Eva Carriere, medium
Photograph by parapsychological researcher Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, 1912
Photograph by parapsychological researcher Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, 1912
TECHNO music foregrounds electronic textures, fictionalising ecstatic fusion with the machine in science fiction mode. Marked by cyborgian vocals - of becoming machine; the heavy 4-to-the-floor kick melds the body to the rhythm of technological production. Amplified, pressurised, kinetic: techno offers a soundtrack to a post-industrialised landscape in an evolving information society and creates spaces for a collective corporeal expression of this sentiment in clubculture.
Berghain, one of the magnetic attractors of the genre since the 1990s, occupies a former East Berlin power plant. Comprising four floors, the main room transmits dark techno with the basement hosting a male-only establishment, Lab.Oratory, and the upper floor characterised by lighter house rhythms. The acoustic and corporeal experience is undoubtedly electrical; immersive charge is elevated by its site-specific properties, powered by over 1000 kmw per weekend (Heinic, 2019). Moreover, the historical significance of the power station as a symbol of continuous current cannot be removed from the aura of the space. The specificity of the site provides a direct line with the historical shift in modes of experience as well as production and underscores the approach taken in this project.
More than the soundtrack of futuristic technoculture; the encounter with techno in Berghain is therefore equally moulded by earlier histories of electricity and technologies of communication. Entrapped in the discourse of early electrical science and the lineage of the weird in the history of technology, it is possible to re-imagine the energy exertion of this site as emergent from the phenomena of electricity. Within this framework, encounters with the electrical can be rendered by taking a more speculative approach - foregrounding the relationship between electricity, spiritualism, and the Gothic. Indeed, participants in Berlin’s techno scene often slip into a phenomenological or spiritual register in an attempt to situate experience in language. The project is a playful experiment - sending charge between two prongs and seeing what sparks.
Through the analysis of different speculative components, the system of Berghain itself can be re-imagined as a kind of black-boxed battery. The accompanying composition repurposes these components as movements or moments in the sonic texture of the piece. I aim to draw together sonic imaginations of early electrical instruments and elemental sounds of electricity and meld them with the aesthetics of dismantled Berlin techno. The collection of field recordings using LOM’s ‘Elektroucho Pro’- a mono, passive electromagnetic sensor - dictates the composition, accompanied by vocal landscapes, exploration of modular synthesis and sampling of early phonograph recordings to form a composite.
The electrical spectacle has long required darkness for maximum conduction. Lecturers and magicians alike toured capitals and provinces of the west with portable electrical apparatus, offering demonstrations of “the laws effects of the ‘electric fire’” in public squares and aristocratic salons in the late 1700s (Bertucci, 2007). Several instruments were designed specifically for these scientific soirees, outside of development of electrical understanding for scientific curiosity. This was made possible by the introduction of the Leyden Jar in 1746 which was capable for the first time to store static electricity. This jar was employed along with a wide range of friction machines (electrostatic) used in a variety of dramatic demonstrations for audiences that “often took place in darkened rooms lit only by the electrical charge and infused with the aroma of the sulphurous smell of the electrical light” (Plumb, 2010).
Crossing into darkened electrical spaces carries with it the language of the vampiric threshold. Indeed, the motorised blinds of the Panorama bar on the top floor of the club often teases guests by opening and closing in poltergeist fashion. Upon leaving the club, recrossing this threshold, with many guests staying over 12 hours, their ears are haunted corporeal reminders of the situation just exited.
The mythic status of Berghain itself means that the anticipation of the experience requires one to preemptively enter the limen “the experience … already begins in the romantic ‘terrain vague’ that surrounds the club” (Andersson, 2022). Approaching the threshold of the club-space, the entry into Berghain interplays between the rigidity of its limen - the queue, the no photo policy, the infamous door policy - and the contrasting fluidity of the space inside. There is a necessary demarcation of the interior as a space which is totally removed from everyday experience, in which one suspends disbelief.
Berghain - open from Friday night to Monday morning - is designed to fuck with the bio-clock. The four-to-the-floor kick is the new clock time, a curated heartbeat which is warpable by the DJ. The experience is therefore somewhat outside of time - a predominantly spatial experience that harnesses the power of electricity to create an illusion of the undead. This is reminiscent of the accounts of Jack Mullin, a soldier in the US Signal Corp, who was deployed to Farnborough, England to help solve radio interference issues in 1944:
“While working late, he occupied himself by listening to BBC radio—at least until they signed off at midnight every night. At this point in radio history, there was, at least to Mullin's knowledge, no recordable playback media capable of capturing the quality of a live symphony… The playback of phonograph discs on air was prohibited by broadcasting associations, and there were no violinists playing from melancholy studio chairs at 3am. A sweep of the radio dial after midnight would tune Mullin's overworked ears into Germany. These stations seemed to have found radio orchestras with the stamina to play music 24/7. Mullin might have rightfully assumed it was all part of a propagandised ploy to keep Teutonic wartime spirits high. But when Mullin was dispatched to Germany in 1945 to investigate the mysteries of the country's top-secret electronics, he discovered the truth at Radio Frankfurt: The Germans had been using machines called Magnetophones.” (Gallerneaux, 2018)
This illusion of the infinite, afforded by 24 hour gapless playback, is shaped by the ‘100%’ structuring of time - “which can lead to a state of trance- in spite of, or even because of, the supposed "inhumanity" of the music” (Becker & Woebs, 1999). In a sense, Berlin techno shares some sensibilities with drone music; primarily in its attraction of the infinitesimal but further in its creation of a vibratory situation.
BLACK BOX; DANCEFLOOR; SEANCE 004
Dancefloors - as seance chambers - play host to rappings, out-of-body encounters and resounding voices. In New York during the 1850s, the Fox sisters decoded ghostly ‘rappings’ to demonstrate their medium abilities by communicating rhythmically with spirits (Conan-Doyle, 1926).
The figure of the DJ can be repurposed in this speculative framework as a kind of medium - empowered by recording technologies. Kittler portrays the alternative lives of technologies as a place where “the dead and ghosts become technologically reproducible” (Kittler, 1999). In the mix, the DJ elongates temporal experience through the channelling of pre-recorded segments of musical history which are available at the touch of a button. The resurrected, reproduced audible becomes haptic and the intangible tangible, just as the seance allows one to hear “the workings of the machine in the ghost” (Connor, 2000). The digital undead communicate through the propagation of a modulating pattern through a medium.
The dynamic manipulation of records is an energy process and power source which drives motion, converting signal to movement via amplification. The ‘set’ operates in material vibrations; moments of recognition haunt participants. This includes its electromagnetic frequencies, “with the electrical impulses in the electronic circuitry of its amplifiers” (Henriques, 2011). In the accompanying composition, extensive use and manipulation of electromagnetic sensor recordings foregrounds the materiality of energy transfer between sound and signal.
In Berghain, the dancefloor operates as a kind of Latourian black-box whereby a functioning technology - the embodied electrical experience - becomes increasingly opaque as long as it works (Latour, 1999). Reflecting on the development of the Moog synthesiser, a harbinger of the techno sound, Herb Deutsch cited Roger Bacon writing in 1654:
“…sound houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds …harmonies which you have not heard …quartertones and less slides …diverse tremblings and warblings of sounds …We have strange and artificial echoes …and means to convey sound through trunks and pipes.” (Deutsch, 1981)
The relative fantasy - electricity fictionalised - that envelopes electronic music, in particular modular synthesis; has a lineage in the relationship between human and machine via touch - of being somehow a part of the circuit.
The ability to record and playback the human voice or even transmit from one location to another via telephonic communication was site for paranormal speculation and immediately incorporated into seance practices (Ronnell, 1991). The technological dislocation of the voice from the body became “the most important form of embodiment and manifestation for non-embodied entities” in the Spiritualist movement, arguably the most effective form of witness to the unseen in paranormal music seances (Connor, 2000). These “temporary possessions harness the vocal cords of the medium” share a similarity with the ecstatic female voice which sounds without language in techno - becoming instrument, resurrected via sample pad (Gallerneaux, 2018). Techno dislocation is extended even further; not only is the voice removed, cut up and rearranged, the vocoder synthesises the voice to a voltage.
NOISE; STATIC; DRUM 006
Besides the acoustic manifestations from the seance room, there also exists a history of paranormal music is defined by Melvyn Willan, Paramusicologist, as “examples of music where no physical sound source is apparent” - a clear linkage to Pierre Schaffer’s notion of acousmatic sound (Willan, 1999):
“behind the acousmatic curtain, behind the presence of audio, one finds the technological apparatus in retrograde - disappearing into the voice that sound represents, shedding some if its history, its presence and travelling under the radar of media critique to be remediated” (Gallerneuax, 2018).
The assembly of electronic dance music as studio based practice is inherently removed from its speculative origin. The drum-machine, beyond imitating the sound of drums, reimagines the electric ‘pulse’, “there are no snares - just waveforms being altered. There are no bass drums - just attack velocities” (Eshun, 1998). Prior to the drum machine's entry into techno production DAW’s, the manipulation of white noise generators on eurorack synthesisers - a technique used by Kraftwerk - programs rhythms from electricity. Noise is not perceived, in this instance, as an interference - an excess - but rather as a desirable aesthetic of overdrive in this particular mode of body2body communication.
What is solidly located are signifiers of the genre; most identifiable of which is the regular bass pulsation of the 4/4 kick drum. The thunderous rumble - a spatial imitation of immense vastness which can be recreated in any DAW by following a multitude of youtube videos on ‘getting that Berghain sound’ - is again subject to the resonance of the vast concrete space. The sound is tactile, with pressure levels exceeding 110dB, a rumble of which can be heard from a distance - a participant in the lineage of drumming poltergeists. What follows is a “letting go of oneself” in the framework of the principle of hypnotic rhythm that flows into movement “controlled by someone else '' (Becker & Woebs, 1999).
The extreme physical proximity of the sound inside club space is experiential and reliant on low frequencies which are not acoustically perceived, but corporeally through vibrations. The resonance of the space in reality shapes the production of the subgenre in which this index of ‘spaceness’ is digitally imitated to relocate the absent listener to the powerplant.
SYNAPSE; DIRECT-LINE 007
In the framework of rhythmanalysis, our conception of rhythm is largely determined by the external rhythm’s relationship with our organic bodies - the internal processing rhythms of heartbeat, breath, dilation (Lefebvre, 1992). In the electrified club space, the nervous system - carrier of electrochemical signals - is predominantly affected, rather than the muscles: “the zapp! constricts space by tensing your nerves, gripping with the balefull hostility of an offworld taser” (Eshun, 1998). This hijacking of the corporeal communication network in techno is further subject to vocoder instructions to ‘move your body’. Indeed, one of the earliest advances in electrical understanding occurred in 1708 when Luigi Galvani observed that sparking from a friction machine could cause convulsions in a dead frog at some distance from the instrument (Kahn, 2013).
Transduction describes the conversion of energy from one form to another. In Berghain, recorded matter undergoes a becoming haptic when amplified in space, data becomes vibration which then touches our bodies. Julian Henriques’ work in ‘Sonic Bodies’ proposes the notion that bodies, in sync as a response to rhythm can be conceived of as an energy exchange which includes affective temperature rise of the individuated body and the collective body: a becoming vibrational entity (2011). In the Berlin green club initiative, research into equipping dancefloors with piezoelectric technology may literally generate charge through movement.
This seems appropriate as the somatic response to techno music is grounding. The corpus reacts in such a way that footwork is synchronous whereas the torso is fluid. Facilitated by the positioning of the speakers as architectural elements in the ceiling [cloud level], one could speculate that the charge flows from above, striking the ground before sparking upwards.
The flow of charge between bodies in response to sound waves further allows you to draw similarities between the behaviour of electrons and participants in this particular space. Electrons become charged when two materials come into contact or are rubbed together (as outlined in discussion of friction machines below). It is a system of constant transference which relies on a single electron moving in relation to other electrons just as movement on the dancefloor creates a kind of modulating communal body. Berghain’s spatial design facilitates constant movement and circulation of guests. The labyrinthine architecture, devoid of dead-ends, imitates the flow of continuous current, designed to facilitate passing encounters as electrons. The site specificity of the club is such that “the space determines a choreography, enabling certain paths and influencing the quality and speed of movement, creating a specific relationship between human bodies and the space.” (Biehl-Missala, 2019). This melding with self (singular electron), other (string of electrons) and site (atom) in an ocean of frequencies, is reminiscent of Michaels Faraday’s sealed letter to the Royal College of Scientists in 1832. In it, he wrote:
“I am inclined to compare the diffusion of magnetic forces from a magnetic pole to the vibrations upon the surface of disturbed water, or those of air in the phenomenon of sound’, i.e., I am inclined to think that the vibratory theory will apply to these phenomena as it does to sound, and most probably light” (Greenspan, 2019).
The ‘friction machine’ was an instrument designed to momentarily store static electricity. Generated by direct physical contact, these static machines provided the foundational relationship between electricity and erotic culture in the 18th century. One such experiment, ‘Electrified Venus’, was a hugely popular travelling spectacle invented by Georg Mathias Bose, an ‘electrician’ from Leipzig. At electrical soirees, the participatory spectacle involved a “lady [who] might stand on a stool as a charge was generated. A gentleman would then attempt to kiss her only to be repulsed by the charge carried through her body and whalebone corset or petticoat into her lips. Quivering with electricity and with flashes of light emitting from her corset the electric woman became known as the ‘electrifying Venus’” (Plumb, 2010) . This was one of many electrical erotic experiments of the era. Importantly, the position of erotic and pornographic material was not necessarily a private affair, but rather the consumption of erotica was a shared experience in public space (Plumb, 2010). This runs in parallel to the practice of open sexual fluidity associated with Berghain. Moreover, sweat is an excellent conductor of electricity:
“The packed dance floor can also be a place where porosity is not merely a metaphor for disintegrating boundaries, but literally porous … through which sweat passes between bodies and breaks down easy distinctions between interiority and exteriority, oneself and others … pressed against a concrete wall dripping with condensation, the exchange of bodily fluids also includes fluids emanating from the architectural materials” (Andersson, 2022)
The site-specific nature of the Berghain locus and its radiating aura - from the geographic to the production of a particular kind of techno aesthetic - informs the electrical experiences of participants in this space. There is a thickening of sonic media, creating a feeling of “sound coagulating into into something protoplasmic, primitive sites for imagined conjurings to manifest with a greater efficacy” which contributes to the mythic status of the place (Gallerneaux, 2018). The idea of electrical ‘noise’ - of interference or disruption became increasingly important in the sonic texture of the accompanying composition in which I purposely sought out sonic glitches, overdrive errors and sonic artefacts. The spectre of the dislocated voice was further a driving factor in my decision to collaborate with a folk singer who was able to work with undertones, a kind of biological split frequencey. The sonic spectres emergent from the fantasy emanating from both pre-industrial perceptions of electricity as a kind of magic; and of early recording technologies, form the connective tissue between the analysis of the Berghain space and the composition submitted.
Andersson, J. (2022) “Berghain: Space, affect, and sexual disorientation,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 40(3), pp. 451–468. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/02637758221096463.
Becker, T. and Woebs, R. (1999) “‘Back to the Future’: Hearing, Rituality and Techno,” The World of Music, 41(1), pp. 59–71.
Bertucci, P. (2007) “Sparks in the dark: The attraction of electricity in the Eighteenth Century,” Endeavour, 31(3), pp. 88–93. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.endeavour.2007.06.002.
Biehl, B. and vom Lehn, D. (2016) “Four-to-the-floor: The techno discourse and aesthetic work in Berlin,” Society, 53(6), pp. 608–613. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-016-0083-8.
Biehl-Missal, B. (2016) “Filling the ‘empty space’: Site-specific dance in a techno club,” Culture and Organization, 25(1), pp. 16–31. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/14759551.2016.1206547.
Boon, M. (2022) The politics of vibration: Music as a cosmopolitical practice. Durham: Duke University Press.
Bonniseau, N. (2019) How is Berlin nightlife preparing for the green transition?, Carbon and ESG reporting for businesses. Available at: https://plana.earth/academy/how-is-berlin-nightlife-preparing-for-the-green-transition (Accessed: January 10, 2023).
Conan Doyle, A. (1926) The history of Spiritualism - Arthur Conan Doyle 1926. Available at: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/images/4/4d/The-history-of-spiritualism-vol1-cassell-1926.pdf (Accessed: January 10, 2023).
Dunham, P. et al. (2022) “Material media sonification: Sounding the visibly present artefact,” Organised Sound, pp. 1–11. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/s1355771822000383.
Eshun, K. (1998) More brilliant than the sun: Adventures in sonic fiction. London: Quartet Books.
Gallerneaux, K. (2018) High static, dead lines: Sonic spectres and the object hereafter. London: Strange Attractor Press.
Goodman, S., Heys, T. and Ikoniadou, E. (2019) in Audint unsound: Undead. Falmouth, United Kingdom: Urbanomic.
Henriques, J. (2011) Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, performance techniques, and ways of knowing. New York: Continuum.
Jorgensen, T.J. (2021) Spark: The life of electricity and the electricity of life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kahn, D. (2013) Earth sound earth signal: Energies and Earth magnitude in the Arts. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Latour, B. (2000) Pandora's hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lefebvre, H. (2013) Rhythmanalysis. London: Bloomsbury Revelations.
Nelson, P. (2015) “The Materiality of Space,” Organised Sound. Cambridge University Press, 20(3), pp. 323–330. doi: 10.1017/S1355771815000254.
Plumb, C. (2010) “The ‘Electric Stroke’ and the ‘Electric Spark’: Anatomists and eroticism at George Baker's electric eel exhibition in 1776 and 1777,” Endeavour, 34(3), pp. 87–94. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.endeavour.2010.06.003.
Rietveld, H.C. and Simon, S. (2018) “Dancing in the Technoculture,” in The Routledge Research Companion to Electronic Music: Reaching out with technology. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Ronell, A. (1991) The Telephone Book: Technology, schizophrenia, electric speech. London: University of Nebraska Press.
SOLOMON, M.A.U.R.I.C.E. (1906) “Telegraphy the principles of Electric Wave Telegraphy Wireless Telegraphy Wireless telegraphy,” Nature, 74(1917), pp. 290–292. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/074290a0.
Willan, M.J. (1999) PARAMUSICOLOGY: AN INVESTIGATION OF MUSIC AND PARANORMALPBENOMENA . thesis.
Winger, S. (2010) Piezoelectricity From Dancing. dissertation.