COPENHAGEN—A sound system of 25 hidden speakers under the ground of Rådhuspladsen, Copenhagen’s City Hall Square allowed artists to create any form of soundscape via a recording studio located underground. My contribution was a collection of pre-recorded male wolf whistles that were locally sourced and played back at the square at random times during a two-week period in July 1997. The whistles jumped around and seemed to come out of the blue, nobody ever knew who whistled, but many turned around to look for their admirer
Listen to the first unedited recording HERE
Interview By Aleksandra Mir with Michael Madsen, founder of LYD/GALERIE (SOUND/GALLERY), 2013
AM: SOUND/GALLERY (1996 - 2001) was quite a daring experiment. You installed 25 loud speakers under Copenhagen's busiest square where 25,000 people pass ever day and where you ran a recording studio and control center located underground, by the men's public toilets. How did it start?
MM: The SOUND/GALLERY emerged from the idea of being able to physically sculpt with sound, this invisible yet immensely plastic media possessing a strange and dynamic presence in its ability to arouse an ever changing imagery within the listener
Instead of working with the normal listening situation, where sound is flared from a speaker-point like the light from a lamp, the idea of a grid of speakers was conceived, where sound could be moved freely around, allowing the physical experience of movement to be added to the sound. It was also realized, that by hiding the speakers or putting them in an unusual position, sound could somehow be detached from its emitters and thereby enrich the listening experience. The ideal configuration emerged as a field of speakers creating an area within which the listener could move freely
As I was interested in the public space as a site for the chance encounter between artistic intention and casual passers-by, I realized that the ideal space for such a rendezvous would be Copenhagen’s Town Hall Square, locus of Denmark and site for many important events and as such also an inner space of reference in every Dane. It would constitute a unique crossing for the 25,000 people who daily pass through the square and induce a sudden suspension of space made purely by sound
You were free to broadcast anything your artists came up with. What were the politics of this situation? How did you get these permissions, funds and ideas?
The permission was achieved because 1996 Copenhagen was the Cultural Capital of Europe and the council somewhere wrote something like "bureaucracy should not stand in the way for good ideas". This was the argument I used to get permission and then funding from various sources, but mainly the "Cultural Capital" fund, from which you could apply. I know that first the project was put in the "No" pile, but a person went through the pile and said: "No, this has to be a yes!"
In 1996, coinciding with Copenhagen Cultural Capital of Europe, the SOUND/GALLERY opened. 25 speakers were hidden beneath the pavement to create a permanent 900 m2 sound field, transforming the heart of the city. From an underground studio, 4 audio tracks could be choreographed to sweep freely and independently around the area to create every imaginable moving configuration of sound
How did SOUND/GALLERY expand our notion of sound as art? What were some of the most interesting or successful projects that you produced? How do the activities of Lyd/Galerie relate to other achievements in this area? Where did this take you personally?
From 1996-2000 the SOUND/GALLERY commissioned 100 pieces by Danish and international artists, from sound artists to writers to visual artists to choreographers and children. In all more than 400 performances was given, ranging from pieces officially scheduled to pieces commissioned and performed only under special conditions such as fog or night time
In 1998, it was decided to convert the gallery into a portable version, and to search for new possibilities in creative sound experiences. Against the backdrop of decades of visual art housed by Kiasma, the museum for modern art in Helsinki, 'Transience' transformed the huge white wall of Kiasma's main hall into a silver screen of sound, diffusing hovering acoustic holograms into the space
I have since moved into documentary, and my recent film 'Into Eternity' I believe was also very well-liked because of its sound-design, just as I have been teaching in sound design for film
What was the state of the art technology of the day like? What were its limitations? And if you could do it today, what would be different?
Digital editing was all new, but essentially the possibilities were the same as today. I think I would have done it the same way today, but there would had been many many more artists with an interest in and sense for sound to work with. A festival like SPOR in Denmark has a much richer program that I was ever able to achieve