Adam Sonderberg
American Hours with German Efficiency
Cassette (E116)

Program 1: Humiliated Architecture 1–5
Many of the constituent parts that comprise this suite-
of-sorts were originally created between 2004 and 2007
for dance and performance pieces and, in one case,
for an aborted long-form project for radio. Stripped of
their context and manipulated anew, they’ve become —
to my mind, at least — sad specimens. In 1933 Brassaï
published his photo essay, Sculptures Involuntaires.
Everyday items were decontextualised, manipulated,
and re-imagined as curious little sculptures, and
seductively photographed. I found the results of his
exploration aesthetically pleasing and was wondering
if something similar could be done utilising the
sound files in my bloated and oft-neglected archive.
The finished work is far less conceptually rigorous
than I had originally planned, but that’s primarily due
to the working method not always fitting the material
in question.

Program 2: The Unhappiest Arriver
This piece is a composite of an untitled work, originally
twice as long, created to accompany dancer Asimina
Chremos during a performance in San Francisco on
6 September 2010. The full version (an excerpt of which
can be viewed here) featured live electro-acoustic piano
accompaniment, which is absent from this realisation.
We decided that the Cage/Cunningham dictum, ‘the
support of the dance is not to be found in the music but
in the dancer himself’, afforded us the advantage of
not feeling inhibited by one another’s gestures. To that
end, our sole collaboration consisted of determining the
length of the work. The piece presented here bears scant
resemblance to the spaciousness of the music performed
in September, however, one could certainly still dance
along to it, if so inclined. The title comes from a line in
Wittgenstein’s Nephew by the eternal literary curmudgeon
Thomas Bernhard. It reads: ‘I am the happiest traveler —
when I am on the move, moving on or moving off —
but the unhappiest arriver’. While I would never presume
to speak for Asimina, I feel I can safely say that this line
greatly resonates with both of us on personal and pro-
fessional levels.

The Unhappiest Arriver contains a number of sounds
which were generated by Olivia Block, Salvatore Dellaria,
Carol Genetti, and Jamie Kempkers.

American Hours with German Efficiency was composed
and assembled in September/December 2010 and
January 2011 at Vozdvizhenskoe Manor. Research
and development: Rachel Damon, Haptic, Allon Kaye,
Katherine Young. This work would have sounded mark-
edly different without the indispensable contributions
and generosity of Carol Genetti. Für Sigmar Polke

See also

Edition of 50 copies (out of print)

Self portrait, 2007


Adam Sonderberg’s work — whether solo, in Improv
collaborations, Haptic or Dropp Ensemble — typically
has a strong conceptual underpinning. The two pieces
on his tape are as pithy as a title like American Hours
with German Efficiency would imply. Humiliated
Architecture 1–5 is a compilation of excerpts from
Sonderberg’s archive, with no information provided
about the particular projects for which the material
was created. Freed from the tyranny of context, we’re
able to enjoy the sounds for what they are, a concrete-
style collage of sound poetry manipulations, muffled
rhythms, sort-of field recordings and what might be
performance excerpts.

Nick Cain in The Wire

[this music] is nothing like anything I have heard from
Adam Sonderberg before, far from the austerity of Say
No and absolutely miles away from the rich swathes of
beauty found in Haptic and the Dropp Ensemble. The
nearest reference points would be musique concrète-
related, as on the first piece in particular Sonderberg
raids his archives for sounds he had almost forgotten,
mostly apparently of everyday items though we hear
just about everything in here. The first side of the tape
is named Program 1: Humiliated Architecture 1–5 and
consists of a series of sound events, many of which,
such as the almost donkey-like constructions of what
I think at least began as human voices that open the
piece just do not sound like they belong on an album
of music, concrete or not. This odd collage takes up
much of the first few minutes of the piece before giving
way to odd non-vocal groans and creaks, odd slowed-
down field recordings, what sounds like someone breath-
ing and a few random instrumental sounds, a brief arc
of bass, tiny fragments of bowed metals and no end
of completely oblique confusion ending with a wildly
chopped up recording of what I think is a Japanese
gentleman talking... The piece works for me really
well, not only as thoroughly curious music that keeps
you engaged with ease, but also because, having read
Sonderberg’s liner notes now, he has sought to take
these virtually forgotten odds and ends from his
archives and breathe new life in them together in this
music. I really like this idea, somehow akin to a
painter inspired by old throwaway sketches, recyc-
ling, reshaping things and placing them beside each
other to create something new that bristles with
the individual energies and yet complete anonymity
of its constituent parts. It seems to fall somewhere
between concrète and dadaism without sounding
exactly like either. The piece uses sounds that we
don’t expect to hear on experimental music releases,
and that might be why I like it a lot.

The second piece is named Program 2: The Unhappiest
Arriver. It is an edit of a work composed to accompany
a dancer’s performances. On this piece we hear far
more sounds that might at least be attributable to
instruments but [these are] buried under silent sheets
that seem to distort what comes out of the speakers.
After five minutes or so of faceless, unidentifable
shuffling and crackling a piano appears, repeating
the same note over and over, mixed with some bowed
metal percussion and the kind of electronic babble
that so much music in this area falls into. A kind of
vaguely Feldmanesque calm seemingly suddenly
dropped into the middle of proceedings.

Richard Pinnell at The Watchful Ear