Curious Corner: Edwin van der Heide

Edwin van der Heide

Curious Corner: Edwin van der Heide

Q & A with Edwin van der Heide by our online followers.

Curious Corner, April 2011

Q&A's with selected guest artists by our online followers, aka "you".

Our first guest for the Curious Corner is Edwin van der Heide. The Dutch composer and artist goes along with V2_ for many years now and featured in many programs. On the occasion of the exhibition of his installation Evolving Spark Network and his performances at the Rotterdam Museum Night and Test_Lab: Active Listeners we've invited our online audience to send their comments and questions they would like Edwin van der Heide to answer.

Magdalena Pederin: We all got excited by lasers and LED's at the beginning of the '90. and techno era, but this installation reminds me that everything we need we can find at the immediate surrounding, like the light bulb. It is exciting to see how such an common tool can be used in order to create a spectacle, and yes, everything began with the spark!

Edwin van der Heide: Thanks for your comment. I really like working with physical principals because they often have a very specific own behavior that, if explored properly, can often be used to create interesting time-based spatial experiences.

"I find inspiration in the sciences (for example physics) and on the other hand bodily perception."

Shihui Wang: I'm from Shanghai and I'm now studying in master program in HKU. My main study focus on sound art. Therefore, I want to ask: Do you create works after you have clear concept/idea or do you create works by instinct/feeling? What are your inspirations? In daily life, which sound do you like best? Why?
Also a story about sound that comes to my mind; during the winter time in Arctic, people can't hear each other because of the heavy storm and snow. The sound is frozen as ice cubes. People have to pick up those cubes, releasing the sound by warming them up. By this way, they can communicate with each other.

Edwin van der Heide: I often get the idea for using a certain principal first and then I experiment with the possibilities and range of the principal. If that leads to interesting enough results I try to develop a corresponding compositional and / or interactive language.

For example; acoustic sound exists out of temporary pressure changes in the air around us. I became interested in using pressurized air in combination with pneumatic valves as a means to produce sound in stead of using speakers. Explorations of this principal and experimenting with different setups has lead to the work Pneumatic Sound Field. For another work of mine, Radioscape, I've researched the parallels and differences between acoustic sound waves and electromagnetic radio waves. This has lead to a complete new way of using radio waves: a perceivable 'acoustic' electromagnetic space. I find inspiration in the sciences (for example physics) and on the other hand bodily perception.  And for your last question; I have no sound that I like best.


"I believe we can 'compose' and 'play' or 'perform' on different levels."

Sven Schlijper: In respect to most important issue with your work; could you address the interaction of sound waves and sonic textures in respect to spatial environments and how can / does sound define a space?

Edwin van der Heide: I address sound and space in different ways. For Son-O-House I've used overlapping spatial interference patterns of (almost) identical sounds out of separate speakers. These patterns have different spacings and different internal spatial speeds. This works so well that you don't hear that the sound originates from speakers. For Pneumatic Sound Field I work with very small time delays between the individual valves. I create a continuum between spatial perception of sound and temporal perception of sound.

Sven Schlijper: How does hearing, in respect to Jacob Kirkegaard's works as Labytinthitis, in your opinion influence the appreciation of space? And how do you address the spatial hearing aspects in your own work(s)?

Edwin van der Heide: I believe we can 'compose' and 'play' or 'perform' on different levels. First of all we can compose for an instrument. Secondly we can think about the behavior and properties of space as an instrument and play that and finally we can think about the properties of the perception of the audience as an instrument that we can play. It's interesting that sound from outside can make our ears generate sounds internally. Maryanne Amacher's ear tones are a great example of this.

Sven Schlijper: Do you take into account the "background noise" or do you view this as musical sound too, as per John Cage?

Edwin van der Heide: This varies from piece to piece. Some of my pieces are more about control and other ones are more about creating possibilities for things to happen.

"My work is more experiential then narrative."

Georgios Papadakis: How would you explain the role of the audience in your works and the core qualities of their participation?

Edwin van der Heide: This varies from piece to piece. I often like to place the audience in the middle of the work (environment) and present a complex of perspectives (experiences) instead of one perspective (experience). I do this both with interactive works and non interactive works. I'm interested in creating works that make the audience explore.

Georgios Papadakis: What sorts of effects you hope for your work to have upon the audience, both in long and short term?

Edwin van der Heide: I'm not sure if I hope for an 'effect'. My work is more experiential then narrative. Music is non-referential but very direct in it's communication. I'm interested in expanding the abstract approach of music in spatial and interactive directions.

"The most important aspect in this context is that a work communicates well to (with) the audience."

Pinar Temiz: When it comes to "interactive sound art" what I personally find most difficult to achieve is communicating the influence of the visitor(s), the effects of the ongoing interaction on the sound generation & sustaining this clarity without making it too obvious and/or too boring (both for the audience but also for yourself).
Within most of the "interactive" works that address "sound interaction" as one of the main elements of their design, often times sorts of visualizations, displays or physical objects are added to the "design" to communicate resulting effects. But my personal feeling about these multi-media works is that they often times lack a certain kind of "intricacy" one might expect from them on the "sound" level.

In that respect, imho communicating interaction is especially a challenge when one's main, and maybe the only, material is "sound" and the quality of its "design" is high priority. David Rokeby's certain works (Very Nervous System or Dark Matter) in my regard are great examples of achieving such clarity in interaction without any "visual" or "physical" counterpart and still having a delicate yet accessible complexity. Although, in both works the experience is exclusive to one person at a time and that is not always the case with other works. In your latest work Evolving Spark Network for example, the visitors engaged are sharing the same space and I am wondering how much of a challenge does such a set up propose?  What are the recurring important issues one needs to tackle/ be aware of, when creating an interactive sound work for "multi-user" experience in "shared-spaces".

Edwin van der Heide: I make a distinction between what I call direct and indirect interactivity. Direct interactivity is interactivity that is meant to be perceived and understood by the visitors/participants. Indirect interactivity is a process that takes 'visitor input' to control processes but is not meant to be perceived as a direct interactive reaction from the work.

The Speed of Sound for example, is an installation that I realized in a former water reservoir in Prenzlauerberg, Berlin that takes the sound from the visitors (and the space) as input for the work. It's a self explanatory way for interaction in a share-space. Also Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100km/h) has a clear and self explanatory way of interacting with the audience because the sensors are mounted on the rotating speaker. It's clear from the beginning that it's the speaker that detects the people. The speaker 'chooses' who to interact with and the installation doesn't have to deal with all of the audience at the same time. For Son-O-House I use an indirect from of interaction. I use the behavior of the people as data to shape long term developments. The system learns and develops over time. With Evolving Spark Network it is less clear what the installation exactly reacts upon. The sensors I use measure the speed of the visitors' movements. By moving, the visitors can 'enter' their energy into the network of spark bridges. It's the size of the installation (+/- 12 x 12 meters) that makes it possible to distinguish the input from individual visitors. The behavior of the installation will expand based upon observations and new ideas coming from the premiere at V2_. 

Pinar Temiz: Knowing your compositional background I also wonder, how simple can you keep the "sound construction" and be comfortable with it's simplicity? Or to put it another way, along with all the computational process, use of sensors and algorithms, the space itself (both physical & acoustic) and possibly unexpected ways of the visitor(s) engaging with the work there comes a state of complexity over time, in how the sound behaves and is "perceived". How far do you tend to push this complexity, where do you find the "balance" and more importantly during your design process how do you test if certain decisions you made are masking the "interaction" or not?

Edwin van der Heide: The most important aspect in this context is that a work communicates well to (with) the audience. A work should include interesting developments and surprises. I consider shaping interaction a part of composition and like to confront myself with the problems arising when thinking in such a direction.

Magdalena Pederin, Shihui Wang, Sven Schlijper, Georgios Papadakis, Pinar Temiz.

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