Recording by Oda F. Braanaas
Photo by Thor Brødreskift

Walls of a utilitarian tunnel were transformed into 8 rattling and crackling speakers, which were consequently used to perform an unique, site-specific composition.

“Which are the spaces that we least expect to sing? The mundane, functional parts of our built environment through which we pass, that surround us, but go unnoticed? Slovakian sound enthusiast Jonáš Gruska sees and hears these spaces differently, using vibrational energy and resonant frequencies to turn objects and structures into loudspeakers. For Borealis, Jonáš will be transforming the tunnel between Bergen Storsenter and the Bus Station into a site-specific instrument, using the very walls of this everyday corridor to fill the whole space with sound. As the piece evolves the audience can move along the length of the corridor, hear a different perspective on the piece and mingle with those who are using the space as part of their daily commute.”

Location: Bergen, Norway
Date: 10. 3. 2017

As the first performance I’m able to see at this year’s festival, Jonáš Gruska’s specially-commissioned (and aptly titled) Passage is neatly emblematic of the Borealis attitude as a whole; of its propensity to secure its roots and reach out from within. Taking place in the tunnel beneath the city’s main bus terminal, interrupted occasionally by cyclists and families carrying skis, this work co-opts its surroundings and convinces them to do its bidding.

Ballard, of course, is the obvious touchstone here for the comingling of concrete and art – but the relationship between the walls and the sounds they have been made to produce today is more empathy than commentary. As x reverberates from x-t-x, the more skin-deep dystopian or speculative qualities of being forced underground to enjoy a work of art are outweighed by a feeling of being present.

Recently, artists like Gazelle Twin – or Kevin Martin and Dylan Carlson in their The Bug vs. Earth project – have drawn from the experience of our sprawling built environments and, in capturing their essence, worked to produce music that is both representative of the urban lived experience and wholly separate from its limitations. In contrast, Gruska’s Passage is more akin to a stone tape – a coaxing of stored memories, accrued over time, from the walls themselves. Forever intertwined and necessarily unique.

The Quietus: Things Learned At: Borealis Festival 2017

Only a couple of hours off the plane in Bergen and we're in a pedestrian tunnel under the bus station, where a crowd surrounds Slovakian musician Jonáš Gruska who is sitting cross-legged on the floor with a laptop, directing the whirs, rumbles and cascades of bleeps that are emanating from different sections of the tunnel wall and ceiling. Through all of this, Bergen's Friday evening commuters bustle, variously perplexed and amused, many of them with skis over their shoulders as they head for the mountains that surround the town.

It's the skis that do it: the piece is already disorienting in its manipulation of one's sense of space, but the sight of whole families moving through it makes it hilariously, profoundly strange. Which is just as it should be: a programme like Borealis's is nothing if it doesn't pull the rug out from under your feet and leave you uncertain where the line between the sublime and the ridiculous lies.

theartsdesk in Bergen: Questions upon questions at Borealis Festival