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Concert Report/ Transmediale 2010

img  Tobias

Transmediale/CTM is dedicated to media art and digital culture. I would be losing myself if I had to tell you more about this complex 'joint venture' festival, whose 2010's theme is FUTURITY NOW. The performances reviewed here are only audiovisual works. All in all, these gigs suggested three different and pretty astonishing ways to combine sounds and pictures beyond the conventional illustration of music. An occasion to catch a glimpse of the likely future developments of the sound/image relationship.

Live at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Feb. 3rd, 2010

Jürgen Reble / Thomas Köner, Materia Obscura

Dark matter is undetectable and hypothetical. Materia Obscura could be perceived as an attempt at a poetic voyage through it. Reble gathered and scanned several thousands of chemographs, which are like paintings made with the materials used by a photographer (photographic paper and chemicals). When projected and processed live on a screen, they are revealing a previously unknown world.
In the beginning, the world is only a small irregular blue ellipse (or spheroid?) coming from the middle of the screen and slowly filling the whole screen: it is only now that you can see what is contained inside the ellipse: magical landscapes of the infinite small/big, mysterious colours that remind you of some symbolic paintings, fascinating textures like lichens on an old tree trunk. The shifting landscapes evolve through subtle morphing and other computer-generated effects. Watching the pictures is like travelling but you don't seem to go through any matter at all, these shifts must occur beyond our four dimensions. Abstract details are slowly moving, even breathing one could say, and the music's rhythm follows the pulse of a sleeping body experiencing a quiet yet adventurous dream.
Köner's music, meanwhile, could be an inspiring and almost realistic soundtrack to a new 'Fantastic Voyage' inside the human body. There are continuous bass tones mostly playing the role of an amniotic fluid but sometimes revealing hidden pockets of angst. There are some weary Basinsky-like loops too, and a few more audible elements. But sometimes you don't even notice the music: the work is focused on the moving images and the sounds are the invisible force that helps you get absorbed in them, as if you were under the gravitational field of the “black hole” screen. Later, the ellipse which appeared at the beginning can be distinguished again and you know this world of dark matter is now leaving you. It is getting smaller and smaller, soon lost and invisible in the middle of the screen. 'Trippy', says someone with a flaky smile in a row before me. Time to wake up. In five minutes, Ryoji Ikeda won't let anybody drift off.

Ryoji Ikeda, Test Pattern
Ikeda's Test Pattern is a multimedia project based on a real-time conversion of sounds (and any other data, apparently) into barcodes and binary patterns, whose projection on a screen, the curators warn at the beginning of the show, is not suitable for epileptic people. When it starts, Ikeda throws in a single medium tone that slowly climbs higher and higher; at the same time, thick horizontal black lines are getting thinner and thinner on the screen while moving vertically. This first pattern is simple and you understand something: bass tones make thick lines, high tones make them thin. But when the visuals become rhythm-based too, it gets more complicated and you wish you had brought your sunglasses.
The performance is made up of small pieces, like variations not on a theme but on a system: a kind of futuristic Goldberg Variations. The purely digital sounds remind you somehow of the old dial-up internet connection, although there is no nostalgia in the music: it's a clean, clinical, morse-like language for technologically-configured brains capable of dealing with entropic systems. As usual with Raster-Noton sounds, these bleeps and blasts have an impressive range in frequency and the visual work is highly graphic (a stunning translation of these arythmic patterns). Ears and eyes are on the same wavelength, undergo the same shocks, witness the same superhuman mathematical beauty. From time to time you wonder whether these clicks and cuts are just a tickling à la Japanese or something meant to be deeper and troublesome. After 45 minutes of blinding audiovisual flashes, in the middle of a complex and mindblowing climax full of highpowered bass tones, the music stops abruptly, the screen and the auditorium turning black. The patron saint of the epileptic quickly closes his laptop, and within the blink of an eye he's gone. Now you are alone in the darkness with your scientifically-chiseled brain. It does hurt a little bit, but maybe we just had a very close encounter of the third kind: —re, mi, do, do (octave lower), sooool!


Live at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Feb. 4th, 2010

artificiel, POWEr
Again, at the beginning, you are told not to attend the performance if you wear a pacemaker or have regular epileptic seizures... For the German premiere of POWEr, a piece commissioned by Mutek festival, a Tesla coil has been installed in the middle of the stage, surrounded by microphones and cameras. On the side, Montreal-based artists Alexandre Burton and Julien Roy from artificiel are controlling the device at a safe distance. The Tesla coil generates visible high-voltage alternative current between the terminals. Its activity is the one and only audiovisual source for POWEr. When electricity is discharged, sonic shock waves can be heard and small purple lightnings flood out. From where they are, not only can the artists  modulate the voltage frequency that creates the arcs of electricity and generates the sounds but they can also monitor what is being projected on the screen.
Basically, it's like watching and hearing a fire in a fireplace, except that the fire is artificially put on on demand here. You feel like one of those kids with a passion for science. The plasma filaments are not that huge (a mere half-meter) though, but the cameras film and project them on a big vertical screen. In real time the duo chooses either to display the low regular activity of the coil (amazing how the result always looks like a bare tree) or to freeze and overprint the shots of several arcs on the screen so as to show an armful of sharp light branches when they trigger numerous blasts one after the other.
Despite the unique source, the range of sounds is richer than expected. From the glitchy high-voltage buzzing to the brisk crackles and spars, not forgetting the deep and massive blasts, all of these uncanny sounds are worth listening to. The piece in itself is made up of several short sequences, organized and/or improvised. The last minutes you can hear a quiet hummnig minor third, wandering like a fragile melody, and you realize how poetic it could get. Alas, two bangs put an end to the performance. Not having smelt the peculiar odor of ozone remains my main disappointment. Piece of advice: sit in the front row.

By Antoine Richard

"Test Pattern" image: Photo Ryuichi Maruo, courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM)

Homepage: Transmediale

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