The Sound Poetry Loops of Dirk Huelstrunk
By Martyn Schmidt
Dirk Huelstrunk (Frankfurt am Main / Germany, * 1964) is a sound poet/artist, literary minimalist, poet and dada-researcher. On his album „Müüü“ (2014), which was recorded in Germany, Spain and Finland, the artist fathoms the borderlands between speech and sound. Huelstrunk’s fascinating sound poetry loops walk a tightrope between invocation and music, between improvisation and composition. Huelstrunk operates internationally as an interdisciplinary sound poet, sound artist, author and lecturer. Huelstrunk is host of the poetry slam and song slam in Frankfurt am Main.
Listen to: „See Something (The Black Thing)“ from the album „müüü“ (atemwerft 2014):
„‚Ghost-sounds‘ between the sounds„
Dirk, you work with a loop station, thus your sound poetry is very highly structured by loops. Don’t those strict loops freeze your creative freedom and don’t they make for unfree, fixed situations?
I work exclusively with live-loops of my own voice, mostly in a live performance situation. If you have a clear structure, the deviations become more obvious. This creates a constant tension. At the same time overstructuring usually leads to deconstruction in the end. Chance elements generate unforseen new structures. The slightest deviations can change structures fundamentally. Time and density are important factors in this process. I am fascinated by the layering of loops that can create immense density and complexity of sound with very little material.
Of course the loops are a limitation. But artistic work usually profits from self-imposed rules and limitations. To cross a border, you have to see or feel it. But the loop also creates familiarity, a feeling of „security“. It may sound paradoxical, but the limitation of the loop gives me freedom to improvise. The loops create „space“. You record something, repeat it, lay back and „think“ or just wait until a new idea comes up. Otherwise there would be silence.
Creating loops, your main approach is to layer, to laminate sounds. This means the listener is able to hear former structures that beforehand lead to the ongoing sound sculpture. Past and present immingle, and the audible process forbodes the upcoming steps. While creating loops, to what extent are you interested in categories of time like past, present and future?
In my mind the most interesting aspect of digital loop stations is their ability to be used in realtime, like an instrument. Of course the early sound poets of the 1950s could create loops with tape-recorders, scissors and glue. But this required intricate and time-consuming studio work. The outstanding feature of digital live looping is the extreme presence. Of course this all happens within a time frame and there is a development. But it’s a rather tight frame, a „story“ that unfolds in a few minutes. Listener expectations and experiences are also part of the time dimension. This is a wider perspective I am definitely interested in, and I try to work with it. But I am even more interested in creating new sounds. Just by layering the loops, „ghost-sounds“ appear between the sounds. Sometimes listeners will hear „words“ I never said. They just evolve due to the interference between other words or sounds. The result is different for every single listener. Maybe you could define this as an imaginary method.
In doing so, you not only reveal the processuality to the listener, but also you make transparent the respective track’s mode of formation.
No-yes. I develop my pieces by working on them through constant trial& error. I don’t have a clear vision, when I begin. A piece evolves slowly, through many phases and experiments in the rehearsal room or even on stage. In the beginning it´s an open game, a vague idea I am improvising about. Only after listening to the recordings do I start to take notes and make a sketch of the basic structure. Heinrich von Kleist called this the „gradual manufacturing of thoughts through speaking“.
My pieces are hardly ever finished. I see them as constant „work in progress“. Every performance changes the material. The recipient sees and hears how the piece builds up loop by loop. But this doesn´t mean that the process is comprehensible for him. My work is based on intuition, improvisation a high ratio of chance elements. How, and to which point, things are evolving isn’t fully traceable, either for me or for the recipient. Many disparate elements are cooked to a thick stew that doesn´t really reveal it´s ingredients. Transparency might be rather a notion or a feeling. But while the process of developing a piece by doing it, plays an important role in my aesthetic, I don´t want it to end there. The real shape, the Gestalt of the sound poem is also very important for me… the acoustic and performative result, though it is always a temporary result. Now it´s a strange feeling for me to see some of my pieces fixed to a CD.
What meaning bears repetition for you in general?
In the beginning, repetition wasn´t so important for me. I was rather more interested in minimalist reduction, in boiling things down to the essence. I was into radical avantgarde and Free Jazz. I appreciated every attempt to break down all structures and borders. In a conservative time with strong rules and regulations this is definitely necessary. But nowadays I no longer believe that you can create more freedom by simply destroying all rules, structures and borders.Communication and empathy are often collateral damage of this attitude. In radical avantgarde we can still find an aggressive rejection of audience expectations, feelings and wishes and a paranoid fear of „pleasing the audience“.
I am not creating my art to please anyone, but I would like to communicate what I am doing as effectively as possible, Repetitive elements play an important role in this respect. They create a common ground, a basic security not only for myself but also for my audience. I can improvise as wildly as possible, but I know there´s a ground below our feet.
„Repetition“ – live at the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Conference,
Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Oct. 30th 2011:
Repetition is basically a method. Like all methods, it can be used and even misused for very different ends. In Germany our Nazis past tells us to be extra cautious about repetition as a means of manipulation and indoctrination. In advertisments we are still subject to this kind of conditioning, but it has become so subtle that we hardly recognize it. Although it looks so colorful and individual from the outside, a closer inspection reveals that our high-tech civilization is mostly based on repetitive processes. This is why I think we also need to look at repetition from an artistic perspective. We should not leave such an existential field to programmers, ideologists and PR-people.
Repetition is also an existential experience of life, if not life itself. Breathing, beating of the heart, blinking of the eye, every step we take. Repetition means, we are not finished yet. When repetition stops you are dead.
What fascinates me most is that every repetition creates something new. Repetition is never exact. There will always be a difference. I see repetition as a basic creative method. The more you repeat, the faster you repeat, the more layers of repetition you get, the more the original repetition is destroyed. Semantic elements will be obscured, the sounds will disintegrate. This deconstruction through over-construction is a basic method in my live-looping.
Excerpt of an extensive atemwerft-interview. The conversation between Dirk Huelstrunk und Martyn Schmidt took place on December 23th, 2013.
© atemwerft 2014 / aw 001
Listen to „Müüü“ (available as HiRes-Download & CD): www.atemwerft.de.
CD comes in origami-style cardboard-folder (in black or white) including white canvas paper folder with liner notes and exclusive VisualPoem by dirk huelsTrunk. Artwork: Martyn Schmidt.
Black CD in vinyl-look with haptic grooves, hand-stamped.
Limited edition: First 33 copies come signed by dirk huelsTrunk.
On Saturday, 22. February 2014 was the release-date of Dirk Huelstrunks album „Müüü“. It’s the 128. birthday of Sound Poetry pioneer and co-founder of Dada Hugo Ball. The video shows Dirk Huelstrunk performing live his great version of Hugo Ball’s „Seepferdchen und Flugfische“ („Seahorses and flying fish“, 1916) – this track can be found on „Müüü“ in an impressing studio-version :
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