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kling klang klong is a 9-person sound collective from Berlin-Friedrichshain. It’s also a sound studio of an unmistakable kind: Technological innovations become experiences of nature, while interactive applications become new experiences of nature. The question is: How can nature and technology be combined in new and interesting ways? How does nature sound in a digital era? We paid a visit to the Klongkollektiv in Friedrichshain to find out.
My first thought is, just get rid of the dog. I ring the bell at klong - that’s what it says on the bell. I have an appointment with the sound collective kling klang klong from Berlin-Friedrichshain, and the dog simply won’t leave me in peace. The door opens, it’s “Pepper”, a young woman, slim stature, tattooed and the dog at her side. “He’s just excited,” she clarifies as she pulls the dog off my leg. I smile, enter, yield, now I’m inside. We both say hello. I have arrived at epicentre of the kling-klang-klong-sphere of activity, one of the most important sound collectives in Berlin at the moment, period.
Pepper leads me through the rooms. At the first door we meet Fernando, a man with deep-seated dark eyes and an even deeper voice, a 30-day beard, a musician and one of nine. klang klong may sound familiar when it comes to music and experimental sound art: Founded in 2015, they were honoured as creative pilots by the u-Institut in 2017. They have even appeared at Futurium with their project “I’m the Robot” as part of the Workshop Weeks. Currently, three further exhibits on the subject of Artificial Intelligence are part of the exhibition in the new Futurium Lab, which opened in September. kling klang klong is comprised of Johannes Helberger, Valentin von Lindenau, Felipe Sanchez Luna, Maurice Mersinger, Julien Herion, Fernando Knof and Pepper. “A colourful bunch,” Johannes Helberger says. “A collection of various talents and abilities,” adds Fernando. He himself has been part of it all since 2017. Fernando studied music and cultural studies and plays violin, trombone and drums. Since he’s been here, he has hardly really made music, he says - he works here as a conceptualist. Another founder is a programmer; there are a total of four founders, all of whom are equal managing directors. “We all work at on an equal level,” Pepper and Fernando emphasise in agreement.
We want to use sound worlds to create accesses and spaces that are new worlds of experience
How does a team like kling klang klong work? We go to the meeting room. Here the floorboards creak under our feet, everything reminds me of good old East Berlin (a bit); the rest of the office is carpeted. “That’s good for the sound,” says someone who’s just coming in. Apart from that there’s technology and equipment everywhere. In the hallway a young woman is sitting listening with headphones, sinking into musical depths, while in the neighbouring room the rest of the team makes themselves comfortable, concentrated behind humming computers. Fernando explains the klong concept: “For us, it’s naturally important that we’re satisfied with what we do”. Pepper adds that kling klang klong is basically like a family that has grown steadily: If more than 80 per cent of all startups go bankrupt or fail in the first three years, kling klang kling is just starting out - you’ve started with four, now you’re nine. The team has written a kind of “manifesto” for cooperation, how and with whom they want to work and how they want to work themselves. “With us, no ends up being exploited,” Fernando emphasises. “And our clients also include large companies like Google, but also others like Tamschick, flora fauna, Axiona and many museums or the Futurium. We want to use worlds of sound to create access and spaces that are at the same time new worlds of experience,” he adds. The focus is on the interface between nature and technology, on how technological progress changes people, the present and the future: How can man, nature and technology be brought into harmony through sound? One project, for example, is called “Meandering Rivers”. The project was initiated by the Berlin design studio onformative, which dealt with meandering rivers and visualised the currents in a simulation. kling klang klong then produced the music for the visualisation and subsequently developed an AI research project. Based on a neuronal network by Google, three different recordings by three different pianists were collected, which improvised to corresponding visual worlds. Subsequently, the visual worlds were used as graphic scores and a corresponding AI was programmed so that it could develop its own characteristics. The AI then spat out its own compositions, reproducing the characteristics of rivers and water: Complex streams, ebbs or the water flow could be represented with pixels and bytes. And the data packets were arranged in such a way that unpredictable streams were created - nature literally made the music itself. Landscapes became forces of nature that are audible.
At kling klang klong, the focus is on the interface between nature and technology, on how technical progress changes people, the present and the future: How can man, nature and technology be brought into harmony through sound?
kling klang klong take current questions regarding what the future has in store to a whole new level, though often only in a symbolic, performative way. “We are not researchers,” Fernando suggests. “But what we do certainly influences research. And often the corresponding research results even changed our own work. For example, e-car sounds were created for a major car manufacturer, and a simulator was built over them as part of an innovation laboratory for future questions. “We simply developed it ourselves because the questions that emerged were so exciting,” says Fernando. Because it was about how to deal with sound in urban traffic: How much sound must there be left? At another point, the FJORD & BÆLT project in collaboration with Studio Art + Com investigated the local marine ecosystems of the Great Belt. The Great Belt (Danish: Storebælt) is the strait between the Danish islands of Funen in the west and Zealand in the east. kling klang klong had created a multi-channel sound landscape in an open research laboratory in Kerteminde, Denmark, which reflects the forces of nature and can influence life under water - and with which whales, for example, feel at home in the waters via sounds. “The structure of the composition was based on environmental data collected in 2016 near the research station. And the parameters measured included the moon phase, sun duration, moon duration, sea level pressure, temperature and humidity,” Fernando emphasises. The ultimate result is a musical score. Original recordings from the research station provided the source material for new timbres. For example, the motor hum of a passing ferry turns into a musical bordun, the clicking sounds of harbour porpoises into a rich sound texture.
Nature, technology, art and listening pleasure were once opposites in history; at kling klang klong they are vividly present and looking to the future. In the 18th century, for example, it was forbidden to reproduce nature in music. Composer Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, had refused to devote himself to God or nature. It was not until the Romantic period that this imbalance between nature, technology, art and listening pleasure gradually disappeared. As soon as the experience of nature meant work, however, this form of work remained underappreciated - the Artes sordidi, the dirty arts of the craftsmen, were at the bottom of the hierarchy of forms of work. Technological progress always meant man’s exaltation over nature. And it’s precisely this that now seems to be turning into the opposite - driven by the climate crisis and the environmental catastrophes that have already been felt: “For us it’s about the question of new ways in which technology and progress interact, so that nature can be experienced or at least not endangered,” says Pepper. “Our work must be ethically justifiable,” Fernando adds.
The day is coming to an end and the sun is setting in front of the large window in the office. One of the klong members is already lying in the hammock in the middle of the office. Opposite, with a view out of the window, is the light bulb, a real dive for those who want to know after work. “Sometimes we head down there after work too,” Fernando winked. And it’s a good thing that there are still pubs or places here that progress hasn’t displaced. Building, testing, trying out, that’s what it’s all about - that’s what klong klong sounded like in the DISCO DUSCHE project, an interactive dance floor where visitors create their own music titles by moving around in the room. But the interaction design and the rules for music production change over time. “To get to the next level, visitors have to work together and intuitively discover different types of musical performance. Fernando is convinced that this is the fundamental issue for the future. “It’s about how we come together as individuals in the future. In the sound collective you’ve already made a start, you’re nine plus a dog here. Now the rest has to follow.”
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