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Michael Graeve

Michael Graeve

area: Sound Art

© Michael Graeve

© Michael Graeve

Key Facts




Sound Art



recommending institution


time period

January 2007 - January 2007

Michael Graeve is a visual and sound artist based in Melbourne Australia. He exhibits, performs and teaches internationally. He works across painting and sound disciplines through easel painting, site-specific installation, painting and sound installation, sound performance and composition.

Awards and residencies include Tonspur 19 in Vienna 2007, Australia Council residency at International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) New York 2005, Samstag International Travelling Scholarship 2004, Arts Victoria New Work 2004 and Bundanon Trust Artist in Residence 2003.

He has held 16 solo exhibitions, and his work has been included in curated exhibitions surveying practices of sound art and non-objective and abstract painting in cities such as New York, Chicago, Bonn, Osnabrück, Munich, Berlin, Würzburg, Vienna, Kortrijk, Turin, Seoul, Sydney and Melbourne.

Michael is a PhD candidate at RMIT University, and completed degrees include Master of Fine Art (MFA Studio, School of the Art Institute of Chicago 2007), Masters in Arts (MA Media Arts, RMIT University Melbourne 2004), Bachelor of Arts (BA Media Arts, RMIT University Melbourne 1999) and Bachelor of Arts (BA Honours Fine Art Painting, RMIT Melbourne 1995).

His work has been reviewed extensively, including by Branden W. Joseph (Artforum International, March 2005), Nicholas Chambers (Eyeline No 50, 2002), Ros Bandt (Sound Sculpture - Intersections in Sound and Sculpture in Australian Artworks, 2001) and Stephen O'Connell (Art/Text No 59, 1997).

He has been involved in artist-run initiatives as founding committee member of Grey Area Art Space Inc (1996-1999), Program Manager at West Space Inc (2002-2004) and is currently president of Liquid Architecture Sound Inc.

Michael lectures at RMIT University in the Master of Fine Arts MFA postgraduate program and in the Sculpture, Sound and Spatial Practice area, and previously at Monash University, The Victorian College of the Arts, Victoria University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Michael Graeve
Psychoanalysis for Record Players
Tonspur 19: 21 January – 26 April 2007.
T O N S P U R  f ü r  e i n e n 
ö f f e n t l i c h e n  r a u m
K l a n g a r b e i t e n  i m 
M u s e u m s Q u a r t i e r  W i e n

TONSPUR_passage is an arched passage that connects two large courtyards in Vienna's Museumsquartier. The Museumsquartier is a mixture of very old and very new buildings, of very small and often artist-run initiatives and of huge museums. The contrast between tradition and forward thrust is palpable and hangs thickly in the air. How can a city with such weight of art history continue to move forward? Does it weigh too heavily on artists' shoulders? It seems not. The scene is vibrant, and there are even a bunch of 'off-spaces' as the Viennese like to call what Australians would call 'artist-run initiatives'.

Now to call 'Tonspur für einen öffentlichen raum' (eg Soundtrack for a public space) an 'off-space' seems terribly contradictory. It's in spitting distance to the monolitihic MUMOK  (Museum Moderner Kunst - Stiftung Ludwig Wien). While I was in residence, Erwin Wurm's wonderful 'House Attack', precariously hanging off the top edge of the Museum, threatened to fall on me every day as I would walk to the Tonspur passage to survey my task at hand: To compose a work for the eight loudspeakers permanently placed in this passage. Georg Weckwerth and Peter Szely have directed this multi-channel residency and exhibition project since 2003, first as a multi-channel set up in a large room, and since 2006 also in this outdoor passage way. Among numerous other projects, the curator and artist Georg Weckwerth curated the amazing Sonambiente Berlin festivals (1996 and 2006, with Matthias Osterwold), and Peter Szely is an excellent composer and performer working with multi-channel performances and installations, and also the technical whiz behind the Tonspur set-up.

Now the challenge in such a public environment is that the 800 daily pedestrians that use this thoroughfare are in the majority not there to hear a surround sound composition. Most visit for only eight seconds on their way to another location. Some people do stop to hear what is going on, to look at posters and flyers, or to stand out of the rain. And of course, as an advertised venue with a program of eminent sound artists, Tonspur has a dedicated audience that comes to listen to the works presented, but surely makes up only a miniscule portion of the daily traffic.

Since 1993 my instrument has been an orchestra of record players and loudspeakers, and I assist these in picking themselves up. There's no vinyl involved, and there is a resultant physicality in that action of putting the needle on the still or turning platter, or in placing a loudspeaker on top of the pickup to create feedback. The hisses and hums and rhythms and tones can have a very machinic aspect to them, and the manipulation of player speeds and the movement of speakers and tonearms are all gestures that hint not-so-subtly at the presence of a performer. I've always had an ambivalent relationship to this presence, having as I do in my head some concept that I'm 'interested in the non-representative' – that the rhythms, textures and tones of the players are interesting to me for their structural form, rather than their machinic or nostalgic or modernist or expressive or gestural associations. In that sense there is a long-running conversation in my work between figuration and abstraction.

On many occasions in the 1990's I had worked with what I considered 'abstract sounds' in spaces - sounds produced by my record players that in their machinic drones or hums imitated or responded to those sounds that were already present in those spaces.* In a sense my sounds became architectural, nearly organic extensions of those environments. Since 2001 many of my installations don't feature record players in the space at all, and the seven-channel composition for my site-specific installation 'psc' (2006, Sonambiente, Berlin) was certainly the most abstract, non-recognizable work I had yet composed. Even the 'machinic' sound of my equipment had disappeared and finally it was nearly impossible to tell how these sounds had been made.

But at Tonspur I felt like I wanted to adress the space and gain the audience's attention by placing in it sound gestures that were in fact clearly alien to that space, ones that couldn't be mistaken for being architectural, ones that were unmistakably artistic decisions and records of activity. It's a bit like grabbing the audience by the collar, shaking them and yelling in their ear 'Can you hear this? This doesn't belong here, does it?'

And so it was the perfect time to blatantly acknowledge a gestural aspect in my work – to acknowledge those tactile qualities, those intense physical interactions between diamond needles and the inappropriate surfaces they are now forced to meet. And now I don't have to ignore my contradictory language around figuration and abstraction. I don't have to ignore the expressively figurative quality of an airconditioning hum in order to be in love with its abstract monochrome character, too. It took me years to see that imitating or representing something abstract invariably results in the representational. And so the abstract trompe l'oéil has gone with this show, and that is cathartic. It's no wonder that I wrote the following artist statement while composing:

Psychoanalysis for Record Players
One has to take pity in the end. The record player has only expressed itself with voices not its own. Whether made of wood, plastic or metal, there is nonetheless talk of transparency.

What a pity, because indeed record players can also sing their own song. The world is full of microphones that keep their distance through an almost visual perspectivalism. The pickup of the record player in contrast seems almost obscene, reliant as it is on the intimate touching of its object of play.

But my record players aren't robots, and so I do have to assist them just a little bit. Is it nasty then that since 1995 I haven't granted them their most desired soundtrack, that of the groove of the record?

Michael Graeve, Vienna, January 2007

'Psychoanalysis for Record Players' consists of eight sections with durations of one to seven minutes in length. Including short silences between these tracks the composition totals 40 minutes. It will be played for three months in TONSPUR_passage until 26 April 2007.

Michael Graeve, Chicago, January 2007

* Some examples:

  • The B2EFloor version (1995, Melbourne) of 'Backroom Installation', as well as 'Stereo' (2000) featured microphones dangled out of the space, with the sound brought back into the installations to mingle with 'similar' sounds created on my record players.
  • 'memory-repeat-process' (1997, Platform 2, Melbourne) was in a space not dissimilar to TONSPUR_passage, as it was a 100-meter long public passage way that leads to and from Melbourne's Flinders Street Station, and in this space my record players were pitched to the various sounds of trams, trains, traffic, and air-conditioning that distinguished this venue.
  • 'Sound and Painting Installation' (1997, Grey Area Art Space, Melbourne) featured around 20 record players, their needles and platters 'tuned' to architectural sounds. Their plugs all lead to and lay on a table, with a four-plug powerboard acting as a mixer where audiences could create their own four-channel mix of architectural sounds in the space.
  • 'ICNIINN' (1998, Grey Area Art Space, Melbourne; 2001, Conny Dietzschold Gallery, Sydney; 2003, VCA Gallery, Melbourne) presented live amplifications of airconditioning ducts through inappropriately sticking microphones into their air vents.
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