Gerritt Wittmer: Unknowns
No Rent Records (2016)
I attended the Sound as Consequence symposium at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art over the weekend. Listening to individuals like Joel Stern, Eric Demetriou and Julian Day wax lyrical about non-cochlear sound, and auditory experiences in the institution confirmed that for me abstract sound is a powerfully emotive experience. And this experience is often overlooked.
Take this stunning tape by a veteran of both the Sound Art and experimental music scenes. Gerritt Wittmer sculpts an intricate trellis of field recordings, drones and ephemeral misamsa. Abstract in the extreme but firmly rooted in its own logic and narrative. Vague ticking builds into monolithic drones and jackhammers riding on subway cars through dusty tunnels and then expiring in a whir of malfunctioning machinery. Chimes ring-in demonic voices that talk themselves into near silence, a subtle hum. Suddenly feedback. A scream. Heavy breathing. Lonely footsteps.
Side B polevaults into bass driven walls of noise, grating metal and contact mic’d surfaces. The hollow hum of air conditioning units, scrapes and rattling builds into a full blown symphony of scree. Cut to air hissing out of tyres, or possibly the sound of some desolate landscape at 3 in the morning, no moon, no stars. Just a scratch that becomes a rhythmic itch that becomes a noisy pulse that dissolves into a soprano drone. One final ‘note’ that leads you home.
Confused? That’s where the excitement lies; teasing out the relationships between so many disparate sounds, allowing the waves to take you where they, and you please. You can’t have this sort of experience within an institutional context. You aren’t allowed to lose yourself when the white cube demands that you assess the social, political, racial, and gender contexts that each individual brings to the experience. I believe there is more to this than the cerebral.
Music as beautiful and mysterious as this deserves the undivided attention that comes with your own private experience. Headphones or loud speakers, darkened rooms and comfort. Dare I say that if you are willing to give in to recordings like this one by Gerritt Wittmer, there is potential for something akin to a spiritual experience. Discourse in a gallery context hasn’t focused on topics like that since everything became ‘post’ something else.