Ury & Rohmann 2008
www.glitterbug.de
Video installation loop 21 minutes 10 seconds (repeated)
Video with titles 23 minutes 30 seconds
Betakam SP, colour, 2007 (D)
Video trailer 7 minutes

Trains, Tanya Ury’s DVD presents postcards of trains in new and old Europe – 80 scanned images accompanied by a digital and electronic music score “10 Seconds” by Till Rohmann, AKA Glitterbug.

 

 

Incorporated are photos of French, Hungarian, Austrian and chiefly German trains – the model, origin and where these transporters of people and freight were photographed are listed under each representation. These are colour pictures of the S-Bahn (city and suburban railway) and Kreisbahn (city circular rail), newer trains followed by older, steam engines and finally a few old black and white images, all presented in pretty landscapes.

In 2003 the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) produced a DVD “Faszination Dampflok” (Fascination of the Steam Locomotive):

“The Steam Engine, a world of nostalgia and romanticism.”

It is only at the end of the documentary that the history of the former Deutsche Reichsbahn (German National Railway) under National Socialism is referred to at all, referring to its endeavour to examine the railway’s cooperation with the Nazi regime by way of the Nuremberg railway museum; the terrible nature of its involvement in the Holocaust has however always until now, remained shielded from the eyes and awareness of the regular traveller in German stations and on train platforms. The exact role of the German railway that transported millions of people across Europe, under inhuman conditions in cattle wagons, to a certain death in concentration camps is not mentioned in the Deutsche Bahn film.

Visually, in the pleasant picture-postcard-land of Ury’s and Rohmann’s Trains, city environments contrast with countryside scenes under winter snow or balmy spring conditions. A less attractive perspective is indicated by the titles at the end of the video of press citations that convey a darker historical reality.

Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) presents an exhibition in railway stations of the Reichsbahn’s (National Railway’s) role during the Holocaust

1st December 2006

“The long-standing criticism of Deutsche Bahn’s (German Rail) negative response has finally shown results. On 1.12.2006, Deutsche Bahn’s manager Mehdorn, together with transport minister Tiefensee declared that the Railway will present an exhibition on the subject of deportation in their stations. Elements of the exhibition ‚11.000 jüdische Kinder. Mit der Reichsbahn in den Tod’: ‚11,000 Jewish children. With the Reichsbahn (State Railway) to their Deaths’ by Beate Klasfeld will be included. The exhibition will open in Berlin on the 27th of January 2008, the memorial for victims of the NS regime.

I am delighted that the engagement of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Group has also led to this decision. In a conversation with Railway Director Mehdorn on 29.11.2006, whom I invited in my capacity of Chairman of the Parliamentary Group, we also came to a cross party decision, to present the exhibition at German stations in such a way that a wider public will be reached.”

Alliance of the Greens press statement. www.jerzymontag.de/

(Translation from German TU)

Till Rohmann has composed a score: “10 Seconds”, for this project collaboration with Tanya Ury.

Tanya Ury.

Till Rohmann, aka glitterbug, is an artist, musician, curator, producer and DJ working and living in the twilight zones between club culture, art, and politics. He is the curator and director of the ‘c.sides festival’ Israel / Germany as well as one half of the ‘Macabug’ artist duo, both together with the Israeli photographer and video artist Ronni Shendar.

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In 1989, while I was in Germany attending a semester at the Institute for Theatre, Film and Television Studies, Cologne University, a friend introduced me to Steve Reich’s “Different Trains”, composed for the Kronos string quartet in 1988. Reich had collected “recorded American and European trains sounds of the 1930s and ‘40s.”1. He also taped the voices of 3 Holocaust survivors recollecting their experiences. Reich then wrote innovative music that was to “literally imitate that speech melody”2 and combined all for the finished musical collage.

When I arrived in Cologne, I discovered that the LUDWIG Presse- und Buchhandlung (Ludwig, press and bookshop) in the Cologne Main station, sold postcards of European trains. “Different Trains” had so deeply impressed me that my firm intention was to create a video piece in the spirit of Reich’s opus. I was however, concerned that I would fail to do the subject matter justice by merely presenting images of trains – would this be too minimalist? And so the project remained on the shelf for quite some time, while I was making other works.

 

***

 

Early in 2007, 14 years after I had permanently moved to Cologne, an artist friend, whose garden ended under a railway bridge in Cologne-Ehrenfeld, announced that she was to give a theme party on trains.

Not only did I personally survived a near fatal accident on a British Rail train in 1976 – the fact that Jewish family members of mine were deported in German trains to their deaths in concentration camps was a further basis for my awful fascination with trains; I have dreamed of such steam engine transporters to hell and their operators. And so I decided to the old idea off the shelf and reconsider it as a party-piece.

Nothing came of the festivities but while researching for the project I discovered that Beate Klarsfeld (neé Künzel) the French-German activist and Nazi hunter had at last been successful in her longstanding campaign to bring the exhibition ‘11,000 Jewish children. With the Reichsbahn (State Railway) to their Deaths’ to German and Austrian railway stations – the opening was to be in Berlin on the 27th January 2008, memorial day for victims of the Nazi regime. This exhibition initiated by Beate Klarsfeld and the association “Sons and Daughters of deported French Jews” (whose president is Serge Klarsfeld, Beate’s husband) had already been presented in 18 French railway stations from 2002 to 2004; Germany had shied away from such a public confrontation with its rail history. It wasn’t until reunification that in Germany first attempts to conduct a closer reappraisal of the role of the railway during the Holocaust were made. It became clear to me that a tribute to Klarsfeld’s achievement would be a fine justification to make a video about the trains of the Holocaust.

 

***

 

Over the years the postcard collection on offer at the same bookshop increased in number and complexity. In 2007 I finally purchased a large number of these and selected 80 – images of trains photographed in European locations from which train deportations to concentration camps will have been made. I decided also to include modern and contemporary trains to illustrate the changing currents in Europe of contemporary attitudes towards to this terrible legacy. I would list the information on train-type given on the back of the postcards, under the video images – there is no spoken word, as in Reich’s piece, but these printed words conveys the lure of detail for machinery that the perpetrators lacked when it came to human interest. Absurdly integrated are a couple of train specials with special paintwork: Aspirin plus C and the popular German “Maus” (Mouse), animated television character.

 

***

 

I made the acquaintance of Israeli artist/activist Ronni Shendar and her German partner Till Rohmann in 2006, when they invited me to participate in the c.sides festival for Independent Electronic Music and Critical Media Art, Jerusalem, which they organise together; Till is himself also an artist, activist, writer and musician. I have often heard him DJ-ing his own compositions and enjoyed his more complex approach to digital dance music. I invited Till to compose music for the video Trains.

 

***

 

“I had a teacher

a very tall man, his hair was concretely plastered smooth

He said, ‘Black Crows invaded our country many years ago’

and he pointed right at me”3

Crows are a feature of the spoken text in the libretto to “Different Trains” by Steve Reich. This was one of my first thoughts when listening to the initial sample edit of 10 Seconds (10 Seconds was to be the title of new composition for Trains). The crows are a coincidence. But the rough and disturbing crow emanations that permeate Till Rohmann’s 10 Seconds are appropriate.

Till had obtained 10 seconds of sound atmosphere from a friend Menachem Roth we have in common, who had been filming at the concentration camp Majdanek for his own project. These 10 seconds were the basis from which Till Rohmann constructed a digital symphony of sound. It has been a personal decision of mine not to visit the location of any concentration camp and Till, who has been to these places, this time chose to work with second hand material.

What happens in 10 Seconds? My impressions to the composition 10 Seconds, which is 21 minutes long:

The musical piece commences with a kind of silence for a while – the atmospheric sound of the original almost unaltered.

After a minute and a half pseudo organ sounds, harmonic, organic resound.

Crows start cawing, the real sound of the original recording. Still atmosphere trickles underneath.

Sounds then compete alternately; of underwater burble, suggesting drowning… quiet, pulsation – like breathing – gentle for a while.

It slows down to almost no noise. Stops in fact at the half point of the piece.

And then continues with jarring tones.

The different resonances are elongated dissonance for many minutes.

Then a base pulse slightly undermines.

The high pitch and crows return faintly but dissonant chords win, trumpeting their triumph insistently.

Finally we hear the crows and babbling reverberations pulsate as the disharmony fades, returns, melts together.

Tanya Ury 2007

 

***

 

1 From the CD programme notes for “Different Trains”, Steve Reich August 1988

2 Ibid 1

3 From Section II: Europe – During the war, the Libretto “Different Trains” by Steve Reich, ibid 1

 

 

Glitterbug – 10 Seconds

21 Minutes 5 seconds

Written and produced by Till Rohmann in 2007

Published by Copyright Control

’10 seconds’ came about after Tanya Ury told me of her new/old project entitled “Trains”. We were discussing various ways one could create a score for the piece as she was struggling to find appropriate audio interpretations for the project.

She then asked me if I could conjure a proposal or idea for the work. My initial thought was to create a score that would sound “harmless“ and “innocent“, a score that would only gain a meaning once the listener knew of the context and how the piece would be played. I felt this to would be an audio interpretation of what Tanya’s visual piece presented visually – seemingly meaningless, sometimes pretty images that gain a second life and meaning once the viewer knows the context.

I began laying out various ideas, thinking that I should travel to the final destinations of the deportation trains and record “silence” on at the sites of the former death camps. I wanted to play back these “harmless“ sounds and noises of mostly “nothing“ – maybe wind in the microphones, bird noises, rain, passing cars or wind in trees – and in this way let the listener make his or her own connection regarding the context, to allow them to independently re-structure memories, knowledge, shame and mourning.

I wanted to incorporate the listener’s receptions as an integral part of the work: how does an empty field on the site of a former extermination camp sound significantly different to an empty field elsewhere? Only once the listener knows about the place it was recorded at, will he or she automatically relate to the sound completely differently and, if successful, the listener’s receptions will become the most powerful part of the piece.

At that time I did not have the possibility to travel. I then contacted a joint friend, Menachem Roth, who had recently finished a video project dealing with the Holocaust and his family history (some of whom were Holocaust survivors); part of Menachem’s piece was filmed in the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Majdanek, which is roughly 2.5 miles (four kilometers) away from the centre of the Polish city Lublin. I approached him regarding field recordings from his film footage. Together we went this footage and managed to find a few short moments of the “silence“ I was looking for as the majority of the footage contained additional noise: talking, walking, interviewing, driving, breathing etc.

I was able to extract a 10 second long recording of “silence” from the former Majdanek concentration-/extermination camp. I began to work with these 10 seconds – by filtering, compressing, re-gaining, processing, elongating, stretching that bit of silence. All sounds and frequencies in the final piece stem from those initial 10 seconds.

The 21-minute score is a process of these 10 seconds in which I brought forth my own impressions, emotions, images, memories (I have previously visited the former concentration/extermination camp Majdanek and the camps of the “Aktion Reinhard“ twice). And as mentioned earlier, my personal processing will only receive its full context and meaning when the viewer and listener realises where the sound comes from.

 

***

 

Till Rohmann, aka glitterbug, is an artist, musician, curator, producer and DJ working and living in the twilight zones between club culture, art, and politics. He is the co-curator and co-director of the ‘c.sides festival’ Israel / Germany as well as one half of the ‘Macabug’ artist duo, together with the Israeli photographer and video artist Ronni Shendar.


Video trailer 7 minutes


Presentation

2008 (15.2-30.3.) Video projection installation, “Politics” group exhibition, opening 8 pm, Künstlerhaus Dortmund www.kuenstlerhaus-dortmund.de (D)

Statement as PDF

Information

Concept Tanya Ury

Music: Till Rohmann

Edit Rainer Nelissen

Press

2008 (2) Nadine Albach, Westropolis, on “Politics”, Künstlerhaus Dortmund (D) www.westropolis.dearticle as PDF

2008 (3-4) Announcement of the exhibition “Politics” in Kunstforum International edition 190 (D)

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