From the Archives: Nerve Theory


Nerve Theory is the collaborative identity of Vienna-based composer and sound artist Bernhard Loibner and Tom Sherman, a pioneering video artist, writer and professor for at Syracuse Univeristy (NY, USA). Loibner and Sherman began performing and recording together in 1993. They were introduced by Heidi Grundmann for collaborations broadcast and webcast by Kunstradio, a radio art program of the ORF’s national radio network. In 1998 they formed Nerve Theory, and have since collaborated on numerous live performances, network appearances, audio and video recordings. For their live performances they developed a special mix of spoken word/narrativ, video projection and live electronic music they call “Vidsonics”. Their work has been released on several CDs and DVDs and was presented on numerous festivals for media and video art. Amongst other appearances they performed together at Recycling the Future 1998, Ars Electronica Linz 1999, Elektra Montreal 2001 and Konzerthaus Wien 2005.

About this selection of recordings:

H5N1 live @ Palace Theatre is an excerpt of a live audio-visual performance in Hamilton, NY, USA in 2007. The material of this live performance is related to a series of 37 short radio pieces with the same title they did for Kunstradio-Radiokunst and which was broadcast on the austrian public radio throughout the year 2006.

We live in a world of Strangers is one of the short radio pieces of the H5N1 series of radio pieces. Loibner & Sherman used the idea of the evolving, mutating H5N1 virus as a launching pad for a series of statements about the world we live in. Every episode marked an update on the journey of the H5N1 virus as it mutates into other kinds of creatures that violate our privacy and threaten our lives. A selection of H5N1 pieces was publish on CD-R by voicepondance in 2007, excerpts of the series were presented as audio installation at the Human+ – the future of our species exhibition in Dublin, Ireland in 2011 and at Weserburg, Museum für moderne Kunst, Bremen in 2012.

This is a live recording of an audio-visual performance at the Elektra Festival in Montreal, Canada in 2001. The Disconnection Machine pt.3 featured three channels of video on three three large video screen, showing a counterpointing flow of images from public webcams and private video footage. The text reflects on the fact that the privat self has become public while the public domain has increasingly become private (a fact that is all too obvious these days but wasn’t back then). The music pushes hard during that part of the performance leaving Sherman’s voice struggling against the rhythmic structures and bursting noises and bleeps.

The piece originates in a live radio/web performance titled “earshot” that Sherman and Loibner realized together with Austrian sound artist Bernhard Gal and Syracuse based artist Peter Forbes for Kunstradio-Radiokunst in 2000. The performance was a reflection on a media scenario that established live audio streams and public webcams as modes of presentation and thus turned everyone with a computer and internet access into a sender/receiver and at the same time a well observed user. For the original performance we used public webcams, audio streams and telephone lines as sources for a live radio mix in the radio studio in Vienna. Half/Lives was also featured in a video piece by Tom Sherman with the same title which is composed entirely of images from public web cams and which has been shown on dozens of international video art festivals throughout the years.

Nerve Theory at Human+ exhibition

H5N1 banner image

A selection of Nerve Theory‘s (aka Bernhard Loibner & Tom Sherman) series of short audio works titled H5N1 is part of the exhibition Human+ – the future of the species opening on April 15, 2011 at Science Gallery in Dublin, Ireland. Amonst Nerve Theory and other artists the exhibition features work by Stelac and Eduardo Kac. The exhibition is open for the public until June 24, 2011.

H5N1 was originally produced in 2006 for Kunstradio a regular Sunday evening program on Austria’s Public Radio ORF dedicated to radio art. We used the idea of the evolving, mutating H5N1 virus as a launching pad for a series of statements about the world we live in. In the end the collection consisted of 37 short radio statements featuring Tom Sherman’s voice and text put into motion by my musical intervention (you can listen to the series here, it is also available as podcast here).

Nerve Theory has shadowed the deadly H5N1 virus as it has spread in waves across and throughout the media environment, mutating into an epidemic of concerns so troubling and close to home that we often find ourselves imprisoned in a darkness of fear. In response to this confinement, Nerve Theory suggests that black humor is oftentimes our best defence.

A selection of the H5N1 series was also published on a CD-R released by the Voicespondence label in Canada in 2007.

Disconnection Machine by Nerve Theory

This is a documentation video of a performance by Nerve Theory aka Bernhard Loibner and Tom Sherman at Elektra Festival 2001 at Usine C in Montreal, Canada. It is a great venue and we had this 3 huge video screens behind us on stage and a nice crowd following our performance.

Note 1: This took place just a few weeks after 9/11 and we came from another performance in Syracuse, NY. The propaganda machine was running at full throttle, Anthrax was right on top of the new, hysteria everywhere in mainstream media, star-spangled banner on every house, definitely the most scary visit to the US so far.

Note 2: On the day of my flight back to Europe a plane crashed in NYC so there was fear of new terrorist attacks (of course not the case). However, the news about the crash was on all screens, even on the airport. I have never watched news about a plane crash while waiting to board since.