Photo: Bryony McIntyre

Rolf Julius

Music for a Long Time


22 Mar 2009  •  The Arches, Glasgow


Solo performance by Rolf Julius: super-influential German sound/ visual artist. Julius' "small music" features simple, elegant snatches of found sound, played back through small speakers, often set in bowls of pigment, ash and dirt which shimmies in the vibrations.

Julius is one of the major figures in the first generation of European sound artists; he’s generally accepted as a pioneer alongside others like Max Neuhaus (USA) and Christina Kubisch (Ger), with whom he shares a similar affiliation/ affection/ development of the ideas of John Cage.  He’s been working since the ‘70’s. (His first major installation was the intriguing Concert for a Frozen Lake: “Several loudspeakers play the music for a frozen lake. I hope that the lake itself becomes music.” It was abruptly ended by the police, who took exception to a piano composition and put a premature end to proceedings under the guise of a disturbance of the peace.) He’s collaborated and shares a close affinity with both Felix Hess and Akio Suzuki, who have taken part in other Arika events (Kill Your Timid Notion 08 and Resonant Spaces in 2006, respectively.), if that’s of any help/ interest.


What is he doing?


Julius typically records, processes, and shapes natural sounds into subtle compositions. He calls this small music.  More often than not he creates installations with no definitive end.  In them he plays his small music back through small speakers placed in walls, floors, flower pots, woks, on glass, in some dirt or under bowls full of water.  Often these receptacles are then filled with ash or earth, coloured dye or pigment.  Very simply sound as vibration is made physical and obvious. For his performance here Julius will install small collections of speakers and vibrating objects, playing back and modulating pre-recorded sounds.  Interacting with this installation, Julius will mix a live manipulation of sounds from multiple ipods; moving them around the room and in and out of the installed, continuous sounds.  This is a recent and quite new development, the juxtaposition of small installations with performed sound.


Why is it interesting?


Julius sets up situations where we can think about the material properties of sound and the act of listening: starting, stopping and the space in between; where does stillness start (is it stillness before anything happens, or does it need something to happen and then stop for you to feel still?); how and what can the sound vibrate; what shape are the sounds (rough, smooth, jagged, flat and expansive). By making obvious the physical, vibratory aspect of sound his installations encourage a kind of hearing with the eyes.  That’s a big part of it."I like music that circles the present." What does that mean?  Maybe it’s a suggestion to think of music in spacetime: a physical, relational phenomena.  Or maybe it’s about the accumulation of lots of tiny detail which seem so consistent in time that you don’t notice change?   Or maybe it’s about how small sounds, once we lean in to pay attention, then get contaminated by Julius’ other small sounds; a small music that interacts in space and time?  Maybe it’s about something else, more elusive?

  • Audio

    Credits / license
    • Copyright © 2009 Estate Rolf Julius