Future Forest Space (2017) – site-specific generative sound installation / music composition for Klankenbos, Neerpelt, Belgium

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Photo: Gerard Coenen

Future Forest Space (2017) is an interdisciplinary public artwork created for the Radio Forest pavilion in the Klankenbos forest in Neerpelt, Belgium. Its objective has been to develop a new musical aesthetic and function by transforming sounds from the forest into an abstract musical environment that would correspond to and elevate its architectural, environmental and social surroundings; the idea has been to create a “space of the future” – a conceptual as well as an actual space between architecture, music and environment that would invite visitors to engage in the idea of long-term thinking while providing a contemplative environment for everyday activities.

The generative composition is made of sounds recorded in the Klankenbos forest and transformed into abstract natural and musical sounds. The music is diffused into the space through the walls of the pavilion and the body of a large metal sculpture outside – by audio transducers installed inside which turn the structures into large “invisible” speakers – which softly emits the sounds into the environment. The piece is self-organizing in nature and basically infinite, with the sonic events occurring and combining in random and probabilistic manner. It has also silent passages of variable lengths, allowing sounds from the environment to come into focus again and appear as part of the composition.

The music blends sonically and behaviourally with the existing sounds of the forest, and appears almost as a natural part of the soundscape, yet introduces layers of novelty, unfamiliarity and artificiality to it. The sounds and musical phrases have been selected and transformed also with the architecture and spatial perception of the pavilion in mind, the aim being to enhance visitors’ experience of the building. Another consideration has been the everyday function of the space (an information and meeting point, a refreshment area, and a workshop and educational facility): the music should be non-intrusive enough to accommodate and create a new aural space for all these activities.

The piece has been inspired by curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s comment about how art and architecture should provide “spaces of the future” – physical and immaterial spaces that allow us to “experience” a different, possible, better world. It has also been informed by philosopher Timothy Morton’s idea of “dark ecology”, about our paradoxical relationship to nature and our future coexistence within it.

The installation was made for the Pfeifen im Wald summer exhibition in July 2017, and it ran from 21st July to 23rd September 2017. A recording of the music continues to be available to visitors at Radio Forest as part of its permanent soundscape archive, accessible from a digital information stand inside the pavilion.

A 45-minute excerpt of the composition. What is absent from this recording are the actual natural sounds of the Klankenbos forest, and the quality of the sound when diffused through the structures and materials. There is also an arbitrary beginning here, where all the six layers of the sounds start by playing at the same time: in situ the piece is rhizomatic and has no beginning, middle or end. The beginning is included here for the purposes of demonstration, and it is right after this first “bar” that the composition acquires its intended indeterminate behaviour.

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