For more than a decade, Berlin-based artist Nik Nowak has spent his time building a diverse series of sound objects. Combining art, sound and music, Nowak’s objects are designed to operate as both sculptures and functional sound systems. Even if you haven’t heard his name, you may already know Nowak’s “Soundtank“, a behemoth machine that’s part-Jamaican sound system, part-tank and part-stealth aircraft. Performing with his objects, Nowak creates sound collages that focus on the psychic and physical effects of sound as well as the use of sound to occupy space. From soundscapes, quotes and his own compositions, the results operate as a sound essay.
For his latest solo exhibition, entitled “Infra/Ultra” and on display at Berlin’s Alexander Levy gallery, Steve Goodman aka Kode9, founder of the record label Hyperdub and friend of the artist, describes Nowak as approaching the concept of an “‘unsound system – as opposed to a sound system – silent, with frequencies both too high and low in pitch to hear. The work charts the migration of vibrations across borders, between the audible and the inaudible, actual and virtual, past and future. Nowak’s unsound system threads together sonic virtuality, perception and time.”
For Infra/Ultra, Nowak investigates a new soundscape, this time, unaudible, yet exotic in many ways and not far from his home.
Goodman offers insight into Nowak’s process, “While trailing on the Austrian Alps in 2016, Nowak ventured inside the mountains” and recorded the sounds of his new environment, a landscape of inaudible sounds including ice dripping, wind turbines, bats, insects, animals and all sorts of household electronics. “Because all of these sound sources emit vibrations, Nowak used auditory prosthetics, enhanced microphones or customised recording device to upgrade and therefore exceed the human sensorium, making these inaudible ranges of noise and sounds” more accessible. Like the blood running through our veins, “these sounds are still capable of producing neurological effects or physiological resonances, modulating both thought and the body.”
In post-production, Nowak deleted all the audible content he recorded, aestheticising his impossible noises to reveal the not yet audible, the untapped potential. A sphere of sound that always existed but we, as humans, had never accessed before. Doing so, Nowak raises questions of identity, such as: “What do we really know about the environment people come from?” and “How can we perceive ourselves in where we are now?”
Within the installation, Goodman details, “the bass is played through a vibrating platform sheathed in acoustic foam on which visitors can recline, with six speakers playing the high/mid tones from a construction above,” giving us the opportunity to widen our perception and sensibility into new spheres and memories of constellations. Making the inaudible now, audible.
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