CD-review: Die Waldstätte Cyrill Schläpfer
By Dave Mandl for ‘The Wire’, Juli 2008
Art and obsessive-compulsive behavior are not exactly strangers, whether the impulse is ego (Paul McCartney) pushing the Beatles through hundreds of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”), perfectionism (Martin Scorsese making De Niro re-enter a room dozens of times until the entrance was “just right”), exhaustive cataloguing (Bernd and Hilda Becher’s 40 years of photographs of industrial structures), or sheer nuttiness (Harvey Sid Fisher’s Zodiac Songs album). But in the sound art realm, at least, it would be hard to come up with anything to match Cyrill Schläpfer’s monumental work Die Waldstätte. A doorstop sized four CD, three DVD box documenting the sights and sounds of steamships traveling on Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, the collection is the result of 11 years’ labour.
The four CDs comprise a “steamship symphony”, a musique concrète composition created from the sounds of old steamships; a set of unmanipulated, audio vertié recordings of the sounds of various trips on the Lake Lucerne; “acoustic portraits” of five individual ships; and finally a “lexicon” of 99 ship sounds – an inventory or taxonomy of the components of seven different ships, similar to a sound effects record. Discs one through three have accompanying documentary DVDs, with their corresponding CDs and video footage consisting of various static and moving shots of the ships, horns and machinery we’re listening to. The beautifully package set includes a full colour, 28 page booklet (in German only, alas).
Naturally the first question anyone will ask is, why? And as with many projects like this, it’s doubtful that the artist himself can give a precise answer. Since the label is owned by Schläpfer, the set may well be a product of unfiltered ID, though Schläpfer has confessed that there were financial considerations behind his inclusion of the lexicon CD (he guessed that boatspotting geeks and nautical museum curators would find it irresistible). It seems likely that he was driven by some combination of nostalgia – he grew up with the sound s of the ships on the Lake Lucerne –and his sound artist’s ear, attracted by what he has called the “industrial beauty of the sound of old machines”. What this set is NOT is a documentary records of a disappearing world: these ships don’t seem in imminent danger of vanishing or being made technologically redundant. Schläpfer just loves how they look and sound.
The collection achieves what it sets out to do: it gives a complete a portrait as you will ever get of this particular world in the comfort of your home, or maybe even in Switzerland. The high quality sound recordings are pleasantly calming, and the public television-style video is neither gimmicky or naive. Will anyone be interested enough to buy it? Hard to say. But who would be insensitive enough not to have a soft spot for one man’s painstakingly assembled collection of the sights of sounds of the lake of his hometown? And who knows if anyone else will ever have the gumption to take on a project like this?