By: Joshua Minsoo Kim
1. Oeil Poché
2. A=F=L=O=A=T 1
3. A=F=L=O=A=T 2
4. A=F=L=O=A=T 3
5. A=F=L=O=A=T 4
6. A=F=L=O=A=T 5
7. A=F=L=O=A=T 6
8. A=F=L=O=A=T 7
9. Ode á L'oublie
10. Dans La Nuit, Des Images
11. Traum des Künstlers
12. Traum des Künstlers (Rework 7)
13. Traum des Künstlers (Rework 3)
14. Traum des Künstlers (Rework 4)
15. Traum des Künstlers (Rework 8)
16. Torqued Ellipse II
On Spaces, Jos Smolders spends over two hours immersing listeners into the sound worlds of museums. While a quotidian capturing of such institutions would be an interesting endeavor in and of itself, Smolders instead uses their curious atmospheres as a mere starting point; what often begins as a typical field recording soon evolves into a larger musical event that finds him taking on a more pronounced role in the proceedings. As such, it would be dishonest to purport that the album gives a good sense of the exact nature of these locations, and it doesn't seem to be Smolders's goal either. His active participation in these compositions finds these subjective interpretations to be a window unto his experiences: a personal but valid approximation of what these spaces are actually like.
In the liner notes, Smolders reveals that he had once considered museums to be analogous to churches. They were both places of contemplation, and any such spaces would surely contain minimal sonic activity. Naturally, he recognized upon recording just how loud museums can be, and how such incessant noise can distract from the intended goal of thoughtful reflection. Appropriately, this paradoxical notion of museums inviting both deep thought and endless disruption is presented in these recordings. In the first track, nondescript chatter and other clattering sounds fill up the space. While clearly audible, it all congeals into an easily ignorable white noise. But nearly three minutes in, we're treated with loud coughing that's considerably louder than what preceded it. And in hearing this, there's a sense that while one can become accustomed to the general ambiance of a museum's bustling interior, a single punctuated sound can interrupt any concentration. We're then subject to a camera shutter and a creaking door, but around seven minutes in there's a series of footsteps that reverberate loudly. Smolders shrouds this in a metallic drone that imparts an eerie vibe. The overall soundscape is reminiscent of various musique concrète pieces but the interesting thing is how the footsteps themselves, while being recognizable and having an identifiable source, is haunting. The same can be said for the occasional iPhone message alerts that can be heard, in this track and the next few.
One is led to wonder if Smolders is positing that these trivial sounds can appear disorienting in a space as "sacred" as a museum. He often employs a sneaky reversal, making the museum's natural sounds appear commonplace before revealing their unsettling underbelly. On top of this, though, is a decision to reduce all familiarity. On "Ode á L'oublie" and “Dans La Nuit, Des Images” he sustains a psychedelic drone that could potentially be sourced from the recordings made within an exhibit, but the truth is unclear. On one hand, this could be a continuation of his initial shock regarding museum spaces, stretching out specific sounds to the point that they're completely inescapable. On the other, it could be him coming to terms with such a reality and acknowledging that one must take in the full breadth of the museum space—extraneous sounds and all—to enjoy it. It's at once an acknowledgement of the space's limits and a realization that everything therein is a part of the experience.
All of this aside, Spaces is an aesthetic exercise that is mostly interesting for how Smolders navigates these different museum spaces. While his compositional style doesn’t deviate too far from what is initially heard, the two hours that comprise this double album move by relatively quickly. Especially notable is “Traum des Künstlers,” a series of short tracks whose recordings were sourced from Museum Küppersmühle. Smolders explains that while the museum was rather quiet during his visit, two specific “characters” were present: the ticking of a climate monitoring device, and a raucous child. We hear both of these elements throughout all five compositions and while the stitched-together editing here is more obvious than elsewhere, it’s a surprisingly fun sequence that gets at the heart of Spaces: every person’s visit to a museum is wholly unique, irreplicable.