I was asked to write an article about a new book on the audiovisual works of Swiss electronic musician Andy Guhl, best known for his work as part of the duo Voice Crack with Norbert Möslang. The article appeared in Le Phare, the journal of the Swiss Cultural Institute in Paris, for which it was translated into French. Here is the original English version.
A sounding vision: Andy Guhl’s Ear Lights and Eye Sounds
Opening a broken radio led to a lifelong pursuit for Andy Guhl, who hybridizes electronic sound and light into a decades-long body of work using cracked everyday electronics. A new book focuses on his audiovisual works, which implicate both the eyes and the ears in the process of transformation through interference. – By Mike Bullock
When St. Gallen native Andy Guhl tried to fix the transistor radio his mother had accidentally dropped on the floor in 1967, what happened instead was a transformation of his life: he discovered the radio could be adapted to act as an amplifier for his record player, and that he could also mix together multiple radio frequencies. More than a repaired radio, what emerged was an electronic chimera, and the first step in a life spent hybridizing sound and (tele)vision into networks of interference and transduction.
A new book, Ear Lights and Eye Sounds, published by Periferia, focuses on the visual aspect of Guhl’s career. The special paper in this book makes it an object that reacts to its users. As “decoding” coworkers, they are playfully introduced to the basic principle of Andy Guhl’s work. The publication includes pictures spanning the artist’s entire oeuvre and the things that inspired him, and a commentary by Guhl’s long-standing friend, art historian Koni Bitterli.
On the surface, Guhl’s cracked everyday electronics – salvaged, opened, and intentionally malfunctioned – do not appear to fit the Swiss craftsman’s popular image of perfect, clean, enclosed mechanisms. And yet under the surface it fits: he delights in the patient, careful exploration of inner workings. Guhl follows his senses to crack open and expand electronics, following leads and making leaps of logic that pay off. Guhl sees himself as a collector of mistakes; when seemingly incompatible objects are coaxed into compatibility, mistakes amplify each other and transcend into new truths. Guhl’s work recognizes that different kinds of waves can interfere with each other constructively, regardless of their original purpose.
If Guhl’s cracked electronics can be considered an exposed nervous system – organs without a body – then the results, whether in performance or as dynamic sculptures, installations, and prints of video stills, are a form of synaesthesia. Or maybe it’s better just to call it what it is: signal interference, irritations which hypersensitize the system and the viewer.
In Guhl’s video works, sound becomes an irritant in the otherwise stable system of electronic video. Rather than mediated data visualization, the eyes and ears and voice of the nervous system are connected directly to each other. A video camera’s picture gets mixed directly with an audio signal, forcing it to react, creating interference in the picture. What the viewer witnesses is not simply a visualization of sound but the visual signal’s hybridization and transmigration into a new kind: the synaesthetic signal.
The resulting works in this book are generous; they share their findings freely. Even his totemic video columns have an open, playful quality in how they expose their own processes and revel in them. Guhl’s TV sculptures, installations, and video still prints are artifacts of a performative career. But they also pulse with the life of the synaesthetic, transduced, interfered signal. They are the sensory and expressive organs jacked into an analog electronic nervous system that extends through space and time, back to his mother’s radio, cracked and transformed.
Edited by Flurina & Gianni Paravicini. Essays: Koni Bitterli, Peter Hubbacher, Jason Kahn, Alex Gamez, Yan Yun and others. Concept and Design: Andy Guhl, Tabea Guhl, Salome Schmucki, Krispin He. Hardcover, 20 cm Å~ 30 cm, 320 p., on self-reacting paper. With over 100 colour reproductions of Colliding Sediments, stills from the audiovisual performance THE INSTRUMENT, as well as concerts, sketches, illustrations and explanations. Multilingual with German captions. ca. CHF 58.– / EUR 48.– | ISBN 978-3906016-28-3
Mike Bullock is an electronic musician and artist living in Medford, MA, USA.