Nicola van Straaten on Martin Spühler
Hanging around the PDC, I kept hearing about this sound maker. “Have you looked at the sound maker? Go check the sound installation!” Finally I march off to go make some sound. In a small room, sits an elderly gentleman next to a strange spread out bronze-looking construction that resembles a large three-dimensional map of a mysterious landscape. On a small table to the side are kinder, softer versions of drumsticks. We are invited to play this strange-looking instrument. Of course, with hitting and pinging and ponging, loud sounds and noises get made and we have a grand old time until the gentlemen, Mr. Martin Spühler from Zurich, Switzerland, slows us down a little and talks about the ways in which to interact with this instrument, to communicate with each other and let our individually-created sounds respond to each other.
Martin Spühler constructs these instruments himself; studying and listening to the sounds each instrument can create. The particular instrument at the PDC was built over a period of two months, in Namibia, out of materials he found here. He was helped by Robert and Beate Zorn. For this project he returned to older techniques he was using 25 years ago. “I just take material, what I can find and then have an imagination of a landscape, like Namibia, and the sounds. I listen to the sounds, what kind of sounds could be here… So this becomes a dialogue between me and the things I do.” More recently he has been working with reverberation and water, creating special instruments that make a reverberation, he adds light, to create a language of light and sound. Spühler generally works with professional accompanists and musicians.
We ask him to play for us a little, which he does and afterwards he explains to us that with each instrument he makes (and he has many more in his studio back home), time is needed to play it really well. But he adds that people who have never played the instrument before can create wonderful sounds. There seems to be both a freedom and discipline to his kind of work. To me, at least, he appears to be one of the most fascinating artists at the PDC, paying deep attention to the slightest and most subtle attributions of sound, and the communication and beauty that can be created within sound and music. If you want to hear the sort of sound this beautiful object makes, we did an amateur recording of Martin playing the instrument, you can find it on our WordPress site. If you’re interested in the sort of art Martin Spühler makes, check out his website at: http://www.martin-spuehler.ch