Tilman Küntzel

'Ever since I began to study art at the Hamburg School of the Visual Arts in 1984 I've delved into the question of art reception, especially as it relates to aural perception ? or, more precisely, to the interplay between the auditory and visual faculties. My installations should thus be viewed less as acousmatic creations than as multimedia assemblies demonstrating a system for audio-visual signal generators.'

(Tilman Küntzel)


Throughout his career Tilman Küntzel has added many elements to sound-art that are often associated with the genre or used to characterise it. His basically multi-dimensional mode of perception led him to study free art with Claus Böhmler and the Fluxus artist Henning Christiansen. He also attended seminars at the Hamburg School of Music and Performing Art, with a detour through systematic musicology. He spent a period of looking and perceiving with Allan Kaprow, whom he cites as his teacher, along with Christiansen and Phil Corner.


The spot beneath the grand piano

Born into a musical and academic family, Küntzel learnt to play an instrument more from a sense of duty than from passion. But neither violin nor piano nor flute had a lasting impact on his artistic voice. One of his most vivid childhood experiences was listening to Baroque music, preferably beneath the grand piano during his family's household concerts. It was his favourite spot in the house between the ages of five and eleven. Here he enjoyed the grumbling of the basses and identified with sound through listening.

Today Küntzel's artistic output includes sound compositions, radio plays, videos (recording, editing, sound), pieces for multi-channel loudspeakers, internet projects and a great many sound installations. He initiated and headed two symposia accompanied by exhibitions and concerts: 'Starlings over Berlin' (2004) and 'World Cup 2006 ? Radio commentaries in native tongues ? Synchronous recordings' (2006), held in conjunction with the Berlin Festival and Sonambiente 06. He builds and improvises on his own noise generators and tracks down analogies and transformational elements in his chosen twin fields of sound and colour.


Allegory of the desk lamp

Küntzel's Allegorie der Schreibtischlampe ('Allegory of the desk lamp'), in the exhibition 'Klangkunst ? A German Sound', illustrates one of his basic approaches. This piece, with its interaction between auditory and visual perception, produces sound-art only in relation to the viewer. Acoustically, the observing listener is transported into a world of auditory observation and finds himself in a situation-specific installation. The desk lamp, bereft of its normal function, receives a new interior with a perfectly fitted cone-shaped loudspeaker in lieu of a light bulb. The loudspeaker can in turn be switched on and off using a small button.


Algorithms ? Signal processing ? Perception

Küntzel discovers or invents systems. The music in his works is produced by algorithms. His interest lies in creating test assemblies in which, at the end, pulses composed of light intervals are rendered audible by a signal generator. He goads his observers to step outside their supposedly familiar visual and auditory sensibilia. Frustrated expectations and unfulfilled preconceptions lead the way into his sound installations. His topic is the perceptual stance of the observer, whom he transports for a moment into a quest for new meaning.

By interrelating site, image and sound, Küntzel leads us through enigmatic spaces in which nothing seems to cohere any longer except in the simultaneity of their differences. He thereby opens a realm in which each individual recipient establishes the interplay of audio-visual movements in space. It is here that his work in sound takes shape.


Teaching birds to sing

One example of Küntzel's work in the nexus of nature, technology and soundspace is his installation Unit für Stare zum Lehren von Tonfolgen ('Unit for starlings to learn pitch sequences') in Berlin's Botanical Garden (2005). These units, resembling birdboxes, were placed near breeding spots where starlings build their nests. The units were designed to motivate starlings to settle there, to learn signal-like pre-recorded phrases while brooding and to incorporate the phrases in their repertoire of birdsong.

In technical terms, these 'sound phrases' and a light choreography were activated whenever a starling perched on the branch. If it flew away, everything faded into silence. Having changed its repertoire or added the phrases to it, the bird will then fly into the world and teach the song to its descendants. For birdsong ensures not only progeny but aerial music in our urban and natural environment.


Being authentic

'My sounds are not beautiful', Küntzel claims. He takes every sound as it is. 'What interests me in the material I use is its range and variety. Each motor ignition has a different sound. Machines and their construction produce different sonic results.' Yet he does not analyse materials. His algorithmically generated sound is the consequence of his test assembly.

Küntzel has taught himself the technical expertise he requires for building and discovering. He sees himself as a 'gifted tinkerer who grabs everything and somehow copes with it, but not really.' Some things are built to his specifications. He's afraid of computer-aided conversion models. 'You can generate anything, but you don't know where it comes from. And then things quickly get over-emotional or conventional.' He likes active but dispassionate systems that explain themselves when the generation of sound, image and space is intelligible. To Küntzel, every process must be authentic. He prefers non-notated sound events, accidental occurrences and bland signal generators that reproduce the proportions and structure of time and temporal events, as is evident in his works with roses and poinsettias. The credibility of his art lies, he feels, in the way it discloses the very techniques, procedures, algorithmic controls and information processing that bring it into being.


Johannes S. Sistermanns


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
E zm@musikrat.de

curators of the exhibition

Stefan Fricke,

Johannes S. Sistermanns