COLLECTIVE SIGNAL (2023 Monheim version)

YEAR: 2023
MEDIA: Compositions for 12 sirens
PARTNERS: Monheim Triennale, HELIN, Monheim Stadt 

By invation of Monheim Triennale, Collective Signal has been reworked especially for this festival. A collaboration with the local firebrigade has resulted in new work for all twelve sirens of the city of Monheim am Rhein (DE). These pieces were played during the festival every Saturday at 16:00 between June 3rd and July 2nd, 2023. Have a look at the aftermovie for an impression: 

Collective Signal orginates from 2016, with the aim to create a swansong for the entire Dutch warning system in view of its planned decomissioning. Now, after society has had to deal with a pandemic, climate change and war - the perception of sirens has once again shifted. 

For Monheim I created new compositions for the sirens, which addres issues of fear and trauma with a mindful approach towards the politics of sound.

The siren is an interesting instrument from both a technical and musical standpoints. Old-school mechanical models produced glissandi (sliding tones) by pushing air through rotating metal plates with perforations. These sirens could be found in laboratories, where they functioned as test instruments. From World War II, the siren became an instrument of mass communication, warning the population for air raids and prompting them to go into shelters.

In present day, sirens can be heard daily in areas of conflict. Areas without conflict only experience warnings in case of disasters or extreme weather, or during the monthly or annual siren tests. One can imagine, the perception of the wailing haunting sounds will be quite different for listeners finding themselves in either scenario. 

Unless one is sure it’s just a test, the siren is a precursor to an unclear but threatening event - not too far from the listener’s position. The sound is generally perceived as unpleasant and anxiety inducing. It is confusing which action to take when confronted with it. Yet, an often overlooked aspect of the siren is that they are primarily a measure of welfare. Sirens are installed for protection of citizens, functioning as an infrastructure of care. In Monheim, I am introducing the local warning system as a tool for connection and wellbeing, something soothing - not scary. 

photography: Niclas Weber
videography: Timo de Kruijf

special thanks to:
Frank Schulte, Monheim Triennale team, Stadt Monheim, Herr Stenzel & Monheim Feuerwache, HELIN, Achim Tang, Tetske de Weijer, Cécile de Weijer and Timo de Kruijf. This project wouldn’t have materialized without the people and platforms who worked to support me in previous iterations of Collective Signal: Intro In Situ, November Music, Witte Rook, Prof. Dr. Karin Bijsterveld, René van de Merwe and Siemens. Shoutout to those who text me at noon on the first Monday of the month (when the Dutch warning system is tested) - you’re a bunch of nerds.