Project background

A major construction site | The Emscher conversion
The Emscher flows about 85 km through the Ruhr region, formerly the site of much coal and steel production, from Holzwickede to Dinslaken, where it empties into the Rhine. The Ruhr area, with about 5 million inhabitants, is one of the largest post-industrial urban conglomerations in Europe.

Since industrialization 80 years ago, this river has been used for sewage as an open wastewater canal. In concrete terms, this means that the river stinks and that access to the river is restricted for safety reasons. Since 1995, this situation has started changing gradually as part of the master plan emscher:zukunft (Emscher future) which, at enormous financial cost, will restore the river and all its tributaries to a natural state by the year 2020. The project as a whole is being carried out by the Emschergenossenschaft based in Essen.

Whereas, a century ago, the original river landscape was intentionally transformed into one of the largest sewage systems in the world, the current development planning is oriented in the opposite direction. The planned recovery of the river landscape is of enormous economic, social as well as architecturally aesthetic significance for the entire Ruhr region.

The development of the new Emscher Valley is unique by European standards. International locations like Amsterdam, Lille or London are also working to improve the quality of life near waterways to make them more attractive to inhabitants. It is especially significant that the residents are more directly integrated in the planning process than formerly and therefore can contribute more significantly to lasting development “right outside their own front doors.”

This socio-cultural aspect of the Emscher reconstruction is to be addressed and artistically treated by the “FlussKlang : RiverSound” project presented here. In this process, the history and the future of migration in the Ruhr region and in the Emscher area plays a special role. Art, not only as a non-verbal form of individual and collective aesthetic expression which transcends words, but also as the manifestation of social identities, should articulate the productive conflict, the mutual interpenetration and superimposition of cultures, the “crossculture” which is a reality along the banks of the Emscher.

The artistic activities in the Emscher area have gained new thrust by virtue of recent cultural and political developments. Essen, as a representative of the Ruhr region, together with the partner cities Pécs in Hungary and Istanbul in Turkey, has been chosen to be the European Cultural Capital in 2010.

For the project idea, this means that immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe and from Turkey will form the crux of the cultural confrontation with the transformation in the Emscher Valley. Furthermore, it is important for this confrontation to be addressed internationally, since questions of water quality and a responsible use of resources is a priority everywhere these days. For this reason it is important that, with time, artists from all over the world should be able to participate in the project.

An example: the Emscherplayer -

Since 2005, interviewers, original sound scouts, acoustic artists and noise collectors in the Internet have been contributing to an acoustic memory bank of the Emscher region and have in the process created an Emscher word and sound-scape which supplements and complements the photo archive of the Emschergenossenschaft with over 200,000 images. Here, commentaries, experiences and stories of the people who live in the Emscher area are collected and stored. Interviews with residents, politicians, construction workers, recordings of prominent citizens from the region, acoustic recordings of technical processes and artistic events are all brought together here and made freely available to the public. Quotations, contributions, sounds, noises, statements, commentaries, emotions, excerpts from presentations, concerts and lectures make up this acoustic memory bank. The Emscher Player is a platform for communication used by various individuals and institutions which invites one to confront the forces of change active in the region.

For the artists involved in the “FlussKlang : RiverSound” project, the Emscher Player offers sound material for integration in their radio plays, sound collages, radio broadcasts, compositions and sound projects.

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the transformation of the Emscher Valley

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