Bernhard Gal’s fourth album is a journey inside the mind of a disturbed, solipsistic individual. Adolf Woelfli (1864-1930) was a Swiss who spent a deprived childhood as a farmhand. He was imprisoned for sexual attacks on young girls before being transferred to the mental hospital where he spent the last 35 years of his life. While there he created a 25,000-page opus of detailed texts and illustrations. It is Woelfli’s status as an outsider artist that forms the basis for Gal’s enquiry into his life and work.
The disc consists of recordings of Woelfli’s texts, which he wrote in German and in an invented language, recited by Gal and by a young Taiwanese girl. (Some of the texts are reproduced in the CD booklet.) Interspersed with these are field recordings of a man making his way through a forest. The sleevenotes say that the latter are intended to express Woelfli’s ‘permanent creative urge’. The overall effect is disturbing, for several reasons. The girl has an uninflected, naturally pure voice, while Gal’s own often whispered voice ranges in timbre from the idle to the threatening. Together, the voices uneasily register the presence of victim and assailant. The forest sounds, whatever the intention, strongly evoke Woelfli’s estranged status.
Gal is primarily a sound artist, and Hinaus:: In den, Wald was originally the soundtrack of an installation – a dark, immersive sonic environment. It is easy to imagine how disorientating these recordings must have been in this context, and the sleevenotes recommend listening on headphones in darkness to approximate the effect. Without the full spatial awareness given by the installation, listening to the CD is a necessarily incomplete, yet still powerful experience.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 13, 2005)