The Ruhr Area lives from and with water. It needs drinking water, water for industrial facilities and water for transportation. Water veins pulse invisibly with groundwater, connecting rivers through subsurface tunnels that also force their way into disused mines. This mine water has to be drained continuously or pumped out from underground (one speaks of unending tasks) to prevent the collapse of old shafts, subsidence damage, and the contamination of drinking water. Without constant pumping of the groundwater the Ruhr Area would transform into a vast marshy landscape.
The discomfort from the underground
Christina Kubisch’s site-specific sound installations are based on retrieving parallel worlds. She often responds to structures and atmospheres of places and their unheralded vibrancy which she turns into concrete perception and imagination by the recipient. For the 26-channel installation “under ground” carried out on Zeche Zollverein Christina Kubisch examined above ground and subterranean streams which are little noticed, but play a decisive role: water which has to be developed from abandoned and not backfilled shafts and mounted into a complex canal and river system.
It is about the control and domination of mine water, which is nothing but ascending groundwater intruding former coal bearing seems and seeping away in deepness. It has to be pumped and conveyed permanently. Without this elaborate dewatering the tunnel system would be flooded which would set the surface in motion. By now the region in the Ruhr area sagged more than 20 meters within the last 150 years. Also the water would mix with our normal groundwater and soil it chemically. It would ascend and transform the Ruhr area into a swampy seascape with contaminated water. On Zollverein there are already six centrifugal pumps in 1000 meters depth, two of them working constantly. About 8 millions cubic meters of water are developed in average per year. Talking about perpetual burdens and costs means those strenuous efforts.
Those tremendous consequences and measures correspond to the enormous and massive historical interventions caused by coal mining that are widely unknown to the public. The artistic field studies by Christina Kubisch pick out this parallel world as central theme. With high sensitivity in her tonal production she feeds the dark dimension of our imagination, which associates the invisible “under the ground” with the uncanny, the uncontrollable primordial. The subject deals with the conscious and the unconscious in a metaphorical way: the lucent, literally bright surface reality in opposite to the dark, uncanny and hidden reality underground.
Christina Kubisch mediates those aspects within a spatial composition by using above and underground f recordings. What we hear is reality, which can be sensually experienced within a composition subtly connecting documentary material with our imagination. If we engage in the imagination stimulated by this work, we feel the monstrous things which happened underneath our feet, humans competing with the bowels of earth and the forces of nature. “Under ground” — and we are talking about approximately 1.400 meters depth — associates the unconscious, the archaic, the long forgotten. Eventually we are standing on what deposited during millions of years and we only know little about, except it is tremendous and began before the emergence of mankind.
Our primal fear at this point is those primary things (basically nature itself) could turn against us and take revenge. Christina Kubisch’s work plays with those associations without pathos. When the bassy vast main water pumps raise their sound it seems we hear a giant organism underneath us breathing in and out. The sounds indicate magnitude, significance and menace. We become aware of something we normally do not notice. After all Kubisch uses military equipment like special hydrophones to make this parallel worlds tangible, and she probably does it with a certain subversive delight. It is not only about picturesque sounds and enthralling noises, but also about alternative ways of perceiving and accessing correlations. This is her deep conceptual approach. Kubisch’s work is about autonomously provided ways of experience and unofficial versions of reality. Therein lies also an ironic jab at our faith in technical progress, which on the one hand opens up the world to us, but with its focus on certain lines of development strikes us with blindness at the same time.
TRACK 1: Unter Grund: 23:47 min
TRACK 2: Vision: 8:28 min
2 Tracks (32′15″)
CD (500 copies)
„Unter Grund“ was presented 2014 in the context of the festival NOW/ Parallele Welten as a 26-channel sound installation at the Zollverein world heritage site. The composition on the CD under the same name consists of recordings that were made in the Ruhr Area in machine rooms above and under ground, pumping stations, waterworks, ponds, shaft sumps, cages, spillways et cetera. Some of the recordings were taken directly from Shaft XII of the former Zollverein Coal Mine. The sound recordings were mainly made with hydrophones and contact microphones.
CONCEPT: Christina Kubisch
CURATOR: Fabian Lasarzik, artistic director Stiftung Zollverein
FIELD RECORDINGS: Eckehard Güther, Christina Kubisch
SOUND ENGINEERING: Eckehard Güther
MASTERING: Douglas Henderson
PRODUCED AT: Studio Hoppegarten and Visby International Centre for Composers (VICC), Gotland, Sweden
THANKS TO: Emscher Genossenschaft, RAG Stiftung
CONSULTING: Uwe Rüth
DESIGN: Sebastian Ristow / FLATLAB
COVERFOTOS: Christina Kubisch, 2001, fluorescence photography.
SOUNDSCAPE SERIES BY GRUENREKORDER
In cooperation with Stiftung Zollverein
Germany / 2015 / Gruen 160 / LC 09488 / GEMA / EAN: 4050486942062
Ed Pinsent | The Sound Projector
We’ve heard a few items from German sound artist Christina Kubisch over time, but not encountered many instances of her installation work, so it’s good to get our ears around this copy of Unter Grund (GRUENREKORDER Gruen 160). These two tracks might be taken as a partial, representative snapshot of a much larger and highly ambitious 26-channel installation piece which she made at the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen. It’s to do with water streams both above ground and below the ground, and her work has led her into a detailed research of the history and geography of the area, as well as an understanding of the workings of this 19th-century mineshaft.
Zollverein, now inactive, became a UNESCO world heritage site a few years ago, but the rugged beauty of the equipment is not what interests Kubisch; rather, she is keen to point out the profound changes that intensive mining has wrought on the land, not to mention the hints of ecological damage, alluding to the Ruhr area being gradually changed into a “swampy seascape with contaminated water”. More than that, she’s intrigued by the power of this elaborate tunnelling system, an industry that required permanent pumping and transport of mine water just to keep operating. The piece gradually becomes more abstract and conceptual in nature (at any rate, the sleeve notes go that way), conveying something about our primordial fears of unseen, underground forces; and terrors of how nature may one day turn against us.
For a similar exploration of water coursing through a vast industrial complex, see To The Cooling Tower, Satsop by Christopher DeLaurenti, which I reviewed in 2015. Kubisch may share some of the American’s critical view of modern industry, and I think they are both aware of how the realities of these things tend to get covered up by political forces and other agencies who would simply prefer us not to find out about the extent to which our planet is being altered by these interventions. However, Kubisch is less interested in the aesthetical transformation of these sounds, and the record is pretty much a stern, unblinking documentary of water passing above and below ground, with zero electro-acoustic manipulation. That said, it still passes on the sensations of anxiety and doom she is attempting to convey. A full colour booklet provides photos and annotations of this awe-inspiring work.
The Wire Magazine | Issue 387
Ceaseless extraction of groundwater from a network of disused mines is required to prevent Germany’s Ruhr district from meeting a soggy fate. Without the constant operation of underground pumps the region would become an uninhabitable quagmire. In collaboration with sound engineer Eckehard Güther, sonic topographer Christina Kubisch tracked the Ruhr’s subterranean waterways, took samples, and diverted their acoustic energy into a 26-channel installation. The project also found room for noises of heavy machinery, designed to limit physical subsidence and the contamination of drinking water. Unter Grund is a tributary from that installation, a stereo composition that recycles recordings made – mainly with hydrophones and contact mics – in pumping stations, ponds, waterworks and mineshaft sumps. Kubisch draws a psychogeographical aura from her field captures, revealing an occult dimension through the trickles of an underground stream or the churning of industrial apparatus.
Duncan Simpson | Musique Machine
Unter Grund is a two part composition originally produced as a sound installation for the NOW / Parallele Welten festival in 2014 at the Zollverein coal mining site near Gelsenkirchen. The choice of location was apt as the material which makes up this recording is principally derived from underground sources involving mines, pumping stations and other machinic locations associated with the Ruhr area which have some connection to water.
The liner notes describe Kubisch’s work as being about „alternative ways of perceiving and accessing correlations“ and „autonomously provided ways of experience and unofficial versions of reality“. The choice of source material brings together historical themes of technological progress and the costs to the environment but also more socially minded reflections on the lives of miners „competing with the bowels of the earth“.
The first part is the longest at nearly twenty four minutes and starts with regular splashes seemingly from a pumping system of sorts. We quickly depart from this more recognisable sound as Kubisch and sound engineer Eckehard Güther’s hydrophones descend into the water picking up all manner of low drones and far away industrial noises. Contact microphones are also liberally deployed picking up characteristically uncanny sounds in the intimacy of their locations. I find there is always something a little claustrophobic in the sounds picked up by contact mics; the little clicks and rubs which are amplified as if they were occurring right next to your eardrum. The Ruhr area has apparently sagged more than twenty meters over the last 150 years as a result of the mining activity and subsequent flooding by ascending ground water. Indeed it is these pumps recorded by Kubisch which are keeping the area from turning into a vast swamp. These recordings – as the artist appears to intend – open up a secret world beneath the earth, one which harks back to the birth of Germany as Europe’s industrial power house, but it is clear by the fact of the pumping and draining system’s constant operation that „progress“ has come at a high price.
Later in the piece almost pastoral trickles and flows of water are rudely interrupted by what could be the sound of a giant washing machine clicking into a spin cycle but what is probably a centrifugal pump deep beneath the earth.
The second shorter piece begins with more delightful close recordings of quiet sounds. Even some insects and frogs seem to get in on the act providing a nice counterpoint to the strange whirring slurping and rhythmic movements of water. This piece which is titled Vision is a lot brighter than the title piece, with less drone and more air so to speak. Perhaps as the title suggest these sources are above ground within the field of vision. Whatever the sources the two pieces together complement each other nicely and achieve well the artist’s aim of offering up to the listener’s imagination the unheralded vibrancy of these lesser known realities.
This is the second recording I have heard from the Gruenrekorder label after last year’s hugely impressive Landscapes of Fear compilation. They are building a solid reputation as a label with a well tuned ear for the best in contemporary phonography and sound art.
Richard Allen | a closer listen
Many of the water-based recordings we receive are beauty-based, calling to mind vacations by the sea, meditations by the river, the sweetness of summer rain. Christina Kubisch & Eckehard Güther‘s Unter Grund is different: historical, political and metaphorical, it prompts the listener into larger modes of thought.
The original presentation was a 26-channel installation, and we’re intensely jealous of those who were able to check it out. The CD version is an intricate soundscape of water movement in the Ruhr area, recorded above and below ground, in spouts and pipes, pumps and ponds. The expanded recording area paints a fuller picture of water flow than one might receive from the personal experience of water from faucets and shower heads, heaters and drains. Where does the water come from? Where does it go? Is it clean? Few people ask such questions, content to trust that what enters their homes must be pure. And yet an entire industry exists to verify that it is.
In the Ruhr area, this means that water must be pumped from underground (unter grund) in a continual process that preserves the integrity of the mine shafts and the chemical content of the liquid. This unseen duty is left to a handful of workers whose contributions remain largely unnoticed. Yet without them: disaster, drought, plague. The dark timbres of these compositions ~ forlorn drones, low-pitched splashes, subterranean rumbles ~ conjure images of the conditions of these former coal mines, blackened by pitch and blood. Out of sight, out of mind, and yet the life of the entire area depends on the success of a few. One might go deeper, both literally and metaphorically, to imagine the low light of the depths, the cold, dank odors, the sedimentary layers, the mouth of Hell. And yet from the depths of the earth comes life, aided in this case by human intervention, reflecting the work of the divine.
As the album develops, it grows first darker, then lighter, spilling from the mechanical to the natural. When the first birds make their appearance, the listener feels a sense of palpable relief, akin to that a trapped miner might feel upon seeing a shaft of sun. Kubisch and Güther train this light on the depths so that they might be illuminated: minds opened, appreciation restored.
Since its 2003 founding, Gruenrekorder co-managers Lasse-Marc Riek and Roland Etzin have done much to establish the German label as one of the foremost outlets for field recordings-related work, and for that matter have been instrumental in establishing field recordings as a legitimate stand-alone genre. Two new releases, the first by Christina Kubisch and Eckehard Güther and the other by Thomas M. Siefert and Riek (under the rhein_strom name), reflect that ongoing commitment; Riek’s also represented here by Schwarm, an hour-long recording that while issued on ALARM could just as easily have appeared on Gruenrekorder.
Though the two Gruenrekorder releases are classified differently, Kubisch and Güther’s as part of the label’s Soundscape Series and rhein_strom’s as a Field Recording Series installment, they have more in common that that distinction might suggest: both are grounded in field recordings activity and, as a result of the manipulations applied to them by the artists involved, are soundscapes, too. In terms of content, both also are conceptually oriented around water-related activity. As always with the label’s products, the visual presentation adds considerably to one’s impression of the material, with each release enhanced by texts and photos to bring clarity to the project and the artists‘ intentions.
At thirty-two minutes, Unter Grund (Under Ground) is more than half the length of von der rheinquelle bis hafen karlsruhe but isn’t compromised by brevity. To create the work, originally presented as a twenty-six-channel installation at the Zollverein world heritage site, Güther and Kubisch used hydrophones and contact microphones to gather recordings in the Ruhr Area in machine rooms (above and under ground), pumping stations, waterworks, ponds, shaft sumps, cages, and spillways, among other locales. In keeping with its title, Unter Grund obviously is as much about what’s happening below as above the surface, specifically groundwater that connects rivers through subsurface tunnels that push their way into disused mines and must therefore be drained or pumped so as to avoid drinking water contamination and the collapse of old shafts. In simplest terms, mine water must be managed and controlled as without doing so the tunnel system would flood, which would in turn induce sag on the land surface, soil the water chemically, and essentially convert the Ruhr area into a swampy, contaminated seascape.
An obvious parallel can be drawn between the activities above and below ground and the conscious and unconscious parts of the Freudian psyche. There’s an omnipresent tension between what we can know and see and thereby control versus primordial urges operating below the surface. Similar to that, we witness nature’s merciless power in its extreme weather patterns and volcanic activity but can only guess at what’s going on under our feet at any given moment. It’s understandable, then, that the portrait drawn on Unter Grund is neither pastoral nor bucolic. Instead, the listener is repeatedly reminded of the immense strength of the forces operating underground and the potential harm they could cause were they to go unchecked.
In the soundscape, Kubisch and Güther conjure a turbulent world that while not nightmarish is often ominous in tone. When the water pump roars into hydraulic action at the thirteen-minute mark and even more dauntingly nine minutes later, we start to gain some sense of the complex industrial operation involved in releasing the water from its underground channels. At such moments, the soundscape becomes more of a churning noisescape than anything else. Upholding the material’s alien tone, “Vision” concludes the release with eight minutes of insectoid noise that suggests the inner workings of the human body as much as earthly activity. […]
Frans de Waard | VITAL WEEKLY
Two new releases by Gruenrekorder, who now clearly state on the cover of which series these releases are part. Thus we learn that the release by Christina Kubisch and Eckehard Güther is part of the soundscape series. I am not sure if I heard of Güther before, but surely I did of Kubisch, even when in recent times she seemed more active in building sound installations rather than releasing music on CD. This new CD however is a bit of both: it is a CD (obviously), documenting a sound installation, which had no less than twenty-six channels, and which uses the sound of water from the Ruhrgebiet area. To be more precise water that is underground, in old and disused mines and they have to be clear of water, so pumping goes on and on, as one doesn’t want the water to mix with the normal groundwater, out of fear for contamination. Kubisch and Güther did all the field recordings and I think its
Kubisch who is responsible for the composition as such. Two pieces here and there is of course an interesting parallel to be drawn to the world of music (rather than pure documentation of a sound event), industrial music to be precise. Much of this deals with the sound of machines, pumps, pipes and mechanics. And of course the sound of water, running through these pumps and pipes. Kubisch creates a truly fascinating sound world with these sounds, and it might be that I am biased and love motorized sound, mechanical objects and such like and where ever I am I try to listen to sounds like that. So the dark rumble from mines below, the pumping of water and the way Kubisch collages all of these sounds together into these two pieces of music makes this an utterly wonderful release. Sometimes hard to recognize the mechanics, but perhaps that adds to the mystery of it all. Excellent release.
Łukasz Komła | Nowamuzyka.pl
„Unter Grund” to już drugi album duetu Kubisch/Güther wydany przez Gruenrekorder. Ich pierwsza wspólna praca to „Mosaïque Mosaic” (recenzja) uwieczniająca nagrania terenowe pochodzące z Kamerunu. Tym razem niemieccy artyści postanowili zmierzyć się z zupełnie inną przestrzenią, a mianowicie z problem wód gruntowych i układem podziemnych rurociągów. Materiał z „Unter Grund” powstał w Zeche Zollverein – w kompleksie przemysłowych kopalni i koksowni znajdujących się na północy Essen w zachodnich Niemczech (Zagłębie Ruhry). Tam Kubisch zarejestrowała wiele odgłosów przepływającej wody zarówno w naziemnych, jak i podziemnych strumieniach, które nie są łatwo dostępne, ale odgrywają bardzo ważną rolę przy odprowadzaniu wody pojawiającej się w niechcianych miejscach.
W Zollverein istnieje sześć pomp odśrodkowych sięgających 1000 metrów w głąb, dwie z nich pracują bez przerwy, co daje około 8 milionów metrów sześciennych przepompowanej wody w ciągu roku. W pierwszej kompozycji „Unter Grund” właśnie słyszymy potężne odgłosy jednej z takich pomp, zaś w „Vision” znalazło się więcej bulgoczącej i przelewającej się wody w towarzystwie rechotu żab, bowiem Kubisch nagrywała także dźwięki na zewnątrz, np. w okolicach zbiorników ściekowych, wałów czy stawów znajdujących się tuż obok zabytkowej kopalni.
Aktualne badania wskazują na to, że w przeciągu ostatnich 150 lat region Zagłębia Ruhry opadł ponad 20 metrów. Kubisch i Güther swoimi nagraniami starają się zwrócić naszą uwagę na kolejny z paradoksów współczesnego świata powoli trawiący naszą ludzkość, czyli zagrożenie wynikające z nadmiernej ingerencji człowieka w prawa natury.