In the midst of the news and the world’s noise, suddenly we stopped to listen to the Earth’s depths. From the 13th of November to the 6th of December, Rencontres Internationales Mondes Multiples de Bourges, a hyphen between art, science and new technologies, is taking place online. The opportunity for an incursion in the powerful nature of Iceland, under Konrad Korabiewski’s mic.
Konrad Korabiewski joins us in a hurry. He is 10 minutes late and has the best excuse that can be: on a fjord where the winter sun is shy, the artist went on a hike to chase some shafts of sunlight. It is two in the afternoon and already it is dark on Seyðisfjörður, a fjord in the east of Iceland. In a few weeks, the light will strike only two hours per day, indirectly. “Time doesn’t exist in Iceland”, the artist tells us later.
Today, he should have been in Bourges, for a residency with Antre-Peaux and its Rencontres Mondes Multiples, heir of the quasi-thirty-year-old festival of video creation Rencontres Bandits-Mages. He would have presented his project Krafla, an electro-acoustic performance composed of field recordings captured at the geothermal power plant of Krafla and its surroundings, a volcanic region in Iceland with calderas, these craters formed by the collapse of volcanos’ central part.
Due to Covid-19, plans have been rethought, cancelled, postponed. From the 13th of November to the 6th of December, the festival is happening online. Konrad Korabiewski will give a masterclass, but the residency has been delayed until spring. “It is the first time I was going to France”, he says, without bitterness.
Konrad Korabiewski is used to nature’s whim. “In November, it can be hard to go out of the fjord. There are violent wind gust, heavy fog, white noise days, icy roads… In Iceland, we learn to respect nature !” Even more so since the artist spent a good part of his career listening to the Earth, the mic in its depths.
For your work in progress, Krafla, you recorded a geothermal power plant and the calderas (caldron, in Portuguese) around it. Are you trying to capture the Earth boiling?
It is music from the core of Mother Earth. Industrial infrastructures make a lot of sounds. I wanted each of these boreholes to be a part in a symphonic orchestra I am directing, separating each instrument with their own musicality, tones and characters…
What does Krafla look like?
The whole ground is magma, everything beneath and sometimes on the surface is boiling hot. Geologically, Iceland is relatively young. The country is a volcanic island, located on a hotspot on the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian plates meet. In the commercial hot-spots like Blue Lagoon and Mývatn, people come and lie down in these hot baths all day long like bears in nature. Just think about what powerful natural force that is!
Geothermal heat is considerable in most parts of the country, and in many places, hot water from just below the surface is used to heat homes and for energy production. Steam is led from boreholes to turbines inside the powerhouses of geothermal plants, transforming thermal energy into electricity. This hot water and electricity are then provided to the people living around. This is the reason why even in Reykjavík, when you put the hot water on, it stinks of gas from the volcanos, a smell like rotten eggs. It’s pure underground.
Visually, Krafla is bare, minimalistic, located between huge rocks that look like thrown around by two ancient giants during a fight. Everything is covered by magma and left behind. There is a joke in Iceland that American moon landing was faked at Krafla during winter, and it could be…
Technically, how do you capture these sounds?
I always have a pretty simple set up. One good recorder to be flexible. When I first recorded this project for the New York Times Magazine and its “Sonic Voyages” issue, I rent proper professional gear and in particular a long mic boom pole. With with the steam, plastic, aluminium and metal would be destroyed in a short time.
Field recording par Anna Friz et Konrad Korabiewski for The New York Times Magazine fall 2018 “Sonic Voyages Issue”. The magazine explored sonic landscapes from 11 places around the world, amongst which Krafla, in Iceland :
In the domes that protect the boreholes, I used contact microphones to record the steel itself, to capture the vibrations of the structure. I record two to four meters down, and I have to follow regulations for this national power plant.
I was planning to go back this summer but they were no access because of the coronavirus. I hope it will be possible this winter but the weather could be an issue: even with a powerful 4×4, you have violent wind gust, heavy fog, white noise days, icy roads… It’s not always risk-free to drive. In Iceland, you learn to respect nature!
I want to visually record this landscape to explore the depth of the colours as well, in different seasons. One of the treasures of Iceland is the incredible quality of light, it is changing so fast and so often, every day is different. It is one of the important things I’m trying to reproduce in my piece.
You recorded a herring factory in Iceland for the LP Komplex, and a fishing trawler for the audiovisual piece and book NS-12. What kind of sonic landscape are you looking for?
In the last piece with NS-12, the trawler was a tool for the fishermen but for me, it was a musical instrument.
It was an experience. I was seasick most of the time and I was at the bottom of the team because I was new, foreigner, an artist and so they didn’t really care about me. I had to work my way up.
It often felt like I was daydreaming with a constant sound, which you can’t escape, sounds of engine and metal, of chains when the fishermen were pulling up the net. It is so heavy and a high pitch. It could also be very deep, but it’s all in your head. When you finally relax into it and let go of being exhausted, you just hear this gentle echo, almost like if falling asleep, surrendering or accepting something bigger than you.
With the boreholes, it is the same. I listen to them and each is different. I am focusing on what is already here rather than creating what might be missing. There is an overflow of information and music!
Again, we are back to Mother Earth. Are we ready to give it more attention? Now is a good time.
Komplex, Konrad Korabiewski and Roger Döring in Berlin, 2011-2013 :
You were supposed to be in Bourges for the residency at Antre Peaux (ex-Bandits-Mages), finally postponed until this spring. What do you expect from this time and what are you planning meanwhile?
I expect a lot because this is the first time I’m going to go to France! Good food, wine and culture… This is what France is known for!
Somebody donated a 16mm editing table, a small studio set up, which is rare to get access to these digital days. I’m going to use it to cut my own film instead of digitally work on it first. Time-consuming physical art!
For the festival Mondes Multiples, everything goes online because of the virus. I’m going to deliver a video to present my fjord and its environment. I’m also going to present the piece in progress and we are going to listen to the sound I already have. Maybe we will show other audio-visual pieces too.
I’m going to do a creative workshop with the collective DRUMS, but we are still not sure about the setup. I really prefer to do things face to face and the physical aspect of my work is very important. I’m not used to talking to a face on a computer.
We are going to inject some philosophy into it, but above all, we are going to listen to what people want and discuss. Usually, people have strong ideas about what they want to do and being a strong leader is to embrace these different strengths and voices. You can do everything with everything, the question is: how do you develop the idea, what is the reason for it?
As an artist, how did you cope with the restrictions of movements and reunion?
I was pushed to go offline. This mass media wave we had with Trump, this craziness… I just came back from four years in California. All this noise affects you. It is so liberating to go offline and do the things I used to when I was a child living in Poland.
I’m not afraid of isolation. Here in the countryside, I open my door to whoever wants to come in but I can also not come out for a month if I’m working on a project or simply don’t feel like it.It is a privilege in my life, not to do what is expected from me and to decide what is worth my time.
This winter I am aiming to stretch the non-existing time sensation I have here in Iceland. I installed a wood stove in my house so I could get warm for the first time in many years. I started to think about physical things. Many are directly related to art, but many are not. I started to work with old Volvo cars, I’m thinking about my vegetables in the garden, even about getting a goat… It is a fantastic thing: I’m back to basic and I feel free when not online.
Tell us about the passing of time and its non-existence on your fjord…
Some years ago I did a video installation, which considers the timeless feeling experienced by residents and visitors to Seyðisfjörður my fjord in East Iceland, against the material evidence of passing time in the form of dramatic seasonal effects. Winter 2013, I placed the chair in the river, which flows both downstream or upstream, depending on the tide from the fjord. The chair was swept away several times by storms and seemed lost entirely, until it returned on the opposite side of the river from where I had placed it initially.
You said your pieces are based on life and diversity of experiences awaiting when courage and daring are greater than anxiety and security. What’s courage and daring, according to you?
Put your energy to actually do something you want, revealing something about yourself in the process. It’s so much easier to put the television on and escape from that feeling of dealing with your ideas and reflections. For a lot of people, facing themselves is scary, but if you cross that border, the most beautiful things happen. You discover new facets of you, new talents, new strengths… and you will surprise yourself!