Drunk on wine and thought, I dallied in Sachsenhausen for a half-hour more before setting off for the north bank where I spent some time amid the ducks sunning themselves on the bank. Yet I knew that the daylight would not last, and so I began to work my way back. Again headed west, I followed a pair of tram rails running the length of the bank, between river and retaining wall. Though I made sure to keep an eye out, at no point did I glimpse the tram for which the rails had ostensibly been laid.
At last, I came to a stair and climbed the height of the wall back up to the city center. Determined to reach said center by the most indirect path possible, I left the streets and quais to pass through residential courtyards and stairwells connecting apartment complexes. In one such courtyard, a brick column, seemingly twisted about on itself, greeted me. For a moment, I took it for one of those impossible objects to which none too few philosophers have dedicated a page or two: regular rotation and chaotic distension, barely holding together.
Again in the streets, another column held my attention, though for entirely different reasons. Closer inspection revealed it to be one of the city’s many pump fountains: brass spout jutting from rectangular prism base, perhaps two meters in height and in red sandstone, streaked with tan, the carving of some allegorical figure or other at its top. I had seen a similar column the other side of the river, before the Dreikönigskirche but had given it no more thought, taken as I was with the church. I later discovered from my notes that a 1759 representation of Freiheit, or Peace, made its home at this fountain’s summit, for what good it had done the city.
In a strange turn, my path found me moving from one Late Baroque fountain to another, contemporary and hence at a remove from its more counterparts. Tucked away within the Schirn Kunsthalle’s rotunda, Doug Aitken’s water installation, Sonic Fountain II, brought to mind a geological formation at once undeniably primal and wholly manmade. From the rotunda’s floor rose a cone, vaguely volcanic, with a wide pool of several meters at its center. Drawing closer, I placed my feet with some care upon the shifting mass of soil and rock so that I might better see the pool and the water therein, a touch milky in places.
A long, rubber hose ran from the pool below to a contraption above. I could gradually make sense of the complex rigging of pipes and valves as a sort of release system when the thing at once sprang to life. A series of quick spurts from the nine valves, in different combinations and at distinct intervals, sent me scurrying back down the loose slope. Only with my back to the plate-glass wall did it occur to me that both combination and interval were calibrated according to some musical metric, the terms of which were unknown to me.
Though the falling water rather recalled the drip patterns of rain, they displayed an unsettling regularity with which my head and feet might fall into time. Moreover, as I was soon to read, a set of underwater microphones captured the individual tones created by each droplet and sent them through a connected program to be processed, distorted or otherwise enhanced before reemerging in the rotunda in electronic form. I was not alone in admiring the performance from the pool, acoustic and electronic, amplified by speakers and rotunda alike.
I have always felt that, when faced with such a system, closed in on itself, output becoming input, humans cannot help but be affected by a certain melancholy for a self-perfection beyond their means.