Rolf Julius

'Sounds that wait,

Tones left over,

Music one forgets.'

(Rolf Julius)


To follow in Rolf Julius's tracks we need a certain kind of silence that opens the senses rather than encapsulating them. The tracks themselves resound, leading us to a bare locale that casts the observer back on his own devices. Since taking his degree at the Bremen School of Art in 1969, Julius has developed an artistic language that places the main focus of his work on sounds and noises, reflecting his encounter with the Pro Music Nova festival of avant-garde music launched by Hans Otte at Radio Bremen. By dealing freely with the media, Julius is able to project spaces into an atmosphere of precise concentration while intensifying our auditory sense impressions. He makes drawings with cables and loudspeakers: the materials surrounding the speakers alter the sound, and even the materials themselves change.

'I create a musical space with my pictures. I create a pictorial space with my music. Pictures and music are equivalent. They meet in the brain of the observer and listener and produce something new inside.'

Sound installations of this sort re-articulate spaces into auditoriums, making space as such the centre of attention. The translucence and inter-penetration of these spaces, with light falling through diffuse panes of glass, capture the blend of interior and exterior sound and describe a new internal form for the spaces. Accurate listening conveys knowledge of where things belong. All sense perceptions, rather than providing an image of reality, now entail an act of understanding, a possible way of interpreting the influx of information. Yet Julius is not concerned with synaesthesia. His works are meant to address all the senses, to reveal their connection, but not to duplicate them by, say, applying the same stimulus to different sensory faculties. It is this thought that gives rise to his idea of creating acoustical images of the objects around us and the sound inside them.


Music in things

Julius's Musik in einem Stein (?Music in a stone?, 1982) has become famous. It consists of cobblestones installed as ground-level sculpture, where each stone is equipped with tiny tweeters and emits soft sounds. For this purpose Julius captured everyday and natural sounds as well as instrumental pitches on magnetic tape and used them to give things back their 'voices'. Similarly, he imparted colour to spaces and objects by assigning visual or tactile attributes to his music. Like the line of a drawing, sounds also have a surface; they can be coarse or smooth, grey or red. This gave rise, for example, to Musik für einen gelben Raum ? presto ('Music for a yellow room ? presto', 1982), an empty office with white walls and a floor on which he placed two flat yellow tweeters and a yellow broadband loudspeaker emitting sounds that colour the room. Another of his works, Deichlinie (?Levee line?), is a photographic installation accompanied by two tape loops and a picture of a levee taken from the legendary 'For Eyes and Ears' exhibition mounted by the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1980. This installation, too, revealed Julius's keen understanding for acoustical points of view.


Music of small things

'Big sounds always get top priority. That?s why I deal with sounds that are not so brilliant and lucid. I often use tones that are soft, a bit off-pitch and murky, just to give them an equal opportunity. But don't get me wrong: these tones are emancipated, and anyway who decides what's murky or clear? Is a jagged line more beautiful or right than a smooth one? Is a smooth line more beautiful or right than a jagged one?'

Julius takes specific sounds from nature and his surroundings and distorts them to create very soft, static taped music for his sculptures ? what he calls 'small music'. But he tends to be sceptical toward the concept of sound-art and points out its limitations, which his art constantly reveals to be obsolete.

'Sound-art may well be a medium unto itself, and goodness knows there are many festivals currently devoted to it. But the term is actually a straitjacket. I'm more concerned with being truly free in my handling of the media, following in Cage's footsteps.'

The sound begins where the sculpture ends, and vice versa. This is especially apparent when Julius takes up the topic of emptiness. To empty a space it must not only be cleared out but purposefully filled with acoustical and visual stimuli that impressively highlight its emptiness. One example is the gigantic 80-meter transverse gallery in Berlin's Hamburg Railway Station, where Julius built his Musik für einen fast leeren Raum ('Music for an almost empty space', 1998). The empty halls were filled with soft sounds emerging from tiny loudspeakers beneath glass slabs sprinkled with pigment. The sound received a visual impression from the pigment, while the eye helped to guide the sound. In contrast, the pauses in the sound coloured the emptiness of the space.


Music of existence

'It really doesn't matter whether one paints or takes photographs. One can also listen to music or water the flowers. The only question is: who's got a green thumb?'

Julius's works project an atmosphere that Gernot Böhme calls 'the common reality of the perceiver and the perceived'. He makes their interdependence perceptible to the senses. By blending seeing and listening, many of his minimalist works make it possible to integrate feeling and thinking on an equal basis. He releases sounds from things and points up their material consistency. He is capable of taking usually unassuming objects from their neutral silence and reclaiming them for the world of human experience, at the same time lending expression to their fleeting existence as they fade away ? transience and constancy, the basic elements of all existence. To this end his works can be assemble d and dismantled at will and are independent of any given location. Their components are simple: cardboard boxes, peelings, herbs, pigments, loudspeakers, cables, bits of iron. He also mingles, explores and 'eavesdrops' on them. One example is the rusty iron disc in Sound Cooking II (2006) that lay around unused in his studio for years. A fresh, transparent sound seems antithetical to the coarse rustiness of the disc, but the contrast makes it possible not only to observe the visual texture of the disc more closely but also, through the 'principle of distraction', to perceive silence and emptiness. The manner in which Julius turns the old to the new recalls his cyclic view of time; his works are governed, not by climaxes, but by continuums, and their installation defines the spatial dimension of time.

Julius's works also recall the equivalence of the auditory and visual faculties, which can only achieve full or holistic fruition when combined with impressions from the other senses: smell, touch, taste, balance ...


Music for afar

Musik weit entfernt ('Music far away') is the name of a video installation for which Julius won the Hannah Höch Prize in 2005 ? a prize awarded by the administration of the Berlin Senate to artists over the age of 60 for their life's work. Julius was cited for his art of minimum effort and tiny interventions. His concern is awareness for what is already there. In 1982 he initiated a concert series in the countryside in and around Berlin in which the music was addressed, not to the audience, but to nature. He played a Konzert für den gefrorenen See ('Concert for the Frozen Lake'), a Konzert für eine Wiese ('Concert for a Meadow') and a Konzert für einen Strand ('Concert for a Beach'), all in response to a specific, living resonant space. Here Julius's music intervenes as a mediator, not only between the eye and the ear, but between nature and humankind, and also between nature and technology. Later he even wove a 'dress in notes' for a tree (Kleid aus Tönen, 1980).

Julius discovered his characteristically 'silent' sonic and formal language by following John Cage's precept of 'letting things be what they are' and by responding to Japanese culture. An artist in the universal sense of the term, he is capable of assimilating every genre of art and planting it in restrained, modest tranquillity.


Sylvia Wendrock


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