PhD Michal Rataj /CZ/ - Academy of Performing Arts Prague

I would like to share with you, in my report for this year’s colloquy; very recent experience witch is connected with formation of my new electro-acoustic composition called “The way There[1].“ This experience has more levels of perception which symbiosis lets me see aspects of modern art in last weeks especially in connection on its existence in public space which are absolutely new and in some cases privately breakthrough for me. It’s definitely provoking secretly and actually - at least in some detail - positively subversive.


During residential staying in Museums Quartier in Vienna in 2004 I met great sound artist who turns part of my brain inside out – Andres Bosshard[2]. At that time firstly I could have a look towards something which is named “sound architecture .“ It’s world of thinking about sound in space, which becomes instrumental space which is  directly cooperating on sound site-specific composition.


Sound architecture isn’t solving only location of loud-speakers around us so that sounds could be everywhere as it seems to us at first sight. It’s trying to thing more comprehensive about artificial sound, which is entering into the space in which we are interacting with in many levels – architectural, aesthetic, compositional, psychological or social.


This type of thinking was started to be developed by remarkable Viennese initiative Tonspur für einen öffentlichen Raum[3] in 2003 which action “public space“ has become Viennese Museums Quartier. They produced new compositions by artists from all over the world every two months, whose composition enters into the open space of Museums Quartier and it’s clang in multi-channel installation in one from local spaces.


Tonspur extended its initiative to Berlin. At present there are discussions about realization of similar permanent installation in public space in Prague headed by Austrian culture forum. I’m talking about sound installation which brings multi-channel technology of sound electro acoustic composition into the places where people are going, where they having a rest, where they chatting, meet each other, where they are stopping for a while and realize the strength of sound, which is changing space around us.


Tonspur gets Andres Bosshard back into the Museums Quartier this year after few years[4] with very concrete purpose – realize the project which form was said few years ago: Klanghimmel – Heaven of sounds. It’s set of twenty-four loud-speakers channels which creates something like heaven of sounds above large court in Museums Quartier with help of very different types “loud-speakers exciter.“ From this “heaven“ will sound compositions of 20 authors from whole world and will resound the place of spacious court under it.


I was asked for contributing with my composition into Bosshard´s amazing installation by my friends from Tonspur. My composition should connect Viennese Museums Quartier (where this installation will be activate from 9th June 2011) with space, where the Tonspur initiative should be activate in Prague. Firstly it was to have been court in front of  Virgin Mary´s church, coincidentally there is residing Vienna culture forum in Prague in this court. When I was asked for this composition it started my experience about which I told you at the beginning and lets grow up my report. It´s in spirit of conceptual audit, esthetic discussion, social analysis and of course compositional premeditation, it isn´t judging, criticizing or attacking on substance at all.


Court in front of Virgin Mary´s church is place where I have gone since my studying years. It´s in the middle of Prague center and it´s very close to me and whenever I can pass through the court to the highest Prague church, I feel good. It´s the space which is exactly like gate into sacral space of church, gate, which you can´t  go round and which is architecturally separating world of noisy Prague center from silent church place of prayer.


When I was propositioned to compose composition, which should connect with this sacred space and which would be piece for installation “Klanghimmel” in Vienna too, I knew, that it´s first time in my life when I´m creating composition for public space, which is in its substance very far from usual conceptions of concert operation, on its we are still inured in modern music production. It was clear to me, that if I want to give my sounds into sacral space in front of my favorite church or lets it resound from heaven it will comes situation which opens space  for meditation music, prayer, silence, stopping.


Concept of new composition started occur to me in some abstract synestetics realities . I wanted sound clouds, which are able to let get through twinkle of heaven light down to the ground. I wanted sound area, which makes me feel safely and calmly on the one hand but I wanted resonance of thunder on the other hand. Area which awake you from lethargy at the right moment after its fading gives place to silence. And also I wanted to hear glass – which is resounding by thorough light[5].


Because court in front of Virgin Mary´s church belongs to Franciscan monastery, it was necessary discuss with brothers Franciscans about possibility of realization such long-term sound installation. They asked for testing this installation for two weeks in May 2011, which purpose was checking of acoustics reality and its potential integrate it with ordinary daily activity of this court with Franciscan community life. As a result of this experiment brothers decided not to permit installation in this space.


I wasn’t there when they discuss about installation, but during testing of that I heard statement by one from brothers which brings me more deeply to thinking about realities of initiative like this in public space. On my question What do you think about this? he answered:  “We think that this space should be place of silence.” In other words we can say:  sounds, which we heard from sound installation, are disturbing silence of this space. From this it started my next investigation of whole situation. I thought about what exactly silence is in these days. Although I often speak about these realities with my students, it seems to me that in perspective of this experience the question of silence is different from me now.


When we sit down for a while in the court in front of Virgin Mary´s church and starts to perceive by hearing what happened around us, we couldn´t notice:

  • noisy groups of tourists, who are speaking quietly before they enter to the church.
  • big noise of the city (including ambulance siren or tooting cars) which we can heard in the court
  • not so quiet steps of people who are coming around us, often with extremely noisy suitcases on wheels
  • not to silent fly upping of pigeon flocks
  • shouting of local madman sitting at the both entrance into the court
  • bells from church, which out thunder everything in the court
  • parents coming with small children who are screaming


and we could continue like that in relation on daytime, weather, season and etc. Under what we imagine silence? Let’s go below with words by John Cage “Is existing something like silence?”[6]


I don´t want to speculate upon flashback of conception related with inverse perception of silence and noise in last century in connection with music, psychology, technology, philosophy or politics.[7] Face to face the above situation I must ask myself again with much greater urgency  - how it sound the silence inside the court in front of Virgin Mary´s church in Prague? What´s more – what to do for silence in this place? How to persuade the noisy tourists to be quiet, how to prohibit enter into the court with suitcases on wheels which are very noisy on the tiled floor? How to isolate this court from noise of the city? And why not to perceive so close sound of church bells like an unpleasant sonic intervention into my private space? Is there really greater silence at the moment when in this space music stops sound?


I think about this all when I´m trying with great honesty think about composition which is designed for existence in public space or in sacred space destined for silence. From my own parental praxis I know that If I want to quiet down my children I must raise my voice for a while more than my children expected. Action causes reaction – children´s voices shut up for a while.


We judge all sounds around us relatively. Loud an brightly articulate sound will catch the attention of us. With R. M. Schafer´s words it becomes to hi-fi object and on the background there will originate lo-fi sound continuum.[8] The higher dynamic level is around us the less we are able to perceive quiet sounds respectively – the lower level of sound is around us our ear is becoming more sensitive, the more quiet sounds we hear.


And I will go beyond – If it comes sound fact into my immediate sound perspective, which will attract my attention, it overshadows psycho-acoustics other events less immediate and my concentration will be fasten only on the most immediate one. I will start perceive it, I will start react on it, other things will be redundant, uninteresting and unnecessary.


I imagined exactly the same situation in relation to space situation in the court in front of Virgin Mary´s church and I observed with pleasure like people react on sound in the court at the time of testing the installation. So – when I hear artificial sound in standard public space it will interest my attention with its “incorrectness.” Common reaction is listening (only if it´s for a while, spontaneous). If I come into the space, which will brings mi into the church, I´m becoming to be a part of the process, in which I´m coming from loud city ambient, I´m registering “strange sound” I drop my voice, maybe I stop myself for a while and then I continue through sort of “sound tunnel” towards church enter. Composition sounding from sound installation started plays a dual role – it surprises with its “incorrectness” in relation with space where it is and overshadows space of outside ambient with its artificial sound space. Space which is growing inside other space, is gradually forcing us silencing self…


Respectively – if I fasten my ears on existence supposed silence, only in that time is that “silence” in the middle of the city will show me in its monstrous noise quality and become to acoustic power, which doesn´t let us rest. Believe in silence is self-deceit, which is predicating much about loss of ability to learn things about world auditive way.


This paradox is actually some kind of social fallout of composition, which originated thanks initiative Tonspur and which was inspired  fully biblically conceived metaphor – through heaven, which sounds (Klanghimmel). We can look for silence only through absolutistic power of clanging sound.


And in the end, I say to myself – God keeps silence. But is that the silence, which is result of this majestic character of God?

[1] Order from iniciative Tonspur für einen öffentlichen Raum, Vienna, 2011

[2] Andres Bosshard (*1955), Swiss composer, performer, sound artist and pedagogue,



[4] in 2011 Museums Quartier are celebrating 10. anniversary of its existence.

[5] This dimension was from beginning inspired by Mark Trizuljak´s glass objects, thanks its arise my composition “Glass light“ in autumn 2011.  Its sonic reflections was projected in my new compositions for initiative Tonspur.

[6] John Cage, Silence, Prague 2010, s. 42

[7] Compare with J. Attali, Noise. The Political Economy of Music. University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

[8] R. Murraq Schafer, The Soundscape. The Tuning of the World. Destiny Books, USA, 1994, s. 43

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