"Voice Crack's Art and Music"
excerpt from the original text
"Norbert Möslang: Cracked Everyday"
"Ear Lights, Eye Sounds. Expanded Cracked Everyday Electronics"
With text by: Álex Gámez, Andres Bosshard, Charlotte Hug, Christian Pauli,
Cornelia Spillmann,Dr. Mark Staff Brandl, eRikm, Franziska Kohler, Gieri Battaglia,
H. R. Fricker, Ish Shehrawat (Ish S), Jasch (Jan Schacher), Jason Kahn, Johannes Anders,
John Corbett, Katharina Stoll-Cavelti, Konrad Bitterli,Mario Gabola, Markus Detmer,
Mike Bullock, Nicolas Collins, Nora Hauswirth, Peter Hubacher, Peter Kraut,Pius Tschumi,
Ralph Hug, Richard Butz, Richard Jean, Salome Schmuki, Stefanie Kasper, Timo Reuber,
1984 saw the release of "Voice Crack" and the first instance of "cracked everyday electronics" explicitly stated as the duo's choice of instrumentation. Starting with a lone static pop sounding like a pistol going off in some abandoned warehouse, "Voice Crack" blurs the lines between room installation and concert. Recorded on March 23rd, 1984 at the Gallery Corinne Hummel, Basel, this record documents the duo's first performance with "cracked everyday electronics" and evokes at times a version of David Tudor's "Rainforest" gone terribly awry. Although recorded in a concert setting, the intent of the performance resembles more the installation "Lokalstradio" in that a system of interacting objects and fields of interfering magnetic and infrared vibrations gets initiated, only to be abandoned to generate itself in ever-varying patterns. At some point the duo leave the performance area and let their instruments run themselves. "Voice Crack" sounds very much like an old factory slowly taking itself apart, with components falling away, fuses shorting out, random sputtering hums and static, the sound of an electro-mechanical entity slowly fading into rubble and dust. The performance ends when the duo pull the power.
In many ways the sensibility behind this performance owes much to Dziga Vertov's film "Man with the Movie Camera," to which in 1983 Möslang and Guhl first performed a live soundtrack in the Kraftwerkzentrale Kubel, an abandoned power station in St. Gallen. Vertov's credo was to record "life at it is," without theatrical subterfuge, as life might be without the camera present. Vertov's aesthetic influenced other artist's living in St. Gallen at this time, including the film maker Peter Liechti, with whom Möslang and Guhl created a soundtrack to Liechti's 1985 film "Senkrecht Waagrecht," and the visual artist Roman Signer, whose 1985 performance "Ereignisse von und mit" in the Grabenhalle, St. Gallen also included the duo.
To Crack the Code:
Möslang and Guhl's work involved not only cracking the code or intended function of everyday electronic devices. As the Swiss art critic Ralph Hug observed, "The code of the seemingly autonomous action of a system's individual elements becomes subsumed by the network, forming together to create a new aggregate." This applied especially to the duo's concerts, where the musicians themselves, the individual machines, circuits and even waves of sound and light, gradually lost their individual identities to form a new pulsating entity. Another example of this was the 1985 performance "Radio Laboratorium," where the public was invited to bring their own radios and tune in to transmitters placed on four tables distributed around the Grabenhalle, St. Gallen. Dictaphones and other appliances sent inaudible audio signals which could only be detected by tuning into the frequency from each transmitter. Tuning into the correct frequencies precipitated screeching feedback from the radios. The performance was documented on the cassette "Radio Laboratorium," the fourth release on Uhlang Produktion.
During Möslang and Guhl's first tour of the United States in 1986, several concert venues announced them as "Voice Crack" and the name stuck. The self-released "Kick That Habit," recorded in concert on May 31, 1986 in Birmingham, Alabama, captured the duo in full swing. Hearing this record it is no wonder that Möslang had been unceremoniously fired from the King Übü Örchestrü in 1986, his last gig as a wind player. 1986 also saw Möslang completely abandoning conventional instruments. He recalled, "I found my saxophone and bass clarinet playing increasingly less stimulating. Electronic sounds were more compelling and the idea of working with movement and visual elements more interesting. Being fired from the King Übü Örchestrü, where one was meant to play very little, and that very quietly, also played a role in my move away from wind instruments and this particular world of improvised music."
"Kick That Habit" was anything but quiet or sparse. An epiphany in noise, the record sounds like a joyous rejection of all the musical shackles imposed on the duo by an increasingly anachronistic and reactionary European improvised music scene. The record kicks out the jams in such an uncompromising and confrontational way that it should come as no surprise that the duo could barely find places to play back home. As Jim O'Rourke would later write in the liner notes to a re-release of "Knack On," "Any thought of them playing at Total Music Meeting was about as rational as a Lynyrd Skynyrd reunion."
1987 began with a performance of "Draht," a piece for 20 meters of amplified steel wire strung across the length of the Grabbenhalle, St. Gallen. Played by Möslang and Guhl with sticks, violin bows, metal objects and their bare hands, the piece evoked the spirit of a raw electronic music, subsuming the performance space with shrieks, moans and interfering frequencies. "Draht" dates back to 1980 and was one of the duo's longest running performances, still being played until 1989. Verlag Vexer, an arts publishing house in St. Gallen, documented the 1987 performance as a cassette with accompanying booklet. In light of "Draht," it is interesting to note that Möslang has worked as a violin builder since 1974.
In 1988 Voice Crack embarked on their second tour of the United States, stopping in New York City to record with free noise pioneers Borbetomagus, playing at that time in an expanded line-up with bassist Adam Nodelman. Entitled "Fish That Sparkling Bubble," the recording goes beyond the sonic excesses of "Kick That Habit." It is hard to imagine a recording studio being able to contain the ear-splitting volume and density of sound. Borbetomagus and Voice Crack first played together in 1984 at a concert organized by Möslang in St. Gallen. Listening to "Fish That Sparkling Bubble" it is clear that, in their own ways, both groups had followed a similar trajectory. Voice Crack and Borbetomagus were made for each other and "Fish That Sparkling Bubble" documents the two groups celebrating this realization.
The Red That Screams:
1989 proved to be a watershed year for Möslang and Guhl. The premier of Peter Liechti's documentary film "Kick That Habit," with Voice Crack as the main instigators, brought the duo much exposure and critical acclaim. Liechti's achingly beautiful film finds poetry in the seemingly mundane of everyday life and the bizarre in ordinary Swiss landscapes. A cameo appearance by Liecthi, hacking a chair to bits with an ax, is just one of the many scenes in the film which belie the cliché of an idyllic Heidiland.
Percussionist Knut Remond, a friend of Möslang and Guhl's from St. Gallen, came into the Voice Crack fold, recording the sessions for 1990's "Ear Flash." This record marks a distinctively more refined sound for the group. Greater definition and separation of the individual instruments has replaced the earlier recordings' wall-of-sound ethic. Remond would remain with the group through 1994, recording on two more Voice Crack- Borbetomagus collaborations: "Asbestos Shake," released in 1991, and "Concerto for Cracked Everyday Electronics and Chamber Orchestra" released in 1994 and recorded at, of all places, the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City.
The duo also stepped up their art activity, initiating a series of multiples with "Krachbox" (1990) for Edition Kunsthalle St. Gallen, and "Radio Korrigiert" (1991), "Platinen" (1992) and "2 Speakers Drumset Operiert" (1992), all for Vexer Verlag, St. Gallen. They also managed to exhibit two new room installations, "Wellenbad" (1989) in the Kunsthalle, St. Gallen and "Kiff That Habit–Crack That Code" (1992) in the Kunstraum, Aarau.
Perhaps the most interesting collaboration from this period was "A Hole in the Hat," a 1991 performance with Nam Jun Paik at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen. Set against a wall of televisions showing a Joseph Beuys performance, Paik played piano and conducted Möslang and Guhl as they modulated a short wave radio with toy car remote controllers.
By 1996 Möslang and Guhl began to record with European improvisers again, since then producing a long string of collaborations which would exceed the scope of this article to discuss. Several factors contributed to their return to the European stage, the most important being a renewed interest in electronic music by a younger generation of listeners and musicians, including one Jim O'Rourke, whom Möslang first met when he organized a concert in St. Gallen for Illusion of Safety in 1992. O'Rourke not only performed and recorded with the duo but vigorously promoted their work, re-releasing "Earflash" on his Dexter's Cigar imprint in 1996. The 1996 For 4 Ears CD "Table Chair and Hatstand," with O'Rourke and Günter Müller, found the duo playing in a quieter, yet not necessarily more restrained mode. Another recording that same year from one of Butch Morris' conduction performances, "Cond. #70 TIT for TAT" provided further proof that Möslang and Guhl were brilliant improvisers.
Parallel to their packed performance and recording schedules the duo exhibited in 1995 alone the works "Aetherfetzen," "Loop 1," "Surfing Songbirds," "Ballchannel" and "Loop 2." Incredibly, they also found time to record a new Voice Crack CD in 1997, "Below Beyond Above." With cover artwork from their long-time friend and collaborator Alex Hanimann, "Below Beyond Above" marks the final phase of the duo's musical development. The studio had become a tool in and of itself, with all instruments recorded to multi-track and the resulting sound files later edited and re-assembled to create six tracks built around loops phasing in and out of sync, random bursts of static, pops and bangs pre-empting the surfacing structures.
The 1998 MP3 release "Taken and Changed" on the fals.ch internet label resulted in two tracks, "Yellow Cube" and "Orange Ashlar." The trademark Voice Crack "knack" is there but completely honed down to the essence of the sounds themselves, almost as if the duo were trying to penetrate to the very heart of their machines' circuits and diodes.
Released in 1999, the duo's last full-length CD "Infrared" continues where "Taken and Changed" left off, delving yet deeper into the internal world of interfering wave fields and crackling circuits. One hears the six tracks from inside the machine, looking out through a blinking diode. "Taken and Changed" also sounded harsher, unlike the follow-up vinyl release "shock_late" on the Cologne Entenpfuhl label, which favored more discontinuous loops and an almost relaxed sense of ebb and flow. As Frank Dommert of Entenpfuhl wrote in the liner notes, "Embedded in the carefully constructed layers are the duo's trade mark explosive sound events, which seem to have been placed with more delicacy than ever...sounding more like the shadow of some big bang, or like someone shooting into a pillow. Or as if they had dissected an explosion and used only some selected splinters."
Voice Crack's swan song, "ballchannel," a seven-inch single released on Meeuw Muzak in 2000, retained only the splinters. Documenting the 1995 room installation of the same name, "ballchannel" takes the duo full circle back to the long player "Voice Crack," the recording of an-installation-as-concert with Möslang and Guhl sitting on the floor of a gallery in Basel surrounded by their whirring appliances and blinking lights sixteen years ago.
In 2001 the duo focused their energies on a major new sound installation commissioned by the 49th Venice Biennial. Using hydrophones to channel the underwater sound world of the Grande Canale into the church of San Stae, "sound_shifting" results in a portrait of hectic Venice processed by a myriad of underwater acoustics and the church's voluptuous resonance.
An accompanying book with CD of "sound_shifting" included a photo essay as visual adjunct to the sound work. Taken from hours of video footage recorded with an underwater camera placed near a gondola stop on the Grande Canale, the resulting video stills lend a hauntingly elegiac aura to the sound installation.
The 2002 exhibition "two + one" in the Kunsthaus Glarus, Switzerland would be Möslang and Guhl's final exhibition together as well as their first each alone. Foreshadowing the duo's impending split, "two + one" featured the new works "glass_speaker" (Möslang), "readysound" (Guhl) and, as if waving goodbye, a collaborative work from 1997, "Speed Up ." The duo went on to perform a handful of concerts after this, but by the end of 2002 Möslang and Guhl had decided to end their collaboration.