Deathstar (2017)

Marino Formenti, performance view


The exhibition title of Marina Rosenfeld's new work for Portikus, Deathstar, referred to an unrealized line of research conducted in the late nineties in the last days of the sound laboratory at AT&T (formerly Bell Labs). Before it was abandoned, researchers explored the possibility of formalizing the subjective and transitory nature of sonic experience through a proprietary microphone configuration and set of calculations. So-called “perceptual soundfield reconstruction” aimed to allow users to reproduce a subjective, sensory account of the experience of space, foregrounding a kind of de-centered, high-fidelity subjectivity rather than portability and standardization. The “death star,” the device's informal nickname, referred more to the appearance of the structure, but the device also pointed to an alternative future, a future where listening was closely tied to cognition and the body.

Marina Rosenfeld takes up the “death star's” idea of environmental recording but inserts it back into a more immediate and complex temporality. The gallery is co-opted as a site of continuous simultaneous recording and playback, a fluid and recursive acoustic environment where a constant production and dispersal of data is subject to a series of delays and to the native distortion of Portikus' architecture. Indeterminacy in this system is a function not of philosophy, but the inability of the apparatus to fully grapple with the quantity and complexity of the signal that is continuously collected, translated, and redistributed through a set of shotgun microphones, an interface and four speakers.

Part echo chamber, part unruly machine, the Deathstar ultimately achieved a kind of legibility through another recursive gesture, the conversion of its collected sound back into musical notation, which was performed on March 31 in a 5-hour performance, but noted pianist Marino Formenti. In that sense sound was neither an abstraction nor a means to an end, but rather a material condition connected to the formation of music. 


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Deathstar Orchestration (2017)

Page of piano notation from Deathstar Orchestration, 2017

Page of piano notation from Deathstar Orchestration, 2017

From Donaueschingen festival book:

Deathstar, the title of Marina Rosenfeld's recent solo exhibition at Portikus (Frankfurt, Feb 17-April 16, 2017), referred to an unrealized line of research conducted in the late nineties in the last days of the sound laboratory at AT&T (formerly Bell Labs). Rosenfeld reconstructed a multimicrophone array associated with “perceptual soundfield reconstruction,” that is, a recording technique that aimed to reproduce a vivid, dimensional and experiential account of one acoustic space within another. For the artist, the “deathstar,” the abandoned device's informal nickname, pointed to an intriguing alternative technological future, where a potentially non-linear, de-centered subjectivity, tied to difference and the particularities of bodies, might have supplanted the coming emphasis on portability and standardization that fed into the rise of the cell phone. For the work, Rosenfeld took up the “deathstar" 's idea of environmental recording but inserted it back into a more immediate and complex temporality, that of the gallery, which was co-opted as a site of continuous, simultaneous recording and playback for the two-month duration of the exhibition. An audio score consisting of extended ‘silences’ punctuated by vocal utterances, noise and brief eruptions of electro-acoustic sound, was emitted at floor level, where it co-mingled with environmental noises (geese, visitors, traffic, bells) and entered the system via the microphone array high overhead, which returned both a version of the original signal and its many distortions and reflections back into the loudspeakers below; the result was a continuous and recursive acoustic environment where composition was understood to be in process at all times. A 5-hour performance by pianist Marino Formenti near the close of the exhibition further extended the work’s temporal  and indexical distortions: Formenti’s interpretation of the composer’s notated transcriptions of the exhibition’s sonic content entered the space for further re-uptake and dispersal.

For Donaueschingen, Rosenfeld has performed a continuation -- but also a kind of violation -- of the cyclical recursivity of the Portikus project, reinserting the fluid, unpredictable, continuous, and self-propagating machine-state of the deathstar -- an apparatus she co-opted from its historical obscurity for just this purpose -- back into the publicness of the generic concert hall. Her orchestration, of a 30-minute outtake from the exhibition’s large body of recorded traces, addresses the excessive and locationally contingent signal from the previous installation through notation -- where noise has accumulated and is therefore untranscribable, large frequency spreads are indicated graphically through hand-drawn line; where variation has been introduced by the apparatus, new notes appear -- as well as through staging. Her orchestration is itself an evocation of excess, an ego-trip, a gesture associated with the phase of a band's lifespan, for example, that includes the stadium and a need for the expanded palette afforded by orchestral instruments in their colorfullness and variety. In this vein, a wall of sound approach is also required here, where guitar amps instead of standard concert amplification are necessary to signify that the orchestration belongs to the register of excess and to “classical music” understood as an event within a chronology, as well as a genre that conserves and historicizes.

While the Portikus exhibition played with the idea of reproducing one space inside another, Deathstar Orchestration refuses this idea. Instead the work asserts an identity that is itself distributed. The positions of interpretation -- and interpreter -- are contingent and relative; score, notation, recording and performer are of equal valence in the same sense that the machinic process of reinscription modeled and performed by the deathstar makes no distinction between pianist, passing goose, scored event, or visitor footsteps. The problem of indeterminacy -- ie. the question of versions, and ultimately of singularity -- is re-articulated as a problem of data, rather than a ‘value’ or an ‘ideal’ associated with an earlier idea of the experimental or the new.

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