Steady | Unsteady

Catalogue, Audio CD included, 63 p., numerous illustrations, German/English

Published by Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 2013
ISBN 978-3-941230-25-5

Graphic design by Bijan Dawallu
Texts by Kito Nedo and Christoph Tannert


Steady Unsteady is a first overview of the artistic projects from 1995 to 2012. From the early exhibition “to rococo rot” (together with Ronald Lippok, Galerie Weisser Elefant, Berlin, 1995), which also provided the founding impetus for the band of the same name to various collaborations with theatre director Sebastian Baumgarten (Tannhäuser, Orest, Tosca) and the “Addis Tape Club” installation realised in Addis Ababa in 2012, an open architectural structure that served as a meeting place, audio archive and recording station for the duration of the exhibition. The CD accompanying the catalogue brings together rare, in some cases previously unreleased soundtracks.



Kito Nedo

The exhibiting activities of Berlin musician, artist and stage designer Robert Lippok follow erratic patterns. For a long time, we had only vague memories of regular gallery exhibitions in the long closed-down Wohnmaschine on Tucholskystraße around the mid 2000s. But then, suddenly, the signs of art began to increase once again: e.g. the new, retro-avant- gardist computer-collages of a homage to Alfred Jarry in the Staatsgalerie in Prenzlauer Berg. Or the quiet scratching and rasping that accompanied – on the occasion of the Can thematic show “Halleluwah!” shown last year in Kreuzberg’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien – a fluffy, greenish-bluish angora jumper object with safran-red woollen threads sprouting from its inside. Finally, a few weeks later, two LED lamps on hand-made bicycle construc- tions immersed the Künstlerhaus exhibition space in a cool light: the installation “By the Niger River” told of one of Lippok’s journeys to Mali, to the Ségou region, where a foundation

endeavours to provide mobile electric lamps for villages which are not connected to the electricity network. In order to translate his travel experience into an exhibition situation, Lippok brought back to Berlin the “Foroba Yelen”, the “community lights”, as well as audio-files from everyday life in the villages, supplemented by model-like studies of their spatial organization.

Where does all this come from? What are the situations in which these ideas evolve, materializing later in different media and contexts? Are these creative places definable as an atelier? As a studio? As an extended studio-atelier? Or already as a third-order workshop? Lippok does not want to meet and talk in his working space in Berlin-Mitte but in the nearby, transparent-opaque, reflecting Dan Graham pavilion of Café Bravo. At least once, or so we can read on the Net1, he did let a female journalist into his workshop. Howe- ver, this was obviously only to present himself

as a sympathetic-eccentric dandy: blogger Mary Scherpe visited him for the fashion blog “Style in Berlin” in 2010, and made a note of what she saw: “Robert Lippok is wearing a Bernhard Wilhelm shirt, Comme des Garçons jeans, Falke socks and Gucci shoes.” According to Scherpe, the artist is not only a musician but also a collector of the oddest things: “he has a liking for lamps made from hedgehog spikes, small, red plastic rabbits, big, black pla- stic ravens, anatomical models of the human body, parrot beaks, big glass balls and glove puppets.” The blogger becomes dubious when she notes that Lippok does not hoard these objects, but presents carefully selected items on the wall or on his desk, and therefore does not transform his apartment into a “weird cabinet of curiosities”, by any means: she does not know whether she should find this less spooky or even more so. But there is something uncanny about it. That is how some detective novels begin. “At the same time, there is a need

to search for something further, which is closer here.”2 And so like a tracker, we have to follow the material and immaterial aspects in the work of this musician and artist, speculating about the discrete links between them, links that bind together the next as well as the more distant particles of the Lippok universe.

So would studying Lippok’s collection help us to understand the erratic nature of his work? Or does it betray little more than a sense of the beautiful and the absurd? He produces “music with no fixed location”, as he once declared years ago. This still applies – to everything that he produces, including images and transient situations. His art evolves with the computer, on journeys, using small por- table devices like the audio-visual “Tenorion”. As a field researcher, Lippok collects sounds from everyday life using a microphone en route. Or he screws together mundane mate- rials and objects to make small models. Such three-dimensional sketches help him to think about the construction of his audio-pieces, which function in a similar way. After all, as Lippok says, he is inspired far more by what surrounds him than by his own imaginative world. Site-reference is important to him: “The sound pieces for installations or theatre works are rarely produced in advance. I always mix the things on the spot, as the music is always produced for a specific space. There is an acoustic experience to go with every spatial experience. Aspecific acoustic situation always exists there, and you can intensify it. But you can also alienate or break it, depending on the means you choose to employ.”

According to Beatriz Colomina, thinking about architecture is defined through a social understanding of boundaries, which changes continually in the course of modernization, causing the traditional dichotomy of “inside” and “outside” to fluctuate: “All boundaries are now shifting. This shifting becomes manifest everywhere: in the city, of course, but also in all the technologies that define the space of the city: the railroad, newspapers, photo- graphy, electricity, advertisements, reinforced concrete, glass and steel architecture, the telephone, film, radio, war. Each can be under- stood as a mechanism that disrupts the older boundaries between inside and outside, public and private, night and day, depth and surface, here and there, street and interior, and so on. Today, the boundaries that define space are first and foremost an effect of the media. (And not exclusively visual media. Think for example about the space of sound: the radio, telephone, walkman.) The status of the wall has changed.”4 Such a shift is illustrated by the “Kölner Brett” CD released in 2001, having been commissioned by the architectural office Brandlhuber und Kniess (b & k) to mark the conversion of a house in Cologne-Ehrenfeld. Corresponding to the re-design of the building into a total of 12 modular units, each of 130 square metres, which aimed to facilitate the combination of work and living, the CD also comprises twelve modules, correspondingly of equal length – 3 minutes –, each of which is valid in itself, although together they form an attractive, regular-shaped auditive raster structure: an acoustic representation of the house, music for living as well as working.

As Lippok explains: “We produced a corre- sponding piece, three minutes long, for every module of the house, because the rooms also have a limited dimension. We wanted to find a simplicity of music analogue to the simpli- city of the building. Of course it would have been logical, for example, to take dimensions over from the architecture and transpose them into music. But we decided against that. It was too academic. The house doesn’t have such a serious effect, either. There is something very light about it as well, like a number of works by Arno Brandlhuber.”

Collecting when on the move is one of the techniques of nomads. “Nomads,” or so we read in Vilém Flusser’s work, “are people who pursue some goal, whether gathering mushrooms, killing animals, or milking sheep, and so on. Whatever their goal, their wander- ings do not come to an end when the goal has been achieved.”5 Today, artists live and work as modern nomads in the internationa- lized art business. This has always been true to an even greater degree of musicians. Perhaps a special form of creative nomadism could even be applied to the activities of the artist, who was born in 1966: where others wander between places, Lippok – as a second-order nomad – makes mobility itself and a lack of ties into the focus of his oeuvre. According to Flusser, increased telematic networking since the nineties is beneficial to the new noma- dism: “This allows us to see the year 2000 as a turning point, when solid stone will be aban- doned as the foundation of history in favor of something softer, to make way for a new form of existence. After 2000, perhaps, we shall

have to rely more on software and less and less on hardware.”6 It is not a matter of dispersal but rather of more fluidity in motion.

The roaming producer Lippok, who stu- died stage design under Volker Pfüller at the Kunsthochschule Weißensee for a brief time in the early nineties and claims to have never looked seriously for a career in fine art, deftly moves between image and sound production in art, music, fashion, architecture, film and theatre, only to reconnect the threads finally – following the requirements of each situation. The relevant social modes of production seem to go along with this automatically – whether as a band construct, a temporary association or a solo producer. Over the years, therefore, a generous permeability has been established as a leading principle in Lippok’s work alon- gside mobility and modularity. For the basic principle of progressive media work, of course, lies in the concepts applied: music and art make it possible to have every possibility.

The origins of Lippok’s music production date back to the early eighties, when – together with his brother Ronald, Bernd Jestram, and a worn out drum-kit from the works band of the “Department of Dril-
ling and Blasting Engineering” of the East Berlin motorways combine, coil loops and sequencers – he founded the band project “Ornament und Verbrechen” (Ornament
and Crime). Under the label of that active relationship of approx. ten years (1983–1994), which “was soon to become the myth of a real-socialist underground” 7, several sound carriers of differing formats appeared via some intricate distribution channels over the years. Among the best-known is a 7“ EP, “The Local Moon”, which was issued as a supple- ment to the original graphic art magazine “Verwendung” (Usage) in 1988 – one of the first vinyl records ever to have been indepen- dently produced and distributed in the East.

The conditions for making music in the end-phase of the GDR represented an adven- ture, and the band’s form of existence was equally adventurous. “Ornament und Verbre- chen” – or such was the analysis of the Lippok brothers’ production principle made by jour- nalist and techno-researcher Ulrich Gutmair
in 1997, “were more of a phenomenon than a band, […] an open system to which about 30 artists and musicians had been attached over the course of the years.”8 Elsewhere, the whole thing was defined as “a production relationship on the basis of an open group” 9: a micro-con- struct, which anticipated de facto the great change in social conditions, while undermining them like a system of submersion.
In the mid nineties the band to rococo rot, still active today, evolved organically – like
in cell division – from an art project for the Berlin gallery Weißer Elefant. The exhibition,
in which Robert Lippok presented conver-
ted record players with drills turning in both

directions mounted on them, was to be given its own soundtrack. The Lippok brothers have meanwhile accumulated nine published albums10 under the jointly operated – with Düsseldorf-based Kreidler bassist (and Becher pupil) Stefan Schneider – group label cal-

led Palindrom. On a to rococo rot cover, the group declared its own function at the end of the nineties as a different form of notation system: “The use of colours, the passage of time, to write something down without being an author”11. Such unauthenticityand vague- ness corresponded to the spirit of the times: the radical political turnabout at the end of the eighties had made fine art defensive and it had “withdrawn for a period of reflection into the studios, back courtyards and not least into the artists’ own minds”12. The subsequent rediscovery of the “art’s function of social mediation, up to the point of re-po- liticalization”13 was practised in very different ways, however. The Berlin nineties were the golden age in between, when art and club cultures opened up to each other and someti- mes arrived at a political-hedonist symbiosis.14 to rococo rot and their tracks participated in this era with their structurally open, meande- ring music, cool experimental aesthetics, and blurring of author and functional material.

According to the Lippok dialectics, a spe- cial text-affinity follows from his non-verbal work as a musician; something that has often been expressed in a range of audio drama, radio, opera and theatre works in the past. In recent years, director Sebastian Baumgarten, for example, frequently engaged Lippok as the creator of stage design and/or sound
for theatre and opera productions – for the Handel opera “Oreste” at the Komische Oper Berlin in 2006, for the Einar Schleef evening “Berlin ein Meer des Friedens” in the studio
of Berlin’s Gorki-Theater in 2006, or for the anti-opera “Tosca” at the Berlin Volksbühne in 2008. “There were many works together with

Sebastian Baumgarten, in which acoustics or the sound of language played an important part,” Lippok says. “In Tosca, for example, it so happened that we located the orchestra
in a show-case on a revolving stage. So there were scenes where the orchestra was turned away from the audience. That led to an acou- stic situation that meant the audience only heard the orchestra as indirect sound. The music was just reflected off the back wall and then combined with the spoken word via that reflection. I have always found such effects in theatre work very interesting.”

It is very rare, Lippok says, for him to do something completely alone. Those occasions include, for example, his solo publications on Raster-Noton, Carsten Nicolai’s label: begin- ning with “open close open”, the mini-album with contained electronic music enclosing a sample of Mahler produced as a contribution to the “noton.clear” series in 2001. Last year “Redsuperstructure” appeared, and in

between – in 2006 – there was the machine manifesto “Robot” on the Texan label Western Vinyl. Like many other artists who work with sound, Lippok also investigates the two great questions of Sound Art: “Do sounds have a life of their own? Do they miss each other when they have been separated?15 During the expe- riment to date, the aspect of Pop has never been lost. At present he is experiencing a fresh desire for projects beyond the to rococo rot universe: for example, his joint appearances with Italian harpist Beatrice Martini. Together with Canadian percussionist Debashis Sinha, he initiated the band project Knuckleduster, and together with his brother Ronald and Ita- lian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi he has founded the association Whitetree.

The search is continued for something fur- ther, which is closer here. His multi-disciplinary method and the way that this emerges from his diverse alliances in the fields of art, music, theatre, radio and film, mean that Robert

Lippok’s work can be understood as the outcome of a Berlin-specific production atti- tude. The city’s club, theatre and art scenes, which all operate in close proximity, have been leading to many productive overlaps since the Wende period in Germany. Over the years, Lippok has perfected the elegance and style with which he causes spatial aspects to react with sounds and images, his conceptual star- ting point, and a smoothness of collaboration in those same interim spheres. Independent
of place, what matters is the ability to stay a creative artist within the accelerated current of history.