scenario, naturally, would be for one to hear the originals and the Scenatet versions side-by-side, but the absence of the former doesn't prevent the listener from appreciating the latter as stand-alone creations.

Le Son du Grisli (France):

Sous la direction d’Anna Berit Asp Christensen et Niels Rønsholdt, l’ensemble danois Scenatet – ici Vicky Wright (clarinette), Andras Olsen (trombone), Kirsten Riis-Jensen (violon), Mina Fred (violon alto), Sofia Olson (violoncelle) et Mads Bendsen (percussions) – enregistrait il y a tout juste un an deux pièces de Jacob Kirkegaard.

Quittant le champ d’une électronique obnubilée par les aigus persistants, Labyrinthitis, premier sujet de Conversion, se frotte alors à l’acoustique de cordes, de cuivre et de bois. D’abord faite de bourdons aux ascensions parallèles, la pièce conte bientôt une histoire de régénération sonore à laquelle œuvrent des instruments qui soignent leur cohésion, et leur interprétation avec, à mesure que le temps passe – la superposition de lignes induites et toujours fragiles ayant pour plus bel effet de faire frémir l’assurance de la composition.

Church II – dont on trouve l’origine sur 4 Rooms que produisit jadis le même label – se souvient quant à elle de l’enregistrement des respirations d’une église abandonnée de Tchernobyl. Cette fois, Jacob Kirkegaard dévoile plusieurs couches de sons et d’ambiances que se disputent mirages et mystères. Conversion, d’avoir ainsi fait doublement effet. [Guillaume Belhomme]



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