Critical barbs, barbed critiques

'I view art in general as the shaping of thoughts in contrasting materials. Personally, I prefer conceptual approaches - more thought, less material.' (hans w. koch)


It's a silly situation, of course: two rubber gloves limply suspended, each pulled over a hair dryer. Occasionally one of the hair dryers switches on to inflate the glove, which then extends an empty rubber hand toward its opposite number. hans w. koch also assigned a brief text to this slapstick puppet play, as if to offset its silliness with portentous philosophising: '... an old story: the wind blows wherever it wants and whenever it wants. sometimes a meeting just happens.' In many respects the sound installation rendez - vous (2000) is typical of the works of this composer, sound-sculptor and performance artist, who was born in Swabian town of Heidenheim an der Brenz in 1962. For one thing, it has the whimsical, yet undemonstrative and thoroughly refined sense of humour that pervades almost all his works. It's even hard to say precisely what's so funny about two rubber gloves trying to shake hands, or a stone caught in a mousetrap, as in der nächste klang ist nur ein steinwurf entfernt ('the next sound is only a stone's throw away', 2000), or a romantic picture-postcard stuck in an old typewriter, as if someone had managed to paint a pink sunset with the metal typebars (twilight-type, 2002). The same series includes the collective computer crash he enacted with his software program more&more, for which he won a prize at the Ars Electronica Festival in 2008.


Another aspect is his lack of pretension. koch prefers to exhibit his works completely without frills and with maximum clarity. There is nothing puzzling about little toy boats being blown about in a paddle pool by hair dryers (shanti, 2002) or a vibrator skipping across a drumhead (drumstick, 2007). Cables are undisguised, boxes unhidden, strips of tape unpainted. This ostentatious negligence is closely related to koch's self-image as an artist who is concerned, not with glamour or the mysteries of creation, but with making simple, even rudimentary connections. By exposing the origin of the sound, he makes the acoustical and visual side of his works coincide to become what he calls 'nothing more than two perspectives on the same work'. Viewed in this light his works, with their disarming candour, are not just genuine but well-nigh authentic.


Finally there is the critical element with which koch undermines the données of the music industry. It begins with his choice of materials, including such everyday items as steel wool, slot cars and rubber ducks. Even the computer is turned into a utilitarian object. In his performance cycle computers as musical instruments he eavesdrops on the computer case, short-circuits motherboards, strokes the lid of a laptop with a cello bow or generates feedback between the built-in microphone and the built-in loudspeaker. computers as musical instruments is koch's response to the technology fetish of the 1990s. He wanted to 'expose the fissures in the digital media'. Yet in 1996, when the first work in the series was created, he didn?t even own a computer. Similarly, an installation like leerlauf ('idling', 2001), built on the noise of an idling CD player, unveils the imponderables of the act of music-making by exposing the periphery of sound and aestheticising the purported weak spots in the system.


At first koch took a teaching degree in music, physics and history. Since 1988 he has lived in Cologne, where he studied composition with Johannes Fritsch at the School of Music. He then developed an aversion to 'five-line pieces' in conventional notation and finally succumbed to the need to free himself from the institutions of the music industry. Instead, as a member of the Krahnenbaum Company, he initiated such public scandals as his 'First Cologne Traffic Jam Concert' (1994) and unconventional concepts of what constitutes a work of art. He cooked and ate a meal and washed up afterwards in kammeressen ('chamber food', 1999) or had two hair dryers blow through the pages of Beethoven's Ninth in blasmusik ('wind music', 1999) or allowed four musicians to dismantle a discarded grand piano (requiem for a baby grand, 2008). In 2007, as a visiting professor at the California Institute of the Arts, he was able to impart his aesthetic approach to a younger generation: music without grand gestures, without the arrogance of expertise, without the mediagenic smile of a winner.


Björn Gottstein



produced by

Deutscher Musikrat gemeinnützige Projekt-
gesellschaft mbH


Zeitgenössische Musik

Weberstraße 59, 53113 Bonn

P 02 28 - 20 91 170
F 02 28 - 20 91 200

curators of the exhibition

Stefan Fricke,

Johannes S. Sistermanns