Aernoudt Jacobs – Permafrost eng

pieter van bogaert

A universe (or two)

Aernoudt Jacobs’ Permafrost

for Almost Cinema (2009)


“I wanted to make music that wouldn’t be for the ears. Music isn’t just what you hear or what you listen to, but everything that happens.”

George Brecht

Permafrost is a universe (or two). The newest installation by Aernoudt Jacobs is the closest this artist can get to what he defines as one of the central questions in his work: how to translate the complexity, the riches and intricacy of our immediate environment into something which can actually be experienced? This work constitutes a mirror for this environment and at the same time it is a mirror of itself. In fact: it both incorporates itself and this environment.

Permafrost is a synthesis (or two). The installation consists of a recipient, filled with water that freezes down as a second identical recipient unfreezes. One recipient is already a synthesis of the complex, rich and intricate reality of our immediate environment in itself. The thesis (water) and the antithesis (ice) of the two recipients make out a second.

The recipients are like lungs that slowly breathe in and out; increase and decrease; give and take. They act as inverted pavilions – like the musical instrument and the ear, the sender and the receiver. At -10° C one recipient begins to unfreeze, which sets off the freezing process on the other side. One recipient uses the
heat that the other produces for the freezing process to unfreeze. The result is a perpetual metamorphosis; a dematerialisation, during which the frozen molecules on one side slowly seem to be replaced with those on the other.

Permafrost, the installation, links all of these elements together, as a unity between the elements. Controlled by a machine, perceived by visitors, it constitutes a complex, rich and intricate environment in which one cannot be perceived apart from the other. The accelerated cycle that has been observed over the last decades, which is held responsible for the heating of our planet, seems to be speeded up further into an extremely functional and compact three-hour cycle, a perpetuum mobile.


Permafrost deceives, in the same way as our environment does. The title of the installation is a reference to the permanently frozen condition of Earth on the outer hemispheres of the planet. But what we see here is anything but permanent. Like the perpetual ice sheets this work is also particularly static. And yet it is always moving, always becoming, always in-between. A perma-inter, rather than a permafrost. This transience, this movement, is the reason this work is so interesting. It becomes literally an inter-esse, a being in-between.

At the heart of this installation are two acrylic containers, filled with water. The containers are placed just above table height, for easy viewing. In the containers are brass pipes and aluminium plates. It is reminiscent of an open refrigerator. Standing on thin, high legs, hovering almost. Around the back of the installation thick plastic tubes disappear behind a curtain. They point towards a machine, a hidden infrastructure. They indicate a place where these two recipients are connected. What we see is merely the top of the iceberg.

So no perpetuum mobile, after all. In order to function this installation still requires an engine and therefore power, even though it consumes less than half after the first and subsequent cycles. This is assured by an ingenious system, which recycles heat from the cooling process for minimal power consumption. Maximal is minimal in this case – high performance and low consumption.

The name deceives. The image deceives. The system deceives. And the sound deceives as well. The most fragile speakers imaginable surround the installation: piezo film, the size of an A4. They oscillate and
produce the highest tones in the sound. Inevitably filtered sound, because the lowest tones are not rendered, but also impure sound. Because those who might think this is the sound of water and ice, are
not very observant. This is the sound of water and ice, intertwined with the metal sounds of the pipes and plates, wit the perspex of the recipients, with the footsteps of the spectators, the undertone of the machine. Since John Cage we know that silence does not exist, and neither does pure sound. Any sound blends into the environment. Permafrost is an environment.


Nevertheless Aernoudt Jacobs, just like John Cage, went to all lengths to achieve the purity of silence. This installation seems clinical and calculated. There is no tap water in the containers; it is distilled. The containers themselves are fully transparent. The machine is outside: invisible and inaudible. What we hear is what we are supposed to hear. What we see is what we are supposed to see. Elements acting as modules, layers of image and sound slowly slide over one another, with and in an environment.

This is a calculated installation. The equipment is developed at the Department of Industrial and Scientific Technology of Hogeschool Diepenbeek, where the cooling technology for this specific cycle was refined. For the most part this process takes place behind the screens: the technology, hidden behind a curtain and a door; the experience of the artist, who has been working with and reflecting on sound for years; all these elements that need to be taken into account for a good understanding of the environment.

In this way Permafrost combines utmost visibility – two glass recipients, filled with the purest water – with optimum invisibility – a machine and artistic and scientific research off the picture. Combined they constitute a whole, the environment responsible for the tension in this work.


Permafrost guides. A visitor observes that, with eyes closed, this is like the sound of a crackling fire. Another hears the rubbing of polystyrene foam. But this is really not appropriate. On the contrary, in stead of shutting one’s eyes the senses should be widely deployed: try to do more than listen, to watch also, to sense and even feel and taste. Move through the environment. Allow yourself to blend into the environment. Let yourself be guided, not only by the installation, but also by the artist that created it.

Aernoudt Jacobs is a didactical musician. I am reminded of a concert, long ago, in a small venue in a tiny town. The artist is standing at a table underneath a screen that projects the image on the laptop in front of him. In the room are sounds, which the spectator can situate by following the movements on the screen. Or I am reminded of ‘Difficulté de comprendre dans le bruit’. The title of this CD is a reference to a problem that can be solved. The pattern in the CD demonstrates the intricacy of the sound and the environment where it ends up to the listener, as well as all those actions that the musician records and that blend into the actions of the listener.

Aernoudt Jacobs guides his audience as he was taught during his studies, as an architect. He mounts and composes modules of sound. This way a construction, a building, a rhythm is realized for moving about. As an architect he often plays partly by ear. There is always some coincidence at play. But it is necessarily calculated. Otherwise the construction falls apart. And it’s hard to live in ruins.

Permafrost is a construction, a building with a need to live. It reveals itself as it is used. Functions, or rather: actions, guide the user and the building. Time is of the essence here. Time, needed to blend into the environment. Time, to become one with the construction. Time that creates a patina, that brings a character of its own to each cycle. Time that takes off the edges. That changes the solidity of ice in the fluidity of water. That blends softness and hardness, precision and feeling.


Two elements, two pavilions, two recipients, create a rhythm. A va-et-vient. An oscillation. A wave. Music. Heat and cold induce a feeling. Thesis and antithesis constitute a synthesis. Soft and hard bring about a conversation. The installation and the spectator create music. One recipient can’t exist without the other. The result is a synthesis of a universe. Of a cosmos: this musician does not need a synthesizer to make cosmic music.