Baudouin Oosterlynck: the man and his work.
A first encounter with his book "25 ans entre l'oeil
et l'oreille" (2000)*
Baudouin Oosterlynck, the composer, poet, and artist who
does marvellous drawings of musical scores traces the unforeseen, the hardly
heard: freshly perceived sounds of ordinary everyday life. Sounds discovered
and clearly perceived in various man-made and natural settings. Sounds
that surface from and give way to silences.
He is involved, I am tempted to say, in a project, in
projects that, in their radical orientation, are revealing an affinity
to the projects of Breton, Crevel, Desnos, Soupault, Reverdy... A
"recherche" directed not so much towards memory (as was the case with Proust),
and not necessarily "surrealist" - but still just as prepared to discover
the "surprising" among the "ordinary" and to sharpen our consciousness,
bringing at once into play all that is hidden, latent, deeply desirous,
unconscious or preconscious in us and much that is yet to be sensed and
explored, in the world around us.
If Freud "discovered" a latently present yet hidden sphere
or stratum of our psyche, "the unconscious" while the surrealists
explored its creative effects and potentials in the arts, can I say that
Baudouin Oosterlynck seeks to decipher the hidden potential of our senses?
Of our faculties of hearing and sensing and perceiving… And the equally
"hidden" layers (or "forms of being") of material existence around us -
which speak to our senses, though often unnoticeably, and which our senses
register, though often unwittingly.
"Comment entendrait-on le monde si nos oreilles
étaient orientées autrement?"
(Prothèses acoustiques. 1994-1995)
|"How would one hear the world if our ears were directed
differently?" Growing, say, at the back of our head. In a different direction,
that is. An experimental, research-based yet nonetheless, for most of us
today, provocative question! A question that suggests our perception is
conditioned by our specific organic, material form of existence. Baudouin
Oosterlynck has proceeded further, from the question to an experimental
intervention. He has constructed and used "extensions" to the ear, so-called
"protheses": devices that help him simulate the capture of sounds
by an enlarged "outer ear" placed in a new way, in several, unaccustomed
positions in front of, at the side or at the back of the head.
How is it possible, I wonder, to capture the sounds thus
heard electronically, reduplicating such perception of the specific spatial
distribution of sounds and creating a corresponding "impression" or "imprint"
in the brain of listeners? For it is clear to me that the "sound objects"
discovered in everyday life, in its surprising constellations, may well
reappear in compositions.
Music research, or should I say, research into a science
of sounds and silence, of acoustics in the widest and the most perceptively
(and thus, aesthetically) conscious way is a vital element in the life
and work of this composer-poet-artist. Baudouin Oosterlynck probes
further into the pre-conditions of hearing and the material
sources of silence and sounds (found in objects, situations, cityscapes,
landscapes of the most diverse sort) than any composer or musician I know
It was, perhaps, inevitable that a first, experimental
inquiry (which, in the case of John Cage, had focused on manipulated instruments)
was directed at sources of sounds not normally considered "instruments".
And thus, sources that conventionally are not even regarded as objects
emitting sounds which can become the legitimate "material" of a composer.
Having moved in this direct, as far as possible, Baudouin
Oosterlynck had to move in the opposite direction as well, to the most
ancient, most singularly, and in that sense most "classical" man-made musical
Is the term "Pax Musica" suggesting that an experimental
and innovative composer is making his peace with "musical instruments"
and the sounds that can issue from them? That Baudouin Oosterlynck who
has dared to expand the "field" of music by his integration of (and reliance
on) what is conventionally regarded as "non-musical" sound material saw
himself ready to discover anew the rich field of sounds made possible by
man-made instruments of old that were once used in producing "classical
music"? Does "Pax Musica" mean that no sound, from whatever source, is
to be left unconsidered? That it is possible, for experimental composers,
to say yes to all sounds? We read,
Ces derniers mois, je suis parti à la
recherche d'instruments de musique qui me
touchent et qui sont restés silencieux très longtemps.
Je les ai choisis parmi des milliers d'autres
pour qu'ils poursuivent leur silence.
Ce sont des instruments singuliers mais
d'inspiration classique, des exceptions en
quelque sorte. Marginalisés par l'histoire, ils disent tant qu'on
n'a plus besoin
d'en jouer pour les entendre.
En août 1977 aussi, je n'avais plus besoin
de jouer sur mes instruments.
C'était une autre
(Pax Musica. 1993)
[PAX MUSICA / 1993 // In these last few months, I have
begun to / search for musical instruments which touch me and which have
remained silent for a long time. / I have chosen among thousands of others
those which pursued their silence. / They are singular instruments / but
of classical inspiration, exceptional in a way. Marginalized by history,
they said so much that one felt no no longer the need to play them in order
to hear them. / In August 1977 I also felt no longer the need to
play my instruments. / The intimacy sufficed. / This was another / Pax
"Je n'ai pas eu d'autre école que l'écoute
attentive et amoureuse de Beethoven, Debussy, Bartok,
Cage, Mozart, Bach et quelques autres"
"À l'âge de 14 ans,
j'ai eu le choc de la musique en écoutant
le 4ème concerto pour piano et orchestre de Beethoven.
J'étais dans les bras d'un ami."
SON - OR - ITÉ
Être un instrument / Qu’on ne
fait plus résonner ( 1977)
|"I have no other schooling than that of attentively and
lovingly listening to Beethoven, Debussy, Bartok, Cage, Mozart and some
others." / "At the age of 14, I had the shock experience of music,
hearing the 4th Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by Beethoven. I was in
the arms of a friend.” [ - Of Beethoven? ]
The old, and the only true insight, as far as schools,
schooling and learning processes are concerned. Such processes can be (and
often should be?) stimulated from outside: by chance, or by the "engagé"
(and lovingly concerned) intervention of others. I remember how Friderun
Barrow told me that the life of her husband, Cyril (a working class kid
in Northern England, I take it) was changed completely when his teacher
took him and his classmates to a theater performance. It was a new, a different
world for him. Perhaps, who knows, some of the other kids were affected
in a similar way. Perhaps Cyril was the only one touched deeply at the
time and the only one of the bunch whose life took a different turn because
of it. He had a fine bookstore in London later on - and all the poets he
cared for, Pete Brown, Libby Houston, Frances and Michael Horovitz, Adrian
Mitchell were coming, reading their poetry in Friderun's and Cyril's kitchen.
Quite irrelevantly, perhaps, I might mention that I discovered "the cinema"
when a teacher took our class to a screening of "Yesterday's Girl" (Abschied
von gestern); the film had just been released and the filmmaker, Alexander
Kluge, was there, in the small "Kamera" film theater in Bielefeld, to debate
the film with the public. Art, films, poetry, music may not immediately
"change the outlook of the masses," it is true, and we may for good reason
remain skeptical in that regard. How many they stir, and to what
effect, remains in the dark, an unanswered question. But that they can
have a deep impact on individuals is a matter of repeated, confirmed, proven
Learning, it turns out, is an asymptotic, unending process,
approaching something that we yearn to be close to, with all our senses,
our "mind and body", our emotions and our intellect. It is of necessity
an autonomous process, starting because we are drawn near to what attracts
us, what kindles our desire and inflames our attention. Charles Fourier,
and later the surrealists, knew the forces of attraction and repulsion
and, in their writings, emphasized their significance. It is difficult
to approach and yearn to embrace a subject, a craft, a trade, any general
or specific knowledge if we are not attracted by it. Whatever exerts the
attraction, must have embodied, must still embody a strong attractive force.
We are not drawn for nothing towards it. The shallow, the inane, and the
mediocre exert shale, faint and passing (pseudo-)attractions replaced by
other, equally shallow "kicks" soon enough.
But Baudouin Oosterlynck was moved, all of a sudden. By
a piece of music. A kind of music he may have never heard before…
Percevoir, c'est recevoir.
Je m'étais aperçu que le son et l'écoute dépendaient
du silence environnant!
Chaque couleur dépend du papier qui
Chaque son dépend du silence qui le
C'est la transparence à travers
laquelle on peut voir. Eh bien! c'est aussi
le silence à travers lequel on peut entendre.
Je me suis donc intéressé à cette
feuille blanche du son.
Le silence varie en fonction du relief, de
l'altitude, de la température... il varie surtout en fonction
de l'enveloppe qui le contient.
Et me voilà parti à la recherche de
sites et de lieux où il y a encore
du silence... de beaux silences. Non pas un silence scientifique
ou mystique, ni encore un silence éternel,
mais un moment musical où le silence mis a nu par ses oreilles m'aime.
À ce moment, la réalité devient
plus forte que l'imagination, le mental devient
peau du silence.
L'oreille prend corps."
( Variations du silence 1990-1991)
|"To perceive is to receive. // I have learned that the
sound and what is heard depend on the surrounding silence!", we read. The
dialectics, of the relationship: isn't it remarkable?
And once more we are made conscious of the whiteness
of the surface which holds the black or brown ink in so many Classical
Chinese landscape paintings. The evocation of silence that the white sheet
of paper represented for Charles Olson when he, consciously, distributed
words on it, the musical score of what was to be read aloud. Lines, that
is sounds, series of words, and pauses, silences. For Baudouin Oosterlynck
there is no need to go back to landscape paintings of old, done in a far-away
land, or to Olson's assumption. Intimately aware of today’s visual
arts, he knows from experience: "Every color depends on the paper
which serves as support. / It's the transparence through which one can
see." And the conclusion is clear. "Okay then. It is also the silence through
which one can hear. / I have therefore taken an interest in this / white
leaf of sound.
The silence varies depending on the [geological] relief
[or surface structure], altitude, temperature... It varies above all depending
/ on the envelope which contains it. " The sounds, that is, which preceed
and which follow it. Oosterlynck continues: "/ And so I took off in search
of / sites and places where silence still exists. Beautiful silences. Not
a scientific silence or a mystic one nor an eternal silence. But a musical
moment where the silence, stripped naked by its ears, / loves me. / In
this moment, reality becomes stronger than the imagination, the mental
becomes the skin of silence. / The ear 'takes shape' [it turns into a corporeal
reality, it becomes a body]."
Isn't it a materialistic approach that is inscribed in
this research, in this experimental, practical approach to the reality
of silence and, by implication, sound? The reality of sound and, by implication,
silence? Or rather, concrete, specific silences, discovered materially
and experienced in real, very specific sites, places, for specific durations
of time. Sounds, silences are objective; for the perceiver, they are like
'objects' (if you will), and we recognize that they are dependent on material
conditions. As perceived, received phenomena that enter through the
material ear into our consciousness, into our animated, thinking, feeling,
sensing, listening and seeing body, they are the source, they are the sound
process, the silence emitting process, anchored materially in the real
world. They are objective processes the reception of which requires another,
congruent, complementary process: our activity, our acute involvement,
our attentive perception, directed towards them.
"Pénétrer le matériau
Sentir la relation espace-temps
Découvrir la structure
Être un instrument
Qu'on ne fait plus résonner."
|"To penetrate the sound material. [Das Klangmaterial
To sense the relationship space - time [Die Beziehung
Raum - Zeit sinnlich erfahren.]
To discover the structure [Die Struktur entdecken]
To surpass the echo [Das Echo überholen]
To be [Sein]
To be an instrument [Ein Instrument sein]
Which one no longer makes resound. [Welches man nicht
länger zum Klingen bringt.]
When was it if not some forty years ago that I listened
to Anthony Moore speaking to me, the poet interested in "the magic of acoustics",
of the parameters of music - pitch, timbre, harmony, volume. Speaking of
duration, speaking of space, saying how it mattered where sounds originated
in space and how they travelled through space and, emitted from different
sources, different positions, would be crossing each other's course. Would
be affecting each other... Do I remember correctly? I don't know. So much
time has passed but I remember how, on that day, he said, "Your voice is
pure music." It changed, with age, becoming, I suspect, harsher. An instrument
that ages. The notes, taken then, of his 'lecture', in part published later
by him, as 'Moore Weiland scribbles.' **
They still suggest, graphically, visually, what was at the core of his
explorations. These recent years, in Cologne, in Koblenz, SOUND SCULPTURES,
KlangSkulpturen, sound installations were inserted in public space.
Baudouin Oosterlynck has presented a sound sculpture in Koblenz.***
He poses all the essential questions. As a materialist, researching the
qualities, the locations, the sources of sound. Sound that is 'material'
and can turn into a 'material' agent, in a composition, interrelating with
other 'materially emitted' sounds, affected by the material qualities of
sources and locations.
It is not just abstract, Kantian categorizing that makes
this composer turn towards the relationship between the space of sounds
(the space of their origin, the space of their movement, the space of their
reception) and the time of sounds, not only their duration but their position
in time, relative to others sounds and relative to silence, to silences.
Does the perception, the recognition, the cognition of structure, the structure
of a composition, especially an experimental composition by a composer
of what used to be called the avant-garde, follow from this, I wonder?
Certainly the sound material (which includes silence, the opposition of
sounds and silences), the space (or spatial distribution) of the sound
material that makes up the composition, and the organization of the sound
material not only in space but also in time - thus, sound material, sound
space, sound time - constitute the basic elements of the compository
process that a structural approach, a structural "analysis" (as some say),
is determined to clarify, or understand. But then, the enigma: "to surpass
the echo." It is as if the temporal realization of a musical composition,
in the course of its performance, is "reduplicated" by its material echo
but also, and perhaps no less so, by the mental "echo" it leaves in the
listener. To hear the echo ebb and fade and to know that it crystalized,
in the mind, like a frozen, timeless sculpture - is that tantamount
to "surpassing the echo"? Does it means that music, having been and having
been heard and being no longer heard in these instants, has transcended
its "existence as process", as a sequence of changes, and has started to
"be"? Being, as we know, was defined by ancient Greek philosophers as unchanged,
unchanging permanence. The music, inside us, having taken on the form of
"being", may perhaps in turn change something in us, it may change us,
from the restless and perpetually changing, often breathlessly breathing,
antagonized, exasperated body to a body breathing more evenly, being more
at peace with itself and the world, approaching a state of being. A somewhat
mythical thought, I know, as the challenges continue to exist, all the
injustice, the denied needs, the trampled on freedom, the lacking friendliness
of a world ruined by a system of perverse accumulation, utterly out of
Another discovery of silence, no, of silences:
"Survient alors un instant merveilleux.
Un moment musical, un moment d'équilibre
où le silence du dehors se confond
avec le silence du dedans."
Pièce pour instruments et oreilles qui
|"There happens, then, a wondrous instant. / A musical
moment, a moment of balance / where the silence outside mingles / with
the silence inside." What Baudouin Oosterlynck catches, in these lines,
is the poetry of the sounds of these lines. But it is, at the same time,
a glimpse, an experience, and a recognition shared with us, his readers,
to the extent that such sharing is possible because we can only truly comprehend
perhaps what we ourselves have heard, seen, smelt, touched, felt, experienced
and grasped. Grasped, up to a point. The "music of the spheres," the ancients
called it. The fact that the wind, the trees, the stones, caves, hollows
in buildings, the corners of alley ways, the plains, mountains, seas of
the worlds, "sing", that they participate in the great universal symphony,
that each of them has its secrets, its sounds, its silences, its changes.
Soundscapes, specific to a place, yet dynamic rather than stationary; no
"repetition" is completely alike. The pun "There goes that cloud again"
simply reveals that no cloud passing is like any other. Did you listen
to its sound, its silence if silence, a specific, marvellous silence is
what you would perceive, in an instant, as the wind ebbs and the leaves
cease to stir?
Baudouin Oosterlynck reveals more, however, than the existence
of such sounds and silences, such a music (for music is made up of sounds
and silences) that traverses or inhabits the world, animating it, so to
speak, revealing itself as the breath of the world. He reveals, simultaneously,
what the surrealists called vases communicants: the mysterious, unattended
because all too often unnoticed connections, the rapport or relationship,
between the existing world around us, and our breathing, dreaming, thinking
body that hears and sees, smells and touches. Our body that is animated
by desires and capable of recognition, comprehension, of quiet meditative
states as much as of creative production and revolutionary action. Like
André Breton and other surrealists, Oosterlynck is sharply aware
of the surprising, the "marvellous" (merveilleux) that we chance upon and
either pass blindly by, or are stirred by. Moved, and attaining increased
perception. Moved, touched, and finding the flame of desire kindled. Moved,
quietly, and discovering a silence inside us that is as small and vulnerable
as a bird still alive in the mouth of a cat, or (for a brief moment) as
infinite as the vista of an ocean opening before our eyes on a calm and
sunny day. The marvellous, isn't it that which makes us wonder? Which
opens our ears, or eyes, or both?
"Depuis longtemps certaines pièces attendaient
Les pièces d'eau, les prothèses, quelques ruines et vestiges.
Quand tout à coup j'eus la révélation d'une nouvelle
L'art, comme l'amour, est un instant
de coïncidence avec soi, avec l'autre,
avec le monde."
|"For long, certain pieces waited for a home. / The water
pieces, the protheses, some ruins and traces. / Suddenly I had the revelation
of a new utopia. / Art, like love, is a moment of coincidence with one's
self, with the other, with the world." Coincidence! How rare it is - walking
together, aware of the harmony, the lack of all edgy, piercing or simply
awkward movements that isolate and erect walls, creating those misunderstandings
that abound in us. How rare, the words exchanged and the moments
of silence when all misunderstandings dissolve. How rare, the moments of
a shared vision and clear perception of the beautiful. And of the ills
of the world, the needs of people whose most basic needs are neglected.
How rare, the moments when we become aware and understand the fears and
hopes that require changes for the better while we begin to grasp how they
can be attained, in a given situation, at a given time in our societies
- societies that are all but just, and sisterly/brotherly, and as
democratic as they could be. Baudouin Oosterlynck senses the deep link,
the existence of communicating tubes between our dreams and the world we
traverse. And he makes us aware how sensitivity, being both a state and
a flux, can be sharpened by the artist that exists inside us, by seeing
more acutely and listening more attentively, in a way prefigured by the
attentiveness the surrealists developed vis-à-vis the objects they
found, objects that "out of the blue" made them marvel. It is in this way
that Baudouin Oosterlynck has discovered sounds in various times, various
places. And silences, different silences - each particular to its time
and place. Influenced by the dryness or moisture of the air, the altitude
of the location, the way it is enclosed or opens up and extends its reach,
almost endlessly. In order to be a poet, it is not necessary to write poetry.
The poetry can unfold in your dreams, daydreams, sensations registered.
Similarly, moments of music are realized, they come into being, in those
incidences of clear perception of the sounds, the silences of life, a life
of flux, of unending changes, but a concretely situated life, subject to
and thus under the influence of animated matter. Yes, "matter hears", Paul
Klee exclaimed when he marveled at the new invention, the phonographic
record - or was it already the tape recorder that registered and in turn
reproduced sounds? Like a string touched, like the strings of a piano hammered
upon, or plucked in the manner of Cage, objects, touched by the wind, emit
sounds. Locations echo. Our steps, our voice is thrown back in a peculiar
fashion. Yes, they even have their own silence when the sounds fade. All
of them: bricks, earth, boulders, torrents of water, wide windy planes.
A curved coastline. A boulevard, or a small lane. A back alley or couron,
hoofje, they say in Flanders. With its densely packed houses that have
a story inscribed in them - the story of the lives of ordinary people who
lived, and of all those who still live here. Poor, exploited people. Working
people. People full of exuberance, again and again, in the moments that
promised liberation. Or the moments of love blooming. Or the moments when
on a Sunday, they went to a dance. A café chantant where they sing
and drink and are suddenly no longer overwhelmed by worries. By the concern
about unpaid bills, a bad boss, a harsh foreman, a nagging relative. The
poet in us, the composer, the painter, draughtsman or printmaker in us,
discovers it all. That they, our sisters and brothers, are poets, that
they are artists, too. The longing to see and to listen, undiscovered perhaps
and thus still asleep, still buried inside, under the shrill loud noise
of a perpetually screeming television set, is alive in them, too. A flame,
a desire, ready to burn. L'imagination au pouvoir, I read on a wall, and
read again, in a book. The imagination, yes, but not the power. It will
dissolve, quietly, distributed and possessed by all those still disempowered
today. Turning infinitesimal, it becomes a collective, a shared faculty
to see, to hear, to feel, to think. To debate & decide. And act together.
Art, the sensitivity rekindled by projects like those of Baudouin Oosterlynck,
projects that encompass a research not unlike that of the surrealists,
will open our eyes, clear our ears of rubbish, sharpen our senses, turn
muddled emotions into emotions full of pristine clarity, heighten our intellect,
our ethical awareness. Changer la vie! Changer le monde! the surrealists
said. A project that tears down artificial barriers. Between you and me.
Between "musical" and "non-musical" sounds. Between "art" and "life", "art"
and the "world."
* The paragraphs quoted in French are from: Baudouin
Oosterlynck, 25 ans entre l'oeil et l'oreille [25
Years Between the Eye and the Ear]. Namur (André Lambotte Editeur)
2000; translation by AW
** Anthony Moore, "moore weiland scribbles", in:
Lab, Jahrbuch 1996/97 fuer Kuenste und Apparate, herausgegeben von
der Kunsthochschule für Medien mit dem Verein der Freunde der KHM.
Koeln (Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig) 1997, pp. 129-135
*** Klangskulpturen. Augenmusik. Grenzgaenge zwischen
Musik und Plastik im 20. Jahrhundert. Koblenz (Ludwig Museum Koblenz) 1995