Sound Installation work
Citing influences from Joseph Beuys, Charles Ives, Samuel Beckett, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, along with the story and folklore collecting traditions of Studs Terkel and Alan Lomax, Brody uses oral history to create word and sound-orientated narratives from documentary material. “A story is a melody and a melody is a story,” Brody explained in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel. His installation work generally examines the relationship between voice-melody and identity and the notion of home. Brody believes that while words carry one meaning, the voice-melody can be heard as carrying its own independent narrative. Voices speaking one language with the melody of another language contain infinitely more complex parallel narratives. In addition, the voice-melody reveals both impersonal and personal information: origin, family history, travels, but also emotional state and physical condition.
Brody’s first major sound installation was featured at the Jewish Museum Berlin’s 2011 Heimatkunde (local history) Exhibit. Five Easy Pieces explored the notion of home by asking people who live in Berlin to describe how they view themselves in relation to their adopted city. The installation includes Swiss filmmaker Dani Levy, Afro-German writer Katharina Oguntoy, Indian curator Mini Kapur, teachers Anna and Helmut Franz, and Brody himself. While the Berliners describe their place in Berlin, their voice-melodies reveal much about where they come from and their emotional state. The museum built a surround sound room to display the exhibit.
Brody created a surveillance art piece, Five Families Listening: An Eavesdropping Installation (2015), for the NK art space in connection with the Transmediale Festival for Art and Digital Culture. The piece explores the acoustic spaces of living rooms through secret recordings of families talking.
Brody’s Art Accompanying Noise (2016) for the Prinz-Georg Art Space is a pivotal work, exploring the narrative quality of sounds that artists make while they work. The materials and tools an artist uses to create a picture or a sculpture all create a soundscape. For example, the sound of glass being chipped and wood being cut. Even the sound of paint smeared on canvas has a particular acoustic quality, revealing the work process, a kind of narrative. These sounds are recorded, along with the artist talking about his or her inspiration for the piece being made. The recorded sounds and the voice of the artist are used to create a musical sound installation displayed in a container for the artist’s work. The artwork itself is secondary to the sounds used for the installation, therefore the by-product of the noise becomes the subject of focus, while the finished objects of art are secondary.
Talking Melody-Singing Story (2016) was done as Brody’s Artist-in-Residence project for the Munich Kammerspiele. The piece is based on an opera’s two main components, the aria and the recitative. For Talking-Melody, Brody recorded singers recalling the moment they discovered that their voices were special. The stories are used to create arias based off the voice-melodies of the singers. For Singing-Story Brody recorded people in three different cities describing what opera is to them. The answers were accompanied by a recitative accompaniment, and the interviews include vocal stars Anna Prohaska, Laurent Naouri and Lorin Sklamberg. A mini opera house was built to contain the installation. The Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
Talking Melody – Singing Story’. Der knapp zwanzigminütige Hörfilm des amerikanische Musikers Paul Brody reißt die oft so perfekt inszenierte Oberfläche der Kunstform Oper auf, lässt etwa Sänger intim plaudern oder befragt Strafgefangene in Alabama zu ihrem Verhältnis zur Oper, genauso wie deutsche Passanten… Brodys Klanginstallation fängt diesen Moment des Intimwerdens wunderbar auf: Opernsänger, die über ihre ersten bewussten Erfahrungen mit ihrer Stimme plaudern – die meisten dieser Sängern fangen dann prompt an, Kinderlieder zu singen – nicht erzwungen, mehr als klangliches Beispiel für ihre Anekdoten.
— Süddeutsche Zeitung July 8th 2016. online
Voices of Help (2016-2017) was a three-room documentary sound installation at the Youth Museum Berlin. The piece explored concepts of help through interviews with community and social workers around Berlin’s so-called Rote Insel, or Red Island, an erstwhile socialist stronghold in Schöneberg. The recording of each voice received an instrument that brought out the personal qualities of the interviewees. The first room was dedicated to hearing the stories of how helpers began; the second explored the tools of professional social workers through collected narratives; the third investigated those expanding the system of help, mostly by volunteering to help refugees in ways meaningful to the helpers themselves. The exhibit was inspired by a Studs Terkel-like curiosity about the neighborhood—where Brody lives—the knowledge that help is not as prominent in American culture as it is in Germany, and by the people who had helped Brody’s mother decades before when she escaped Nazi Vienna on a Kindertransport (Children’s train) at age 13.