Once, while hanging out with Novotňák, this great thing happened to us. There were these two authors visiting who were giving a reading in Liberec. One of them had his wife with him, and we were all sitting around after the reading and talking, and Novotňák was there with us. And suddenly this totally unbelievable debate got started, like when people, in their state of advanced inebriation, begin to heavily philosophize.
It all started to get really animated, sort of new age positivist, this kind of spiritual debate at two-thirty in the morning. And then I remembered that Novotňák had this project of his where he was asking people what they thought about the universe. So I poked him with my index finger and he just pulled out his little recorder, and totally straightforward - he didn't know anyone there, none of them knew him - and now he asks them, totally straightforward, "What do you think of the universe?" And there is this awkward silence. And then the first guy, he's this kind of guy who would probably like to be a preacher, he starts like this: "Hmm, yes. That is quite a question." And he starts to mumble something, and they all start to philosophize like mad, and I was there just squirming with laughter inside, because Novotňák - and this is so admirable and hats off to him - he spent half an hour pretending to be a total idiot. He kept asking them these simple questions, like is the universe endless and so on. And they thought he was some kind of na?f, some excited young student or something, and they were trying to explain it all to him. But they kept getting more and more confused, and eventually they totally lost themselves and almost started fighting... and Novotňák and I were just cracking up.
Jaromír Typlt (transcript of audio recording)
People who talked about the universe (in words, laughter, shouting, etc.):
Slávek Lelek, doorman at building S
28 nurses from the Institute of Health Studies
the cleaning woman
unknown voices in the hallway
and Pavel Novotný
Universe was recorded in "Building S" of the Technical University of Liberec
(see map) and consists of the following audio material:
- a performance by twenty-eight nurses spread out along the building's spiral staircase
The nurses were recorded by a recording mechanism lowered from the top floor of the building. The mechanism was hung from a fishing line and consisted of a ladder, an ancient yarn reel, and one lowering-assistant (Jan Vavříček). The recording equipment was slowly lowered from nurse to nurse down to the ground floor, then back up, back down and back up again in a pendulum motion. The recording required many attempts - until the nurses were physically and mentally exhausted. The recording captures only a fraction of the whole process.
- sounds from the building's everyday activities
....footsteps, voices, murmurs, the squeaking of doors, etc.
- collected voices
I collected voices both inside and outside the building. For instance, I recorded the composition's central figure - Slávek Lelek - in his office on an Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder, Radek Vystrčil at his country home, Marie Richter in a dusty attic, Kailie Hall in her backyard, etc. The recordings were mixed together with sounds from Building S. As for the echoing hallway voices, I consciously chose not to create them synthetically - instead, with a view towards the authenticity of the universe, the recordings were broadcast into the hallway using loudspeakers, and then re-recorded. If some of the voices sound like an echo coming from inside a megaphone, this is the reason.
- sounds of various cosmic objects found throughout the building, shrieks, and other vocal exclamations
On several weekend afternoons, I annoyed the building caretaker and his wife by banging chairs, metal cans, bottles, sticks, railings, etc. I also blasted sound from speakers and, together with Typlt, howled and shrieked throughout the building.
- external sounds resounding through the building's walls
These made their way through all kinds of cracks, under doorjambs, and through open windows. There is a noisy intersection right next to the building. The noise was partially filtered out but could not be completely eliminated - the beginning of the composition captures the noise at rush hour.
On processing the recorded material:
Universe was created solely by editing and layering the audio tracks, without the use of any complicated audio chemistry. The sounds from Building S were taken apart, mixed with the voices, and put back together into an "illusion of Building S." For instance, Gregor Schröer and Günter Dischinger never urinated into the same urinal, and even if they did, they never did so while talking about the universe and Bavarian sausages; Maria Richter never banged against any bars and never shook out a rag - in fact, she never visited the building at all; Radek Vystrčil never disrupted the nurses' universe; the doorman never heard voices talking to him from his transistor radio (in fact, he doesn't even own one) - and he is absolutely right when he says that it's all one giant scam...
Thank you to all participants
Pavel Novotný, Liberec 2009