Karl Sczuka Prize 2017

Olaf Nicolai: In the woods there is a bird...


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This sound piece uses the radio less as a medium of dissemination than as a source. This entails thematizing the relationship that exists between sound and its indexicality.

For this production, various radio correspondents worldwide were asked to make available material they had recorded as background noises at demonstrations, protest events or riots. From this material, individual sequences were then chosen for the composition. The material was not altered; it was simply looped and layered.

The piece was broadcast by Deutschlandfunk Kultur as part of the documenta 14 radio programme Every Time A Ear Di Soun. It will also be released on vinyl.

There is also a companion volume, which offers both a visual staging of the compositional principle in the form of a collage and lists the 60 events whose sounds formed the basis of the piece.

The piece is a stand-alone work. But there is also a performative version in the form of a live staging, in which a musician 'behaves' in an improvisatory way in response to the sound piece.

In the woods there is a bird; his song stops you and makes you blush. … And then, when you are hungry and thirsty, there is someone who drives you away. /
Au bois il y a un oiseau, son chant vous arrete et vous fait rougir. … Il y a enfin, quand I´on a faim et soif, quelqu´un qui vous chasse.

The jury explained its decision as follows

The 2017 Karl Sczuka Prize goes to Olaf Nicolai for his radio work In the woods there is a bird... Using unaltered outside material from radio reports on demonstrations, protests and riots between July 2017 and February 2017, Nicolai composed a radiophonic suite of oppressive intensity. Through his use of loops and superimpositions, the original recordings come together to form a kaleidoscopic sonic picture that shows the collision of power and powerlessness, of authority and protest. Listening to it, one finds oneself in a place of acoustic tension between collective violence and individual vulnerability. Interpretations and valuations of socio-political reality become personal questions for each individual.

About the author

Olaf Nicolai, born in Halle in 1962. He obtained a PhD in Comparative Literature and Linguistics at the Karl Marx University, Leipzig, with the thesis 'Gesture Between Calculations and Expression. The Vienna Group's Poetry' (1992). He has been active on the international exhibition scene since the early 1990s, and was invited to documenta X in 1997. He develops a wide range of interdisciplinary projects that thematize the elemental experiences of space, time and physicality. Since 2011 he has been Professor of Sculpture and the Foundations of Three-Dimensional Design at the Munich Academy of Visual Arts. His work has been honoured with various awards including the Wolfsburg Art Prize (2002), fellowships at the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles (2008), IASPIS (Stockholm, 2000), PSI (New York, 1998), the Villa Massiomo (1997/98) or the Fellowship of the German National Academic Foundation at the Academic Centre for Art and Science in Venice (1993), Nicolai currently lives and works in Berlin.