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This proposal was developed in the context of a public art project centered around the Haagse Beek in the Hague, curated by Krijn Giezen and organized by Stroom HCBK. It was published in: Krijn Giezen (ed.): Haagse Beek. Stroom HCBK, May 1992. The other participants in the Haagse Beek project were Herman de Vries and Ian Hamilton Finlay.

The CD proposed here was produced in 1994: POMP/PUMP, recorded by Remko Scha and Van Lagestein, and published by Helmholtz Theatre / Stroom HCBK.

Remko Scha


A project for the Haagse Beek

A brook known as de Haagse Beek used to spring from a well close to the beach at Kijkduin; it used to run via the Gemeentemuseum, through Zorgvliet, past the Vredespaleis, to the Hofvijver in the center of The Hague. De Haagse Beek doesn't exist any more. It was gradually replaced by a small canal. Its course was rechanneled drastically several times. And its source dried out a long time ago. The influx of water that it needs to maintain its existence is now pumped up, at a point halfway its trajectory, from a canal whose primary function is indicated by its unequivocally descriptive name: the Drainage Canal.

"You cannot step twice into the same river."


Some philosophers like to wonder about the definition of the identity of an object when its material constitution and its defining characteristics are gradually but completely changed. In the real world, the absence of explicit identity criteria tends to be unproblematic for anyone who stays out of the business of art restoration. We may know perfectly well that the identity of an object does not consist in its material constitution, and that we cannot articulate what it does consists in, but this normally does not engender genuine doubts about that identity. De Haagse Beek, however, stretches the limits of one's pragmatic tolerance: a brook with a rechanneled course? without a source? with water running in the wrong direction?

"A knife without a handle with the blade missing."

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Some of you are connected on the telephone and some are not. -- Suppose that every house in Cambridge has a receiver but in some the wires are not connected with the power station. We might say, "Every house has a telephone, but some are dead and some are alive." -- Suppose every house has a telephone case, but some cases are empty. We say with more and more hesitation, "Every house has a telephone." What if some houses have only a stand with a number on it? Would we still say, "Every house has a telephone"?

Suppose Smith tells the municipal authorities, "I have provided all Cambridge with telephones -- but some are invisible." He uses the phrase "Turing has an invisible telephone" instead of "Turing has no telephone".

We learn our ordinary everyday language; certain words are taught us by showing us things, etc. -- and in connexion with them we conjure up certain pictures. We can then change the use of words gradually; and the more we change it, the less appropriate the picture becomes, until finally it becomes quite ridiculous.

To think this difference is irrelevant because it is a difference of degree is stupid.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The Haagse Beek is a theatre piece performed by two electric pumps. A cyberpunk river, constantly engaged in an unnatural act, using artificial protheses for its most basic functions. I would like to focus attention on the sound track of this theatre piece.

"In brief, all things are artificial; for Nature is the Art of God."

Thomas Brown

Musical composition aims at the gratuitous creation of noise. Sonic art, however, is a more empirically oriented enterprise. It creates possibilities for monitoring, analysing, and empathically understanding physical processes that exist independently in the real world. It does this by enabling an audience to listen to these processes. This typically involves amplifying or remixing non-optimally audible sounds, or converting inaudible movements into sound signals.

The artificial heart of the Haagse Beek is the pumping station near the Houtrust-bridge. The pumping is normally inaudible, but this process, which supplies the water to the Haagse Beek, deserves to be attended to. I propose, therefore, to pick up the various vibrations that are involved in the mechanics of the water transfer, to register these vibrations as sounds, and to offer these sounds to the consideration of the public.

The sounds of the pumping station involve the following components:

1. There are two (essentially identical) pumps, driven by electric motors, which suck the water from the canal by means of rotating blades. When the machines are in operation, they resonate in a slight, almost inaudible, harmonic buzz. This resonance can be picked up by means of electro-magnetic or piezo-electric elements on different parts of the pumps.

2. The underwater sounds that result from the pumping action can be picked up by means of hydrophones.

3. In case of power emergencies, the pumping station can switch to the use of a Diesel engine for its power supply. This motor makes the loud, rhythmically articulated sound that is typical for a combustion engine. It should be recorded with standard studio microphones.

Art in public spaces is unnoticeable at best and obnoxious at worst. Sound art in the urban environment is certainly no exception to this. Any unobtrusive addition to the city soundscape will drown in the overall turmoil. The only way to present an environmental sonic object with distinctly discernable features, would involve the use of sound pressure levels that would positively annoy and disturb the many innocent citizens that would be involuntarily exposed to this artistic experience.

I propose, therefore, that the sounds of the pumping station will not be amplified in the already acoustically overcrowded public space. Instead, representative samples of the recordings should be registered on CD and thus be made available to the general public.

It is important that the CD will be accessible through normal commercial distribution channels. To make this possible, a promotion effort involving a poster and a video-clip may be necessary.

Also, the disk itself can provide "hooks". Besides the austere documentary recordings of the pumping station, one may include one or more tracks with a dance mix. To avoid personal expressive overlays, such remixed versions should be made completely automatically. This can be done by implementing a formal grammar of basic house music on a computer system; this system can then operate a MIDI-controlled mixing-board which receives the pumping station source tapes on its input channels.



Sinds het droogvallen van de oorspronkelijke bron wordt de Haagse Beek in stand gehouden door een kunsthart. Halverwege het trajekt van Kijkduin naar de Hofvijver, bij de Houtrustbrug, bevindt zich een gemaal dat water uit het Afvoerkanaal in de Beek pompt. Ik stel voor om dit bemalingsproces via geluidsopnamen hoorbaar te maken.

Om nodeloze geluidsoverlast te voorkomen, wil ik dit idee niet vorm geven door middel van van een "geluidssculptuur" in de openbare ruimte. Het lijkt me juister om mensen in staat te stellen deze klanken tot zich te nemen op de plaats en de tijd die ze daar zelf voor kiezen. Het verdient daarom de voorkeur, een aantal goed gekozen en goed gemixte opnames van het Beek-gemaal op CD uit te brengen, en te proberen deze CD zo goed mogelijk onder de aandacht van het Haagse publiek te brengen.