Gregor Hildebrandt
Wo du mich liebst beginnt der Wald
15.Jul–22.Oct 2022
Perrotin, Shanghai

Wo du mich liebst beginnt der Wald
(Where you love me begins the forest)

If it wasn’t for a friend in the art world, my memory as a former record producer would have slowly evaded me under the passage of time. The era of the record, as I call it, is the era when music was carried on a physical medium. Then comes digital technology, a sharp blade that has divided the music industry into two disjointed worlds, the physical and the virtual. As someone who entered the industry during the vinyl era, I experienced music’s transformation from vinyl records to cassette tapes, tape cartridges, and then CDs and DATs. During the same period, I was also involved in video production in the form of VHS, VCDs, and LDs. The 1990s witnessed the emergence of digital music and the rise of the internet. Music websites thrived after 2000, and gradually gained the upper hand over the recording industry. Veering from physical, discretionary releases, music dived head first into a digital, ‘all-you-can- eat’ era. Physical vessel is no longer a prerequisite for music, since music is always readily available online.

It was an irreversible leap. In the time of physical music, vinyl records and cassettes have two sides. The A-side and B-side together structure a complete narrative. This format not only allows musicians to dwell upon an overarching theme with a specific arrangement of music tracks, but also invites listeners to experience music as originally intended, thus reading into the messages embedded within. And that was how the creator and the audience reached out to each other. In the digital age, however, exchanges as such have long since disintegrated. A song is more likely an output of commercial interest, sprinkled with a few creative sparkles. Data-driven and fragmented, music is rushed to the shelves to satiate our insatiable appetite. The change, I must say, is inevitable after all, and there is no need to lament upon it. Yet I could not help but revel in the discovery of an artist as such—he revives vinyl records, cassettes, and VHS as art mediums, and with a distinctively conceptual approach, he restores the sensory experience and spiritual elevation they once carried. In this day and age, the significance of producing a complete album is often brushed off as Tik-Tok snippets and hit singles become the definition of success. But here he is, recreating the volume, dynamism, richness and poetry of the physical music era with a remarkable amount of artistic sensitivity and imagination.

I have often felt that among literary and artistic creators, artists are the most honest narrators of our bodily experiences. For that matter, they surpass writers and musicians. Whilst words and notes are impossible without rules and standards, art remains open to greater possibilities. Gregor Hildebrandt testifies this belief perfectly. Even though physical music belongs to the days of yore, he still insists upon revealing the value of its material form and, through artistic metamorphosis, touches the heart.

The vinyl records and cassette tapes that once carried the music reappeared before my eyes in artistic form, conveying thoughts and emotions in a profound and tangible way. It is a feeling that words cannot describe. Each piece of work, visible to the naked eye and within the reach of hands, caught the viewers off-guard. It opens the gate to forgotten memories that we once hold dear to ourselves.

Old age has rendered me a runaway from memories, and especially my first 15 years in music industry. That was the time when I collected music albums and video works shelf after shelf at home out of passion simple and true, leaving behind an intellectual and emotional record. In retrospect, I was living in a work of art, an installation of time even. Whereas the contemporary reality we share is one where listening to music is no different from watching a short video, consumed and forgotten in a single swipe. The music continues, but the quality is no longer the same.

In his work, Hildebrandt weaves the black and brown cassette tapes into a sail. The cross-section serves as a ground to walk and dance on. Vinyl records are either shaped into chess pieces or pieced together into walls. When music is dematerialized, uploaded to the cloud, and dismembered for quick buys, Hildebrandt restores music to its material form in reticence. It is a powerful silence and an embodied presence that recalls, moves, and inspires, ready to set sail.
Kindred spirits are connected through great artworks. Hildebrandt’s creation is at once a sail and a painting, strumming the chord deep inside me.

Text: Chien Yao