A machine running is worth two standing still. (Click to download PDF)
Every essay on Thomas Bayrle starts with, or quickly moves to make connection via his time working at a textile factory. OK. Done. Let us not make too much of this historical fact here. You may protest, given that this record brings three tracks of 4-track recordings of textile machines looming, segmenting and winding made by Bayrle and Bernhard Schreiner. I’d argue that the time with a textile machine, his description of the work, the patterns and hours, is more relevant to Bayrle’s prints, paintings and films where patterns are manipulated to twist, buckle, warp and bow as they extend and seduce and cover, perhaps endlessly. On these recordings, by contrast, the sound of the machinery is as captured. None of the typical Bayrle manipulations or distortions or tweaks. Here it is important to listen. Spending time with the recordings puts the listener with the machine patterns, to twist, buckle, warp and bow your own extended seduction. The component pivot points:
These are machines. Machine rhythms. Not music. It should be dry and equivocating. This is not the case. I encounter these recordings as intentional beats. Compositions. For reasons I cannot explain, three months in and numerous listenings later, “RAPIER (LOOMING)” is the stand-out single. It rocks. A real chart topper. The fullness of the sound carries overtones and propulsive force. Also a sly syncopation that may or may not actually be in the grooves. The complexity of the rhythm immediately pushes you front and center. “SHUTTLE (SEGMENTING)” and “YARN (WINDING)” are thin and repetitive by comparison. Which is not to say without pleasure. They are post-punk before punk.
All three tracks put me in my place. Would this be the case if I was on the factory floor working the machines for an eight hour shift? I’m not sure. When I worked in factories the sound never bothered me too much. I cannot say I remember the sounds either, though. I’m currently humming a bastardized version of “YARN (WINDING)” to myself. The tracks put a spell on me. The rhythms of the automotive plant didn’t engross like this LP. Maybe distance helps. This isn’t my factory. The minute differences catch me, the steady chooglin’ focuses me. And the fact that instead of the rhythms driving me to bicker and drink at the end of my shift, here I sit back and sip–preferably a gin martini, as this drink lubricates gears best–the metallic churn lures me into its method. The repeat is master.
This record is the textbook definition of Better Louder. I am smaller than WARP WEFT. Playback should be loud and louder. Feel the engineered beat in your fillings, that is when the voices start. Wait for the grooves pulsing in built-up calluses. This is pure metal machine music as Lou Reed never knew how to construct. This is larger than any power trio. “RAPIER (LOOMING)” dwarfs every room in which I have listened. This is industry. Industrial music for post-industrial people. It’s reverberations are felt globally. Particularly in absence. The swarm that follows upon the heels of sorted chunk on “SHUTTLE (SEGMENTING)” engulfs and expands against the constraints of the skull and trade agreements alike. “YARN (WINDING)” is not large but rather piercing. If I walk out of the room, I can hear it’s incisive schlub-schlub-schlubbing three floors down. Cold klick extending pulse through wood, lathe, plaster, carpet, paint.
The ending of the tracks is jarring. How? How now? How dare you? Who is to blame for the cuts? Bayrle? Schreiner? Small World? (You couldn’t press a nine LP set?) Would Udo Van Der Kolk not allow more shift time to record? These three rhythms are paced to hit the horizon. Third shift at the least. Instead they are a curt ** minutes. I’m cheated. Like the employer who caps my time at 30 hours a week to save on supplying health benefits and pension. My days are numbered by another’s ill-tempered delineations. Large rhythms sound of big business. Business isn’t supposed to sleep. Every pause to industrial pulse is a traumatic end.
This is more than an interruption of groove. I had more in me. Potential. Each of the three recordings ends just when cycles are revealing themselves and offer something to me. At the brevity of the current LP, the cuts go silent just as I am feeling a comprehension of differences between clock beat, body beat, and machine beat. There is no beat to the day or night. Capital is beyond beats. The specious decision to base the segmentation of the day around seconds minutes and hours slowly opens as you listen. The beat of the machines is its own. But if these rhythms were your day, seconds would lose their feel. Another tempo would guide. An indifferent techno where the subwoofers hold the heart at a slower and cheaper pace but higher anxiety. Marxing time with a tap of the toe.
There is nothing as round and full and resolved as a warm bounding reverb on this LP. It is thin, tin-sheared clack. The fullness comes from metal on metal. Full stop. Keep on and get the lead out. With every repetition the shard and sliver and shaving metal on metal antagonism are perceived in the drag regularity. Parts need tightening and replacing. Quick edges losing decisiveness. The limits of construction are not perceptible–exactly–on this LP, but you can sense increasing devaluation if not invested in properly.
Industry is in a perilous step the world over. Production doesn’t serve. Service is what is expected of us today. But this fact is a gloss. You can’t taste the steel until it is forged. You can’t serve without something to deliver. A trade. We can try to elevate our mind above dirty and tired hands. Pretend our knees aren’t tired. We can invent machines that result in fewer opportunities for hands to get productively dirty and fingers to get caught and mangled. But everything would stop, hearts included, if materials were not regularly being converted from one state to another. Even in diminished ruin, the sounds captured in WARP WEFT bear repeating the world over. Give the worker some.
Kraftwerk should be jealous. Between each chug on WARP WEFT I know my body and feel the artificial tendons stretch beyond my fleshy borders. Muscles track blood flow as pulse struggles to slow the mechanical rhythm, and when that fails, pulse speeds to match the greased and piston rhythm. It is a workout of perception perspiration. Exhausting the oil of mind and body. The feet feel unforgiving concrete as phantom limb. It has been this way for nearly a century. Time to exercise a way to be in lubricated fitness amidst this chemical rhythm. Be the man-machine just as the steel is being sold for scrap. The pulse and rhythms of contemporary life are not biological alone. This isn’t a problem either. Too, at this stage bodies are equal parts fragile flesh, industrial pace, and communication systems tissue. Move in industrial repetitions. I feel the animalistic pull of the “RAPIER (LOOMING)” calling my muscles to exercise in anticipation of its systemic shore. This ain’t no disco, the work week weight demands more reps. You always need an equal and opposite release. Don’t forget to boogie.
Through the sympathetic resonances I hear Fordist angels directing me from the base of my spine to the top drop of my nervous production line conveyer system. Don’t you? Twist, buckle, bow, bend, warp, weft, whoop.
THOMAS BAYRLE and BERNHARD SCHREINER interviewed by MIA LASKA – September 2016 – (Click to download PDF)
On the occasion of their record release event at 356 Mission, Mia Laska interviewed Frankfurt-based artists Thomas Bayrle and Bernhard Schreiner about their collaborative sound work WARP WEFT, recorded in a textile weaving factory in Schwalmstadt Trutzhain, Germany.
Photo: Udo Van Der Kolk
Mia Laska: Thomas, in 1958 you apprenticed at a weaving factory. Seemingly that was a formative experience that continues to inspire your practice as characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with repetition and grid structures. The weaving mill where you recorded WARP WEFT still has the exact same looms that you worked on in the 1950s. It’s the last of its kind in the whole of Germany and it almost seems like a museum. While still currently in operation, it seems likely to shut down soon. How important was it for you to make this record, to capture this particular sound before it’s not any longer available? What meaning does it have today, almost 60 years after your experience?
Thomas Bayrle: This experience – those days – helped to form my entire sight of “world!” up until this very day! The flatness / the complex binding qualities / organization of masses of similar / equal threads – being crisscrossed by complex binding qualities – helped on the one hand to serve as a pattern for richness of grids – but also to develop my feelings to “rhythm and blues”. – Weaving has occurred so early to me as an absolute philosophical and rhythmic surviving pattern / as a quality, which is reaching out far into our age…
Bernhard Schreiner: I guess we didn’t think about it in terms of documenting sounds that might possibly vanish soon from our planet, the sounds on this record are actually not what the machines might sound like if one stands next to it while weaving. Although we didn’t use any audio-effects, we did use certain recording techniques and arranged the sounds into pieces. Pieces that could be read as “music” and/or field-recordings at the same time – In my understanding/hearing they are very musical.
It’s not easy to formulate what meaning it would have today to actively listen to music or sound (if one would like to differentiate these two at all) but that’s the point with this record. I think in the first place it’s merely three pieces of music/sound – one can enjoy it or dislike it without even knowing it’s source, without even trying to find out – I go with Pierre Schaeffer’s notion of the “sound-object” somehow, even if he thought it failed. The circumstances of its recording/production, etc. is a different story, connected? yes – implicitly necessary to know about for the listening experience? no!
ML: During your recordings the two of you focused on specific historical machines – among them an early Jacquard loom, which is seen as a precursor of modern computing science. Its rhythmic sound is captivating and stimulating, it has a certain drama that constantly increases but then gets interrupted by sudden alterations, which all together result in several layers of dimensions. Images of an operating workshop paint themselves in one’s mind, but where do those come from? Could you please elaborate on how you recorded its sound? What are the machines actually doing during the recording? Were they in fact weaving or looming? Is there maybe even an actual piece of textile produced through the making of the record?
TB: Please let me explain the close relationship to “the mentality of analogue machine” / while Bernhard might approach it like a doctor – looking at this – those days – 100% analogue – organisms!
When we used to work in this weaving factory – those days – 9 hours per day – one had to develop an organic relationship to survive in this hell of noise / rhythm and boredom – composed by over 100 weaving Automates. –
It wasn’t possible at all – to – kind of fight against the machine<<<<<<<<<1
You would have lost immediately – fighting against it!
To survive, You had to – kind of – marry it! – built a – sort of human relationship to it…
onto 2 levels: “Rhythm” (30 years later bouncing cars / Detroit Techno / – Soundlevel Music by pure frequency – and Beat – Weft ‘n’ Warp as surviving principals.
Optical You had the beauty of boredom – looking minute by minute / hour by hour / day by day over the slowly but steady growing fabric – composed of 8000 x 8000 threads per square meter …
BS: The loom you are talking about is a model from the 1940s to 1950s and it was weaving while we recorded it – a fabric, it might have been a simple but beautiful fishbone pattern, I remember it to be white or cream colored. But it’s not really important, there is no way to be able to “hear” what pattern a machine is producing at the moment. To give you an idea, I’ll talk about the piece “Shuttle (Segmenting)”, which is made from a recording of one of those early weaving machines: we set up four microphones, two condenser mics used like overheads quite far away from each other, a boundary microphone and a contact microphone, which was listening to the sounds inside the loom – sounds you would normally not hear (unless you would put your ear directly on the loom, but even then the contact mic might be more sensitive than your ear and less selective than your brain). We recorded these four microphones onto four different channels and from these recordings built the piece on the record, by editing and panning it, taking out or bringing in single channels, but always staying in sync like we recorded it.
The interruptions in the piece you are talking about are literal – the loom stops if a warp-thread breaks. Sometimes that happens quite often, sometimes it goes on for longer periods. During our recording the machine stopped repeatedly and one or more threads had to be repaired. This was done very quickly by Udo, the chief weaver, so it always continues until the next stop/break – it’s really like breaks/pauses in music but certain parts of the loom kept running during these breaks so there’s always something going on even if it stops weaving…
There’s no piece of textile connected to the recording that would have been produced for us. We took pleasure in the idea of producing pure audio. That’s the work, there’s no connected textile objects, no extensions to the LP. Of course there’s the cover, there is the sound and a physical object, the vinyl, cover, etc.
ML: Another record you released a couple of years ago is Rosenkränze (Rosaries), an almost endless, repetitive, amalgam out of human and mechanical sound. Recorded in garages and car dealer parking lots, the sounds of engines, windshield wipers, spitting exhaust pipes, and squealing rubber are mixed and collaged with the repetitive and meditative hum of the rosary prayer. In comparison the production of this album seems rather straight forward. The shifts and alterations are made directly by the machine…
TB: This record was – as with as our new record – a cooperation with Bernhard Schreiner from the beginning on!
We kind of dived into churches rosary groups with different languages and manners – car repairs shops etc. etc…
As I see it a collective quality – this humming praying ‘Än’ buzzing – connected to almost every “organic meadow” in this world – driven all over the world – I feel like lying in a meadow – listening, smelling all sorts of sounds…..
BS: Yes, there is a big difference and not only one compared to “Rosenkränze”. Actually it’s a very different approach. This time the mixing stays within the machine, not mixing two or more different sources. While “Rosenkränze” is an attempt to bring two seemingly very different worlds together to see what they have in common and how they cooperate … – with WARP WEFT we wanted to see what the looms have to tell us:
Would we discover voices or human voice like sounds buried in the machinery?
Would we find musical qualities? Could we dig out something? …
And, as mentioned before, it’s not, unless with “Rosenkränze”, connected or part of another artwork – The LP is the artwork.
ML: Your work often reflects on the individual within socio-political, industrial, and technological entities. Thinking about the decline of the manufacturing industry in Central Europe and the fate of the mill especially – how critical is this album? Are there any political or social connotations inherent?
TB: I might be only very calm – representing a rest of all ancient ingredients in these pieces… But as I am still here – and these old monsters are still sort of alive – as well – I dare to say: mass production yes, like never before! But everything is individual! Every heartbeat only once / every weft and every warp is absolute single! Billions of similarities – while everything exists only once – will never repeat! So this machine and it’s sound tells me every second while it moves: This is once! I am once! and nothing will ever be the same!
BS: That’s very beautiful what Thomas says here. I see it the same way. These machines are kind of like showing a very old concept that is still used a lot in a lot of different disciplines I feel. The concept of the loop which isn’t a loop if you look at it closer. A repetition that actually is a slight variation and not an exact repetition – it’s like “god is in details”, maybe god is in very very slightly varied “repetitions”, never the same and always the same at the same time.
ML: Thomas, after working at the weaving factory you said that at that time you were hearing voices coming out of the machine that infiltrated your mind and body and almost drove you mad. Are you still hunted by those sounds today?
TB: …Musical sounds might reach deeper into our existence – than every other art!
In the factory I learned: never fight against a machine… try to sneak onto its Nature – via “Rhythm N Blues” – but even closer by singing sound…. All workers in this weaving mill kind of followed this! by connecting their mental and physical existences to their machines – sounds ‘n’ temperaments… they kind of loved their weaving looms. As the weaving looms those days – were driven by electric dynamos – due to the heaviness of work – these Dynamo’s always – kind of sang… At a certain frequency their metal swing – singing – kind of shifted into some sort of a human sound… with other words – all of a sudden the Dynamo began “zu wimmern und zu jammern” – like the old ladies in my country church! did every Thursday afternoon, when they met to pray the rosary… When I associated this machine sound with this bunch of old women in the country church of my childhood: I felt anxious – not comfortable happy! and I decided: now Thomas – You have to see a doctor! You better go!
Mia Laska is an Austrian art historian and writer based in Los Angeles
PreservingThePastInThePresentTimeTravelFortuneTeller (Click to download PDF)