Jacob Kirkegaard, born in Denmark in 1975, is a prominent sound artist specialising in environment recordings. Introduced to sound art in 1994, he has since travelled the world presenting sound art exhibitions, installations and performances. Influences include American composer Alvin Lucier as well as the experimental music scene evolving throughout the 20th century. His 2006 composition 4 Rooms explores recordings of four rooms left abandoned in the 'zone of alienation' spawned by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the then Ukrainian USSR. A Church, Auditorium, Swimming Pool and Gymnasium are included in the work. In each, Kirkegaard recorded the room's sounds and subsequently played this recording back into the room. This was then itself recorded and the process was repeated several times to achieve the technique of 'sonic time layering'. The work was heavily influenced by Lucier's 1970 work Sitting in a Room in which he used the similar 'sonic time layering' technique by using a recording of his voice reciting a short piece of text to play back and re-record in the room. Lucier’s work lasts almost an hour and explores the slow distortion of sounds created by the layering. Although Kirkegaard's methods are similar, 4 Rooms is unique in exploring the sounds of the rooms only, with no human interference. In doing so, Kirkegaard lets the room speak for itself.
The radioactive devastation the rooms endured is embodied in the eeriness of the four recordings. Much like sound, radioactivity also lingers long after its initial appearance. No less is this relevant to each of this works' movements which each present around 15 minutes of lingering atmospheric sounds. The loneliness and alienation of these rooms is important to take into account, all while keeping an open and inquisitive mind as to what the sounds and their repercussions could mean to you individually.
'Church': The choice of room here is intriguing. Being a space where music is often enjoyed, the sounds of the empty church are rich in sound exploration. As with most of the movements, the sounds, at least on first impression, do not change dramatically throughout the 13-minute recording. At first, the sound may be closest to that of a cymbal or gong lingering in a large, echoey space. But the longer the recording goes on, this automatic need for the listener to link the sound to preconceived and known timbres is questioned. It is possible to hear several layers of sounds and even pitches. Slow changes in timbre are apparent, but are so gradual they are barely audible. The movement acts as a fascinating introduction to the exploratory sounds of the following movements.
'Auditorium': Having been conditioned to the first movement's timbres and sounds, this movement's differences are immediately audible. A lower and softer sound is present. Similar to the church, the auditorium is also a place where music and sounds are commonly enjoyed. It is a jarring reminder of the room's exclusion and abandonment. This movement changes more rarely in timbre and pitch, maybe due to its potentially larger size, or other factors unknown to the listener. Perhaps the most telling feature of this movement is how audibly and obviously different it is to 'Church'. This indicates the importance of each room in allowing the creation of unique sounds and meanings.
'Swimming Pool': Next comes an audibly softer and less 'reliable' soundscape, with its unexpected bursts of random sounds and a blurrier texture. 'Swimming Pool' holds an important element to take into consideration: water. The movement's murky and foggy sounds recall the murkiness of a pool's blend of splashes, shouts and whistles and the fogginess of the locker room windows. Furthermore, the echo-heavy recording is interesting not only because of it eery quality, but because it is an effect we already associate with swimming pools. This makes the movement a clever mix of expected connotations and unexpected sounds.
'Gymnasium': As with 'Swimming Pool', this movement does not take place in a room meant for musical purposes, but instead, in a place of recreation and fun. This makes for an unsettling realisation of the room's complete absence of 'recreation' or 'fun'. This further reinforces the travesty of the Chernobyl disaster all while melancholically giving a nod to the past. This movement is also varied in its textures and timbres, however unlike 'Swimming Pool', its changes are gradual and hardly noticeable. As the last piece of the work, it appropriately ends with an almost inaudible tapering off of the sound.
To learn more about the work and composer, follow this links below:
Jacob Kirkegaard: https://fonik.dk/about.html
4 Rooms: https://fonik.dk/works/4rooms.html
Rita Fernandes, September 2020
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