The sound of war


We’ve all seen those images of war and the terror that comes with it. But through the media we’ve also heard the ambient and sometimes disturbing noise that goes with it. Many get terrified others want to explore it further, Nik Nowak is one of the those guys. The Berlin based experimentalist and sound engineer has over the years let us experience the sound of war and more specifically war machines. Already back in 2016 Nik was interviewed on his quest to explore these uncharted grounds.

A member of SHAPE, the platform for innovative music and audiovisual art from Europe, Nowak’s art embodies the structures of drones, panzer tanks and surveillance bots and turns them into sonic instruments. Drones follow and spy on gallery visitors and replay their recorded voices back to them, and armored tanks that batter their visitors with hardcore sonic warfare, as in his 2012 CTM performance.

One of Nowak’s mobile sound sculptures, Echo, uses small tank drones that detect human presence and roll toward it. One of the drones snoops on visitors’ conversations and uses a parametric speaker to send the words directly back to them. Meanwhile, the second vehicle further invades people’s privacy by amplifying these sounds through large speakers.

” Sound can be used in many ways to create an musical experience. My understanding of Music goes further than melody and rhythm. Its loudness, psychoacoustics, noise, silence and time.
When i started to produce electronic music i recognized that i’m very much focused on low frequency ranges and high tones. The middle range were usually voice and melody are set did t interest me to much. “

Nik Nowak is a sculptor and artist whose most recognized work has centered around the construction of full-scale, multi-ton tanks. Instead of outfitting the machines with the standard range of artillery, however, Nowak uses them to house massive sound systems. His first creation, Panzer, and his new, recently-unveiled vehicle, The Mantis, splice together elements from the histories of global sound system culture and militarized sonic warfare. His work looks at the fine line between pleasure and pain to examine the psychological effects of extremely loud sound.

The Mantis debuted at CTM Festival 2019 with an installation and a string of performances inside Halle am Berghain. The project was inspired by events that took place on the border between East and West Germany at Studio am Stacheldraht (literally “the studio at the barbed wire fence”), where both governments utilized the amplification technology of the period to assault each other with sonic propaganda. Open for nine days, it featured a sonic face off between the Mantis and the Panzer, another sound system built by Nowak. At the performances, Steve Goodman (a.k.a. Hyperdub label founder Kode9) and Nowak controlled the machines while UK artist Infinite Livez provided vocals.

In a recent interview Nik explored his creative process: ” Mostly it starts with an Idea, with a vision or a question wich leads to a concept for a self experiment. the Machines are mostly tools for a experimental setup wich is suppose to formulate something i can t describe in a another way. Everything happens very intuitively. “

And continues: “My work is always bound to my research into sonic warfare and the use of sound as a weapon—that and the global phenomena of mobile sound systems. But Panzer was the first project explicitly focused on sonic warfare.

From there, I got more into the idea of using music and sound for propaganda. In this context, I learned about the Studio am Stacheldraht. There was a demarcation line at the Berlin Wall from 1961 to ’63, and the Russians and Americans were funding sound systems on each side, blaring propaganda over the border in both directions. The Mantis is directly tied to this bit of history.”