In 2019, resident Ricky van Broekhoven showcased his synesthetic machines in a solo show at TAC called Hyper Hertz: an audiovisual experience of sound energy that adjusts space and transforms matter. Two years later we are catching up with the sound engineer in his studio to see where his projects are now, while getting a deep dive into the physical process that leads to his machine-like sculptures and his collaborative way of working.
Davy de Lepper
Being inspired by the concept of phenomenology, spatial sound designer Ricky van Broekhoven explores time, space and matter by engineering exteroception tingling artefacts and narratives. Ever since graduating from the Sandberg Institute in 2012 he has been joining forces with internationally renowned artists, institutions and brands.
Your work is a crossover between science, art and design. What led you into creating these machine-like installations?
What is paramount in my work is that you can play and perform a lot of experiments. My workplace is also set up for this. I like how things are made and being able to make things work. It’s a lot of trial error, figuring things out. How exactly does something work? How can I control this?
"Music is and remains a great source of inspiration and motivation."
Are there certain phenomenons in nature that inspire the creation of these installations?
I have a fascination for phenomena that are linked to a physics experiment. These often appeal to the imagination because they make you look at your surroundings again. I have always been busy with music and sound and that has fused with my work: the immaterial of music and the makeable of the world. I bring these two components together to create something new.
Music is and remains a great source of inspiration and motivation. It all starts with a small experiment that develops in subsequent steps from device to interactive installation. A project like Fluid Resonance is a good example of this: a synthesizer that can be played by means of sensors. The machine consists of a thin membrane with a dark shiny liquid on top that resonates with the sound from the speaker located underneath. A ring of light shines on top. This glow is refracted by the wave patterns and captured by a camera. It’s not like I think of such a machine in advance. It takes shape in the experiments that follow through trial and error.
What projects are you currently working on?
Currently I am working with Albert van Abbe on the further development of an audiovisual musical instrument that has already been exhibited in my solo show Hyper Hertz in TAC and the Grote Kerk in Breda. The device called Phasing Waves creates visual sound waves that form a spatial sculpture in combination with electromechanical rhythms. Due to the lockdown, exhibiting it has been paused for a while, but its development has continued behind the scenes. That still takes up most of my time.
What makes a project take so long?
We have the space to develop things and seek collaborations with experts and platforms. This is partly due to the freedom we have through a contribution from the Creative Industries Fund. This gives us the space for leisurely experiments without the worry of finances. The installation has already been presentable in several ways, but it is not finished until it is an experience that lingers and stands out from other audiovisual projects. There are still some technical things to be resolved to transform it into maximum experience. So it actually remains in constant development; through the continuous flow of ideas that add to the installation and experience.
Obviously collaborating plays a big part in your creative process. What is the added value of these collaborations to your work?
A project like this also symbolizes new ways of working together by various Eindhoven parties. In the 1950s, for example, various parties came together to play in Natlab; something I now also do with Albert and Ruud Mulder. Ruud is an old Philips employee and worked there on electron microscopes. He is involved in many projects in code, electronics and technical consultations. In the past, it was mainly about experiment and not about creating a successful product. This creative way of doing science was normal at the time, but it doesn’t work that way nowadays. In the current systems of science, everything must be accounted for by means of numbers and generate money.
That is also why we want to move part of the project to the Hightech Campus. We want to be in the environment of high tech, but from an exploratory point of view without it having to immediately become a very concrete product or concrete experience. We want to bring together ingredients from which something can arise: the combination of science and creativity. This combination and method brings the project to a place that you cannot imagine in advance.
What do these collaborations give you as an artist?
You start each project in a different way: an unexpected angle. Collaborations are always different in shape. Some are free projects, some are more focused designs. The project with Albert started fairly, but projects I do with Bart Hess revolve around designing soundscapes for the tactile images he shoots of his project. This also creates a certain tension. How does a picture arise in your head when you see something? With Bart’s films you can almost imagine what it is like to be in such a suit. The sound that I design here is a reinforcement of his visuals; you have to feel it. It is exciting to work with sound in this way.
I recently commissioned a sound design for the Van Abbemuseum for the artwork “One Million Years” by artist On Kawara. Each page of the artwork – a book – counts 500 years. The artwork is part of a series of books that count down a total of two million years. At the same time, it is also a performance that people put forward. For the soundscape for On Kawara I looked at the ‘clockwork’ of planets and galaxies. They move slowly but predictably and forever. I thought that was a great fit as a metaphor; the soundscape is a kind of epic meditative sequence of slowly evolving harmonies.
What is on the agenda for 2021?
If the situation allows it, we will be performing at several events and festivals this year with Phasing Waves: the audiovisual musical instrument that now exists in a portrait and landscape version. We have previously shown the landscape version in the MU. We are currently shooting new PR material and hope to be able to show the installation to an audience again soon. Maybe on a smaller scale, but that also fits perfectly.