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Listening to Beethoven’s Ninth at the Speed of Light

Leif Inge's 9Beetstretch

<i>Photo of Leif Inge.</i>
Photo of Leif Inge.

If you could tune the giant radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, to a distant galaxy and listen for a remnant of an old radio broadcast of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, you might receive a signal that sounded like Leif Inge’s 9Beetstretch . In 2002, the thirty-two-year-old Norwegian artist processed a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth through a copy of the Linux program snd and stretched it from the usual duration of about one hour to a shimmering twenty-four hours. In his interview with NPR’s Jacki Lyden in November 2002, Inge explained that with 9Beetstretch he wanted "to make the sensation of composition disappear…[to] stretch not only the piece but also music history…[and to] make you listen to details [in Beethoven’s Ninth] which you ordinarily wouldn’t hear." Inge’s re-processing produces a lush, transcendent work that undoubtedly ranks as one of the finest ambient sound pieces of recent history. It must be said that the bombastic passages of Beethoven’s original composition, rendered as a somewhat oppressive wall-of-noise, do not necessarily lend themselves well to the transformation. It is the many quiet passages, rests, and transitions of the symphony, however, that become incredibly beautiful, trance-like, and ethereal—vast, sun-dappled meadows of gentle sound ecstatically peaking on a global dose of LSD, moving near the speed of light, and thus in extreme slow-motion.

While Leif Inge also creates artwork in other media (ice sculpture, light installation, earthworks, stained glass), he originally created 9Beetstretch as a sound installation for the international art exhibition Free Manifesta 4. For the last two years, segments of all twenty-four hours have only been available through his web site or—for the complete work on MP3 format discs—by mail order. The piece is now scheduled for release on the audio label Table of the Elements later this year. It was on the eve of this release that I recently conducted an email interview with Leif Inge.

Scott Marshall (Rail): What are your earliest cultural influences? Were you always interested in artistic pursuits as a child?

Leif Inge: I was driven by a curiosity which maybe could have led me anywhere. Searching for a broad variety of information, I knew more about contemporary music and ancient Chinese literature than I did contemporary art when I first started studying arts. I realized quite fast that when I drew or painted I did paint ideas rather than formally concerned canvasses, and an idea-based approach to making art became obvious—abandoning painting to execute broader projects whether these manifested themselves in installation art, site-specific art, or other contextual ways of presenting art.

Rail: When you meet someone for the first time and they ask you "What do you do?" what is it that you tell them? In other words, do you consider yourself a visual artist, a musician, a researcher, etc., or do you have a main professional occupation that best describes your identity (for example, software designer, educator)?

Inge: I usually say I am an artist working idea-based, in opposition to the usual way of artists working material- or technique-based. I try to explain the difference, and that an idea-based approach can lead to work from anything from turf and ice to stained glass and sound.

Rail: What was the original presentation space like at Free Manifesta 4?

Inge: At Free Manifesta, it was more like a station where people could listen and choose themselves which part to hear, because the whole idea of Free Manifesta was more in the model of a library.

Rail: In your opinion, which was the more successful presentation of 9Beetstretch: at Free Manifesta 4, or the bedroom installation you executed at Brakstad Konsept Galleri [in Oslo, with complete furnishings where participants could lie on the bed and just listen]?

Inge: The Brakstad Konsept show was really showing a way of presenting the piece, which will be followed some way or another. In San Francisco (at The Quiet American) it will be performed twenty-four hours in a hall with futons. In my mind, another possible place could be in a hotel room. Contemplation furniture is of the utmost importance.

Rail: Since the full twenty-four-hour version of 9Beetstretch is only available in MP3 format, what will be presented on the Table of the Elements release? Will they be releasing selected excerpts? When is that expected to be commercially available?

Inge: It will be the full twenty-four hours. We are looking at the possibilities, but most likely it will be made in a Dolby format called AC-3, as this can already be played by all DVD players. We hope to have it ready in October. It will be a new execution, not the same as previously available. I have an agreement with Naxos about using their recording of the original Beethoven piece.

Rail: What are you working on now? Do you have any public presentations in the near future?

Inge: All my time now is focused on 9Beetstretch, and going to the U.S. [later this year] for some performances and preparing for the release. In May my wife will give birth to our son, and things are a bit vague from there :-) This summer I executed another big project, which is replacing the front window of a car with a stained glass work, and I will follow up that project too.


Scott Marshall

SCOTT MARSHALL ( is a painter and multimedia artist.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2004

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