Introduction: My personal obsession with the number 11
by Arnau Sala Saez
Since an early age I have enjoyed playing games with superstition. However, I have always been pretty skeptical, which I think comes from my father’s side of the family. They have deep catalan merchant roots, from Bages and Berguedà, where the industrial revolution made a deep impact in the beginning of the 1900’s and pushed them to move to the city. By contrast, on one side of my mom’s family are peasants who come from Lleida, in Western Catalunya, and on the other side are peasants who emigrated from Almería, in Southern Spain. As a result they have inherited a deep curiosity about occult folkloric beliefs, inexplicable phenomenon and the laws of nature. Which I believe somehow has a deep connection with Christian beliefs, usually imposed to create fears amongst believers. Even though both of my grandmothers where active believers (and I was around them a lot), religion always seemed really naive to me as a child, and believing in “higher” or non-tangible entities struck me as nonsensical. But I was always captivated by the idea of the existence of ghosts or witchcraft and it stimulated my imagination quite a bit. I remember I knew many kids who would talk about playing with a Ouija board, or having a relative who would be a witness to some paranormal activity. I was secretly jealous and made me want to believe.
In April 2011 l’Ull Cec offered me a residency in Berlin. When Sam Roig and I were talking about how to focus my project, he suggested I do something for 11.11.11. At first I didn’t like the idea, mainly because I felt self-conscious and especially because doing an event for my birthday seemed extremely egocentric. But after thinking about it, I decided that it was the only excuse I could use to do something memorable on that date. And it would allow me to bring together a mash-up of disconnected interests I was working with at the moment. After deliberating for quite some time we decided that the main goal would be to create a super-element derived from 11 independent elements. These elements were intended to have a physical quality combined with a sensory quality — in this case sound. We decided that cutting 11 locked groove loops into 11 clear vinyl records could be a way of creating a greater element composed of 11 elements. The final step would be not only to use these 11 elements to create a physical element but to also use each one of them together to create a sound combined of all the loops played together at once. And that would need to be presented, of course, in public, on 11-11-11.
(Working space and living facility in Wedding, Berlin)
I love superstition and random facts 🙂
BERLIN WALL COMES DOWN 11.11.89 (The date of my 11th birthday)
Looking for information, we came across this passage from Uri Geller’s now defunct website:
“If you multiply 1111 by 1111 you get 1234321, representing a pyramid, and number 11 is a sacred number of the pyramid with the proportions of the great pyramid being of the ratio 7:11. Eleven is also a number harmonious with Pi. Therefore, it seems that number eleven is of central importance in understanding the mathematical infrastructure of the universe. This appearance of an abundance of 11:11 sightings on clocks seems to be is about thinking out of your box and letting your mind stretch outside it’s comfort zone.11:11 does not allow you to forget about the larger questions because it is always popping back into your reality, acting as catalyst to distract our consciousness away from the sublime and on to something far more challenging.”
Integrating the Number into the Artwork
Since the loops were to be cut onto clear PVC, the original idea we discussed was to create one shape derived of 11 elements. I tried to come up with something that would inspire ideas for some sort of symbol, but none of the results were interesting, so I finally rejected the idea.
(Four of the many tests I did)
(Some of the early sketches and combinations)
Part 1: Working on the Loops
The first was that a locked groove has a length of 1.8 seconds (running at 33 1/3 rpm). We tested different sounds with different kinds of frequency ranges to see what would work better as a loop that fits in that time space. We realized that in most cases the gap between the sound and the interruption that the needle causes by reaching the end of the loop was very significant, radically changing some of the sounds.
The locked groove never caught the loop perfectly so it made it hard to work on sounds that were not pure signals and that were non-periodic.
Part 2: Recording and Mixing for a New Format
(Frequency Analysing and a rough Comparative of Frequencies per Loop)
I treated the recording the same as a regular album. I tried to write some sort of script, a narrative set with many changes and rich, varied sounds. Both acoustic and synthetic. I recorded using the simplest tools but worked on the edits for a long time. After I recorded each track I compared the frequency ranges of each loop. I tried to find the gaps between each different range to avoid saturation. Even though I knew that when played live the sounds would be less regular as I was intending to modify the pitch. Also some silence would appear between the loops and the beginning of the track after them. I tried to make the grooves smooth enough without making them excessively percussive, which I think I failed at.
In September, right before leaving for tour, I finally finished the recording of the album and the 11 loops. Danny O’Really worked on the master and the recording was sent out to be cut into 11 lathes.
Part 3: Event & Live Action
The people of Canada were kind enough to let us use their space for the presentation for this piece. It was an office space of about 60 square meter. They had just got it and were about to build their offices there and it was empty at the moment so it was perfect. The ceiling was low, and the space wasn’t too big so it was easy to be filled with sound. The 11 turntables and the mixers were set up in three tables in a “U” shape in the center of the room around me. A PA and subs behind me and big guitar cabinets on each side of the room and in front of me. All the channels were distributed through each one of the speakers.
I would say around 100 people filled the room. DJ Zero did a warm-up, spinning some records before the performance. The 11 lathe records showed up from the cutting plant in the UK about an hour before the show through a courier, so we almost had to cancel. And I obviously had no time to practice with the records.
The live presentation of the piece started on November 11 of 2011, at 11:11 pm. It consisted of three pieces, alternating recorded tracks and loops, as the needle would reach the locked grooves. I tried to make it 33 minutes long but due to stress I unfortunately did not succeed and the total time was around 30 minutes.
(Poster for the event)
Part 4: Sleeve Printing
A year after the live action we started the printing of the record sleeves. There were only 11 records so we decided that it would make sense for these to also be all different from one another. I met up with Diego Bustamante and Ferran Fandos over at l’Automàtica and I learned how to put together a matrix with letterpress lead type fonts. I put together a design consisting of multiple of eleven numbers randomly distributed around three big 11’s using just lead type fonts and symbols. Each time a cover was printed I would re-distribute again to print the next one. Which is easy to say but was quite an arduous task and it took several weeks.
After this process was finished the 11 copies were distributed between all the parts who participated in the funding of this project.
Photos — Diego Bustamante, Dani Cantó, Arnau Sala Saez
I want to thank everyone involved in this project but very dearly and specially I want to thank Sam Roig who deserves as much or more of the credit for the development of this project than myself. For spending countless hours helping me correct the files and loops before sending them out to being mastered and cut, assisting me during the time in Berlin and for coming up with the idea in the first place and pushing me to do this. I want to also thank Raül Pratginestós and Luis Cerveró for their constant support through all these years. Also Diego Bustamante and Ferran Fandos for the crazy amount of hours spent with me in the press and their willingness to go with my crazy and sometimes stubborn ideas. I also want to thank everybody who came and experienced the event, everybody who documented it (Alvaro, Adrià, Dani, Karen) and everybody that became directly or indirectly part of it in one way or another.