Ephemeral Camera Feed

It is a warm August night in Berlin in 2018. Inside a former power plant located by the River Spree, people stand between towering columns under red lights that color a dense fog. With varying degrees of attention they listen to a performance by the Copenhagen-based artist Astrid Sonne, a progressive composer who melds synthesizers with classical instrumentation to craft complex compositions. She is debuting a new piece titled Ephemera. Meanwhile, two camera operators are filming Sonne’s performance from different perspectives, one static and one handheld. Four years later, the footage will yield an unusual document of the night.

Using the audio from those video recordings, Sonne composed Ephemeral Camera Feed, an EP that captures the spatiotemporal nature of live music. Rather than editing a clean line-in recording of the performance, Sonne uses camera mics, in essence capturing vibrations passing through air from different vantage points. The music is situated within the venue with all its incidental ambience, coughs and chatter from the crowd turned unintelligible by the hall’s reverberance. In doing so, Sonne highlights how venues act as vessels for moving air. The space becomes a container for not only its inhabitants but also the waveforms she produces.

The performance took place at Atonal festival at Kraftwerk Berlin, an industrial venue originally constructed as a power plant in the 1960s to provide energy to residents of East Berlin. The event space inhabits the plant’s 100-meter turbine, whose awe-inspiring proportions offer anything but a neutral listening experience. Ephemeral Camera Feed uses the shifting dynamics within that space to create a visceral, somatic experience for the audience. Sonne had previously released raw audio of the camera footage, and although this edited EP sounds cleaner, it’s still spacious. 

On “Ephemeral I,” hopeful strings float over hisses of fog and idle chatter. Attendees are heard clearing their throats, whispering, and laughing. It’s hard to hear what they’re saying, but certain sharp consonants cut percussively through the music. I almost want to shush them, but then I’d be weirder than the weird guy on the subway who laughs loudly while listening to podcasts. Also I’d lose my place in this space, a simulation of being surrounded by strangers all facing the same way. It allows me to imagine what couldn’t be captured in audio: the lights, the air, the floor, the rumble. Sometimes the sounds can mimic the physical, with synths piercing the venue like light through fog. Recorded electronic music often exists in a void: Sound waves generated by machines encased in steel and plastic are sent to our ears through digital means. On Ephemeral Camera Feed, the physical space is as important as the music itself.