organ is the title of a sculptural work by Carsten Nicolai, designed specifically for the St.-Anna-Kapelle originally built in the twelfth century, in Krobitz/Weira in Thuringia. In the widest sense, this work is a musical instrument that draws inspiration from early designs of so-called pyrophones from the late eighteenth century. In contrast to the classical (church) organ, the sound generators are flames, which produce sounds by resonating in glass cylinders. organ consists of twenty-five modeled acoustic resonance tubes, whose geometrical shapes are based on the model of the church or pipe organ. The organ pipes used are glass cylinders of various sizes, which are vibrated by means of small gas flames instead of the usual airflow in organ building. The special fascination lies in the fact that the generation of the sound does not remain invisible—as with the conventional organ—but becomes visible.
Why this really small church in Krobitz?
A part of my family lives in a village in Harzvorland, in the former border area. There is a small Romanesque church, which is in fact no longer used. It was always fabulously intact, completely pure and not spoiled, but meanwhile also forgotten over time. When I saw the church in Krobitz, it immediately reminded me of this. How beautifully these two little churches have aged. What remains is almost pure architecture, the rooms still appear as from the time of construction. And there is, of course, this timelessness—as if standing in front of old trees and wondering how many human existences they have survived. Nowadays you go into a building and you know it will probably be demolished in twenty-five years. But what immediately interested me is the very human dimension of this church. Churches are often striving Gothically upward. Whereas all of the Romanesque churches do not convey the ascension, this moment of conviction, but remain in the dimension of people. The church here is no bigger than a house, actually smaller than a house.
For an atheist-minded artist, churches are certainly a special challenge.
Originally I wanted to approach the whole thing much more radically and design the church interior completely. I immediately thought of Matisse or Rothko, who painted church interiors, or Le Corbusier, who was also an atheist and was permitted to plan many churches. I would therefore follow the tradition of modernity. At some point, however, I realized that the rooms would be better left as they are. I had no desire to make major interventions; so no intervention not just for reasons of monument protection, but somehow the strength of what was found, the aura or perhaps the patina, made an impression on me. The church as a place filled with energy. You do not necessarily want to impact the building, the substance, but respect the building just in its aura. I wanted to add something that fit, something complementary. So I came up with the idea of putting something in this building that has always been, that has been woven with the tradition of the Church. And since I work with sound and audio, it is much more exciting for me to design a musical instrument, than perhaps a more pictorial work. Of course it is boring in some sense, because it is so obvious. But I was tempted to redefine the idea of the organ, the idea of using a different technology than the bellows. In terms of its construction, a fire organ is not a new invention; it has existed parallel to the classical organ. It came about when trying to find alternative sounds, but this failed because other standards were more successful. The fire organ became a classic loose end in the history of technology. For us, it was a challenge and at the same time an experiment, because all of the old fire organs no longer exist. Of course there was always the aspiration from parishes to have organs in their churches. So some have one, others do not. Some a small, others a big one, which they no longer have repaired, and probably still a smaller one next to it. What has always bothered me about an organ is that you always only see these organ pipes, but you never know exactly where the sound comes from.
Then what is so new about an “organ” in a church?
That the organ is finally there, where you can also see it. The organ of the past, this wonderfully ornate organ, has been built so that you can only see it when you leave. And above all, it has become more and more a fixture, or rather a decorative element. Until today. The listener only sees the whistles, but does not know where the sound comes from. Here the parish is now sitting around, which also dissolves the normal division a bit. Here a certain democratization takes place. All meet on the same level, in one and the same room. Quasi a resort to Late Antiquity, when the first churches were built on the model of Roman basilicas, the place of assembly par excellence. The pulpit is still there, but if you occupy the center with this instrument, you have simultaneously an auditorium and a performance space, a theater.