The Sound of Modernity

These days, Ignas Krunglevičius shows a solo exhibition at Kunsthall Oslo. In relation to this, we re-publish an earlier interview with him. 

Ignas Krunglevičius, Transparent, 2015. 
Exhibition view at Galerija Vartai, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Ignas Krunglevičius, Transparent, 2015. 
Exhibition view at Galerija Vartai, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Before Ignas Krunglevičius came to Oslo to do a master’s in music composition, he experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bombastic arrival of modernity. Today, his art is aimed at techno- logy and humanity’s position in an ever-developing system-based society.

These days, Krunglevičius (b. 1979) works as an artist and composer, and manages the artist-run space Podium in Oslo. As a contemporary composer and visual artist, he works with new media art, focussing mainly on text and sound in audio-visual installations.

The recurring theme in Krunglevičius’ output is one aimed at the relationship between modernity and power, as it appears in interpersonal relationships and the technology that permeates our time. As a composer, he covers a wide spectrum, but his main interest lies in the psychological properties of the techno genre.

‘When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, modern Europe and the West leapt into Lithuania. The social transformation was so tumultuous, and everything changed; life went from meaningful to relative, and McDonalds, Bob Dylan, and NATO came all in one package. And everything was set to a techno beat. When I came to Norway, I was surprised that everyone was playing guitar and no-one was listening to electronica. For me, the sound of modernity is a universal bass drum.

Krunglevičius moved to Oslo to study composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music in 2001, and since then, visual art has been a key element of his music.

‘My approach to composing has never been conventional. For example, I have never played an instrument. When I applied to the Academy of Music in Oslo, I was already interested in various disciplines that could be made part of musical installations, and so it was natural for me to become involved in the visual art scene here.’

Since then, Krunglevičius has contributed to a number of art exhibitions, but one thing remains clear:

‘New ideas spring from what you know best, and for me, the visual derives from the musical,’ he underscores.

The Harmonies of Power
During his studies, Krunglevičius produced his hitherto most critically acclaimed and recognised piece, Interrogation (2009), an audio-visual installation revolving around the theme of interpersonal power. The piece, for which he received the Norwegian Savings & Loan Trust’s stipend for 2009, and which was nominated for the Nam Jun Paik Award, is part of the Havana Biennial in Cuba these days.

Ignas Krunglevičius, Interrogation, 2009. Double channel video installation with sound 13 min. Installation view at Oslo Kunstforening.

Ignas Krunglevičius, Interrogation, 2009. Double channel video installation with sound 13 min. Installation view at Oslo Kunstforening.

‘When the installation was purchased by the German National Gallery, Hamburger Bahnhof, my first thoughts were “Wow!” and that I was obviously onto something interesting. Interrogation is a replica of a police report from 2004, a copy of an interrogation during a murder investigation in the US. A woman by the name of Mary Kovic is being interrogated in connection with the murder of her husband, who was supposedly shot with his own shotgun.’

The aesthetic elements of this audio-visual installation have accompanied Krunglevičius in his later production. His audio-visual work is characterised by all visual information being removed, replaced solely by computer-written lines crawling across a single screen. In these pieces, as well, the text is set to a minimalist electronic soundtrack.

In Interrogation, the power dynamic between Kovic and the investigating officer comes across through a combination of text and sound, but it is first and foremost the sound that connotes a form of subjectivity on the part of each speaker.

‘Music is the subjects’ backbone, and in the piece, Kovic is accompanied by a bass drum that evokes a feeling of uncertainty and that she can’t — or won’t — put what happened between her and her husband into words,’ explains Krunglevičius.

In the deciding moments of the interview, the sound recedes and the volume goes down, before pulsing higher and higher. These techniques help to underscore the atmosphere of the interrogation, and the power dynamic between the participants is largely presented through the piece’s music.

Ignas Krunglevičius, Interrogation, 2009. Double channel video installation with sound 13 min. Installation view at Oslo Kunstforening.

Ignas Krunglevičius, Interrogation, 2009. Double channel video installation with sound 13 min. Installation view at Oslo Kunstforening.

Aesthetic Means
New media art is widespread in both Norwegian and international art scenes — an artform that reflects the technical nature of our present day through elements like video, sound, and other digital solutions. Luckily for aesthetics, media technology has mimetic qualities that tie directly to the human ability to see, hear, and feel, which thereby also give observers of new media art a wider range of sensory experiences on seeing a piece. The human sensory apparatus is a central element of Krunglevičius work, often in combination with his discoveries about psycholog y and power structures from his years at academy, as can be seen the aforementioned Interrogation. Krunglevičius has later produced a number of similar pieces.

‘The fundamental principles continue in the same vein as Interrogation, the themes springing from my master’s research. I wanted to create a piece of music based on the psychopath, and was left with many interesting discoveries about psychology and power dynamics.’

The said human sensory system, in conjunction with psychology and power structures, can also be seen in his audio-visual pieces Reality Box (2010) and Confessions (2011).

‘I think music gives the imagination more life, which in turn can help form a deeper experience of a piece of art. We humans has a strong set of emotions, which are always active, and it’s important for me to use that in other’s encounters with my work.’

‘The sounds that recur in my art are like tools, because these human dialogues can’t just be typed out, they have to be heard and felt in order for the observer to form a connection with what is being said. That is why the music I compose often employs a certain cadence, a type of pulse or psychological melody that says something about the persons involved in the dialogue. By fusing moving text with music, a number of senses help create a bodily experience, but also a wider understanding of the piece’s underlying idea.’

Ignas Krunglevičius, Confessions, 2011. Single channel video installation with sound 56 min. Installation view at Oslo Kunstforening

Ignas Krunglevičius, Confessions, 2011. Single channel video installation with sound 56 min. Installation view at Oslo Kunstforening

Reality Box
After Interrogation proved to be an especially successful and well-received project, Krunglevičius understood that he was onto something that moved people and worked like he wanted. In Reality Box, Krunglevičius applied the same audio-visual expression, in which moving text and music are the main elements, but in this piece, he approaches other perspectives on human psychology.

Reality Box was performed at Black Box Theatre in 2014, by the ensemble NING, a Norwegian contemporary music ensemble that explores physical, theatrical, and visual aspects of music-based performance art. The ensemble has worked professionally since 1997, and collaborates with composers, actors, and choreographers. At the performance of Reality Box, the ensemble was seated behind a thin canvas, lit by the moving text. Reality Box’ text is taken from a transcribed group conversation between four parties: therapist, daughter, mother, and father. 

‘Everyone has their own “voice”, represented by a different instrument, and each instrument helps form an image of the dynamics between the four. Despite there being an unspecified conflict between the parties, the music accentuates the differences between them, which explains their contrasting interests,’ Krunglevičius explains.

The therapist’s questions are accompanied by a steady rhythm that beats 60 times a minute on the wood block. Simultaneously, the therapist’s words appear on a screen, their tone and choice of words controlled and impartial. In contrast, the mother is stressed and tense, and her accusatory demeanour is set to rapid strikes on a bullet casing at 200 beats per minute. The daughter, obviously the victim of the exchange, is played on the synthesizer with no fixed time. As the dialogue progresses, one grasps through the text that her parents are very conservative — tellingly emphasised by the various sounds they have been assigned — and needlessly worried about their daughter’s slightly-too- free rhythm.

Psychology is also the subject of the installation Confessions, which was shown at the Eastern Norway Exhibition in 2013, and which further builds on Krunglevičius’ examinations of the human psyche. The piece is based on a series of confessions by serial killers, where the artist has removed everything from their explanations other than what they felt at the time they were committing their acts of violence.

‘The music in Confessions harks back to early techno music, with pure synth tones and drum machines. The sound is almost unbearable, something you either love or hate. It represents what I feel is the mood of the text, and like the sentences, the sounds have different textures, speeds, and expressions that describe the criminals’ feelings.’

In Confessions, Krunglevičius highlights the aspect that even the most extreme act of violence contains a pattern of behaviour we can identify with: reasoning and justification, remorse or the lack thereof. This is a psychological aspect of the piece that can seem frightening to most. By using stripped-down techno, with grating sounds and a fast beat, Krunglevičius creates an almost unbearable psychological effect on the observer.

Ignas Krunglevičius, Transparent, 2015. Exhibition view at Kunstnerforbundet, Oslo.

Ignas Krunglevičius, Transparent, 2015. Exhibition view at Kunstnerforbundet, Oslo.

A Voice Without A Body
Krunglevičius is currently working on a series of pieces with a different theme, which points to a new direction in his art. The first part is the sound installation Transparent (2015), which was shown at that Kunstnerforbundet, Oslo [tr. Visual Artists’ Association] this past winter. It and his upcoming exhibitions are more focussed on sound without video, especially speech in which text has been removed in favour of sculpture.

‘The subject of this part of my work is the digital voice without a body. Following two years of materials research, I have chosen to focus on the technological algorithm between text and speech. In a hypermodern society, subjectification is a relative concept: the virtual world can have human characteristics, while at the same time; humans can also give themselves life through social media. In that way, the interaction between the non-human, technology, and human has evolved into a complex relationship.’

Krunglevičius made use of parametric loud speakers in his exhibition at the Artists’ Association. These generate directional sound waves, such that the sounds emanating from them seem to spring from some non-existent source, neither a silent object nor a speaking subject. In addition to the word ‘Transparent’, Krunglevičius placed column of steel lattice- work around the space. Latticework is rarely visible when used in building construction, but will also be used in his next exhibition in Vilnius.

‘The sculptures allude to what lies be- hind the computer’s shiny surface, where the layers —down to the physical technique and industry that underlies our digital reality — have been stripped away. One might say that it acts as a ‘revealing’ component, aimed at the digital world, curated by mil- lions of algorithms and computer code that determines what one sees — a world that isn’t real. I want to focus on the fact that this creates a schizophrenic foundation for our modern society.’

Technological Exhortation
By working his way into his own artistic material, Krunglevičius form a relationship to technology that promotes both positive and negative consequences of our hyper-technological age. The question we are left with is what role art plays in a digital society where machines operate by means of extreme speed, which human perception cannot sense and only partly control.

‘Man cannot compete with machines, and eventually they will outsmart us.’

The installation Dark Pool (2014) consists of a special signal jammer called J-240A-Pro and a series of commercials. The installation highlights the jammer’s function, namely to protect the user from all digital networks within a 10 metre radius. The article in question is actually on the market, but it is currently illegal to use.

‘The threat of technology is fundamental to Dark Pool, a title taken directly from a stock market phenomenon. The last few years, an increasing percentage of stock trades on the exchange have happened in so-called “dark pools”, characterised by limited technological surveillance. The reason for the name is that the details of these transactions are hidden from the public eye. It is one of several areas where total isolation from the grasp of technology will be needed.’

A signal jammer seems both suspicious and extreme in an age where most would contend that technology seemingly poses no threat to modern man. Yet, there is a reminder in Dark Pool, a nudge that surveillance can inspire desperate measures. The piece warns against a technological evolution that is occurring faster than we can perceive. The jammer conjures thoughts of a future where mankind would rather have a reality without phone calls, GSM, 3G-access or Wi-Fi. And that could be tempting.

For more videos of Ignas Krunglevičius’ works, see this link

This interview was originally published in KUNSTforum printed edition 2/2015. 

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