28 April – 21 May 2017, Pekka Niskanen & Robert Aeberhard, Sounds That Shouldn’t Be There

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With their exhibition Sounds That Shouldn’t Be There visul artist Pekka Niskanen and sound artist Robert Aeberhard address the occurrence so called hum sounds. These hard to track sounds are experienced differently by everyone and they rarely have an immediate rational explanation. Niskanen and Aeberhard use a combination of field recordings, interviews and images to create a sound and video installation in order to approach a phenomenon that escapes human perception but – with its effect on body and sanity – should encourage a social debate.

In September 2015, Robert Aeberhard stayed at Cité Internationale des Arts recidency in Paris. In his studio, he often suffered from headaches and insomnia and after a full day in the studio he had a ringing sound in his ears. But it was not until he began playing bass guitar and working with microphones that he noticed a strong interference sound. A high pitched hiss along a low frequency rumble was audible on all recordings. Depending on the position and angle of the microphone, the sounds changed in frequency and loudness. The energy could be clearly located in the room: Aeberhard could ‘touch’ it and follow its spatial dimensions. After having recorded the sounds, he built sample instruments, which let him play harmonies and melodies with the sounds and a new kind of instrument was born.

In order to sleep and work, Aeberhard covered the walls of his studio with aluminium foil. When Pekka Niskanen visited Aeberhard, the modified studio and underlying reasons for it awoke his interest immediately. Together they started to investigate the phenomenon they soon identified as hum sounds: low frequency sounds with no immediate rational explanation. They are often described as the sound of a distant truck running idle or as low-frequency rumble, which may even cause objects in a room to vibrate. Since these sounds are not audible to everybody, affected people are often imputed hallucinations.

The sources of hum sounds are hard to track. Studies suspect mobile antennas, high voltage power lines or vibrations caused by gas pipelines. Also, the military uses long-wave radio frequencies to communicate with submarines or planes around the globe and the affected have reported stronger hum sounds during e.g. NATO manoeuvres. Even though only some people experience the sounds, they are reported worldwide.

With an unshielded microphone and pickup, Robert Aeberhard recorded these undefined sounds in different places while Pekka Niskanen filmed the locations. They soon realised that the ‘sounds that shouldn’t be there’ are not rare, but need to be translated into audible sounds, since most of us can’t perceive them directly.

The video and sound installation at Hippolyte is a translation of such kind. Aeberhard’s sound art makes the unheard sounds audible and turns the unwanted into wanted sounds by composing them into musical pieces. The bass guitar, a low frequency instrument as well, functions as an ideal musical counterpart. Images of places where hum occurs, hint at the sounds’ origins. In addition, Pekka Niskanen interviewed artist Sara Pathirane at Cité Internationale des Arts who had previously stayed in the same studio as Aeberhard and artists Cheng Jen Pei and Lin Cheng Wei in the neighbouring studios. The residency periods at “Cité” vary from a few months to a year. Sound art, images and interviews are thus parts of a puzzle to encourage a social discussion on a hard to track and not well known phenomenon, the influence of which on the human body and sanity is still unclear.


Pekka Niskanen (b. 1961) is a media artist, video and film maker. His dissertation for the Academy of Fine Arts at the University of he Arts in Helsinki was titled Art in the Construction of Identity Politics (2014). Niskanen’s works have been shown world wide. His most important, recent solo exhibitions have been in MUUgallery, (Helsinki 2015), Photographic Gallery Hippolyte (Helsinki 2013), Suomesta Gallery (Berlin 2012), Ateneum Art Museum (Helsinki 2009), White Box Gallery (New York 2004), INOVA (Milwaukee, Illinois 2001) and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (Helsinki 1998). Niskanen has also visualized experimental theatre in Finland. He realized the set design and costumes for Verdi’s Rigoletto in Gothenburg’s Opera in Sweden 2005. He also works with documentary films and video. Virtual War was premiered at the Tampere Film Festival in 2012. It has been screened twice by the Finnish broadcasting company YLE on TV1. www.pekkaniskanen.com

Robert Aeberhard (b. 1977) lives and works as musician and sound artist in Berne, Switzerland. As a sound artist, he took part in exhibitions and performances in Berne and Paris. His search and work with field recordings is documented in his sound blog. As a bass player, Robert Aeberhard played more than 600 concerts in Europe. With his duo ‘Fitzgerald & Rimini’, together with spoken word poet Ariane von Graffenried, he released the albums Aristokratie und Wahnsinn (Aristocracy and Madness, 2011) and Grand Tour (2015), for which they were rewarded with the recognition award for literature of the Canton of Berne. Together with pianist Oli Kuster, he released the album OKRA, music for piano and field recordings (2016). In 2014, Robert Aeberhard was awarded a scholarship by the Canton of Berne and stayed six months at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. www.dadaad.ch

In collaboration:
Sara Pathirane, Cheng Jen Pei, Lin Cheng Wei

Exhibition has been supported by:
Genelec, AVEK / Tuuli Penttinen-Lampisuo, Alfred Kordelin Foundation, Arts Promotion Centre Finland


28 April–21 May 2017
Sounds That Shouldn’t Be There

Photographic Gallery Hippolyte
Yrjönkatu 8–10 courtyard, 00120 Helsinki, +358 9 612 33 44, www.hippolyte.fi
Opening hours: Tue–Fri 12–5 pm, Sat–Sun 12–4 pm

(image: Pekka Niskanen)