Saturday, January 22, 2011

a sad day for small music...

"when i went to a garden in okayama, a crane landed and suddenly gave a loud cry. i was surprised that a sound like that could exist. and then the silence afterwards: in complete harmony in the space. then i understood the beauty of japanese gardens."
rolf julius, 1992

life and death are certainly strange things. last weekend i picked up a copy of a recent cd release of rolf julius' music for the ears and small music no. 1 - both ecordings from 1979. on monday, i spent the entire day in the studio painting, with the cd repeating for about 10 hours. every time i took a break from painting, i sat and listened to these stunningly beautiful and simple works in their entirety, and i realized how much his work has always inspired me.

when i first started to make "sound art" i wanted to be rolf julius. the first time i met him, for a small festival in berlin, i ran into him in a hallway, where it had looked a bit like he had dropped a small suitcase on the floor and all of his gear had fallen out of it in disarray. he was standing there bent over looking at the small speakers, wires, and small cassette players as if reading a map. after standing next to him for a few minutes, i realized that sound was also present, barely audible, and that this was his installation. it was a wonderful first meeting, like being kids and looking for small colorful insect in the grass.

his work always had this natural feeling of happenstance on the surface, and then it started to work its immersive magic on you. it was the least pretentious work i've ever encountered - certainly more "lower case" in terms of its presence than i could ever achieve; and as an artist and human being this humility was also always present. he was incredibly generous to me, not only over the years that we exhibited together, but most importantly when i was just beginning, and he simply treated me like an another artist.

monday, immersed in these two early pieces of his, i spent a lot of time sitting and listening. at one point i went over to my desk and started to write him a letter, as i realized how long i had been listening to his work in its various forms, marveling at his drawings, his writings, and just how hugely inspirational his work has been to me - not only since the beginning of my making sound works, but continually, still, now. i wanted to tell him that his work was like a beacon to me - like the painters myron stout, alfred jenson, arthur dove, lee mullican, who always kick my ass and push me forward, julius' work is always there as a kind of measuring stick, something to live up to. unfortunately i never finished the letter.

these early works of his contain the core of everything he would do from that point forward, and i wanted to thank him for the continued tactile nature of his sound, its fragility, its presence and absence, its repetition and abstraction, but mostly its minimal presence and some undefinable quality of the organic and natural, as well as how composition too can be humble. so many times rolf called his work "small music" and it wasn't bullshit artspeak... he really meant it...

so, this morning when i received some emails of rolf's passing, my mind went to those little pieces i remember first hearing at e/static, small tea cups with little lids and tiny speakers inside - so one could sit with the object, and with the lid off the sound barely audible but constant, and then to place the lid on the cup to silence the sound. its a very sad day for sound art, and it is a very sad day for ears.

i hope anyone who is unfamiliar with rolf's work will use this sad day to discover his quietly magical world, and for those of us who were lucky enough to know him, i know we will all continue to be inspired by the works he has left behind. his sound works will continue to grow ever more present, while his physical presence will certainly be missed.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous paul schütze said...

Very sad news. He was a wonderful artist who made the most memorable sound installations I've known. I was taken to a very old church in Berlin where he had suspended tiny speakers, one each in the air below the central dome and four adjoining semi-domes. The speakers faced upward, a delicate cascade of sound, refracted and animated by the architecture, rained back into the church. It was the most astoundingly beautiful thing.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Carl Stone said...

Very sad news.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Andrea Parkins said...

Sad he's gone and thank you for writing this. He works were tiny poetic gems, and always quietly and greatly inspiring.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous seth cluett said...

thanks steve. me too. thank you.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous seth cluett said...

some images... more to follow: http://www.onelonelypixel.org/rolf-julius-ephemera.html

7:00 PM  
Anonymous ken said...

thank you both for such a sensitive verbal picture and for introducing me to rolf. i don't know his work at all but now i will seek it out.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Moon River said...

was trying to find music by rolf julius, on line and couldn't find any.
would like to know steve, where can i find few of his sounds

thanks for this post

vera

10:34 PM  
Blogger J.M. Costa said...

Very sad day, yes... I was preparing a program about Julius for Radio Clásica Spain (www.rtve.es/podcast/radio-clasica/via-limite/ in case you are curious) as part of a survey about seminal sound artists. To late to have him on the phone. Anyway, like all artists, he will stay with us through his work, so contemplative, almost mystical... Thanks for it.

1:03 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Are there any books out there on Julius?

5:43 PM  
Blogger J.M. Costa said...

Rolf Julius - Small Music (Grau) (German Edition) [Paperback]
Jessica Backhaus (Author), Yannick Miloux (Author), Rolf Julius (Author)

# Paperback: 320 pages
# Publisher: Kehrer Verlag; Bilingual edition (June 1, 2005)
# Language: German
# ISBN-10: 3936636125
# ISBN-13: 978-3936636123

Then, there is one called Light as Air BY Julius an other also in Kehrer Verlag. I asume this edition is also bilingual.

12:12 AM  
Blogger soundout said...

So very sad.Atruely great artist.
Danny Mc Carthy

1:20 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

yes, i would highly highly recommend small music (grau) by kehrer verlag that jm costa mentions. i think the best way to "know" julius' work without see/hear his installations, a his his writing and drawings (as well as photo documentations of his work still speak a lot. i'm not sure which cds i'd recommend, other than the recent release on the "western vinyl" label which is an early work that really does work well on cd (at low volume on repeat in a room).

7:32 AM  

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