Michael Trommer: Berlin Anamnetic

Tension permeates this collection of sound works by Michael Trommer, a tension specifically rooted in the differences between inner and outer realms, physical and mental realities, corporeality and non-corporeality—call it what you will. Berlin Anamnetic isn't, literally speaking, a philosophical study rendered into aural form, yet it does provoke philosophical reflection upon the nature of sound, memory, consciousness, and the permeable divide between external reality and consciousness.

What the Toronto-based producer and sound artist—a specialist in field recordings-based psycho-geographical explorations—has given us on Berlin Anamnetic are six contrasting sound portraits of the city. Yet while field recordings gathered at the site are fundamental to the eighty-minute set, the material doesn't present an unfiltered presentation of different city locales. The six settings are more akin to memory works—though even describing them as such misleads, too. No concrete memory is invoked here; instead, what's presented are externalizations of inchoate inner experience, itself a fusion of outer stimuli, memory impressions induced by said stimuli, and the flow of consciousness.

The project developed as a result of a two-month residency Trommer enjoyed at Berlin's ZK/U (Centre for Art and Urbanistics). He initiated the process by walking from the outer regions of the city to its centre and documenting the walks in the form of audio recordings, photos, and notes. Extensive spectral processing subsequently was applied to create sound portraits of a textural and impressionistic form as opposed to pieces intended to linearly transcribe an actual journey. Trommer's own description, that Berlin Anamnetic “seeks to integrate the ‘real' acoustic soundscape with the embodied, imagined soundtrack evoked by a particular time and place” captures the idea succinctly.

In his liner note, he elaborates on the approach adopted for the project, stating that it explores both ‘anamnetic' sound, described by Jean-Francois Augoyard as “an effect of reminiscence in which a past situation or atmosphere is brought back to the listener's consciousness, provoked by a particular signal or sonic context,” and ‘phonomnesis,' whereby a sound is “imagined but not actually heard.” It's obviously not insignificant that both processes locate themselves within the conscious subject, though the clear tie to external reality in the ‘anamnetic' sound case sidesteps solipsism.

As mentioned, the six settings are a contrasting group, with some leaning in an abstract direction and others more explicit in their incorporation of field recordings details. The first piece plays like a rather low-key ambient-drone construction whose abstract design is dotted with faint traces of bird life; the third, by comparison, is considerably more combustible and hot-to-the-touch. A somewhat nightmarish quality gradually emerges from the fourth, the shape-shifting fifth hisses and creaks like rusted machinery before morphing into a glistening nocturnal drone. While Berlin-derived details—birds, tolling bells, and the like—do occasionally surface, they're never so particular to the location that they couldn't have originated from any number of cities.

The design concept of the packaging also conveys the aforesaid tension, albeit in visual form, obviously. On the one hand, we're presented with two achromatic photographs of Berlin taken decades ago (I'm guessing the early 1950s) and on the other colour spectograms corresponding to all six pieces. Such juxtapositions, between the past and present, the subjective and objective, and the concrete and the abstract, mirror the fundamental tensions within the sound material itself.

November 2015