julius (halb) schwarz

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julius (halb) schwarz is the first CD to collect a wide range of Rolf Julius' diverse compositions from several years. The Berlin-based sound, installation, action, and sound artist began experimenting with various forms of contemporary music in the 1970s. julius (halb) schwarz deals with the world of "small sounds," a term coined by John Cage to designate sounds so subtle that they are usually barely discernible. "He is characterized by his ever present receptiveness to subtle sound processes and a real gift for making sounds thrive," (Frank Hilberg).

Artists and repertoire: Manfred Klauß, RZ

Coproduction: x-traxt and edition rz

Recording: Julius

Mastering: Christian Feldgen, Schalloran

Executive producer: Elke Moltrecht

With support from Friedhart Faltin and Manfred Mixner


Rolf Julius’ wonderful world of small sounds

From the standpoint of a 100% pure Central European aesthetic, it’s all about weeds, rubbish, noise: hisses, crackles, whines, drones – all sounds that would be eliminated by tradition-conscious sound engineers, at great technical expenditure.

The roccoco art of gardening regarded unchecked weeds, the maze of branches and overgrown lawns as anarchic and thus, dangerous, even diabolical. Terrible. An army of gardeners with rakes, flashing scythes and a fleet of grading rollers got all that under control though, and soon the paths were cleaned, the treetops trimmed to look like balls or bowling pins, the lawns graded to billiard tables and everything arranged from a central perspective in nicely symmetric ideal geometries. The only thing that no longer fits in this landscape is the person – no matter where he would like to sit (and however civilized). Wherever he wanders, he disturbs the tableau, disrupts the order, creates asymmetries. People have no place in such gardens. But in the sound gardens of Rolf Julius, they do. Here, one can linger, here life develops according to rules outside of geometry. The multi-part chorus of chirps, squeals and growls hints at secret goings-on underground. But, in this case, what is above and below, what is foreground and background? The sound activity is multi-perspective, each movement in space changes the sonic image – and this is also conveyed through stereo playback in the privacy of one‘s own home – many of the sounds are well camouflaged and one notices them only abruptly, after the fact (but weren’t they really there the whole time?).

The listener is used to being in the extremely archaic (and simultaneously romantic) situation of sitting in one place, following the endless counterpoint of the gurgling of water to the rustling of leaves in the trees. And depending upon his frame of mind, his tastes and other inexplicable reasons, he focuses on this or that detail, establishes this or that connection, constructs developments or registers contrasts. Perhaps he is only dreaming. It is unimportant which associations arise, Julius’ pieces stimulate the imagination every time: what if these sounds were living creatures? How would they look? How would they move? Or if these soundscapes represented the factory of an extra-terrestrial civilization: what would be manufactured? For what purpose? What if the pieces were pictures, which sounds would represent which colors? Which roughnesses would result in which surfaces?

Determining the "true” nature of "small sounds” (a concept of John Cage’s to characterize sounds so delicate that they are usually not heard) is as impossible as it is unnecessary. They are all electrically or electronically produced. Some of the low, open-fifth type drones can be traced back to cello tones which have been transformed dozens of times – how and how often, that’s for sound archeologists to discover one day. Others come from Julius’ arsenal of interval buzzers. These are minute electrical components which, when compared with the sound generators available on the market, are just as simply constructed as insects when compared with higher vertebrates: if energy flows, they produce sound – but not just one to one, as the physicists would like to model them, because within certain boundaries they behave unpredictably. Julius plays with this consciously, for instance, when he starves his little sound animal by stingily cutting off the power. On the brink of complete extinction of all activity, impulses then break away, creating facinating irregular rhythms. This is a form of nature which is worlds removed from the sound mélanges of sleep-walking sound ecologists: the creator (to give him a name: Rolf Julius) configures a sound biotope by providing the elements and keeping them running. Because he is a clever creator, he gives his creatures the freedom to act within their limits, according to their rules (and those of chance) instead of forcing his will upon them. They thank him by raising their thousandfold small voices to a wonderful song in praise of eternally changing life, whose diversity in the unity the alert listener will not tire of listening to.

Closing with such a hymn would paint a somewhat distorted picture of Julius, though, for such overzealousness is just as foreign to his nature as messianic artistry. What distinguishes him is an ever-present receptivity to subtle sound processes and a talent – a green thumb – for letting sounds thrive, when others would let even cactuses dry out. Then he is indeed a gardener? To be sure, but one without the hedge clippers and lawn mower. (Frank Hilberg)

Translation: Laurie Schwartz