In October 2015 we opened the doors to our new home, the Spatial Sound Institute in Budapest, Hungary. In this interview, founder Paul Oomen discusses the role of the Institute in the longer term scope of 4DSOUND, the intense construction phase of the space and impressions of our opening night as part of Contemporary Arts Festival Budapest.
Where did the idea for the Spatial Sound Institute come from?
During the last months of 2014, John Connell, the team and I worked out our creative direction for 4DSOUND that would guide our thinking and decisions for the next years. We concluded that spatial sound is a new medium, with its own rules and values as yet to be defined and discovered. We proposed a hypothesis to explore: that spatial awareness and how we understand space through sound plays an integral role in the development of our cognitive capacities. As a result, there will be new ways to discover how we can express ourselves through space, and our understanding of the nature of space itself will evolve.
Central in our plan for the project was to establish a laboratory for artists, thinkers and scientists to explore ideas about space through sound, and create a platform for cross-fertilization of different fields of knowledge to further the development of the medium. The lab would also function as a new platform for spatial listening: in enabling us to refine our conscious listening practice, we can increase awareness of the surrounding and explore a deeper connection to the self and others around us.
Why did you choose to establish the Institute in Budapest?
I am pretty much at home in Budapest. I have been living for longer periods in the city since 2006. In the meantime I have a Hungarian family and two half-Hungarian children, I speak the language... therefore it wasn't a big step to imagine that once the right opportunity came up in Budapest, it became a realistic option to move the project here as well.
4DSOUND was basically invented in Hungary. In 2006, I remember visiting the exhibition Resonance: Electromagnetic Bodies for the 150th birthday of Nikola Tesla at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest. Encountering the legacy of Nikola Tesla had a huge impact on me. I started collecting every writing and drawing I could find from him, I wanted to completely understand his thinking about energy and space, because what he described was exactly what had always fascinated me in sound and listening to music, subconsciously. I felt that Tesla articulated what I had been looking for as a composer much better than I had been able to myself. Heavily inspired by Tesla, the idea to create 4DSOUND sparked in January 2007 while working in my apartment in the Rottenbiller Utca in Budapest. This was one of the first drawings I made.
Currently, I think the momentum is right for creative technology with international outreach to move to Budapest. The city’s electronic music culture is strongly on the rise right now. Many established electronic music artists have been coming to Budapest for the first time to perform. There is a growing young creative community in Budapest, and the level is pretty high.
The attitude is critical and considerate - people don't take things for granted and are inherently supportive to initiatives that can open up new avenues for creativity. This feels like an exciting surrounding to explore for 4DSOUND. The present socio-economic situation in Budapest is quite right for artists and creative industry to move here - the situation might be comparable to Berlin in the 90s: there is space, it’s affordable, and there is hunger for expression, the need for action and new initiatives, energy from outside flowing into the country.
When I met Wolfgang Bartesch, the owner of Art Quarter Budapest, and got to know about the privately funded art estate he was establishing, I thought it was amazing, and immediately began imagining the possibilities for 4DSOUND here. To cut a long story short, together we have built a permanent spatial sound studio and presentation space, accommodation for up to twenty artists and a project space.
It’s no coincidence that this came up in Budapest rather than another ‘creative’ city hub. I think that in Amsterdam, London, Paris, New York, or even in Berlin these days, this would be very difficult to do as a private initiative, as we are. That tells you something about the opportunities in Budapest right now, and what might be ahead for the city over the next five to ten years.
Can you explain a bit more about how this collaboration with Art Quarter Budapest came about? Were you searching for opportunities in Budapest? What attracted you specifically in this location?
It was quite serendipitous actually. Initially I was scouting for potential venues in Budapest to do an event with 4DSOUND. We had been nomadic with the system for quite a while, traveling between temporary venues and festivals, trying to find new spaces and partners every couple of months to continue our programmes. We enjoyed the process a great deal but it became pretty draining after an extended period.
When I found the space and met Wolfgang in March 2015, I wasn't searching for a permanent facility at all. I accidentally found out about Art Quarter Budapest through an artist friend who suggested me to go and at least have a look. I found a ruined warehouse in the periphery of the faded industrial belt in the south of Buda. The place was in total disrepair. I almost left immediately, but Wolfgang insisted to show me around. He talked passionately about his plans with the estate, developing a sustainable model to support an independent and international artist community to establish itself there, which immediately resonated with the plans that the guys and I had discussed at length before.
Going up a staircase filled with old doors, pieces of floor and furniture covered in chalk and dust, we moved into a 40-meter long abandoned warehouse space with wooden columns and beams in the ceiling above. Rows of open holes in the walls where there used to be windows gave a view out onto the river Danube flowing right next to the estate. Parts of the ceiling and floor where missing. Walking carefully over narrow pathways of wood that bridged the large holes in the floor, I could see through the structure of the building up and down into similar warehouse spaces two, three stories below and above.
On my way home, everything fell into place for me. The architectural skeleton of the building with its vertical columns and horizontal beams seemed ideal for installing the 4DSOUND system. What if we could take a couple of floors out entirely? What if we could extend the system both in height above your head as well below your feet? I’d dreamed of extending the system down as well as up, into the space below the floor, something that is very hard to realize structurally, especially with a mobile system. This space gave us just the opportunity.
The remote, almost rural location, both part-of and out-of the city, gave me the idea of a space that could be cultivated primarily for creation and inspiration. What we had been envisioning the whole time - to hand over the process to the growing community around 4DSOUND - could really become a reality in such a space. Wolfgang's ambition to turn this into an international meeting place for artists, and the residency spaces that were already being developed, were really promising signs that AQB could open up a new direction for the project.
And so you made the decision to establish the Institute, and then in October 2015, it was publicly announced and officially opened. What happened during the time in between? What was the process like developing the space?
It was a fascinating and pretty turbulent process. An opportunity to officially open the space came up through a collaboration with Contemporary Art Festival Budapest taking place in October, which gave us a tight but workable deadline we had to complete the construction by. The work was done in roughly three periods, with several parts of the estate to develop separately: the core sound space, a reception/ atelier functioning as a project space, and fifteen new rooms as part of an extension of artist residency accommodation at AQB. Things definitely came together in the end, but it wasn’t exactly a smooth process!
The first step was finishing the spatial sound studio itself, so that we could start working there from the summer on. We started, rather ambitiously, by planning ten weeks of residencies during the summer to develop our programme Circadian in the new space. In the end the space only turned out to be half-ready, which meant we were able to install the speaker system but nothing more. So we spent the summer working with the artists on the new productions in a dusty construction site, which wasn’t easy and far from comfortable, but actually a unique experience in itself. I am grateful that we were able to fully experience the space in this transitional state. It gives me the feeling I have a more intimate relationship with the space now, and there is more of a story to tell, as we have fully lived in the process.
Among many memorable moments, I remember preparing Noqturnl with John Connell and Florence To during this summer, where in the middle of the night suddenly a bat that had been hiding somewhere in the space attacked John while he was working on the system (something to do with those high frequencies!). Or being woken up in the early morning by birds sitting in the sunlight of the open windows, their songs accompanying the final moments of our overnight audiovisual wanderings.