The source material of the composition are historical recordings made on wax cylinders (German: ‘Walze') from the archive of the Ethnologic Museum in Berlin. The original recording was made at the beginning of the last century.
Büttner processed the sounds and noises of the wax cylinder using a computer and combining them to a new composition. He was interested in the interplay of recorded ‘memory', imagination (who sang/played what where and why?) and the disintegration of the information by the material (background noise, technical faults, decay), the fading of semiotic contexts and lastly in his electronic processing. His method was to contrast and integrate the sound of the wax cylinders and the transported audio content.
The recording and storing of immaterial ‘audio information' made his curious and inspired his to work with the material. Like old photographs that slowly fade, the ‘audio information' disappears or changes either by decay of the medium or on the semiotic level by the ignorance of the listener who, the older the material becomes, only can imagine how the person whose song or music is played posthumously, thought or lived.
In his essay Die helle Kammer (English title: Camera Lucida) Roland Barthes describes the paradox situation in the coincidence of past and present which takes place when looking at old photos. A similar effect is achieved through the renewed sounding of recorded voices from the past. Of course this holds true with any recording, but is intensified by the old age of the wax cylinder recordings, after all it is likely that all the people that created the music are dead. The impression of times past is increased by technical traces crackling, rustling, etc. comparable to the changing of colours, folds, scratches and spots on old photographs.
About Ethnological Museum‘s collection:
At the end of the 19th century Thomas Alva Edison patented the phonograph and for the first time, made it possible to record sounds and replay them. Using a funnel the sound waves were recorded and -like with vinyl records- engraved in a turning wax cylinder by a needle fastened on a membrane.
The collection of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin encompasses 30.000 wax cylinders which are stored in the museum‘s cellar. They can be found here again since 1993 as they were lost for almost 50 years in the USSR and the German Democratic Republic.
Many of the cylinders cracked during the course of time, or molded or became otherwise unplayable, and the table of contents mostly gives but sparse information.
The museum released -unfortunately only few- CDs contains the phonograph recordings, on which however the background noise on loud cylinders was reduced as far as possible. For his processing Büttner only used direct recordings with all the technical noises, mistakes, rustling, etc.