Reflexion of a Dam

Riflessione di una Diga (1987) by Andres Bosshard
Courtesy the Artist

The Swiss sound artist Andres Bosshard works at the interface between music, visual arts, design, and architecture. His works show that architectural space is always also sound space. His Staudammkonzert (dam concert), in particular, Bosshard’s first large-scale project (performed in 1987 in Fusio) demonstrated how strongly architectural elements acoustically influence their surroundings.

Within the scope of the festival Musica Improvvisata Contemporanea (M.I.C.) in Ascona, the dam concert Riflessione di una diga (Reflection of a Dam) took place in July 1987 at the foot of a 113-meter-high dam wall. The live musicians were members of the group Nachtluft: Günter Müller (drums, electronic drums), Jacques Widmer (drums), Andres Bosshard (cassette equipment, spatial acoustics), in addition to Philip Edelstein (computer, open-faced electronics) and Genji Ito (shakuhachi). Andres Bosshard developed the concept for this concert in collaboration with Philip Edelstein, who as a member of Composers Inside Electronics had been involved in the cooperative realization in 1973 of the electroacoustic environment Rainforest IV by David Tudor. In this work, transducers (contact speakers) were used to cause objects to naturally resonate, the resonance was amplified by means of contact microphones, and thus an acoustic contemporaneity was placed alongside the plastic, spatial presence of these objects. With this linking of the auditory and the visual, Rainforest IV provided an important impulse for the idea of the dam concert.

By precisely positioning eight small speakers, which were attached to a 300-meter-long rope construction, Bosshard succeeded in using the dam as a monumental sound reflector by making its form audible, so to speak: in much the same way as through a concave mirror, the sound was acoustically focused on the parabolically curved wall and could sometimes even be perceived from a distance of ten kilometers. The reflection time associated with the immense spatial expansion of the dam also influenced the auditory impression in the Maggia Valley. Thus, the musicians at the foot of the dam had to work musically with a delay time of one second and were prompted to include the reflector as an instrumental object. This acoustic feature shaped the concert situation as much as did the characteristics of the sound generators used. The sound-related properties of the dam were so sustained that the focus was shifted to the site specificity of the performance situation and architectural form could also be experienced in its acoustic dimensions.