Author ········· Edgar Allan Poe
Medium ········· Print
Published ······ July 1845
Language ······· English



LISTENING TO THE TOUCH OF TIME
– Sofia Lemos







The ear is irrefutably linked to our perception of time. From Descartes to Deleuze, resonance and aurality have been central concerns in discussing embodied reason. Research in the nineteenth century associated hearing and music with broader theories of knowledge, emphasising the ear canal as the medial threshold through which humans apprehend the world. Findings in the anatomy of the ear related the transformation of vibrations into electric signals in the cochlea to an increasingly material and erotic understanding of hearing. Experiments on auditory cognition in the field of experimental psychophysiology brought forward relational concepts such as the “auditory unconscious,” “auditory memory,” and “auditory image,” as increased interest in the study of sound waves further emphasised the haptic qualities of sound.

As the sense of hearing acquired new epistemic functions, larger efforts to invest sound with the value of an unmediated relation to truth equated the speaking subject as the voice of experience and speech as the natural condition of language. Toward the privileged link between voice, self-presence and truth, hearing is presumed as a distinctively accurate form of understanding. In Compendium Musicae (1618), Réne Descartes writes, “The human voice seems most pleasing to us because it most directly conforms to our souls.” Implied in Descartes’ entanglement of affect and hearing are the fleeting intensities in sensation and thought that illustrate the capacity for a body to affect and be affected. Because, as pointed out by Jean-Luc Nancy, if the visual is generally mimetic, the sonorous is tendentially methexic – that is, it has to do with participation, sharing, or contagion.

At the height of the spring lockdown of 2020, the sculptor Juan Waelder discovered a 1987 tape of his father’s voice, the pianist Friederich Wälder, exalting the winner of the Miss Universe pageant, the Chilean Cecilia Bolocco, followed by a jazz piano improvisation. For his son, the artist Ian Waelder, it was the first time listening to his grandfather’s voice and music. Ian began playing his piano improvisation monthly on a German radio station. The only existing musical record of his grandfather to date, the reiterated sounding of each emerging note asked listeners to attune to the broader social and political chronologies that have brought their two voices together in sonorous orientation to the world.

Ian first chose the medium of radio to broadcast his grandfather’s composition. Thousands of kilometers away, speaking through a machine-like apparatus, he was interested in crossing decades later from Germany to Chile through the airwaves. Having arrived in Santiago in 1939, Friedrich signed on with the music label Odeón under the name of Federico Waelder Sander and in the mid-fifties he relocated to Antofagasta, where he signed as an exclusive musician of Hotel Antofagasta. Because there are no known additional recordings of Federico’s musical trajectory, Ian decided to offer his grandfather a posthumous LP, published by Heutigen Records, wherein the artist intervened by adding to the mix his sound work All My Shoes (Spooky drums n1) (2018) and his voice to his grandfather’s tapes.  

At L21 Gallery in Mallorca, the LP immersed visitors in an auditory environment of remembrance. Looped in the gallery, the sound piece enveloped a new series of large-scale canvases stretched with inkjet stills from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938) produced by Ian. Exposed on raw linen, images depicting the athletes’ exhaustion overturn the celebratory theatricality of national organised sports. Riefenstahl’s Olympia, which is typically recognised for its exacerbation of neoclassical beauty, strength and racial purity commingles with images of athletes struggling with the vulnerability and exhaustion experienced at the finishing line, the unavoidable halting of speed wrought by their overextension, and the need to be held, covered and cared for. By enfolding these in the sound of his grandfather’s jazz improvisation, Waelder draws our attention to the Berlin Olympics of 1936 to show how that seemingly distant political reality – the extravagant site of Third Reich political theatre – blends with the present.  

Between the years 1935 to 1940, his grandfather’s family, like millions of Germans, acquired a compact car produced by the German car manufacturer Opel. Named Olympia in anticipation of the Berlin Olympics it was Germany’s first mass-produced car with an all-steel unitised body. By 1939, however, Jews were no longer allowed to own cars and Wälder was forced to sell his at a fraction of its value. Having been detained at the Welzheim concentration camp for four months between 1938 and 1939, Wälder used the currency to escape Stuttgart and flee to Chile, with the aid of a Chilean friend with whom he studied at the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart and from an uncle in Strasbourg. During transit, Wälder lost his music library as well as all his compositions.

A closeup of his grandfather’s hands covering the LP sleeve, inspired Waelder to use sculpture’s haptic register – the sense of touch – to broaden his research into his grandfather’s life. Waelder invited his father, Juan, to reproduce his grandfather’s Olympia. Together, father and son created an awkwardly sized, plaster reproduction of the car carefully displayed atop a plinth encircled by the sound of the recordings. Ian’s sonorous and sensuous articulation of his grandfather’s recording with his own music, render time palpable not as the succession of singular instants but rather of interpenetrating successions where his and his grandfather’s histories illustrate the capacity of the sonic to cut through the Western habit of understanding time linearly, as unidirectional, one-dimensional, and adhering to a fixed point of view.

In this scenario, the sonic offers a multidirectional form of social experience that assembles multiple, overlapping timeframes and sensory registers. For Waelder, time emerges as a rhythmic, relational experience that, with Nancy, is methexic in the sense of sharing, of contagion between tones, with capacity to touch, to affect and be affected by, and of participation without a fixed point of reference.






© Ian Waelder, 2022