As the metro quickly approaches and voices become less and less audible, Jean-Jacques yells to me, “Cinema is everywhere. It is upon us.”
Today I sit at home and skim through Kozloff’s Invisible Storytellers: Voice-Over Narration in American Fiction Film. I leave the house for fresh air and a treat from Cheskie’s. I don’t want to spend this sunny afternoon alone. I text my roommate, asking if she wants to go for a walk and eat cheesecake. She can’t go for a walk, she has to write a script, but she can pause for cheesecake. Knowing that I will arrive soon with the crumbly mass motivates her to write the opening three sentences of her very first feature fiction film.
While we are eating the cake on a concrete block in the industrial zone of Avenue de Gaspé. I tell her about Toshiya Tsunoda, a sound artist referred to as “the master of the art of field recording.” I tell her I spent the morning listening to one of his recordings called Little Sand Streams on the Beach. She mishears this as Little Sand Dreams on the Beach.
In our puffy winter jackets, we lie on our backs on the concrete mass, listen to the industrial ambience, and stare into the blue February sky. Together we picture a tiny grain of sand lying in the sun on a beach dreaming and thinking to itself: today I am on top.
Late at night. Early in the morning. Middle of the day. In my Berlin apartment, my downstairs neighbor listens to techno and death requiems. He moans loudly. The sound travels upward through my wooden floors and the pipes in my bathroom. “If it was sex moaning,” my sister says, “at least, you’d know it would come to an end at some point.” His moaning is painful and infinite.
When my neighbor goes through a phase, I go through a phase. I lie in bed angry. I consider going downstairs. I reject the idea. I consider calling the police. I reject the idea. In the short silences between two songs, I hit the floor with my flat palm as hard as I can. Ten songs later my hand hurts. I cannot fall asleep. I put my ear to the floor. The moaning amplifies. His room opens in my mind’s eye. His shape, which I’ve never seen before, starts taking form. I whip back. I stare at the ceiling and fantasize about living on the floors above me. I meditate with YouTube. I play bird songs and wind chimes on my phone. I fall asleep.
When I wake up, it’s another day. The bird songs and wind chimes have died with my battery. Subwoofer and moaning reverberate in my bones. When I wake up, it is not another day. This goes on for four or five of what I used to call days, now a giant, sleepless, exhausted spread of time. Suddenly, after one hundred and twenty hours, the techno stops. One last death requiem fills the spaces between my skin. The moaning continues for another hour or two, and then it stops, also.
My feet are warmly wrapped in woolen socks. My apartment is a moss grove. Everything feels soft and kind. Air is flowing into my nostrils, filling my belly, lifting my chest. I recall how, two years ago, I stood in a sound recording studio in Montreal, listening to the subdued fizzing of the ventilation system. The air was thick and still, but the silence was incomplete. The sound technician who was showing me around told me about a better room. A room on top of a building of another university with more funding for infrastructure. We looked out the splattered window onto the ice- and cloud-blurred mountain where the other university stood. The room on top of that building, on top of that mountain has a special ventilation system, walls, floors and probably even pipes, too. A room as close to silence as possible, the technician, also a sound artist, tells me. But silence, he adds, doesn’t ever really exist. Air is flowing out my nostrils. If only he could hear how it exists right now.
On the beige matte desk, Chiaki lays out citrus fruits of different sizes and varying shades of yellow and orange. They come from her mother’s garden. They had traveled from Kagoshima to Sapporo in a bulky cardboard box, crossing almost the entire length of Japan. She lets me choose one. I pick a bright, soft-yellow fruit. It looks like a baby pomelo and smells like a grapefruit.
Holding it in both of my hands, I carry it upstairs to my windowless bathroom. I crank open the hot water tap and let my merino winter layers fold into fluffy heaps on the oatmeal tiles. In the piercing, fogging heat, I take my time to peel the velvety fruit.
Each time I rip off a chunk of the waxy zest and spongy pith, I bend it between my right thumb and index finger, releasing its fragrant oils into the air. It makes a little sparkle. When all the surface sparkles are spent, I plunge them into the water and watch them float around my sunken body. Their skin to my skin. Stripped naked, the fruit lies on my flat palm, not all that much lighter. I tear through its center, and one after the other I pull off each segment from its neighbor, biting it open along its tough and bitter edge. I open the skins and break out the bare flesh. Taking the firm pulp into my mouth, my molars slowly crush its plump vesicles. Pleasantly sweet with a tinge of tartness, without a bitter-sour punch. It’s like the friendly sister of a grapefruit.
My mobile phone lies next to me playing a Chicago radio show. The subject is the delight one might experience traveling with a tomato plant on an airplane, taking the school bus for the very first time, saying goodnight to a pig, or flossing your teeth during your radio interview because you couldn’t care less what other people think. The host calls this a “radical counterprogramming” to the scary times that are the year 2020.
With my tongue, I separate the citrus seeds from the juice and pulp and push them over the edge of my parting lips. Between the bright yellow floating islands, I watch the muted seeds sink and fade to the bottom of this beige ocean.
* 1989 in Konstanz, lives in Berlin
Undine Sommer is a video artist. The quotidian is her raw material, its muted possibilities her driving force. By weaving choreography and imaginary narratives into fact-based stories, her work dramatises the gestures of memory. Portraying bodies entangled in history and conflict, she seeks to preserve and articulate the confounding and agitating effect these histories have upon us. She received her MFA in Studio Arts/Film Production from Concordia University, Tiohtià:ke/Montreal in 2020 and her Degree in Fine Arts from HBK Braunschweig in 2015.More about Undine Sommer