I shot these slides (Fuji Provia) during the Quies shoot in December 2011 but didn’t have them developed until a couple of days ago.

Fuck, I miss the desert now.

slide 01

slide 02

slide 03

slide 04

slide 05

slide 06

slide 07


Quies @ Beurs 1

Quies @ Beurs 2

Quies @ Beurs 3

Quies @ Beurs 4

Images © Anna Van Aerschot

26. 24 HOURS OF THE STAGE, WP ZIMMER (Installation View)





Images © Glenn Geerinck


About the lecture-performance:

Peter Lenaerts invites the audience into a cosy living room setting. In the center of the room, two flat screen televisions, back to back, covered by a black cloth. Comfortable couches are placed in a half circle in front of the televisions. There’s four speakers, one in each corner of the room, and two subs speakers in line with the tv’s. The lights are dimmed. The performance starts with a text about failure (see below). As the lights slowly fade to black, the only light that remains in the room is the screen of Peter’s tablet as he reads the text. When the text has been read, he closes the tablet and plunges the room into complete darkness. The sound piece that has been playing in the background now comes to the foreground. After about 10 minutes, the cloth is removed from the televisions and the documentary Ezra made starts playing.


Quies @ WT 1 Quies @ WT 2 Quies @ WT 3 Quies @ WT 4 Quies @ WT 5 Quies @ WT 6

Images © Giannina Urmeneta Ottiker



Quies & Failure
The biggest failure of them all. I shouldn’t have used the word silence when I first started this project almost 3 years ago. Silence makes people think of yoga retreats, or churches, or John Cage or Simon & Gartfunkel, and obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, it just doesn’t fit Quies. So rather than writing “I want to work on silence. And absence. And nothing” I should have written “I want to work on Quies. And absence. And nothing. The lack of. Just space. And air. That moment when the last note has rung. Just before the audience breaks out in applause or boos. That moment of anticipation. Of holding your breath. Your senses, exalted and wired. All ears. That moment. Exactly that moment.

What do we hear when there’s nothing to listen to?

What do we listen to when there’s nothing to hear?

This is also a pretty big one. Slightly tongue in cheek, but still.

When you decide to fly to Sydney at the far end of the world (24 hours or 16736km), then get another plane to Adelaide (1,5 hours or 1400km) then get into a hire landcruiser and spent 2 whole days or 1000km driving to what is technically not even a desert yet; when you decide to do all that because you’re curious how empty and desolate and devoid of both human and animal presence this place will be because you want to try and record this emptiness. If you want to do all that, then do not take a film maker. Because filmmakers are noisy. If you’re afraid to travel alone or you’re afraid to go desert mad, take a friend, but do not take a film maker. Because they make a lot of sound. And because they are busy making a film, they don’t listen. Even though film is 50% image and 50% sound, they just stand there and make squares with their hands and then look around, turning left, turning right, crouching down until suddenly they see what they want to capture and then they come racing with all their gear, and set it up amidst a flurry of sonic activity. And when they are finally ready to start filming, they ask you to stay in that uncomfortable position a bit longer.

And to add insult to injury: a year later, they have a film to show here whereas silly old me is still trying to make sense of all his recordings.

A smaller failure but still. Number one golden rule on filmsets? Don’t count on the weather.

Don’t think oh, I’m going to the desert and the desert is hot. And I’m specifically going in Summer because it’s so hot that there will be less people. And when I went the first time, it was constanly between 36 and 43 and I didn’t meet anyone besides the freaks and misfits in petrol stations.

No, you cannot count on the weather and I should have know this. So this time it was barely 30 degrees. On top of that, there had been massive amounts of rain. Yes, rain, in one of the most arid regions on earth. So much rain that Lake Eyre, which is usually a dried out salt lake, flooded over. So much rain, that the desert didn’t look yellow and red and white, but green. Green with little bushes and grass and greenery. And for the ears it’s even worse because really hot weather creates the illusion of sonic emptiness. It’s an acoustic phenomenon that when it’s really hot and there’s lots of wind and then suddenly the wind settles, and it’s like there’s no sound left in the world. I had experienced that before. But not this time of course. Not when the camera was rolling.

So bad weather. Barely 30 degrees and the constant threat of a freak rain storm coming. And stories from the locals about how the last time it rained properly, the town you’re in  got cut off for 6 weeks. No people, no supplies, nothing coming in or going out.

So anyhow. Don’t count on the weather.

Technology is dumb, our ears are clever. I knew this but was still disappointed and frustrated when confronted with it.

Simply put, and without getting lost in technicalities: each microphone makes sound. It’s called self-noise. It’s comparable to the warm hiss of a record player. Some of you here might still remember that sound.

Even more simply put, the cheaper the microphone, the more self-noise or hiss. And finally, the smaller the microphone the more self-noise.

Now, most microphones for outdoor use are rather small, whether they’re cheap or expensive. And the big and quiet microphones are almost all indoor microphones.

For outdoor microphones you need wind protection. Serious wind protection, especially in the desert. If not, it just sounds like the very first sound you’ll hear in the film. Make sound.

And wind protection is only made for outdoor or smaller microphones. It’s not made for big, indoor microphones.

Now, before we left, I decided on the following guidelines:

I would start recording with small, inexpensive microphones and wear them on my head. They have good wind protection and create a very realistic surround sound – uh – image. As long as there’s actual sound to record, these microphone work really nicely. The moment there’s little to record, you start hearing these microphones.
At which point I would switch to a hand held stereo microphone. With even better wind protection. And less realistic surround -uh- image, but still stereo.

Eventually this microphone would also become too loud, at which point I would switch to an indoor microphone. A studio microphone and one of the quietest microphones around. It has barely any self-noise or hiss. Problem though: no wind protection available.

But I was only gonna use this microphone when there was no wind. But there is almost always wind in the desert. Maybe not to our ears, but to a very sensitive microphone there is always air movement.

So, conclusion: I came across quite a few extremely quiet places. Some I would even call virtually silent, but I shouldn’t use that word.

But technology failed me almost always in these places. Whenever there’s was no wind, or no flies (cos it’s usually either/or in the desert), and whenever the filmmaker was quiet, the landscape would sound eerily and scarily quiet. A sensation, just so you know, that is far from pleasant. Real quiet is freaky. Real quiet is unnatural. It’s the primordial sign for danger. When nature goes quiet, something dangerous is lurking somewhere. When babies are born, they are freaked out by the quiet. When babies have a hard time sleeping the first couple of weeks, it’s because the room is too quiet. They are used to sound levels similar to a busy underground metro station during peak hour. That’s what the world sounds like in the womb. Loud, throbbing, thumping, droney.
When all of that disappears, it’s freaky. Because we’re not used to it AND because we start hearing ourselves. The brain is hardwired for sound perception. It there’s nothing to hear, the brain and ears will zoom until it hears something. Neurological fact.

Anyhow, where am I going with this: to my final point of failure

I have nothing to make something with.

I have lots of nothing to make something with.

An album. A sound piece. An installation.

What I cannot make or share with you, is quies though.

I wrote all those years ago:

I do know that silence does not exist. Or that, if it does, it cannot be recorded. Or that, if it could be, it cannot be played back, or heard or re-experienced in the same way.

I now know that silence does exist. Or rather, such empty quiet that it sounds like there’s nothing there but my own sounds. It does exist. I can give you the address, but you’ll still need a lot of luck, because when I revisited the place for the film, it wasn’t quiet at all.

I now know that it can be recorded. Because of wind, flies, filmmaker and lack of proper wind protection, I could not capture a lot of it. But it’s there, in smalls bits and pieces.

But but but, can it be played back and heard and re-experienced in the same way?

Yes and no. I will play you something in a while that is as good as empty. Not for long, but for a little while, there’s virtually nothing.

But I am terribly sorry that I won’t be able to make you hear or re-experience it.

And that is the ultimate failure of quies. It can’t be shared.

Or, as Graham Greene says: When you escape to a desert, the silence screams in your ear.

Or, as I say: When you try to record nothing, you have nothing to share.

I can’t think of anything more exciting than that.

Enjoy the film.



Tuesday 20 December 2011: Coober Pedy

Last day recording. Captured both cemeteries in Coober Pedy. Very windy. Again.


Then rerecorded the candles burning. No one entered the church today until the very end when there was barely any candle left.  I continued recording after they had burnt up so hopefully there’s some beautiful quiet in there.

In the meantime Ezra interviewed me. We spoke for almost two hours and had a very interesting conversation.

And that was QUIES the film.


Monday 19 December 2011: Coober Pedy, Breakaways, Dog Fence

After breakfast in our underground motel room, we drove to the Serbian Orthodox Church to see and especially hear what it’s like a year and a half later. Turns out there’s construction work being done around the church. So no daytime recordings. Also learned after talking to a guy called Brother that the church has no priest or no active community anymore. It is still open 24/7 and we could come and record anytime. We decided to come back at the end of the day.

We drove out to the Breakaways next. There was hardly any wind or flies. I did manage to fuck up an otherwise beautifully quiet recording by leaving my phone in my pocket. It tried to find a signal, resulting in that typical interference sound. Thank god for editing.

I started recording with the DSM microphones but quickly got distracted and disappointed by how noisy they are. It is such a pity because I love the fact that my head acts as the microphone. I turned to the stereo microphone next and after getting too much self noise there as well, tried the studio mic. As it doesn’t come with a proper windscreen, I constructed one myself with a camping laundry basket. It did the trick as long as the wind was soft and made for a very beautiful recording of almost perfect quiet. It only worked once though as the wind picked up speed again. Did manage to capture another very quiet landscape with the stereo microphone. An almost magical experience.


We spent the rest of the day and evening at the Serbian Orthodox Church. Because I experienced near silence there last year, I was very excited about properly recording the space. Alas. It was much windier than last year, there were tourists and my current microphones are much more sensitive.
So whether it was wind, or other visitors, I simply did not manage to grab a quiet recording. Got close for a few minutes but never much longer. Very frustrating.

I needed to focus on something else so I decided to light a candle. Because of the hollow acoustics in the space, this sounded amazing. It sounded even better through a microphone. So I ended up composing with first one then two then three candles and the stereo microphone for the longest time. When that was done, I thought it’d be cool to just keep recording until the candles had burnt up completely. Ezra drove into town to get us some dinner, which we then ate outside the church while the sunset set the sky on fire. When I went back downstairs to check on the candles, the recorder had run out of memory. Extremely stupid and unprofessional. I’ll have to go back tomorrow.


The night ended at Riba’s underground motel. The “mythical” place where I experienced proper silence last year. Guess what? No silence this year. It was really quiet but never perfectly silent. Most annoying was a very low, almost constant rhythmical rumble that turned out to be someone snoring. I tried again at various moments during the night and early morning, but there was always some sonic activity. Failure.


Sunday 18 December 2011: Coober Pedy

A proper day off, spent driving to Coober Pedy.



Saturday 17 December 2011: Oodnadatta, Painted Desert, Copper Hills

This was supposed to be our day off but I don’t do off days very well, especially when there’s nothing else to do.

Did sleep in and then decided to visit the local museum. And that was the end of my day off.


The museum is housed in what used to be the railway station and consists of 6 rooms, 3 on each side of a connecting corridor. Each room was fitted with a fire alarm and literally all of them were beeping that “replace the battery” beep. It created an amazing soundscape. To have this man made, or rather machine made, electronically generated beep in this remote environment. And all it takes to get rid off the alarm is to replace the batteries. But no one cares enough to do that, especially as you can’t really hear the sound from outside. So the alarms just go on beeping. This must be my highlight so far. I spent 20 minutes recording 4 of the rooms with the studio microphone. Very mesmerizing.


In the late afternoon we left Oodnadatta for the Painted Desert, planning to spend the night there, sleeping in the car. We pulled up and set up a few meters off the road, in an incredible landscape at the foot of two hills. Then recorded the sunset. Was too new age-y for me but Ezra seems happy with the images.

Had dinner and then had to flee inside the car. Killer mosquitoes, unfazed, undaunted by every and any repellant we had brought. Coils, creams, sprays. Nothing kept them away but the car’s fly screens. That was not the end though as we were soon attacked by the smallest flying creepy crawlies I’ve ever seen. So small they’d get through the fly screens easily. They didn’t seem to bite, just flew in and started crawling all over our bodies. Camping!


Friday 16 December 2011: Peake Hill, Oodnadatta

Everyone has been predicting rain since the beginning of the week and apparently today it was finally gonna come pouring down. The prospect of rain is fascinating here in the Outback. As all the roads are unsealed, it doesn’t take much for them to get closed down. Not that a 4WD wouldn’t be able to handle a bit of rain on the road. The problem is the damage the road surface suffers the next day when the sun starts burning.


So rather than taking unnecessary risks we decided to drive past all the things to see and listen to between William Creek and Oodnadatta. We did go to Peake Hill along an amazing 4WD only track. I would have loved to record all the ruins but a heavy sky and light drizzle made us rush through the place. I did try to use the studio microphone, but the wind was too present.

Ezra got great recordings here though of me fighting with the wind or flies.

We spent the evening in Oodnadatta. I kept recording as we entered and had dinner at the Pink Roadhouse, but in hindsight, this was not interesting at all.


We did do some great golden hour recordings against the backdrop of a children’s playground. The local aboriginal community had a christmas party a little bit further along and when that ended everybody had to cross the playground to get to the pub on the other side. One of them, a guy called Donald, came up to me and we spoke for the longest time. He was my age and said I travelled too much and that was why I had so many grey hairs. He had never been outside Oodnadatta and was living off a pension after having been diagnosed a schizophrenic. The conversation was at times hilarious, weird, confronting, and very candid. Not sure how we can use any of it ethically but I hope we can find a way. Great encounter.


Thursday 15 December 2011: Lake Eyre, William Creek

We spent all day on and along the track to Lake Eyre. The track itself was rough and hard work to navigate but we passed a couple of interesting spots.


First stop was at a water tank and cattle enclosure. No cattle or anything else in sight. Visually stunning setting but very windy. Luckily the gate came with a very musical chain. I spent quite some time trying to capture it rattling and banging but the wind got in the way all too often.


After another hour’s driving, we came upon an amazing stretch of landscape, as far as the eye could see. I walked out, away from the car, for about 15 minutes, trying to get as far away from the camera. Then recorded the landscape, or rather, the wind blowing through this barren emptiness. No trees, no plants, no nothing in sight. I’m sure it looks better than it sounds.

Back at the car, we noticed the wind whistling and howling through the holes in a road sign. Yes, a road sign in the middle of nowhere. It sounded amazing but let’s see whether it works as a recording.


Lake Eyre is visually stunning. Sonically, there didn’t seem to be much else than wind. Until I let the microphone hang down in despair… and noticed a sizzling sound of the salt melting and evaporating in the sun. Quite intriguing and hopefully the recordings are good enough. Without any visual information, they sound very similar to what the decomposing road kill sounds like. It’s tempting to do an Eisenstein with both recordings, but also a bit obvious.

We spent a second night at the William Creek Hotel. Ezra filmed me talking to Amber and playing with the dog. He says it’s very interesting. I believe him.

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