Project Description

Ernst Karel

Portrait of Ernst Karel

FSC-Harvard Fellow 2018-19

Ernst Karel (b. 1970, Palo Alto) works with sound, including electroacoustic music, experimental nonfiction sound works for multichannel installation and performance, and postproduction sound for nonfiction vilm [film/video], with an emphasis on observational cinema. His recent solo projects are edited/composed using unprocessed location recordings; in performance he sometimes combines these with analog electronics to create pieces which move between the abstract and the documentary. Recent sound projections have been presented at Sonic Acts, Amsterdam; Oboro, Montreal; EMPAC, Troy NY; Arsenal, Berlin; and the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Sound installations in collaboration with Helen Mirra have been exhibited at the Gardner Museum, Boston; Culturgest, Lisbon; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Audiorama, Stockholm; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge; and in the 2012 Sao Paulo Bienal. Video with multichannel sound collaborations include Ah humanity! (2015, with Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel) and Single Stream (2014, with Toby Lee and Pawel Wojtasik). Other projects include the long-running electroacoustic duo EKG, and the location recording/performance collective the New England Phonographers Union. CDs of his often collaborative work have been released on and/OARAnother TimbreCathnorGruenrekorder, Locust, Sedimental, and Sshpuma record labels, among others. From 2006 until 2017 he managed the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University, doing postproduction sound for vilms including The Iron MinistryManakamana, and Leviathan, and where as Visiting Lecturer on Anthropology, he continues to teach a production class every other year in ‘sonic ethnography’.

FSC Project:

For this project, Veronika Kusumaryati and Ernst Karel are working with archival location recordings created as part of FSC founding director Robert Gardner’s so-called “Harvard-Peabody Expedition to Netherlands New Guinea” in 1961, during which Dead Birds was filmed. This body of recordings documents an extended encounter between the expedition and the Hubula (a.k.a. Dani) people in the Baliem Valley of West Papua, in what was then Netherlands New Guinea but would shortly come under Indonesian military rule. The expedition consisted of several of the wealthiest members of New England and New York society, wielding 16mm film cameras, still photographic cameras, reel-to-reel tape recorders, and a microphone, where the microphone articulated a point of intersection between the expedition’s recordist, Standard Oil heir and recent Harvard graduate Michael C. Rockefeller, and those who inhabited the valley. Working through the resulting recordings, our aim is three-fold. First, with help from Kusumaryati’s research contacts in West Papua, where she is pursuing ongoing research on colonialism, decolonization, and postcoloniality, we are creating an edited, annotated, usable archive of recordings, which we will deliver to the Hubula people. Second, we will make a selection of these recordings for publication on CD. Finally, we are composing a feature-length sound composition/imageless work for cinema/concert. This piece, titled Harvard-Peabody Expedition to Netherlands New Guinea, 1961, aims to reflect on several facets of what was a complex historical moment: a moment in the history of the Film Study Center, a moment in the development of approaches to anthropology and to media/visual anthropology, a moment in the lives of the Hubula people, a moment in the short life of Michael Rockefeller, and a moment in colonial history in general and in the history of West Papua more specifically.

FSC Works

Film Still from Expedition Content

Expedition Content

Ernst Karel and Veronika Kusumaryati, 78 min. (2020)

In 1961, filmmaker Robert Gardner organized the Harvard Peabody Expedition to Netherlands New Guinea (current day West Papua). Funded by the Dutch colonial government and private donations, and consisting of several of the wealthiest members of American society wielding 16mm film cameras, still photographic cameras, reel-to-reel tape recorders, and a microphone, the expedition settled for five months in the Baliem Valley, among the Hubula (also known as Dani) people. It resulted in Gardner’s highly influential film Dead Birds, two books of photographs, Peter Matthiessen’s book Under the Mountain Wall, and two ethnographic monographs. Michael Rockefeller, a fourth-generation member of the Rockefeller (Standard Oil) family, was tasked with taking pictures and recording sound in and around the Hubula world. Expedition Content is an augmented sound work composed from the archive’s 37 hours of tape which document the strange encounter between the expedition and the Hubula people. The piece reflects on intertwined and complex historical moments in the development of approaches to multimodal anthropology, in the lives of the Hubula and of Michael, and in the ongoing history of colonialism in West Papua.

Sound Safari Poster

Sound Safari

Sharon Lockhart and Harvard Students, with editing by Ernst Karel, 50 min. (2008)

An audio excursion into a wide variety of public and private spaces in Bath, Maine. Under the direction of Sharon Lockhart, Sert Practitioner and 2007-08 FSC-Radcliffe Fellow, a group of Harvard students traveled to Bath, Maine for two days to explore the sound landscape.

The first day began in the early morning at Southgate Family Restaurant, situated outside the south gate of the Bath Iron Works, the site of Lockhart’s two film works, Lunchbreak and Exit. From there, students fanned out through the town, each with their own stereo audio recorder, meeting people and recording sounds wherever their various paths led them, until late into the evening. These included a fishing vessel outside of town, a high school band rehearsal, the inside of a police car, the town’s solid waste facility, a conversation with an Iraq war veteran working out in the gym, and a nursery school classroom, among many others.

On the second day, the students worked with Lockhart and composer Ernst Karel to begin to carefully craft an impressionistic audio documentary that brings the listener into the physical and cultural spaces of this Maine town.

Safari recording participants:
Alex Berman
Alex Fattal
John Hulsey
Lisa Jing
Ernst Karel
Sharon Lockhart
David Molander
Josh Neff
JP Sniadecki
Stephanie Spray

Coordination by Melissa Davenport

Related Posts

The FSC Nonfiction Workshop presents Ernst Karel and Veronika Kusumaryati

February 2, 2021 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Ernst Karel and Veronika Kusumaryati will discuss "Expedition Content."