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[English] Shadows, Turtles and Sound Art

Peter Vogel, el artista sonoro alemán, quedó fascinado con robots. | Peter Vogel, the German sound artist, was fascinated by robots.

Who would say that the first relationship between artificial intelligence (AI) and sound art has its origins in two turtles!

Elmer and Elsie were the first robotic creatures to interact with their surroundings by making decisions.

They were two autonomous turtle-shaped robots named Elmer and Elsie and were built by the neurologist and founder of cybernetics, William Gray Walter, in the late 1940s.

Mr. Walter, wanted to demonstrate that the connections between a small number of brain cells gave rise to very complex behaviors, that the secret of how the brain worked was in how those connections were made and that those connections were the future of machines. Could you imagine such a thing in 1940?

Peter Vogel, the German sound artist, was fascinated by Mr. William’s ideas. Mainly with these little beings that simulated basic neurophysiological behavior using light sensors.

One of Vogel’s early works was titled Drehstäbe (Torsion Bars), from the year 1970. It is an abstract painting that contains two photoelectric cells together with five small motors that interact with the people who stand in front of the painting.

Thus began his journey through the speaking walls. Soundwalls; sound scores materialized on walls that are activated through interaction with the viewer.

Every conscious movement made in front of the sensors will result in a modification of the sound event. The first movement triggers a sound, while the later movements have a modifying function … the sequence and modifications that emerge in this way are the actual work of composition.

Peter Vogel: Ambiente cibernético musical, 1974


Bedürfnis (Need), an electronic wire object, a photoelectric cell, a small microphone and a speaker. This work created sounds in response to the shadows generated by the viewer. The interesting thing about her is that the more you interacted with her, the less reaction the work had with the viewer, this is because the work followed the psychological principle called negative habituation.

This principle is a process that allows living beings to adapt to their environment. A primitive form of learning that has as its fundamental reason, the process by which living beings stop responding to what is not relevant to us. This form of response to external stimuli is practiced in everyday life by any living being. For example, when we get used to certain noisy or noisy environments and stop paying attention to it.

Beginning in 1975, Vogel devoted himself mainly to making three-dimensional works, which he called «sound objects». Vogel’s sound objects are works of minimalist delicacy where the components of the work (filigree wires, cables, capacitors, photoelectric sensors, LED diodes, speakers) surprise unexpectedly when it is discovered that the work reacts to movements and / or the sounds generated by the viewer.


When birds are transformed into speakers. In 1922 the painter Paul Klee imagines a combination between biology and machines, through birds connected to cables that are maneuvered by a crank.
In 1988 Vogel reinterprets Klee’s imagination and performs a group of works titled «Zwitschermaschinen» (Twitter Machine) where birds are replaced by loudspeakers that move with a crank and a sound from these loudspeakers, imitating the singing of the birds.

Twittering Machine Paul-Klee-Zwitschermaschinen Peter Vogel

Klee’s painting is very poetic despite all the gentle irony; to me it was always a metaphor for the scientific nature of nature or an allegory for the mechanization of pleasure.

Peter Vogel

In 2011 the documentary entitled «The Sound of Shadows» made by Jean Martin and Conall Gleeson was released where Peter Vogel, from his atelier in Germany, explains each of his works.

Author: Sol Rezza
Editor | Corrector: Franco Falistoco
@ 2019

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