Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag



The heroic baritone Hans Hotter created a recording of Franz Schubert’s Die Winterreise in Berlin in 1943. The circle was also closing in on Stalingrad at the same time.

It is now January 26, 2005, and 18 degrees below zero Celsius. Snow swirls in the air and fog surrounds the lookout platform on Mount Pilatus. Eskimos supposedly have hundreds of words to refer to snow.

Material for the installation includes a section of a reproduction of a photograph that shows abandoned “baggage” outside of Stalingrad in 1943 and Der Leiermann (The Organ Grinder) from Hans Hotter’s first recording of Die Winterreise that was made in Berlin the same year. This recording of Schubert’s cycle of songs, which was at the time cut right into wax and later reproduced on shellac records, has also been available in digital form for several years now.

Die Winterreise—a recording of poems by Wilhelm Müller—is an imaginary inner journey. The sense of alienation from the world is the other side of individuation; it reflects the dark side of the “modern” notion of the “subject” as it was being defined at the time, and which even today serves as the foundation of modern art and our notion of the artist. The city name “Stalingrad” not only stands for the turning point in World War II. Looking back, it also signifies a general collective trauma that is juxtaposed with the (romantic) notion of the subject. Both historical, media-referential documents are amalgamated into a “fast film” and brought to a deliberate standstill. White light is the sum of all colors. Until the development of so-called “digital media,” one assumed a fair amount of objectivity in the technical process of capturing light through chemistry—the spellbinding photographic moment and development process. For nearly 130 years, the photographic image created a new, apparently objective reality that interacted with our non-instrumental/ “direct” perception.

A moment of the elusiveness of appearances engraves itself into the film. The traces are then fixed and reproduced ad infinitum. Independent of its material deterioration, the still photographic image is not static since the human eye and its process of seeing is not static, or rather, cannot be fixed. Our eyes scan an image and reconstruct their own picture of the visible figures. They more or less wear themselves out in the process. The façade of a building looks more static when viewed through raindrops than in sunlight. A little flash of light that is only perceived out of the corner of our eye lets us see more clearly and with more depth.

The recomposition EXTENSION3, which I began creating in November 2003—at the same time I was making the video for director Lukas Matthei’s and choreographer Ingo Reulecke’s stage production—is based on Hotter’s recording. I used digital equipment to try to filter Hotter’s voice out of the piano accompaniment and to free it from the patina of analogue recording. I retained the musical proportions. I kept only a few piano tones, mainly the bourdon tones that imitate the lyre, and more or less stretched them out digitally. The musical phrase is repeated two and a half times, and thus reflects the repetitious motif of the barrel organ. The micropolyphonic chords in this repetition become increasingly longer. I am concerned with elongating something in a standstill moment—abstraction and pathos in an extended moment.

5 meter x 2 meter free hanging screen (aluminum rim with special opera projection screen), one-channel HD-video, two-channel sound, grey walls and floor, text on the wall, computer, 5000 ANSI lumen beamer, 20-19.000Hz soundsystem, bench); photo and model by Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag for EDITH-RUSS-HAUS for Media Art, Oldenburg, 2006

612.43WEISS, cabinet version for VLEESHAL Cabinet, Middelburg, 2007; photo by Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag

612.43WEISS, 2003–2005, 2010

One-channel video installation, sound

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