Six young sound artists in search of the sound of Hasselt and Genk
On 15 October 2013, Musica (Neerpelt), Z33 (Hasselt) and C-Mine Cultural Centre (Genk) sent out a call for young sound artists to engage with ‘the sound’ of Hasselt and Genk. Out of more than 40 entries from Belgium and abroad, jury members Paul Craenen (Musica), Esther Venrooy (School of Arts Gent), Gilles Helsen (Musica), Tim Toubac (Z33) and Ils Huygens (Z33) chose six promising sound artists: five from Belgium and one from the Netherlands. Canvas followed their artistic process closely and made a documentary about the project.
Hasselt and Genk: a new metropolis in Limburg?
Hasselt and Genk, the two biggest cities in Limburg, are only a stone’s throw apart. In recent decades, moreover, they have been growing closer and closer together. So it is not unthinkable that in the future the two cities might merge into a single commercial and cultural metropolis.
This immediately raises questions about how we might shape the open spaces between Hasselt and Genk. And above all: how should we imagine this future metropolis? After all, Hasselt and Genk have completely different characters: the picturesque shopping city of Hasselt with its traditional jenever drink and the cathedral, and the open industrial city of Genk with its recent mining history still fresh in people’s memories.
The sound of the city
You don’t just see the differences and similarities between the two cities: you can hear them as well. Each of the cities has its own, unique urban soundscape, a typical landscape of sounds that determines the character of the surroundings. Hasselt sounds different to Genk: you are more likely to hear high heels ringing on cobblestones in Hasselt than in Genk, where, however, there is a far greater variety of dialects and languages to be heard.
For Atelier de Stad Hasselt-Genk the six selected artists went in search of this acoustic identity. They set off into the cities, together or alone, armed with their ears, microphones and above all a healthy dose of imagination and creativity. Would they be able to imagine a situation where sounds from Hasselt and Genk combined to create something new?
Between artistic creation and urban studies
Atelier de Stad Hasselt-Genk is one of the five ‘city workshops’ revealed this autumn on Canvas, along with Brussels, Ghent, Kortrijk and Ostend. The film crews followed the entire artistic process from the selection procedure in February 2014 to the opening of the exhibition in C-Mine Cultural Centre in September this year, where the results were presented.
In an initial phase, the six artists went on study trips in the field. Simon Halsberghe and Caroline Claus took a bicycle ride together through the extensive urban zones that can be found all over the region: past houses built for miners, housing estates and industrial estates, along the canal, discovering the old mine sites and the nineteenth-century terraced houses. Simon Halsberghe made field recordings with contact microphones on safety railings or trees. The mayor of Genk allowed Caroline Claus to see the ambitious energy plans that are currently on the drawing board.
Tim Finoulst took his electric guitar into the centre of Hasselt to play traffic signs and sculptures with the help of transducers: he literally uses the city as an ‘amplifier’ for his guitar improvisations. As the only Limburg native among the artists, he knows the region better than anyone. Marieke van de Ven (NL) visited the Emile van Dorenmuseum in Genk and took a walk through the fascinating landscape around C-Mine to immerse herself in the transformations the landscape has undergone.
Listen to one of Tim Finoulst’s improvisations here:
The local dialects provided the subject for Koenraad Vandersyppe’s investigations. He developed an artificial language in which elements of both Hasselt and Genk dialect can be discerned. Finally, Joris Gielen combed the streets of Hasselt and Genk in search of typical sounds and unusual acoustics.
Listen here to a sound fragment used by Koenraad Vandersyppe:
Klankenbos and Klankatlas as a starting point
Musica, in partnership with sound artist Esther Venrooy, coached the artistic processes right from the start. In July, the group was invited to a working residence in Klankenbos (Neerpelt). From here the sound artists, most of whom do not live in Limburg, could explore the region and work on their creations in peace. Musica also made its Klankatlas platform and tools available for the project: Marieke van de Ven used the mobile GPS application that Musica developed with Yvan vander Sanden for the Maasland Sound Route to create her poetic listening walk for the C-Mine spoil tip; likewise, the Klankatlas interactive map provided the medium for Joris Gielen’s sound map.
Sound exhibition in C-Mine Cultural Centre
On 20 September 2014, the results resounded through the industrial spaces of C-Mine, where the enormous, rusty machines make the history of mining feel very tangibly present. The techniques and media that the Atelier de Stad artists used to translate their work were highly varied: until 5 October, the public were not only able to experience a listening walk with a mobile app or discover an online sound map, but also to enjoy a performance by Tim Finoulst, an audiovisual installation by Simon Halsberghe and a publication by Caroline Claus. A video projection showed an installation by Koenraad Vandersyppe that was not at the C-Mine site but a few kilometres away, beneath the cable-stayed bridge over the Albert Canal between Hasselt and Genk. This is a symbolic place where the finale of the Unie Hasselt-Genk was held on Sunday 5 October in the form of The sound of Hasselt and Genk and the premiere of Antifoon, a living sound sculpture by Wim Henderickx for more than 400 musicians.