Improved television (1999)

Cornelia Sollfrank

ⒸCornelia Sollfrank

Conceptual internet music project and installation, 2001/2011.
Improved Tele-vision is Sollfrank's continuation of artistic interventions that manipulated the speed of Arnold Schoenberg's piece Verklärte Nacht, opus 4. Korean-born video pioneer Nam June Paik (1977) and Swiss action and object artist Dieter Roth (1979) made interventions in the piece and recorded their respective interventions through specially produced records. Sollfrank then develops an emancipatory proposal with a wink: the listener should decide for himself at what speed the piece is played - and thus become an interactive user.
The website consists of two functional areas: the studio and the gallery. In the studio, Schönberg's piece is accessible through a graphic interface in the form of a record player. A mouse-controlled control button allows the user to change the speed of the piece. The gallery space contains the abstracted reproduction of the room installation that constructs the genealogy of Schönberg, Paik, Roth and Sollfrank by hanging portraits of the artists painted in a similar manner in a row, each accompanied by a text panel describing the artists' motivation.
Sollfrank composed his own music for the installation in the real space: 'Self-paced' (7:56 min), which is not played on the website. It is a remix of four different sound tracks: the original by Schönberg, the manipulated versions by Paik and Roth, and a track added by Sollfrank in which she makes Roth run backwards (realised so far at galleri 21, Malmö, Sweden, November 2001 and Edith Russ House for Media Art, Oldenburg in the context of the exhibition 'cyberfem spirit - spirit of data', December 2001).
The title of the piece Improved Tele-vision refers to a statement by Paik in which he describes the notorious curiosity of his Mongolian ancestors about what was beyond the horizon as follows: "They had to go there to be able to see even more - 'tele-vision' in Greek means 'looking into the distance' = watching television." Sollfrank appropriates this curiosity and extends and 'improves' it by introducing an ironic media- and gender-specific level of self-reflexivity.
Background to the project
Korean artist Nam June Paik studied composition in Seoul before making a name for himself as a video artist in the West. However, his life in 1940s Korea made it difficult to get hold of avant-garde music from the West. There was little information about it and even less opportunity to hear it. Therefore, his admiration for the composer Arnold Schoenberg resulted only from theoretical writings.
When he first had the opportunity to hear Schoenberg's music, Die verklärte Nacht, opus 4, lasting horror filled him. This was not how he had imagined this music to be - and even 25 years later, when he was already living in New York, the disappointment was still vivid enough to drive him to make a statement against it. At a dance event with Merce Cunningham, he played this very piece at a quarter of the speed (16 rpm instead of 78 rpm) and released the slowed-down version as his own piece of music entitled: "MY JUBILEE IS UNVERHEMMET" on vinyl record (1977). In a text printed on the cover, he settles the score with Schoenberg, calling the composer's music "Wagnerian nonsense" and proudly quoting Merce Cunningham, who commented on Paik's new version thus: "You have improved Schoenberg."
When the artist Dieter Roth heard about Paik's presumptuous and insulting statement and his artistic interpretation of it, he felt called upon to save Schoenberg's honour and avenged Paik's intervention with his own interpretation: he played Paik's version of Transfigured Night at four times the original speed and recorded this accelerated version as his own piece of music on vinyl. The title of his version is: "THY QUATSCH est min Castello" (1979). In a text formally based on the text on Paik's record cover, he writes: "Schönberg revenged!"

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