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Concert Review/ T.I.T.O. (The International Turntable Orchestra)

img  Tobias

For curious and trained ears, the TITO project was an unmissable four-day event for experimental sounds in Berlin. It took place at the Akademie der Künste and gathered 16 of the most proficient experimental turntablists in the world: Claus Van Bebber, Maria Chavez, Dieb 13, eriKm, Wolfgang Fuchs, Philip Jeck, Joke Lanz, Katsura Mouri, Martin Ng, Arnaud Rivière, Marina Rosenfeld, Martin Tétreault, Takahiro Yamamoto, Flo Kaufmann, Jan Zimmerman and Ignaz Schick, the initiator of the festival, also running his very active production platform Zangi Music.

The festival opened with all of them standing and performing Christian Marclay's piece 'Recording Players' which presents the life and death of about 30 vinyl LPs. Getting nail-scratched, bent, hit, broken in pieces and finally walked over, the records are used as raw material to produce sounds without any player. This Fluxus-inspired piece whose meaning was to free music from its captivity, has been first performed in 1982, when LPs were the main distributed format. It surely lost some impact since then, but proved a lot of fun to watch as a live performance: you could notice some performers grinning when destruction became a part of the work.

Unconventional techniques in music are not new. Ignaz Schick named Karl Valentin as a pioneer of turntablism: in his 1934 short film ‘Im Schallplatenladen’ (At the record store), a customer tries to buy a record but eventually only makes a mess in the store, experimenting unwittingly with records and gramophones. You find that same humorous disrespect in the score of Hindemith's Suite 1922 for piano: some provocative directions tell the performer to ‘forget everything [he/she has] learned in [his/her] piano lessons’ and ‘consider the piano as an interesting kind of percussion instrument’. We can assume that all this comes from early anti-art Dada movement in the 1910s and 1920s. ‘We had lost confidence in our culture, recalled Janco, one of the founders. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the tabula rasa. At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.’ Outside of breaking the rules, two other elements are at the heart of experimental music: improvisation, which has been enriched by a closer contact of the western world with jazz and non-western music (Indian, Arabic, Chinese music for instance) ; and chance, that Cage brought up successfully in his music, 150 years after the 'Melody Dicer' composition game in which even Haydn and Mozart took part.

After TITO's opening, all performances would be either compositions and concepts for orchestra, or solo performances and direct confrontations (duo, trio, quartet). On the first day, you could attend some public rehearsals of Schick's structured improvisation (‘Archival Drift – 12 Structures for Turntable Orchestra’) with all turntablists and their turntables arranged in a T-shape and Schick in the middle, conducting with simple  signs of his hand. The players could use and distort any material in the first movement, then use only sound effect records in the second, then only electronic, electro-acoustic and musique concrète records in the third, and so on. The first rehearsal was oddly good. With so many participants, you quickly found yourself pleasantly lost in an ocean made of inspiring sounds, from white noise to sampled symphonies or natural sounds, as though you were tuning an old radio and picking up intriguing interferences. You could hear some players delivering some long low background sound, or bringing their ideas to the forefront, and others being reactive on everything, suggesting unheard collages.

Aside from playing together as a large group, the members of the orchestra had the opportunity to work and perform in smaller formations. It was hard to attend every gig but we heard several thrilling duo-confrontations: Ignaz Schick with Ng, dieb13 with Marina Rosenfeld and later with Wolfgang Fuchs, Philip Jeck with Claus von Bebber, the Japanese duo Busratch, and Joke Lanz with Martin Tétreault. Lanz (aka Suddent Infant), a Berlin-based performer with punk noise roots, and Canadian improviser Tétreault may have given one of the best performances on the festival. Giving their turntables a hard time, both played some kind of match with unbridled dexterity and restless energy, hitting strokes like short alarm signals and leaving you speechless at the end. You also heard the noise of a baby screaming, soon swallowed by a wave of dusty old-record sound. Pure coincidence or not, a repeated sample sounded like the opening of Gainsbourg's ‘Je t'aime, moi non plus’, making an offbeat commentary on the performance.

It is impossible to talk about every performance in a review, but one thing is sure: the way this four-day festival combined solo, small and large formations, compositions and improvisations, was ideal for the audience and presumably the artists as well. It was a stimulating introduction to experimental sounds for novices, and at the same time an exciting occasion to explore individual styles and techniques and go further into the different facets of a performer onstage. We are looking forward to a second edition.

By Antoine Richard

Antoine Richard is founder of „The V Sessions“, an online portal offering streaming video sessions by artists from the world of classical and contemporary composition as well as sound art.

Homepage: TITO Festival
Homepage: Zangi Music

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