De-masking Daniel Neumann

De-masking Daniel Neumann

De-masking Daniel Neumann

In preparation for his upcoming walks, “De-masking the Bridges”, we asked sound artist Daniel Neumann some questions about his work.

EC: Ok, for those who might not be familiar, what is “masking”?

DN: Masking happens when you put a certain article on your face to cover it, to hide, what is underneath. And audio masking is quite similar, in that a sound with a higher amplitude, a louder sound, completely covers the sounds with lower amplitude, the quieter sounds. When masking happens, the quieter sound may still be there, but our ears can't perceive it anymore. This question of whether the sounds disappear or just our perception of them, is also one of the side topics of the walk.

EC: How did you decide upon DUMBO for “De-masking the Bridges”?

DN: It's kind of hard to say what came first, the idea to make a soundwalk about the masking effect or DUMBO as a location with a very special acoustic environment. The density of very different surroundings in this small area really fascinated me. And because there are so many layers of sounds that are always changing, blending and competing, there is always “masking”. I also like DUMBO with it's post-industrial character and with all the initiatives to "improve" it, to make it a leisure area. This conflict is very apparent on an acoustic level, as if the industrial soundscape still wants to remind us or catch us somehow. It is as if the past is masking the improved “now”. I also wanted to create a noise walk rather than trying to find a few quiet spots for leisurely consumption.

EC: In researching the area, did it sound like how you expected? Were there any surprises?

DN: Part of my walking practice is trying not to expect too much, because only then my perception can stay open. This is especially important when researching an area. But since I'm still practicing - I didn't quite expect the Manhattan Bridge to dominate the area as much. The Brooklyn Bridge and the BQE seem almost quiet in comparison. So the soundscape is kind of tilted, away from the Manhattan Bridge. But in this way, the acoustic shadows are stronger and sharper and reveal some pretty interesting effects.

EC: What is the best way to document these walks? Do you make recordings of them? How do you prefer to document them?

DN: The ideal way of documenting them is step by step! Or in the memory of the participants. But since these two ways are fairly difficult to handle in an archive, my preferred way of documenting a walk is the score, which usually is a map with the route and marked points where the group stops. Then, I make notes and comments for what I might say at the different points. This way the documentation can hardly be confused with the actual experience, which is why I don't really like video recordings. Video always pretends to give one the experience, but it never really does. I guess if it's well-edited and made into a feature, it can talk about the walk—because it would be clearly different from the walk. I would still prefer a radio feature that is made of field recordings, where we use recordings during the walk with comments. The visual defines so much and focuses on particular objects, whereas audio leaves more space. Audio leaves space for imagination. Since one has to create the image of the bird you're hearing.

Further, the visual is also always directed. It points towards something, whereas listening puts you in the center. Audio talks about space in much more refined ways, since our two ears are the organ for spatial orientation. Anyway, so far I've only archived the scores of my walks. I also think it makes the moment of the walk itself more special and heightens this real-world experience, because you just can't rely on some future mediated engagement with it. It just happens now...

EC: How does the theme of de-masking tie in with your other work?

DN: That's an interesting question. I've never tried to read my other work in terms of its de-masking-ness: In my live concerts I like to use the room as a filter, in the way as Alvin Lucier did in his piece "I am sitting in a room". Through playing back a certain sound into a room and recording it, playing it back again and re-recording it, the characteristics of the room get amplified. This can be seen as a process of de-masking the characteristics of spaces. A recording of my latest concert can be found here.

Another concert practice is what I call Modular Collaboration. It is a form of collaborative composition for electroacoustic live concerts or installations, where the participants interact as equals in the formulation of modules. This modular structure is reflected less on the technical but primarily on the compositional level, because the modules are independent, only connected through a conceptual theme. Each participant creates his/her own approach and finds a place in the overall system that is being developed. In concerts, these processes run simultaneously. Through modular collaborations, a non-hierarchical, decentralized form of organization is put into practice, replacing the single composer as the creative genius. In our context I would say: De-mask the genius!

Daniel Neumann will be giving a series of soundwalks through DUMBO starting on May 23rd.
See here for more info on his walk and here for his website.