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Concert Report/ MADEIRADIG 2010

img  Tobias Fischer

MADEIRADIG 2010 was the seventh edition of a festival which back in 2004 gathered an audience of 30 people in a brand new art center, the Casa das Mudas. Now the festival seems to have reached some perfect state. The audience and the musicians stay in two design hotels that support the project. They are not a small avant-garde elite anymore, it's a group mixing the experimental enthusiasts with curious open-minded people, everyone obviously excited to meet up in a warm, green and everblooming island in winter. 

The Beautiful Schizophonic is a Portuguese duo with a Romantic touch: they sit in front of their laptops (displaying a backlit heart instead of an apple), a video wall behind them showing blurry borders between sea and sky, or more organic forms. They produced layered ambient music with rumbling, granular bass lines, sometimes reminding you of heavy rain and wind noise that would have been amplified. On top of it, some atmospheric melodies unfurled lazily. I would be lying if I said I never heard something like it but it was a delightful, accessible start for the festival's mixed audience and an adequate introduction to ambient music for newbies.

We have illusions about newness in music: most of the time it's only a matter of organizing old stuff. This is not a secret to Grischa Lichtenberger, Berlin-based electronic artist recently admitted in the Raster-Noton family. His mind-bending music combined some good old Alva Noto's and Autechre's characteristics but somehow it felt fresh and new. Lichtenberger showed no parochial obsession for white noise or continuous rhythmic breaks: he used such techniques but not systematically, having more personal things to show. Kneeling on the floor in a comfort-free position and manipulating his equipment, he delivered some IDM/EBM with a glitch-pop edge (sometimes recalling Oval's last albums) and a powerful electro drive while a geeky, pitch-related video was playing in a typical Raster-Noton fashion. Less clinical and one-dimensional than Carsten Nicolai's solos, his approach proved to be open to influences and compromises. In the end, you were left with a furious will to dance.

Along with visual artist Caro Mikalef, Stephan Mathieu did the long version of a work that was part of his Virginals program (see review), I couldn't say if it was still Alvin Lucier's piece. Watching both artists slowly moving ebows on the strings of the small Renaissance instrument like a very serious chess game was already a spectacle. Amateurs of long drones and pure sounds enjoyed the wandering through shifting harmonies and overtones; some others got irritable and couldn't stand the notes hanging forever in the air like a threatening presence. A feeling you could understand and excuse if you slept in the hotel in front of the sea: a storm reached the island at the beginning of the festival and after three days you found yourself sort of disturbed by the wild, ceaseless and haunting sound of waves and wind, longing for a climatic change and a quieter nature. Just like those who wanted to silence the insisting drones to keep their sanity.

The island's wildness allowed for more delicate sounds as well. Bristol-based field recordist Simon Whetham captured some of the island's typical soundscapes (birds and insects hidden in the tropical vegetation, water flowing in the old man-made Levadas canals, wind, inspired raindrops making music) and composed an hour-long epic portrait of Madeira. Teaming up with Whetham, local visual artist Hugo Olim made almost no effort trying to describe the sounds. Instead he made an evocative and highly graphical work with the help of a microscope exploring the tiny yet wide world of damp-loving mosses. Together they were arguably the most representative artists of a festival dealing with digital arts in a peculiar location. The same evening, we attended a screening of short stunning video art films presented by a Berlin-based gallery.

Janek Schaefer looked excited as always. In a brief speech, he presented his 'live composition', a recent work called 'Phoenix and Phedra holding patterns'. Several portable short-wave radios were arranged among the audience, used as additional speakers, giving more depth to the music and space feeling to the audience. The usual speakers were on the stage, for Schaefer chose to switch off all lights and 'manage' the performance from behind. Sitting in total darkness, we entered into Schaefer's composition like in a vast cathedral. The piece was organized like a soundtrack containing several grandiose and often loud episodes with gravity-free sounds and loops, Shruti box drones, and separated from each other by interludes made of transmission-like and field recordings. A stunning voyage.

Like Janek Schaefer, Fenn'Oberg's „Berg“  and Mego label boss Peter Rehberg decided he would sit behind the audience as well, the latter sitting in the dark with no visual input whatsoever (or was there some white shadows on the wall at the end?). It obviously made us all think we attended the birth of a new trend in solving the usual issue: „how to stage a laptop show?“. Is remove all visual input a new alternative to the absence of visible virtuosity during laptop artists' shows? Well, in fact, why not? You pay attention to nothing else than music. Pita produced sounds that flowed like a digitalized torrent, the unpolished,  saturated quality of the music being a striking feature, especially when you compared it to Ben Frost's varied, texture-wise rich sounds. Like an early hardcore punk song, Pita's performance was remarkable for its lo-fi quality and short duration.

But the raw power came from Ben Frost, who made a lasting impression on us all. Those who didn't know his album ‘On the throat' have been ”taken into the woods”, as William Bennett says in a recent interview about what he expects from an intense music performance. Frost's show was loud as hell. He had something of a wild animal, a hyena or something (probably the bone-crushing kind), filling the air with electrical ripping sounds and shameless static. His stage partner perfected his “wolf howling” effects playing on a contrabass. Be it frankly noisy or acoustic instrumental, the narrative was always perfectly controlled — and menacing. The music in itself is unique, made of bits of many styles, from noise to film music, but all tending to darken the atmosphere. I've probably never heard such amounts of loud bass in one show and when several bursts of pure bass, one after the other, resonated at the end, we wouldn't have felt an earthquake. Brutal. Going out of the hall, you wanted to do something spectacular, violent, but you could do nothing because anything would have seemed ridiculous compared to this extreme and cathartic experience.

After Rehberg and Frost, watching Peter Broderick and his side-kick Greg deliver refined  pop songs felt like taking part in a “free hugs” gathering or drinking maracuja juice after black coffee with no sugar. Playing indifferently the piano, the violin or the guitar and singing on almost all songs, he had to employ his warmth and great skills (and maybe a bit of overpoliteness) to convince an audience that was comfortably surprised to suddenly listen to  music with a structure, though the structure was not that rigid. One solo piece brought to mind Michael Nyman's piano music but you could also watch him build his pop songs in real time, playing sampling looping music and singing on it, sometimes walking near the audience or standing on his amp-stool at the same time. As a coda to the festival, it actually worked.

Aftershow sessions took place in the hotel and featured Max Tundra, Berlin-based Djs including MADEIRADIG organiser Michael Rosen and even Stephan Mathieu / Caro Mikaleff who prepared a fine mix of danceable tunes for the occasion. People were drinking, dancing and chatting till late at night, storing phone numbers and optimistically planning to come back next year.

By Antoine Richard

Antoine Richard maintains the Blog „Happily the Future“ dealing with Experimental and Contemporary Art.

Homepage: Madeiradig
Homepage: The Beautiful Schizophonic
Homepage: Grischa Lichtenberger
Homepage: Stephan Mathieu
Homepage: Simon Whetham
Homepage: Janek Schaefer
Homepage: Peter Rehberg
Homepage: Ben Frost
Homepage: Peter Broderick

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