Andreas Weiland 

Baudouin Oosterlynck: A sound artist who is setting people free to discover the world’s sounds
Reflections on Baudouin Oosterlynck’s Exhibition in Stavelot
       “L’art comme l’amour
est un instant de coïncidence
avec soi, avec l’autre, avec le
monde.”  (Déc. 1994)

          Baudouin Oosterlynck

A Desire to let us understand situations of listening

Baudouin Osterlynck is a sound artist living in Belgium.(1) He has not only composed noteworthy works (recorded on CD and long playing records, some of which are available at present from Metaphone).(2) He is also the editor of two important books containing statements by experimental composers in Belgium.* Last not least, he has undertaken research into the specificities of sounds related to and issuing from specific locations, both in ordinary places, in the streets and back alleys at home, and during his travels where he was listening, for instance, to the sounds of the wind brushing the earth and rocks of the Spanish highlands, and to the noises of places close to the Norwegian North Cape. 

His conclusion or credo is very pertinent: “Je tiens toujours compte des particulatés acoustiques du lieu où se deroule la manifestation [sonore].” “I alway pay attention to the acoustic particularities of the place where the [sound] manifestation takes place..."  Where it develops…

Such attention to the particularities of place, to the intimate relationship between the material aspects of place, space and sound could not but turn ‘situationist’, in a way. That is to say, attentive to the specificity of situations. And certainly more in the sense  that Jean-Paul Sartre awarded to this word than in the slightly different sense preferred by Guy Debord.(3)
We are situated, as human beings, but that implies that our actions, that the results of our creative production, that our discoveries of man-made as well as natural phenomena (and their interaction) are also situated. Situated in space, time, history, a particular society. An exploration into the realm of located sound(s), of sound(s) traversing not abstract but concrete space, architectural space, street space, space in nature today, is an activity that is always situated. And, in the case of Baudouin Oosterlynck, it has unearthed in him, as a progressive artist, a desire from which has sprung a goal, a task, a project: “faire entendre ces situations d’ecoute...” To let others “understand these situations of listening.” 

Not surprisingly, it also enticed him to developing specific ‘hearing aids’ or ‘instruments of listening’ (‘instruments d’écoute’). 
They range from the stethoscope to curious objects, attached to the ear (or ears): ‘instruments’ that open up to the sounds like large funnels, like horns that are similar, in a way, to the horn of old grammophones. 

Sooner or later it was inevitable for him that such instruments evolved into a large array of even more varied  ‘objects’: Objects that are instruments of listening and instruments of playing at the same time.  Things that are producing as yet undiscovered, new, otherwise unknown sounds. 

Facing such objects we often discover that, due to the attached stethoscopes, it is always the player who is the only possible audience.(4) And thus, listening, actively receiving, becoming aware of sounds becomes as important as playing, if not more important. To quote the artist and experimenting inventor of these instruments once more: “La façon dont les gens reçoivent la musique est plus importante que la musique. Je crois que c’est l’essentiel.” “The way in which people receive the music is more important than the music. I believe that this is exactly that which is essential.” 

This is a political and philosophical position seldom shared today by artists and other people in the ‘milieu’ of culture where the contemporary Capitalist ‘industry of culture’  – Kulturindustrie, as Adorno called it (5)  – attempts, by all means, to fortify the separation between the roles of ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’, between supposedly exclusively active artist, musician, inventor etc., and supposedly passive, ‘consuming,’ ‘entertained’ recipient.

In contrast to the still dominating tendencies of a mediocre and stultifying Capitalist ‘industry of culture’ brandishing more than ever a silly mock-diversity (of fashions and marketable trends) that can justly be said to camouflage the on-going homogenization inscribed into a globalized mode of consumerist ‘introduction to art’ and entertainment in the arts (reaching from MTV to MOMA, from ARTE [the TV station] and the CENTRE POMPIDOU to art fairs across the world – Shanghai certainly being included), subversive artists have chosen very clearly to practice art as a means of activation of the public and of inclusion.  Already before the Second World War, the left-wing playright Bertolt Brecht was bent on breaking down the barrier that separates the performing actor from the public.(6) With respect to his dialectic plays that posed questions in order to stimulate the quest to think and to discover in the audience, Brecht even hoped that the actors would at the same time be the discovering audience. There was perhaps no need for an audience beyond this, but a need for everyone in society to become actor and audience at the same time. 

With regard to sculptures in the public sphere, Jochen Gerz has lately affirmed the same position.(7) And I think that Baudouin Oosterlynck, in the course of his creative evolution and experimentation, has come to embrace this position, as well. 
By inducing people, ordinary folk outside the musical professions, to produce and discover sounds never heard by them before,  Oosterlynck is practicing an  approach as a sound artist that is both radically democratic and fundamentally anarchist.(8) At the same time, he steps out of the limelight as experimenting artist, as inventor in the field of “sound art” because (as John  Cage would have said, too), the individual sound artist or composer is not that important, at all.  What matters, is the discovery of sounds. Of music, that is. And the liberation of the listeners, the people, who discover their potential as creators, by becoming creative listeners, actice receivers and searching creators, at the same time. 

Just as liberated theater that was tearing down the distinction between ‘actors’ and ‘the public’, such liberated sound art becomes a socioculturally significant field of experimentation and a model for a liberated society in which the hierarchy between rulers and ruled, classe politique and voters, experts and laymen, bosses or  managers and workers no longer is taken for granted. Where, in other words, such hierarchies do no longer apply but are thrown on the scrapyard of history where they finally, after all, deserve to wither way for good.

musique de chambres: The exhibition of the ‘instruments of listening’ at the Galerie Triangle Bleu in Stavelot (Belgium)

That experimental artists can become researchers probing into the roots and creative beginnings of their art, and that they turn as a consequence into collectors of relevant items, could be observed in the case of the film-maker Werner Nekes whose large collection of items that foreshadow cinema as we know it was shown in various important exhibitions, in Germany as well as abroad.(9)

Isn’t Baudouin Oosterlynck’s collection of experimental ‘musical instruments’ that are also and above all listening instruments, to be played by whoever feels an urge to do so, as worthy to be presented in Kinshasa and Cairo, Buenos Aires and Beijing, Los Angeles and Des Moines, Iowa, and Limoges, France? Not to forget Paris, France and Odessa, by the Black Sea? 

For now, we can see this collection at the Galerie Triangle Blue in Stavelot, Belgium. A collection of great importance. But in contrast to the cinematographic forerunners discovered by Werner Nekes, the items in this collection are the works of a pioneering sound artist, mostly new works presented in this completeness for the first time to a larger public.

The exhibition which is entitled “musique des chambres”, is announced as a “presentation of musical instruments, among them historic pieces, listening instruments, and drawings of scores (“partitions-dessins”) by a pioneer of sound-art (“pionnier de l’art du son”).

The quantity of the diverse instruments and of the accompanying drawings by Baudouin Osterlynck is astounding. And it is, therefore, foregivable perhaps that I single out only a few of them.

*       *       *

Entering the exhibition, the first instrument that catches my attention is opus 177, called ad libitum no. 4 (pour Ocarina et stéthoscope, July 2005). 
It is a small instrument, apparently made of porcelain. Its shape is a bit like that of a fish. Or the aerodynamically designed body of a modern plane. Or perhaps a Zeppelin, or a submarine. As we see this object placed in front of us, we note a  number of small holes forming a straight line on its top, arranged somewhat like the windows of a passenger plane. They are holes that the fingers can play on, as if it were a flute. They are all of the same size, and the interspaces between them are probably identical. Something like the spout of a tea can protrudes from this object at its side, a bit like the ‘turret’of a submarine. It is connected to a stethoscope. 
As we, the visitors, put the plugs of the stethoscope into our ears and begin to play this instrument, perhaps naively, with our clumsy fingers, this shell-like instrument, due to its material, the form of its ‘belly,’ the movement and compression of the air inside it, emits a sequence of sounds that continues to vary, as we go on playing the ad libitum no. 4. 

The name chosen for this instrument and the others of this series of instruments presented by Baudouin Oosterlynck, Ad libitum, is of course programmatic. “As you like,” is the message, the advice, the exhortation. Give in  to your child-like urge to discover sounds, as you curiously experiment with this instrument, finding out what it can do! Incidentally, listening to the sounds produced by way of the stethoscope, you will probably be the only one who hears your sounds. You are the performer and the audience at the same time. An activated, active audience playing for its own sake, and for the sake of the sounds that are produced.

Baudouin Osterlynck has referred to the instruments of this series in a very apt way when he commented that they are all instruments destined to be played “sans souffle”, without breath, without breathing. He notes as well  that “they are all pieces from old instruments – and you can play them differently”, transcending the way they were originally played.

If opus 177 rediscovered the “ocarina”,  Oosterlynck’s opus 187 (ad libitum no. 6, Oct. 2007) rediscovers, and therefore makes use of, “a part of an Asiatic instrument, the ‘sho’…”  This rediscovered ‘sho’, or rather the part of it used by the sound artist, looks a bit like the bowl of a pipe. But in place of the pipe stem you get a considerably shorter and, where the mouth might touch it,  wider ‘mouthpiece.’  A small number of curved, almost U-shaped plastic tubes of slightly different length emerge from the top of the bowl and, after completing their U-turn, end up again connected to the top of the bowl.  A stethoscope, connected by way of its long plastic tube to the bowl, forms part of the instrument thus created.  The different length of the U-shaped plastic tubes is not accidental.  As the artist who invented this instrument remarks, “The length of the air inside the tubes gives you the notes  do re mi fa so la si…” And thus, it is the normal tones you can play with your fingers, listening at the same time with the stethoscope. “You touch the tubes, and it produces a sound.”  Just as in a shell, the air is compressed and released. And you hear, of course, the sound of the porcelain.

*       *       *

Another series of instruments invented because they may let us produce and, at the same time, listen to surprising sounds is comprised of works called ‘Etant donné.’(10)
There is, for instance,  opus 172: ‘Etant donné no. 24’.  Its main body is a fairly flat, lengthy three-dimensional body with a rectangular surface, rectangular bottom and rectangular sides. From the long, slim side of it that is apparent to our eyes, we see three thin, curved metal pieces (about half a centimeter wide) stick out. They are fairly long but of unequal length, and passing apparently through the main body of this instrument, which they form a part of, they stick out on both sides of it – emerging either in an elegantly ascent, or in a straight, horizontal line, or in steep ascent that gives way to a spiraling counter-movement,  or in (finally) a slow and flat ascent that also gives way to a spiraling movement. A fairly flat, circular metal object rests on the main body of the instrument, and it is connected to a stethoscope. Touching the thin metal wires with a small rod or ‘stick’, you create vibrations that produce different sounds. Much depends apparently on how close to the main body of the object these wires are touched, and with what force. The specific resonance of the materials involved comes into play, as well. It is an instrument that undoubtedly can encourage a certain playfulness and joy of discovering sounds, in us.

The same is true of a similar instrument, belonging again to this series. 
I note six holes in the main body which is also traversed by two curved pieces of thin, long metal. 

In case of all these instruments, you hear  “a specific sound of a new instruments,  a sound you find nowhere else”, and as the artist continues to point out, “you can see people who have never played an instrument play with it for a long time. They play – and nobody hears them.” A very democratic endeavour, indeed, to enable people to encounter this (most often, quite new) experience!

The sounds, of course, do not come from a musical instrument in the conventional sense. They come from what Baudouin Oosterlynck calls “instruments d’écoute”, instruments that enable us (in their specific way) to (truly) listen.(11) And that means, to listen in a new and surprising way to new and surprising sounds, as soon as we dare to ‘use’ or ‘play’ them.  It is noteworthy that these instruments made by Baudouin so we can freely produce sounds and listen to them as well,  “are objects everybody can find”.
A bit like the objet trouvé singled out by chance and by a Surrealist awareness of the wonderful, the beautiful, the surprising, I think.
When I ask the sound artist whether you can use such an instrument for a composition, he says: “Yes, you can use it for a composition – by using a contact microphone. But this is not my intention. My intention is to make music in silence. Not music for millions.” It is apparent that he hopes you and I will also discover this chance. To make music in silence. As we play and listen, intently.

The instruments presented in the exhibition are all accompanied by drawings that show them, as well, and that may in some or all cases have preceded their factual construction.

Certain drawings incorporate the ear or the entire body of the listener, indicating perhaps a way of relating to the instrument. In the case of Opus 34-bis-Var.2 called ‘Pour Mausolée’ (1978-’84 – 2010), a drawing of a person and a musical object has been redone in brass thread. The artist notes that he did so because he wanted to do an edition “in filigran.”

This is also pertinent in the case of Opus 55  called Pour ‘A écouter de près’ (1983-2010). The drawing done in brass thread shows two people, one each to the right and to the left of a thin rectangular object, obviously a large pane of glass hanging in mid-air, slightly above the ground, suspended from wires attached to the ceiling. 

The exhibition included the real ‘sound object’ that was shown in this drawing. It is a large pane of glass indeed, perhaps 2 meters high and more than 3 meters in length. It hangs suspended on two wires. As I stand next to it, almost touching the vertical edge of the object that was closest to me,  I put my ear against the glass, on this side of the pane, and my hand forms an extension of the ear, on the other side of it, very much in the way we put a hand close to the ear when we hope to listen better. 
I hear a sound typical of glass, perhaps due to the pressure exerted by the hand, perhaps because of the ear that is slightly rubbing against the pane. My  hand can produce other sounds by way of its changing contact with the object. I even tried rubbing the edge of the glass pane, marveling at the sounds emitted…

The real world is not mute; its objects harbor sounds, no doubt. It was Paul Klee who remarked when confronted with the invention of the first sound recording device that not only humans and animals but, quite surprisingly, even inorganic “matter hears.” It is Baudouin Oosterlynck, the experimental composer and sound artist, who has found again and again ways to discover sounds enclosed in locations of the real world, harbored by real, material objects, and he has also constructed objects (frequently by making use of ingeniously incorporated objets trouvés discovered here and there, and – mind you – not only among parts of  seemingly ‘outmoded’ and ‘antiquated’ musical instruments) in order to extract sounds that are beautiful, specific, and surprising for the human ear.

Instrument 72 bis (1990-2010) called  Pour « A pro-peau  no.2 » is, in fact, such an objet trouvé, an object from the real (almost everyday) world that is freshly discovered as capable of producing surprising, very object-specific sounds.
Its size is considerable: 8 m x 4,94 m x 3,05 m. It is almost white in color, it has a beige, wood-colored wooden frame, and its “skin” (or “peau” in French) is forming a large tent, the shape of which reminds me in a way more of a Sami habitation in Northern Finland or a Mongolian jurt than of a Native American tipi. A few open entrances are inserted which enable listeners to enter the ‘jurt.’ Outside it, others can drum on, or scratch on, or rub against the ‘skin,’ producing a large variety of sounds which especially the listerner(s) inside will  be keenly aware of.
When I was inside this unexpected instrument, I heard  tiny sounds,  rubbing sounds, sounds like rain, strong drum sounds… And I noticed that the sound travels and reverberates, and that the tent is like a huge drum. It became obvious that a variety of sounds are possible when this instrument is played, a great richness of almost silent, of soft sounds and of strong, even violent sounds as well as quite mysterious sounds. 

Perhaps it is appropriate to speak here of the mystery of sounds. Of the mystery of sound and of its interrelationship with matter as well as empty space (and the air that moves within empty space).  In fact, the existence and specific quality of the sounds I perceived was the result of an interaction: the interaction between  players, matter, air, and listeners. The players were moving about outside the tent while touching its skin here and there. The matter they played on was resounding; it was giving forth sounds that were revealing a specific timbre of the material, and in fact a specific response of the material to the way it was touched. The air that was reaching my ears was traveling a shorter or wider distance; it was transporting waves emitted from the contact between the hand of a player and the ‘skin’ or the ‘bones’ of the tent (the cloth, being likened here to the skin, the wooden frame of the ‘jurt,’ to the bones).  And, needless to say, the traveling air that was thus coming from one side of the tent (the point of contact between player and object played) was thrown back by the other side when hitting upon it,  just like waves of the ocean are thrown back by the coast. I, the listener, who was moving about, inside the tent,  with open & listening, attentive ears, was somewhat like a boat in  the ocean, another resistant object the sound waves chanced upon. And these waves chanced upon me from all sides – traveling both directly from the original source of emission, and from all the points of the tent that were directing them back to me. A fact that created a superimposition of sounds  constantly changing. And this even more so because I, the listener in the tent, was (even if not constantly, then at least ‘again and again’) changing my position.

It is remarkable how you may feel when, for a certain  length of time, somebody is drumming (or creating other sounds, by other movements of the hand, of fingers, or of a baton)  OUT  THERE or in fact, we think, up there, on top of the tent. Stationary sounds, in other words, is what we perceive now. Nonetheless,  it is of course quite clear that the perception, real as it is, entails a phenomenon of ‘displacement’ (Verschiebung); in other words, we encounter a phenomenon that the sound artist has been interested in again and again. (For instance, when an ‘instrument d’écoute’ lets us hear a sound in the back of us while, in reality, it is produced in front of us.) A perception that lets us ‘locate’ the source  of such sound (or sounds) up there, on top of the tent, is of course contradicted by the rational knowledge that no one can be up there, drumming or making other ‘noises.’ 

While the example just referred to illustrates the possibility of perceiving stationary sounds that seem to come from a location in which they, obviously, could not be produced,  a sound may just as well appear  to our sense of hearing as a ‘moving sound,’ as we sense how it ‘reverberates’ (or travels)  in the ‘skin’ of the tent,  giving us exactly a dynamic impression.

In all the examples encountered by us, as listeners, inside the tent, the matter that was a hand, the fingers of a player, or a percussionist’s tool, as well as the matter which was the substance of the tent (its textile, its wooden frame), and finally the matter which was my body, my ear(s), were in contact. They were in contact thanks to the invisible air enclosed inside the tent, the air traveling inside it that was transporting sound waves, carrying with it the specific sounds emitted by their material source. In fact, PRODUCED by the collision of two materials, let’s say, hand and tent. And these sounds were of course transformed by their voyage, by the substances they chanced upon. Which threw them back at me, just like the waves of the sea, I’ve said, using that metaphor… The waves thrown back, by a rocky coast… Or by a sandy beach, or a muddy delta full of reeds, or of trees accustomed to the ebb and tide. Again, it was the specificity of the material, the world, that would condition what I might hear.

Of course, the title of the work,  Pour «  A pro-peau  no.2 », incorporates a play with words (“A propos” /  “A pro-peau” / à pro peau, for skin). 

As Baudouin Oosterlinck remarks,  “the tent is an installation waiting to be ‘played.’ And, at the same time, an installation waiting to be entered. The players outside listen to the sounds. But inside, the listeners listen to different sounds.” 

I think this interaction that gives birth to sounds, in a way approaches a dialectics, founded in a relationship between ‘player’ and ‘listener,’ between ‘outside’ and ‘inside.’(12)  But even more so, founded in a complex  and reciprocal relationship of matter and space. A sound, in its ‘rapport’ to matter within space and to the ‘empty’ space it is traversing, is revealed as absolutely ‘not a thing in itself’. It isn’t ‘a thing’ or ‘acoustical reality as such’, unchanged, well-defined. But a changing, metamorphosing phenomenon, as it travels.What we perceive, as ‘sound,’  depends on the specific ‘Gestalt’ of space, the quality and distribution of matter within space, and on our position in it. Also, in the set-up provided by Baudouin Oosterlynk’s installation, it appears as a result of creative, spontaneous action (práxis).  Referring to the signification Jean-Paul Sartre gave to this term, práxis [Praxis], in his Critique de la raison dialectique, I take it of course to imply a creative act transcending routine, and thus something that is opposed to pratique [Praktik]. The production of sounds, their evocation or Hervorrufung, Hervorbringung, in the context of such an installation is nothing less than a transcending act, overcoming all routine. It is conducive to the production of new sounds and, simultaneously, brings forth  new experiences of listening, insofar as it does not fall into the realm of the practico-inert, as a product of the activities of the ‘series’, but springs from a creative intervention of man when he is not part of an organized ‘series,’ asserting himself  instead as an individual,  in a relationship of two (one active player-listener outside, one active listener, inside the ‘jurt’) or else, in a creative, spontaneous group.

The work called ‘Just time and silence’ is part of the “Etant donné” series; referred to as opus 148, it is also known as Etant donné no. 4 (July 2002). 
As Baudouin Oosterlynck notes, the work attempted to give an answer to the question, “How can you reveal, in silence, the acoustic particularities which you don’t expect?”
The work presents a score  that is indicating only the partition of time (la partition du temps). 
It is clear that a musician who would see in front of him a score by Bach or Beethoven would immediatetely hear  this music although everything is silent. When he is given a score, however, that is presenting only information as to how time is partitioned (while other parameters are not given), he has this partitioned time in  his mind. 
This is what Etant donné no. 4 is about.
Whereas normally each note and each group of notes has a time value while the score provides further information as well, here you have only time values; you play without sound, just respecting the time alloted to each note. What is achieved is “silence partitioned into time segments”

Another work, Opus 16, also referred to as “Etant donné no. 14” and known as ‘Couronne pour la reine’ (Crown for the queen), was done in July 2003.
Looking at this ‘instrument of listening,’ as it is depicted in the accompanying drawing, you see an object made of glass worn on the head by a person.  Inside it is a small ‘ball’ (bille), a small metall ‘sphere.’ When you walk with the object on your head, the small ‘ball’ rotates inside it and you hear it. When the ‘ball’ is moving in the center of the object, you hear it in stereophonic fashion, that is to say, with both ears. 
Depending on how you move, abruptly or gently, the ‘ball’ either moves in a way that lets its sound travel from one ear to the other and back to the ear that heard it first, and so on, and so forth, producing a harsh and not very pleasant acoustical impression. Or else, it rotates circularly in the object, resulting in a gentle sound. Thus the effect and task given by the object called ‘A Crown for the Queen’ is “To hear where the ball goes” (Écouter où va la bille). Clearly, the intention of the walker who aims to avoid the unpleasant sound(s) will be to remain close to stereophonic listening while walking.

A variation of this “Etant donné” just referred to is provided by the ‘Couronne pour le roi’ (Crown for the King).  From the glass object worn by a person on his head, a stethoscope sticks out, to which a spiraling wire (or thin band made of metal) is attached. When the king makes abrupt movements, he, though not the people around him, will hear extremely abrupt and strong sounds. So he has to walk carefully if he is determined to avoid this experience.

*       *       *

Still another series of ‘instruments d’écoute’ is called Aquaphones. It is a series realized in 2001.(13)  These special instruments invented by the sound artist that Osterlynck refers to in a telling way as water-‘phones’ (for aqua means water in Latin) constitute the closed circuit of an object which is encompassing, as a minimum, a stethoscope and a ‘vessel’ or hollow half filled with water (or, more correctly, partly filled with water, for water doesn’t have to fill exactly half of its space).

One of the first instruments belonging to this series incorporated a device from  the 17th century that was at the time  used to catch milk from the breast of women who had just given birth to a child and who were therefore able to breastfeed children. This device was called a ‘tire-lait’ in French. Baudouin Osterlynck’s work that makes use of the old ‘tire-lait’ is called Prelude aux aquaphones; d’un tympan à l’autre. It is this work, also referred to as Opus 135, Var. 2 (Febr.-March, 2001), that we see in the exhibition.

Different variations of such an ‘aquaphonic’ object were produced by the sound artist. By and large, they make use of existent objects used by chemicists in the course of their experiments –   usually spherical or cylindrical glass vessels. Here, these vessels are put to a different use.  Filled partly with water and partly with air – air that is of course necessary because it transmits sounds –, each of these differently formed vessels, incorporated in one way or another  into the ‘instrument d’écoute’, gives birth to specific sounds.

Two years ago, in 2008, the artist used a hollow tube, a tube that was shaped a bit like the baton of a conductor. It connected two spherical vessels, and held in a slanted direction, this hollow ‘baton’ served to slow the trickle of water in the instrument, from the upper to the lower glass sphere.  This work was called Postlude aux Aquaphones. It is Opus193 (Sept. 2008). 
Commenting on it, Baudouin Oosterlinck remarks, “I found it good to set a limit to time,”  adding that “the baton beats the measure of the flow” (la baguette bat la mesure de l’écoulement). 
The ‘baguette’is of course the baton of the ‘chef d’orchestre’.

*     *     *

‘Les Prothèses’ are of course the most telling, and perhaps the most surrealist of Baudouin Oosterlynck’s ‘instruments d’écoute.’ They are works done in 1994-2004,  numbering 14 in all.(14)

A very typical work from this series is Opus 121 done in 1994-1995. The drawing accompanying the exhibited ‘prothèse’ shows a man with two relatively large musical instruments – two horns, in fact – attached to and crossing above his head. Of course, he cannot blow these horns, as their mouthpieces are propped into the person’s ears. The wide opening of the first horn that has its mouthpiece attached to the left ear is pointing to the right. And the opening of other horn, the mouthpiece of which is propped into the right ear, is directed to the left of the person.  When you use these horns in the described way, the effect is obvious:   with your right ear, you will listen to sounds coming from the left. And with your left ear, to sounds coming from the right. The new, and if you will, puzzling effect is intended. It all amounts to a Verfremdung (if I may use here Brecht's term for “making [something appear] strange”) of our perception of everyday (acoustical) reality.(15)

Another very typical work from this series, Opus 127, also done in 1994-1995,  is similar to an object already alluded to briefly, further above. The work previously mentioned contributed to the impression that the words spoken in front of you were spoken in the back of you. In this case, the ‘prothèse’ simply allows you to listen to what is in the back of you.

Yet another very typical work from this series is  Opus 121, again done in 1994-1995.  Here, a cylindrical object is put on the head of a person.  People wearing this ‘prothèse’ think that the sound they hear comes from very far away.

*        *        *

Having already discovered opus 177, called ad libitum no. 4 (pour Ocarina et stéthoscope, July 2005) as I entered the exhibition and later on, also opus 187 (ad libitum no. 6, Oct. 2007),  I now come back to the Ad Libitum series, looking at Ad libitum No. 1 pour autoharp, deux pinceaux, un diapason (2005). The autoharp here is the corpus that will issue sounds and very special sounds, at that, because of the way it is to be played. Following the description of this “instrument d’écoute” [i.e. instrument of hearing], the player will be touching, stroking, hitting, drumming, caressing (and so on, and so forth) the autoharp.  It is to be played, however, not by using the fingers, but by relying on three other objects: two pencils [pinceaux] and a tuning-fork [diapason]. The player will listen to the sounds he produces by way of a stethocpope.
John Cage introduced the prepared piano many years ago. The autoharp that is turned into part of an ‘ad libitum’ constellation encompassing the pencils and tuning-fork as well, is of course not “prepared.” But like the prepared piano it is used contrary to what we normally expect. In both cases, an unusual approach to playing a well-known musical instrument results in a Verfremdung, in new and strange sounds not usually associated with the instrument. 

The next object is a perhaps even more perplexing  ‘instrument d’écoute’ and it belongs likewise to the Ad libitum series. Known as Ad libitum No. 3,  it is also referred to as Opus 176 “pour clavier et fenêtre.” It dates back to June 2005.

In French, the  keys (or buttons, as I prefer to say) of the accordéon  [Engl.: accordion] that are pressed  by the accordion player are known in their entirety as the ‘clavier’. The ‘buttons’  are part of a set, a unit; they are, one by one, connected to an elongated but narrow piece that is functioning in a way as a support: the buttonboard. It is this entire set that Baudouin Oosterlynck has made use of, by disconnecting it from the accordion and putting it in a new context –  the context of a ‘listening instrument,’ his Opus 176.  How did he do it? The entire object, with is buttons made of mother-of-pearl, below each of which you will find a soft layer, were put on a hard surface,  a window pane. A very special window pane with ten tiny, round holes in it, to be sure. The holes are lined up in a straight line so that the accordion buttons fit on them. If you press a key (or button), the hole that is right below it,  in the window pane, will open and you will hear the sound from outside. If you press several buttons,  you will hear more sounds from outside. As the artist notes, “You are inside but you are ‘playing’ what comes from outside.” Of course, intermittently, you can also press no button at all. Then, you  play silence. Inside/outside, everyday sounds from outside and (possible) silence inside – yes, it ’s  oppositions  that obviously matter here. 

When we note how the key oppositions of this experimental situation, listening and playing, inside and outside, relate to each other, we understand that the contradictions are also bridged or transcended. As with all (or nearly all) of Baudouin Oosterlynk’s ‘instruments of hearing,’ the (active) player is also and foremost, an (active) listener. Playing this instrument, Opus 176, pour clavier et fenêtre,   he is a listener inside a room (as most players of music are, in most cases). But music or sound (and it's sounds that are taken to be as aesthetically significant as music in the most elevated sense of the word!) is not to remain ‘caged’ in a CHAMBER (inside a bourgeois house or mansion), nor inside a CONCERT HALL. Just like the Surrealists discovered objects of great beauty in the street (and even in the gutter), the player of Opus  176 will listen to and thus discover the sounds out there. Being inside, he opens up to the outside.  He frees himself and he frees his concept or understanding of music, so that it will encompass the sounds entering, as he presses the buttons. Of course, no one can foretell which sounds will issue from the street; and which of these sounds will be kept out (by pressing no button) while others are allowed to intrude inside, chancing upon the ear of the player. So chance will be playing a big part, too.

I have seen another object of the Ad libitum series that looked a lot like  Opus 177,  ad libitum no. 4 (pour Ocarina et stéthoscope) but was made of metal rather than porcelain. Of course, the timbre would be different here but the way of function similar to Ad libitum no.4.

Yet another object ( Ad libitum no. 6 ) of the Ad libitum series that makes use of the ‘sho’ has already been referred to. Holding the part of the ‘sho’ that has been integrated,  in one hand, you touch the plastic tubes that emerge from and also end in the used component of this old Asiatic instrument, in order to produce sounds which are then transmitted to your ears by the stethoscope. I have described this in greater detail above.

Before I finish this account of the exhibition “Musique de chambres” in Stavelot, a very special object of the series Ad libitum deserves to be mentioned, as well. Ad libitum no. 7 (Opus 188, Oct. 2007)  uses four metall pieces, apparently fashioned like a small organ. The two outer pieces are connected by a plastic tube, and the two inner pieces as well. Of course, in order to be more exact, I should say: The longest piece is connected by way of such a tube  to the shortest and the second-longest to the second-shortest. Normally, you would expect that, again, you play this instrument by touching the tubes. But  Opus 188, Ad libitum no. 7 is different.

Baudouin Oosterlynck mentions that  Opus 188 is  what he calls “un hommage”. He narrates that he brought  this instrument to a place in France where he wanted to visit somebody he knew. But the person was dead when he arrived. “And so I closed the tubes, sealed the air…”, he says.  “Now they play silence.”


(1) Baudouin Oosterlynck’s conception of music is quite obviously that of an avantgarde sound artist. “If one has a group of noises that are organized in a certain manner, this is music.” (“Si l’on a un ensemble de bruits organisés d’une certaine manière, on aura de la musique. ”)

(2) In an interview, Baudouin Oosterlynck pointed out that he worked primarily as an experimental composer of new music in the 1970s. “From 1972 to ’76, I have realized 40 hours of composed music, and a certain number of pieces have been published on discs.” [“De 72 à 76,  j’ai réalisé 40 heures de musique composée dont un certain nombre de pièces ont été publiées sur disque.”] It was then that he turned more experimental still.  And this new phase of ‘sound art’ creation gave birth to something else:  “des morceaux de musique  étaient donnés à entendre autrement.” I will discuss this further below.

(3)  It is clear that I am hoping to make the reader aware not only of the musical importantance of Baudouin Oosterlynck’s contribution, i. e. the significance of his intervention in terms of ‘sound art’. I also want to shed some light on its sociocultural context and  the societal implications of his approach.  If, however, our focus is solely on the relationship of sound(s) and space , we must reflect it first of all in musical terms, in terms of sound art. And therefore, we must take B. Oosterlynck’s work as a sound artist and inventor of various series of ‘instruments of listening’ as a relevant exploration and experimentation that is concerned with the phenomenological aspects of situated sound, sound in space. As the artist himself says, “Ma démarche est d’abord musicale. Ensuite musicale et plastique car je me suis rendu compte qu’en introduisant le corps par rapport au son, le son par rapport à l’espace dans lequel  il est distribué, je pouvais élargir le territoire sonore.” (My quest is above all related to music. Then, to music and what is three-dimensional [in French: plastique; i. e. sculptural, bodily, shaped, existing in and as as three-dimensional space, etc.].  And this because I became aware that by introducing the human body in relationship to sound, and sound in relationship to the space in which it is distributed, I could enlarge the territory [or realm] of sound.”) 
The spatial experience of music, of sounds was grasped as an undeniable phenomenon related not only to the traveling of sound in space but to the three-dimensionality of the human body: “La musique, elle, vous pénètre, corporellement elle envahit.” “Music, it penetrates you; it invades you bodily.” An experienced, phenomenologically and thus existentially undeniable fact the recognition  of  which is of primary importance.

(4)  This idea that it can be important to play the instruments invented by Baudouin Oosterlynck and listen “toute seul” [entirely on one’s own, or alone] is perhaps surprising for those who dream of the emancipation of mankind and attempt to further it, by their actions, their creative production, etc..  But hasn’t Jean-Luc Godard declared already that, if we are to speak of cinema, “cinema for the masses is an idea of the Capitalists”? -  Unfortunately, a deformed left has opted for it, too: culture, cinema, literature, music directed to the largest possible crowd, to anonymous masses. It is enough to think of the Hollywoodesque inclinations that were responsible for so many MOSFILM productions, or to remember the newspapers close to the PCF and the film-makers they preferred. 
A progressive artist like Baudouin Oosterlynck is aware of the fact that the woman or man who is not a professional composer and who sees himself as a non-musician, has to overcome a barrier, an intimidating obstacle raised by a culture that sharply differentiates between professionals and laymen.  To enable the curious to discover  the realm of sounds “all by themselves” is an approach that is indeed emancipative.  And Baudouin Oosterlynck is clearly aware that, quite apart from the socio-psychological obstacle just referred to, the situation of a listener who is alone, is different  from that of a listener situated in a small group, or from the situation of him who is even part of a large audience.  Being alone in a room, the listener “captures that which he wants in a situation of intimacy. It is not at all the same to listen together with 300 people or all by yourself.” [“il capte ce qui’il veut dans une situation de’intimité. Ce n’est pas de tout la même chose que d’écouter avec 300 personnes à côte de soi ou seul. ”]

(5) Cf. Theodor W. Adorno, The Culture Industry. Selected Essays. Edited, with an introduction, by J.M. Bernstein. London (Routledge) 1991

(6) Cf. Bertolt Brecht, Journal de travail. 1938-1955. Texte français par Philippe Ivernel. Paris (L’Arche) 1976

(7) Cf. A.B. Meadows, “Jochen Gerz: Creative Stimulator of Participatory Art”,  in: Art in Society, issue # 10 (;  see also:  Jochen Gerz, res publica: the public works, 1968-1999. Ostfildern (Hatje Cantz) 1999; Anna Novakov (ed.), Veiled histories: The body, place, and public art. New York (Critical Press) 1997; Christian W.  Denker, La réalité « vécue » du spectateur comme élément constitutif de l’art de Jochen Gerz. Thése doctorat , Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris), 2005.  [In fact, Jochen Gerz has said that he resents those who approach the public works that were initiated by him merely as spectators (Zuschauer): he wants them to become involved; to become active co-creators of a public art-work that exists in a public place and that is changing in time, also because of the public's involvement in it.]

(7) His position is quite clear today, in this regard, as he looks back at his development from a composer of new music to a sound artist and an inventor of situations which attempt to stimulate each individual among the public (by way of his imaginative objects)  to create unexpected sounds and listen to them. “I have thus freed myself of the necessity to make my own music and of the need to impose my music on others.” (“Je me suis ainsi dégagé du besoin  de faire ma propre musique et du besoin d’imposer ma musique aux autres.”) – 
Some will say that this stance is even more radical than that of Brecht. In China, during the 1940s, certain committed artists attempted to overcome the myth of the ‘special, creative individual’ by producing collective works. In the 1950s, both in China and in the GDR, there were attempts to encourage a literature and visual art made by workers, and by peasants, obviously in opposition to the notion of the ‘genius’, a familiar topos of bourgeois ideology. As far as the theater in the GDR is concerned, the Brechtian quest to overcome the barrier between actors and public led to attempts to establish a new concept of what theater by non-professional actors could be.  (See : Manfred Wekwerth; La mise en scène dans le théâtre d’amateurs. Paris (L’Arche) 1971;  this is the French translation of a publication that appeared in Leipzig in 1958. Wekwerth, incidentally, was a close collaborator of Bert Brecht !)  Brecht, as we know,  tried to overcome individual authorship to some extent, by involving his collaborators (the women who were close to him, personally, and the team or collective of actors known as the ‘Berlin ensemble’)  in the production of revolutionary plays. – Baudouin Oosterlynck’s stance in this respect seems closer to the Buddhist rejection of the “ego”: a position also not foreign to John Cage, especially in so far as Cage, as a composer, opted more and more for a reliance on ‘chance’ [indeterminacy, random processes].

(8) Cf. especially two catalogues featuring the Nekes Collection: (i.) Laurent Mannoni, Werner Nekes, Marina Warner, Eyes, Lies and Illusions. With contemporary works by Christian Boltanski, Tony Oursler, and others [catalogue of the exhibition with the same title, Oct. 7, 2004 – Jan. 3, 2005)], London (Hayward Gallery) 2004; (ii.)  Bodo von Dewitz and Werner Nekes, Ich sehe was, was du nicht siehst! Sehmaschinen und Bilderwelten. Die Sammlung Nekes. [Catalogue of the exhibition with the same title, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Sept. 27-Nov.24, 2002, with contributions by Bazon Brock, Sebastian Feldmann, Laurent Mannoni, Werner Nekes et al. ],  Goettingen (Steidl Publisher) 2002, 455 pp.

(9) The ‘etant donnés’ of Baudouin Oosterlynck were done in 2002-2004. The term ‘etant donne’ points back to the ready-mades of Marcel  Duchamps, among them two ready-mades called ‘Étant donnés’. As the artist pointed out, “ In the case of the Étant donnés, I invite the listener to manipulate the listening instruments which allows everybody to perceive the other side of the eardrum.” (“Pour les Étant donnés […] j’invite l’auditeur à manipuler les instruments d’écoute, des instruments qui permettent à chacun de percevoir l’autre face du tympan .”) Obviously the term chosen for the instrument is derived from a phrase  if not a question : “Etant donné une objet…” – If an object is given… Supposed that there exists an object…  It’s a question, not necessarily a rhetoric one in the first place, that the sound artist posed, for himself and other: “Etant donné une objet, comment en réveler, en silence, de particularités sonores inattendues?” “If there exists as object… Assuming that a given object is present, how can one reveal thereby, in silence, unexpected sound qualities [sound particularities]?” The question posed has led  Baudouin  Oosterlynck to invent 25 “Given Objects” (or Étant donnés) up to now, as a response. In doing so, it became important for him “to make pieces which would turn out to be more of a sculptural object with a musical destination, pieces which the folks could use. Each one, by himself.” (“Je me suis dit, j’aime bien de faire des pièces qui deviennent plus d’objets sculpturaux à destination musicale que les gens peuvent utiliser chacun pour soi. ” )

(10)  The term ‘instruments d’écoute’ stresses the primary role of these strange-looking, almost ‘weird’ if not ‘magical’ objects or devices that let us hear sounds we have never heard before. Often, or perhaps quite generally, the person playing (with) these objects even is the only one who will hear the sounds she or he produces. But it is obvious that while ‘listening’ is of paramount significance, these instruments have also to be played (with), and played usually (though not always) by the listener. In other words, the active recipient (the listener) is at the same time a groping, searching, playful and/or experimental creator of the sounds he is going to listen to.

(11) The variety of sounds produced does, as always, depend on the player; but at the same time, these sounds depend on the ‘place’ (lieu) of the tent’s skin that is played, on the material quality of that ‘place’,  and on the substance or matter (material) the player uses to play with. The rhythm is the rhythm of the player, nervous or quiet and regular, or varied beyond bounds. Of course, the ‘scratchiness’ of sounds, the hollowness of a “boum boum,” the resonance and the timbre of every sound depend on matter meeting matter.You hear matter vibrate, and it vibrates in different ways, producing different sounds, different timbres.
The sound travels and, if you want, you can put your ear to the frame of the tent (the ‘bone’) in order to hear it travel…

(12) According to Baudouin Oosterlynck, the series known as the Aquaphones (done in 2000- 2001) “consists of objects made of glass which remind us of instruments partly filled with water, instruments of the type that is used in laboratories. They are connected to the ear by way of stethoscopes. The user manipulates them and thus hears his own music. It is very beautiful to see, in a room, a dozen persons who hear their own creations in silence.”  (“Le série des Aquaphones (2000-2001) est constituée d’objets en verre qui rappellent des instrument de laboratoire partiellement remplis d’eau. Ils sont reliés aux oreilles par des stéthoscopes. L’utilisateur manipule les  et écoute ainsi sa propre musique, en silence pour les autres visiteurs. C’est tres beau de voir dans une salle une dizaine de personnes qui écoutent ainsi leurs propres création en silence.”) 

(13)  Regarding this series of works, Baudouin Osterlynk remarked, “Par les Prothèses (1994-2000) les personnes utilisent des formes en cuivre ou en verre: elles servent à recevoir tous les sons  mais la perception de la localisation  de la source sonore en est affectée. C’est un série de pièces basée sur la question suivante :  ‘Comment entendrait-on  si nous oreilles avaient une autre forme et étaient orientées autrement ?’ […]” (“In the case of the Prothèses, done between 1994 and 2000, people use formed objects made of copper  or glass. They serve to let us listen to all kinds of sounds. But the perception of the whereabouts [i.e. the place] of the source of sounds is achieved.  This is a series of pieces that is based on the following question: ‘How does one hear if our ears would have a different form and if they were listening in a different direction?’ […] ”) The artist added that “Certaines prothèses permettent aussi de filtrer le spectre des fréquences de façon purement acoustique. ” (“Certain Prothèses  made it also possible to filter the range (or spectrum) of frequencies in a purely acoustic way.”)

(14)  In an interview quoted variously from in this text, Baudouin Oosterlynck introduces the concept of ‘displacement’ with regard to the ‘experience sonore’ that his ‘instruments of listening’ make possible for the user. ‘Displacement’ [‘Verschiebung’] is a concept that, in German, sounds very similar to Brecht’s concept of ‘Verfremdung’ (making [something supposedly familiar appear as] strange [to the reader, the audience], in order to let him - the reader - or those in the audience perceive it in a fresh and new way, shedding old prejudice, old stereotyped modes of perception). Apparently, ‘Verfremdung’ –  which expresses an artistic endeavor to “Make it new!” (something the poet Ezra Pound endorsed) in order to attain ‘a new way of seeing’ (as Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage would say), or a new perception when  listening, for that matter –  often relies on displacement. 
The term ‘displacement’ (or, in French, ‘déplacement’) was first introduced as a theoretical concept by Siegmund Freud, of course. It was then introduced into linguistic theory by Roman Jakobson, in his essay about “two types of aphasia.”   When Baudouin Oosterlynck (a sound artist so conscious of  sounds and their relation to space) uses the term, it signifies again spatial displacement, something that is not sursprising, in view of the spatial topic [topique; in German: Topik] inscribed in the word [die räumliche Vorstellung, die dem Begriff ‘Verschiebung’ einbeschrieben  ist].



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 *DOCUMENTA BELGICAE, TOME I: MUSIQUES, was published in 1981 by PMA-Editions. 

DOCUMENTA BELGICAE, VOLUME II: MUSIC was published in  English in 1985 by PMA-Co-editions. 

Baudouin Oosterlynck

 musique de chambres

Aug. 4  -  Oct. 10, 2010 
at the Galerie 
in Stavelot

open daily 
(except on Monday 
and Tuesday) 
from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

täglich (außer Mo und Di) 
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