RTD info logoMagazine on European Research

Special Issue - March 2004
  CREATION AND TECHNOLOGY  -  Museums of the digital age

With two museums, three institutes, a centre for artists and a full programme of cultural events presenting contemporary – if not avant-garde – works, the Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe (DE) is unique in Europe. Defining itself as a 'culture factory for the digital age', this versatile space provides scope for research, artistic production, reflection and public debate. 

The Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe (DE) is unique in Europe
The Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe (DE) is unique in Europe
'Listen to the imperceptible voice of the sand.' This line by the French poet Annie Salager is the inspiration for the latest work (Voices of the sand) by the British artist Pippa Murphy. Whispering and jabbering voices, rustling sand and crackling pebbles fill the space with a music which invades the whole body.    The computer which controls the 36 loudspeakers is the composer's accomplice. At the mixing desk, Murphy orchestrates the whole piece. She defines this new work as 'acousmatic' because the source of the sound is invisible. 'Ten years from now,' she says, 'it could be the popular music of the day.'

A member of the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre and a lecturer at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, Murphy created Voices of the sand during her time as resident composer at the Center of Art and Media (ZKM). Housed in a listed building, formerly a munitions factory, the centre occupies a vast space nearly 300-metres long. It was founded in 1989 with public money provided by the City of Karlsruhe and the Land of Baden-Württemberg. The plastic arts, dance, literature, music and reflection all have their place here, with the new media as the unifying theme. 

The Blue Cube
The ZKM pays particular attention to the creation of sound. Its Institute for Music and Acoustics is housed in a structure known as the Blue Cube . This transparent module was designed to meet the most demanding requirements in terms of the quality of its acoustics and its recording equipment. As a result, it enjoys a reputation as one of the world's best pilot centres for electronic music and computer composition. An extensive range of professional recording, creation and sound engineering programmes are available on the majority of its computing platforms.  

The Institute's director Lothar Brümmer, himself a composer, presides over the activities of this unique facility where technology is permitting the exploration of new dimensions of sound in which the computer is master. A number of the composition programmes were developed by researchers at the ZKM in co-operation with centres of excellence of worldwide renown, such as Stanford University (USA) and the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (FR). The ZKM and the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (Ircam) in Paris (FR) are currently planning to combine their sound archives, while possibilities are being explored for closer links with the Association pour la Création et la Recherche sur les Outils d'Expression (ACROE) in Grenoble (FR).

More than 90 artists from all over the world have produced 180 works at the Blue Cube. Martin Schüttler, who teaches composition in Frankfurt, is currently at the centre working on advanced technologies and sees music as 'a sculpture or time puzzle'. But can it be described as difficult music? 'To the extent that it departs from the usual expressions of sound, this type of music does surprise,' admits Brümmer. 'The public must be educated and guided to appreciate it, but that is what we are trying to do here.'  

  The ZKM puzzle  
  In addition to the Institute for Music and Acoustics, the ZKM also has an Institute for Net Development, which provides communication tools and strategies for artists and cultural institutions; and an Institute for Research, which concentrates on the investigation of complex systems, especially in the field of cognition and aesthetic perception. 

The Centre also houses the very interactive Media Museum which presents technologies in all fields and a Museum of Contemporary Art which showcases the principal movements in European and American art since the 1960s. Its Media Library has one of the largest collections anywhere of videos, CDs and books on 20th century art. It can be accessed on-line [ http://on1.zkm.de/zkm/e/ ].