WORK        ABOUT        SHOP
S.P.A.M. BOOK (APE 2011)
Pieterjan Ginckels (NAK 2008)
Archeoloog Van De Nabije Toekomst
    Sam Steverlynck

    Tom Nys

Pop Artz,
    Melanie Bono

A meaningful paycheck?
    Eva Plateau, Tine Holvoet

Creative entrepreneur in the dark
    Jörg Kohnen-May

1000 Beats, 1 Beat, 10 Questions
    Tom Nys with Magnus Voll Mathiassen,
    Cristian Vogel and Pieterjan Ginckels

Muziek en beeldende kunst 3: PJG
    Jozefien Van Beek

World Wide Winter
    Piet Vanrobaeys
1000 BEATS / 1 BEAT / 10 QUESTIONS /
   Tom Nys talks to the people
   behind 1000 BEATS
It is a contemporary truism that certain determinant factors have always linked music to the visual arts. Moreover, nowadays visual artists find a fertile ground in the world of music. Martin Creed classifies the song of his band with the same numerical system as his objects, Thurston Moore curates an art exhibition, Chris Cunningham shows his video clips for Aphex Twin in an art gallery, Chris Ofili organizes world music parties, Marcel Dzama draws the cover illustrations for an album by Beck and Phil Collins makes videos about subcultures in music: the embrace between the two art domains has never been so passionate.

Pieterjan Ginckels is, well, a YBeA, a Young Belgian Artist who is particularly interested in these kinds of cross-fertilization. No wonder that he is involved in an office for architecture, while still being an architecture student, that he finds an outlet in various musical exploits and design commissions and above all, that he is a gifted visual artist. Pouring together the most diverse influences and interests, Pieterjan delivers an intelligent and often witty brew.

His recent project ‘1000 BEATS/ 1 BEAT’ consists of a 7inch single in a wonderfully designed sleeve, featuring a single beat in a locked groove on one side and a composition based on this beat on the reverse side. The artist considers this record as a sculptural edition in a series of 500. These can be played at the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein in January 2008. Mind you, you better bring your own record player, since this is what Pieterjan enthusiastically expects from visitors. Their turntables will be connected to different sound systems and the audio-configuration as a whole will be fine-tuned by a local musician. People lending a record player, will receive a ‘1 BEAT’ single/ edition in turn. Later, the artist hopes the installation will go on tour and will present itself in another set-up in different cities.

Consciously, The Belgian asked two authorities in music production and in graphic design to collaborate with the project. Barcelona-based, British artist Cristian Vogel, who is known for his work as producer of techno and intelligent dance music with releases on labels such as Tresor and Novamute and under his moniker Super_Collider (with Jamie Lidell), was asked to create one beat. Furthermore, Pieterjan chose Magnus Voll Mathiassen from the Norwegian design studio Grandpeople to do the cover art. Grandpeople is an acknowledged collective of talented designers, working for clients such as MTV, Safe As Milk Festival, Nike, Territory Magazine and so on.

The collaboration went like clockwork, via the smooth ways of the world wide web. We took the same virtual roads to ask the three protagonists of ‘1000 BEATS/ 1 BEAT’ ten questions; from Berlin to Brussels, Barcelona and Bergen. And back again. And the beat goes on, indeed.

1. ‘1000 BEATS/ 1 BEAT’ is an overtly participatory project. Could you mention some differences from a normal work of art, in respect to this involvement of others?

Pieterjan opens with highlighting the fact that the participatory element of the work does not concern the execution or production. “Rather, I make an appeal on specialists in certain fields other than art. Their work positions itself next to mine; it influences me and pushes me forward. This piece certainly didn’t spring from the realm of visual art. Instead I started making connections between influences from quite a heterogeneous field of interests, a process from which the result does not situate itself firstly in the fields of music, performance or design, but in a visual art context.” Cristian as well as Magnus give some insights in their ways of working. The latter says: “We at Grandpeople usually work with products that have a defined target group, or at least we have an idea of whom the target group can be. For this project we had one simple brief: to make visuals that gave the 7inch an object-like feel - nothing more -, meaning that the object itself was more important than thinking result. For us result is usually connected with response. Pieterjan gave very few directions for the design of the 7inch. To some point we never work without a brief. If there is no brief, we make it ourselves. So, in the end, as with every thing we do, we solve a problem. For this specific project we just didn’t need to consider response as a part of the assignment. For Cristian it all comes close to his usual activities, except for one distinction: “Any type of creative production that I do is collaborative. If this is the same as participatory, then it hasn’t been too different to any other piece I have been involved in. The one key difference is that I’ve never met any of the other participants in this case and I don’t actually know who they are at this point in time since all communication until now has been 100% email.” And he winds up: “They could be made-up people for all I know.”

2. For each party involved, the project is a lot about letting go (‘The Art Of Letting Go’, as in the title of a Supermayer track): all three of you have to give up certain aspects in order to give other people/ other situations the opportunity to take ‘1000 BEATS/ 1 BEAT’ several steps further – away from your contribution. Is that an easy thing to do?

Interestingly, all three answer in a comparable, manifest positive tone. In Cristian’s words: “You can fool yourself that you are in control, but of course that never is the case. It is good to be conscious of letting go, relaxing even.” Magnus is more specific about where the pleasure of letting go stems from: “We seldom feel ownership to what we make. On the contrary, we enjoy watching things we have done, let people handle it with care or not, and see what happens. We are voyeurs to our products. So, this makes the whole scenario quite enjoyable for our part.” Pieterjan: “I like to involve other people - to enlarge the input and basically because it is more fun. It is often hard not being able to control every aspect of a project, so finding the right people to work with is essential. I would like to see this letting go happening in visual art as it can be found in music - producers, remixes, guest appearances, covers, ... In the world of music people call the finalization of a new work a release. I like this idea of virtually letting your work take off like a bird! Furthermore, the notion of control is quite an issue in my work. For instance, ‘Summercage’ is a worn-out beach cabin spiked with neon lights and an electrical heater. I reversed the purpose of the house, turning it into a place that tries to imprison the sun. Of course this is bound to fail.”

3. All three of you have to give up certain parts of the production process as well, be it concerning mastering and pressing the record, printing the record’s cover or staging and setting up the exhibition/ installation. There is an element of chance involved. Is that something that is new to your way of working, or is this the case more often? In which ways is it different and/ or similar?

“Chance is essential to my practice,” says Pieterjan. “I set out a certain set of rules in order to shape an idea; this constellation of rules creates a condition. Within this condition, I have to realize my work. Within this condition, my work exists. It is inevitable. For ‘1 BEAT’ I wanted to invite Cristian and Grandpeople respectively to create a beat in a locked groove and to design a record sleeve. But I can not control what my work will look or sound like. In the same way I can’t foresee the amount of turntables that will be presented at the installation ‘1000 BEATS’, neither as the set up of the available sound systems, which will be done by a musician.” Magnus: “We are quite used to this. We operate with software, hardware and production that is not really accurate at all time. We follow up every product we make, and are always nervous while waiting for the final result. Exhilarating and frustrating. For us, the most nervous part was if Pieterjan would like our design or not.” Cristian sums it up nicely: “It is not new. Chance is the spark that makes things come out real interesting or real boring. It is unpredictable, and cannot be modeled, thank god for that.”

4. Do you feel ‘1000 Beats/ 1 Beat’ can instigate a different sort of reception/ feedback than you are used to with your other work?

“The reception you talk about is one of the main reasons for creating the project,” states Pieterjan. “I think the project opens up to the audience in a different way: it’s more a do-thing than a see-thing. Also, the combination of Cristian, Grandpeople and me seems to widen the approach. This openness can be found in a work such as ‘Heimatschutz’ as well, where the work is intentionally left blank. The piece is inspired by the Swiss habit concerning building regulations, where people construct a similar structure to show the outlines of a future house. It is the most basic formal image of a house, leaving everything to the imagination and wishes of the spectators. ‘Heimatschutz’ refers to a small, existing exhibition space on the site where it is installed, threatened with demolition.”

Magnus and Grandpeople seem to have at least some expectations: “Since we are just a small part of the production - a part of a collaboration -, what the others have made can easily back up our contribution, conceptually and aesthetically. Although we still feel that our contribution is more of making the surface for something. The difference with this project and the commercial commissions we do, is that in this case the exhibition space allows us to see the actual feedback by every single person. For a designer this is somewhat strange - exciting and horrible at the same time.” Cristian, as a musician, is not quite sure yet. “Maybe, maybe a contact with a new audience that doesn’t know anything about me - much as I don’t know anything about them,” he ponders and to that he adds: “I like galleries mainly because of the openings and the free champagne and vol-au-vents although as a musician, I sometimes end up craving a bit more backstage action then you can usually find at these do’s.”

5. In a way there is a sense of someone/ something directing your respective roles in the process of making ‘1000 Beats/ 1 Beat’. Sometimes this is rather obvious (f.i. Pieterjan who plays the director of the project in some ways or Cristian’s produced beat that will steer the musical constellation to a certain point), but it can also be – again – this elusive factor of chance. Is this new to you?

Pieterjan refers to the second and third question: ”Certain factors can’t be controlled, which makes my works more human. There is a visible history involved – comparable to the aforementioned ‘Summercage’, or ‘The Truth, Part One’ -, technical requirements that have to be dealt with, as well as mistakes – like the malformed matches I used for the piece ‘Readymade’.” For Cristian, this isn’t a novelty either, which he exemplifies: “I am lucky enough to have worked for many years with the Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin. He’s a proactive director, and helps direct the creation to be in line with his greater body of work, whilst also allowing space for the expression of my own musical interests.”

The same goes for Magnus, who nevertheless can’t help being fairly thrilled by this project: “We usually try to test out things we have never done before regarding design concepts. Sometimes we get satisfied with the result, and sometimes we completely fail. As often as we can we try to do it the way of succeeding/ failing. But we got less to lose, since every project is usually fairly small in comparison to this project. At least when we go for the succeed/ fail model. This project is therefore even more exciting, bringing three different voices to the public, trying to make it a unison voice.”

6. What are your expectations about the public taking part? Is this in a way frightening or on the contrary relieving?

“I expect people pitching up and down the installed turntables and messing with the volume faders,” says Pieterjan ardently, “I expect them to walk around in the space: this way, they are the most important controlling factor of the installation. They will walk around in this soundtrack like points in an XY-diagram that shows the relations between different audio sources. This seems relieving to me.” “We like this part. Whether people hate it or love it. Total lack of public interest, on the other hand, that would be a killer. But I don’t see our part as designers will have direct influence on the actual happenings where this will take place. I like the project, and can’t see how it wouldn’t work out,” says Magnus, while Cristian – who hopes there is a public in the first place - has a singular feeling about the issue and admits that he doesn’t “communicate much with the public.” “Sometimes they frighten me when they come up too close. Still, I hope they enjoy the whole thing on whatever level they can.”

7. The project also seems to inscribe itself in a musical tradition whereby the manipulation of vinyl is essential, as featured by certain protagonists like Christian Marclay, Philip Jeck, Thomas Brinckmann or Dj Spooky. Is this relevant to you?

“I like the fact that I can indeed inscribe myself in some kind of insider producer tradition”, says Pieterjan, immediately emphasizing: “But, as a visual artist! Apart from that, it is relevant just like any other reference.” Magnus makes a distinction by pronouncing: “As designers, no. As music lovers, yes.” He continues: “Also, being able to directly influence the musical result is alluring. In these times when people change the music industries directly by downloading legal and illegal mp3s, the project feels just like a prolongation on this subject. The mass takes charge of their product, or the product that they have access to.” Cristian isn’t bothered: “Not really. I have been a DJ for fifteen years. Vinyl itself holds no mystery or myth for me; the records are just heavy and sound unique. My record collection as a thing is strange though – sometimes useful messages emerge from it, like slow osmosis.”

8. While vinyl record production as well as sales are on a decline, this project uses the material because of well considered ideas (the record as an edition, the possibility of extended manipulation, the cover as a large-format work of art, etc.). Can you digress a bit on this aspect?

Pieterjan: “The work was very pragmatically shaped and formed: it is easier to see a vinyl record as a sculpture than a cd or a tape. On the other hand, it’s probably easier to loop a cd than a 7inch.” For Grandpeople, there is “a parallel to the consumer taking charge of their product, as the music industry is experiencing at the moment. This is of relevance to all creative and artistic fields in connection with copyrights and so on,” Magnus notes rightfully. The thoughts of Cristian make a perfect transition to the next question. “It’s nice to make a record, it can be a tangible conclusion or ending to an intangible process, that of music composition, studio recording and performance. Artwork is the perfect partner to sound creation, and possibly expressing the cover art as installation rather than just graphics, takes this a novel step further. Perhaps not.”

9. The visual aspect has always been extremely important in the musical realm. What are your thoughts about this? And how can music play a part in visual arts?

Pieterjan indicates that this relation has already been a significant subject in his art: “This is the major theme of the performances ‘Nononoise Live’ and ‘Nononoise Soldiers Of The Night + Oranges (LIVE!!!)’”, he says, furthermore explaining that he wanted to “play with the visual aspects of concerts.” He clarifies: “I composed a soundtrack and invited my closest friends to perform it on stage. They were asked to construct their own placebo-instrument, and had to find a way of playing it. The result is an odd play-back show, like a living sculpture consisting of a dozen people performing their own choreography around their self-made sculptures. Nononoise is in a way the framework I created to let my work on different grounds gradually converge.”

In Magnus case, it obviously is very important. He indicates: “It is a very interesting symbiosis. But working with the matter on a daily basis, you get to feel a little alienated - you might even say empty - when dealing with this subject. The right person to ask is the common guy in the street who regularly buys music. At Grandpeople, we spend more or less fifty percent of our working days listening to music, so it should have some sort of influence on our work, conceptually or just unconscious.” Here, Magnus touches something that Cristian had given a thought as well. “Music music. You are right. We always want to work together with visual artists, it is almost written in the production and performance of music”, are his words. Moreover, he wonders: “But does it work the other way? In video work, which shares a similar linear temporal universe as recorded music, I guess there’s a straightforward way to combine music/ audio with the film. But I am also aware that music is highly influential in the meditations and processes that might form part of the creation of visual art pieces, like a cd playing in the studio where painting or design happens. Yet this seems to be mostly ignored in the final dissemination of visual art… A credit would be nice… “When I painted this I was listening to an album by Night Of The Brain”, for example.”

10. Have you ever come across a visual work of art that made a similar physical impact on you as music does/ can do?

“Yes, lots of them,” rattles Pieterjan. “Sometimes I get really excited when I visit an exhibition. I pass by some works and in the last space, I suddenly start getting into it. I start running from one work to another and I drag my companions along. Later on, I email my friends the website addresses of the artists, as you could do with myspaces or rock stars’s websites. Moreover, in a certain way I keep the option of buying and collecting books or works of art in mind.”

Magnus’s answer is somewhat remarkable; he mentions his native country: “Nature. Even more than music. Norway has an overwhelming nature that both conscious and unconscious directs your work and daily life.” Finally, Cristian nearly gets poetic: “Yes, I really like stuff that resonates in the mind and the heart, like the sound of a beautiful preamp or a great concert.”

Tom Nys, Leuven, Belgium.

This text appeared in the monographic publication "Pieterjan Ginckels" on the occasion of Ginckels' solo show at NAK Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen, Germany in 2008.