Sound-Visual Installation and Performance

A commissioned work for SWR-Radio, Baden-Baden, for the Donaueschingen Music Festival 1999



HIMMELSLEITER  – The idea behind this installation evolved while I was creating a series of black and white paintings in which I had scratched lines that formed designs resembling ladders, or rope ladders, perhaps, which sometimes tear or do not lead anywhere. The stairwell of the F.F. Kammer provides the perfect conditions for HIMMELSLEITER: 22 gilded strings mounted vertically on the upper end of the steps now obstruct the normal path, but also create a putative link to the heavens above since the open stairwell is covered by a glass-gabled roof into which the gold-plated strings flow. In small, concerto-like performances, I play on the strings, scratching the gold leaf from them. This sound composition is electro-acoustically interwoven with a sound collage pre-produced in a studio, thereby creating on a horizontal level a connection to the vertical lines: a ladder as if in a dream.

Jacob dreamt of a ladder reaching up to the skies above–one which the angels used to move back and forth between Heaven to Earth. A rather absurd idea since everybody knows that angels can fly…or was Jacob’s ladder a pragmatic way of overcoming gravity?

Neil Armstrong had to wrestle with the lack of gravity during his first steps across the moon. He did not encounter any angels up there, but he was also not overcome by a fear of heights. Neil’s Himmelsleiter was progress-based: a rocket had transported him through the universe straight to the moon.

Nowadays, people believe that the entire universe is composed of vibrations and can be scientifically explained based on the so-called “string theory.” Physicists claim that the string theory could close the gap between theories about gravity and elementary particle interactions. Can gravity now be overcome theoretically?

That vibrations in the concrete form of sounds and music have provided people with a universal language and means of expression since the beginning of time is a well-known fact. Occasionally, these vibrations are also able to suggest a subjective state of weightlessness.

I suddenly became interested in the age-old desire of human beings to fly, to be able to soar through the air before one dies. Or, due to scientific progress, actually becoming immortal, and like the angels in Jacob’s dream, being able to go up and down the ladder at will. Yet, despite technological progress, we still suffer from a fear of flying or of heights–the latter, however, having less to do an actual fear of heights than with a fear of falling into the abyss, of plunging into it. Heights as a trap. Practical gravitation. An apparently ambivalent pleasure in floating between two spaces that clearly requires energy. These in-between spaces, these transitional spaces, are marked by tremendous fragility. One can only traverse them when the necessary tools are at hand: quiet notes or sounds can evolve here—fleeting symbols, a scratch, gold leaf floating down. Space becomes timeless. Time, ontological.

HIMMELSLEITER unfolds both visually and acoustically. Poetic intimacy is the goal. Yet the Himmelsleiter’s string can break. And the stairs can become a one-way street.

Caution is advised for those afraid of heights!

Rilo Chmielorz



Press Review:  Donaueschinger Tagblatt, 16./17.10.1999

Donaueschingen Music Festival 1999

 “Asking Questions with Our Work” by Stefanie Saur

The “Himmelsleiter” sound installation and performance by the Cologne-based artist Rilo Chmielorz not only promises a great deal musically, but also optically and philosophically. Chmielorz has stretched 22 piano strings covered with gold leaf at the end of the open staircase in the F.F. Kammer building on Josefstraße. “The 22 strings correspond with the 22 steps of the staircase,” the performance artist explains during an interview. The visitors stand on the grand staircase, seeing and hearing how Chmielorz begins the first part of her performance by plucking at three of the strings.


In the second part of the performance, she rubs the strings with metals thimbles. During the third part, she uses a violin bow to make the strings vibrate, and create a few overtones. In the fourth section, the artist uses steel pins to rub, scratch and strike the chords.


A guilder reapplies the gold leaf after each of the eleven performance as it rubs off, swirls up into the air and then settles on the stairs’ carpet runner. In the process, it also lands on the artists and members of the audience, making one feel a little bit like being a part of the “Sterntaler” (Valley of Stars) fairy tale. But there is a philosophy hidden behind the performance.
Traces scratched in one’s memory
“Himmelsleiter” has nothing to do with the “Himmelsstürmer” (Idealist) of presented at the second to last “Documenta,” although it does address a similar topic. The ladder, theHimmelsleiter, is “for the times when things get existential psychologically,” Chmielorz says. “Though we haven’t achieved a  real ladder with the strings, we’ve nonetheless tried to create rungs.”


For the artist, scratching means leaving traces on one’s memory. Gold is “a bit of a promise” and, at the same time, a bit of transitoriness. Chmielorz sums it up: “With our work, we want to ask questions, not provide answers.” She formulates the question she wants to pose to her audience and listeners as a paradox: “What happens, when nothing else happens?”


Schwäbischer Bote, 19.10.99

Donaueschingen Music Festival 1999

“Ascending the Himmelsleiter on Golden Strings”

by Patricia Graf

…Soft chanting as though being sung by Tibetan monks. That is what greets visitors as they enter the Kammer building. The Kammer’s staircase seems to float up into nothingness. Golden strings are stretched at the end of “Himmelsleiter,” the name given to the installation by the artist, Rilo Chmielorz. A quarter tone motif sounds out hesitantly at first across the weave of sounds, then gains momentum. The rumbling, thundering sound of the strings is amplified by the ethereal singing of angels. “Himmelsleiter” seems to be leading the visitors up to the realms of God’s wrath.


Stuttgarter Nachrichten, 21.10.1999

Donaueschingen Music Festival 1999: Celestial Sounds, Performances, Puzzles

“The Teeter-Totter of Noise and Hiss” by Dieter Kölmel

… Celestial sounds murmur to the visitors as they enter the Fürstenberg Kammer building. Riolo Chmielorz has transformed the building’s staircase into a “Himmelsleiter.” The 22 golden piano strings, which obstruct the path to the top of the staircase, connect the pitch-black room with the blue eternity beyond the glass roof above. The artist stands behind the strings–looking like a gold-foil Christmas tree angel, plucking and strumming the chords, pounding on them, causing the gold dust to flutter around her ears.


Südkurier Konstanz

Donaueschingen Music Festival 1999

 “Storming the Ivory Tower” by Stefan Dettlinger


Both “Totodonaueschingen” and the vivid “Himmelsleiter” performance by the Cologne-based artist Rilo Chmielorz could end up taking on the role of mediator for contemporary sound art. They relay subject matter that would normally remain inaccessible to most novice recipients by incorporating abstract music into a form of theatrics, thereby setting the stage for an association avalanche. Whether or not composers dwelling so happily in the ivory tower actually welcome that as a development is uncertain.

Übersetzungen/Translations: Louisa Schaefer, Cologne/Germany