May 31, 2024

“To get a spoonful of sounds from the River Gauja” – Maksims Šenteļevs and Artūrs Punte at Strenči Primary School

As part of the project, seven Latvian artists visited six schools throughout Latvia where they took part in art residencies with students.
Read and get to know what Maksims Šenteļevs and Artūrs Punte did in Strenči!

Who? The artists Maksims Šenteļevs and Artūrs Punte, and students from Grade 6 to Grade 9
When? From February until May 2023, meeting with the students every week
Where? At Strenči Primary School
Other people involved? Separate classes were joined by the art mediator Mariona Baltkalne

Watch here: Artūrs Punte and Maksims Šenteļevs’ residency at Strenči Primary School

With seeing, everything is clear. You look at things or creatures, or phenomena, and so they definitely exist. Vision is a direct and reliable confirmation – if you turn away for a moment and look again, what you saw is still there. But what about sound, which is ubiquitous? What is its nature and task? The sound is sometimes here, sometimes not, it changes and is elusive. If an image says “what”, then sound speaks of “how”. It occurs only when there is a movement, a vibration, a transition from one state to another, however microscopic this transformation may be. Everything has a constant audio accompaniment, which can be heard if we turn up the amplification of the track sufficiently on a device or in our ears. So it turns out that sound recording is also, in a sense, a way of capturing and encapsulating the pulsating rhythm and vibrancy of time for future listeners.

As part of “The Artist Is Present” residency, Strenči Primary School hosts two artists – Maksims Šenteļevs and Artūrs Punte – who have already previously worked on projects together. This residency is different from the others because it is not based on visual art but on sound art. Artūrs Punte is a poet and media artist specializing in audio and interdisciplinary text-based art practices. Graduated from the Moscow Institute of Literature. One of the founders and members of the “Orbīta” collective. Author of several books of poetry and other publications, editor and publisher. As an author and co-author, he participates in contemporary art exhibitions, festivals and workshops in Latvia and abroad. Whereas Maksims Šenteļevs is a sound artist and architect. He actively participates in interdisciplinary projects related to the interaction of sound, space and culture. Maksims also coordinates the international project “bernurits”. Organizes master classes, lectures and workshops in Latvia and abroad. Since 2013, he has been leading the course “Music in Communication” at RISEBA University. He is the author of music and sound design for films, theatre productions, performances, installations and exhibitions. Mariona Baltkalne, the versatile mediator of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, also works together with the two artists.

During their first visit to Strenči Primary School, Artūrs and Maksims first get to know the school’s management and teaching staff. They inspect the premises and explain what exactly is needed for a successful collaboration between artists and students – what are the locally available technical possibilities, how the teaching work and communication between artists/children/pedagogues and in general is conducted – what is life like in Strenči. Given that the school is small, it is decided to initially get to know all students in the Grade 6 to Grade 9 group, and so “The Artist Is Present” is included in the visual arts, science and computer science classes.

Next time, Maksims and Artūrs already meet with all the students. In the beginning, the art mediator Mariona presents the basic idea of ​​what is contemporary art and what are its diverse manifestations. After that, the two artists talk about current sound art and gradually conjure up a vision of Strenči as the most sonified (audible) city in the world for the students. This would mean that if until now only one audio recording was found on the internet about this place, then in the future, by working together, children could record many different sound routes, audio guides and create other sound/audible works in Strenči. The students are excited by this opportunity. Later on, the children will decide for themselves whether what is offered seems sufficiently interesting for them to want to participate in the residency.

Thereby, Maksims and Artūrs decide to work only with those who want it and who are ready to purposefully move forward. The participant selection is simple – after every workshop they receive homework assigned by the artists. As a result of this, a small, cohesive and highly motivated team of children has formed by the end of the residency. The artists also decide that the teachers do not participate in the lessons, but a successful and warm collaboration is established with them also outside the master classes.

The work in the sound laboratory takes place indoors, as well as outdoors, during expeditions. Given that the participants are using a rather specific recording and processing technique, there are not enough kits for everyone. This is solved by having the students work in pairs, where one of them is the “sound hunter” – the seeker and director, and the other student is the “receiver” – recorder. On the next expedition, students switch the roles if they want to. The artists’ working method is to try to provide students with the most comfortable and varied working environment and access to tools, to provide only general guidelines for the task and to allow student involvement in the planning, direction and choices of workshops as much as possible. They want the students to discover what is important and special for them in the local context – what they hear and what they would like to record to share with others.

Artūrs Punte describes his collaboration with students as follows: “Learning sound recording technology is a long process. What we are doing here can be divided into two levels: the technical part is that we try to give the students basic skills in working with recording techniques, to show the difference between different recording methods, microphones, distances, volumes, sensitivity. But on the level of ideas, which is the other side of this residency, we want to show that it’s cool not only to do something yourself, but to listen to what already exists. To demonstrate a kind of ecological approach to art, when the artist does not interfere with his big ego and its expressions, but is more of an observer.”

The students’ creative task in this “The Artist Is Present” residency is to create a sound map of Strenči. This process is divided into four parts. The first stage is a sound walk, with the aim of learning to be quiet for a moment and to listen to the surrounding sounds. After they return to the classroom, the students draw a sound map, pinning down the sounds that stuck in their memory. “We started with the ability to remember, to observe, to listen. Also, to be quiet for a moment – learning to listen, without any recording,” this is how Maksims Šenteļevs describes the workshops. The next step is to become familiar with sound recording technology so that the children could record even the most imperceptible sounds. At first, working in pairs, they make noises specifically for learning purposes and record them.

In the third part of the training, the task becomes more complicated – the artists, together with the students, go for a walk to the places chosen by the phonographers-in-the-making to survey and document the soundscapes. Here you have to be particularly careful, because even an unexpected gust of wind or an excessively loud breath can suppress the desired sound source in the recording. In the final stage of their work, the students have the opportunity to work with special equipment – hydrophones and surface microphones, which allow them to record sounds underwater or to capture vibrations in solid materials. The youths learn techniques and methods to be able to create sound installations independently.

All of this results in the creation of diverse and unusual audio material, which is used in further audio experiments at the Latvian Centre’s for Contemporary Art summer camp in Valmiera and later in “The Artist Is Present” exhibition at the Survival Kit 14 festival in the Vidzeme Market in Riga, where the group from Strenči is joined by young participants from schools in Valmiera and Riga. The students’ recorded chronicle of sounds in Strenči is available on the world phonographic database: The residency at Strenči Primary School also develops into a much broader project for Maksims and Artūrs: they build the “Strenči Sonification Station,” which is sustained by the “Orbīta” collective of poets and artists with support of the Valmiera Municipality, in order to further develop creative ideas related to sound art and environmental observation in Strenči in the future.

In the summer of 2023, the artists together with students go on an expedition to document the tradition of rafting in Strenči. The students take part in tying rafts, and the artists document a soundscape that is valuable in the context of cultural and historical heritage. Since 2022, this tradition has been included in the representative list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

The art mediator Mariona Baltkalne shares her observations about students’ collaboration with the artists and its results: “First, students have the opportunity to meet actual artists in real life, to learn how they work. The artist is thus no longer just an abstract concept in the museum. Secondly, they allow themselves to be creative, which they have not tried in the school’s compulsory curriculum and which the school cannot always offer. It is experimentation with different materials, art techniques. And thirdly, it strengthens self-confidence in the youths. They realize that they too are creating something that will be preserved for future generations, that they are creating something lasting.”

In August, during the Valmiera summer camp, Artūrs and Maksims go to Strenči again several times, where the documentation of soundscapes continues. In Valmiera, Stan D’Haene, a representative of the Norwegian artist group Tenthaus, also joins the team of sound collectors. Earlier, for half a year, Tenthaus remotely assisted the participants of “The Artist Is Present” project as mentors for half a year, sharing their experience from Norwegian schools. Now the Tenthaus members participate in the creative workshops for children and youths organized by LCCA in Valmiera.

During the camp, the artists build an unusual, music-making object together with the students, which is the centerpiece of their upcoming installation Circus Solaris. It is a kinetic system, similar to steampunk gear, but runs not on steam, but using solar energy. The brighter the sun is shining, the louder the rattling and clattering of the moving parts which complement the recordings made in the Strenči residency.

The artists describe it as a “solar-powered circular sound architecton”.

Its co-authors are: Dana Avotiņa, Adelīna Ampermane, Rodrigo Ādamsons, Adrians Baņņikovs, Alise Bazdireva, Mārtiņš Limans, Eduards Palejs, Vadims Petrusevičs, Mārcis Prauliņš, Ernests Pugejs, Toms Linards Zariņš, Arnita Zeltiņa, Elīza Ziediņa, Marks Šenteļevs, Dārta Katane, Krišjānis Katans, Undīne Volkinšteine and Stan D’Haene (Tenthaus).

In the beginning of September, Circus Solaris finds its place in the “The Artist Is Present” exhibition. It is in a former market stall, similar to a small pickle vat, located at the sunniest edge of the open-air exposition. During the opening of the exhibition, Dana Avotiņa, a student of Strenči Primary School, performs an audio composition, freely mixing audio tracks on the spot. Dozens of rhythms of the river Gauja resound throughout a place surrounded by sooty walls in the centre of Riga,

Maksims’ insights:

  • The pupils each have their own dynamic and the tasks need to be carefully thought out so that they are equally engaging for all participants.
  • Study time is very limited and must be used to the maximum advantage.
  • The technical support in the form of equipment covered 50% of the group, which required the dynamics of the lessons to be adapted to practical possibilities.
  • One-on-one lessons could be much more effective, even more so than working in a small group.