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Festival Report/ Echtzeitmusiktage 2010

img  Tobias Fischer

«We had no money, no grants, no institutional support, and little critical attention, but we had the one crucial ingredient an insurgent cultural scene needs in order to flower: cheap rent. Cheap rent, I learnt, is far more important to fostering a vital art scene than grants, galleries, and so on.» (Bob Ostertag about life in the East Village of Manhattan in th end of the 70s. In Creative Life, University of Illinois Press.)

Cheap rent is probably what makes Berlin's improv and experimental scene so attractive for German or foreign artists, and therefore so lively. Most musicians playing for the Echtzeitmusiktage, Mika Vainio, Jan Jelinek, Tony Buck, Burkhard Beins, Antoine Chessex, Werner Dafeldecker, Joke Lanz, Thomas Ankersmit, Lucio Capece and many others, live or spend most of their time in Berlin. In this context, a festival gathering all those residents was a duty and a blessing. I attended as many gigs as I could, even so I surely missed a lot.

SINK (Chris Abrahams, Andrea Ermke, Arthur Rother, Marcello Silvio Busato)
PERLONEX (Ignaz Schick, Joerg Maria Zeger, Burkhard Beins)
HEAVEN AND (Martin Siewert, Zeitblom, Tony Buck, Steve Heather)

09/09/2010 – That night, Stephan Mathieu produced insisting or soothing drones inside what looked like a square attic or an old theater with decrepit halls. Not being much into contemporary theater or dance, I didn't know the Sophiensaele, which proved to be a perfect venue for this kind of concerts, atmosphere-wise and acoustics-wise. Behaving like a humble engineer, Mathieu “played” three compositions with an uncanny precision.
In the first one, Alvin Lucier's Music for Piano with Magnetic Strings, Mathieu used the tiny wooden keyboard instrument that the English and Flemish were so enthusiastic about in the 17th century: the virginal. Placing and moving several ebows (small electromagnets used primarily with electric guitars) along the horizontal strings, he made them sing abstract pitches by themselves. I couldn't say if the micro-movements done by Mathieu were part of the written composition but the result was in a way highly graphical, like several flat tints crossing each other, creating new colours, shaping ambiguous harmonies. Sometimes you heard one string resonate physically (probably an artifact) when being hit by the ebow, and you recalled the fragile sound of the instrument. Indeed, the only frustration of this performance was not to hear one of Byrd's beautiful and elegant pavans as en encore—for provocation's sake and our edification.
Francisco Lopez's Untitled #92 was a mystery in sound. Normally played through gramophones, the version we heard was for “cassette recordings of 4 gramophones and equalizer”. Dense vinyl crackles, distorted scratches were being repeated all along, like a disintegrated loop that wouldn't die, but rather enter an afterlife as a ghost. What does it sound like? Maybe huge amounts of rain hitting the rocks, echos of a raging sea heard from a cave, a wild, black and white landscape. You decide. This hauting skeleton music, with its own crepitating and shifting rhythms, was a pure poetic voyage.
The last piece was a short version for Philicorda electronic organ of Charlemagne Palestine's Schlongo!. Following Palestine's instructions, Mathieu jammed several keys of the instrument down with bits of folded paper. As he switched it on, a whirlpool of sound and overtones filled the hall. The sound texture was unusually palpable in the air and even though it didn't last three hours like the original performance, you could easily get drowned and let your mind question your perception, play with it; the vibrating space was a playground for your senses.

10/09/2010 – The next night was brilliant. Sink, a synth-sampler-guitar-drums quartet, did impress. Sitting at his Yahama DX7 synthesizer (“in terms of a live performer, he said in an interview, I’d say I’m a piano player and a fledgling DX7 player”), The Necks' key member Chris Abrahams did the minimum to impress though. Not at all portraying the common pianist-leader in a jazz band, he rather took the sidekick's role: most of the time he was choosing the one and only key his forefinger would be going to press for the next ten minutes. A band's alchemy is always obscure but one thing is sure: he was in good company. Guitarist Arthur Rother played sketches of melodies, soap bubbles of harmonies destined to inspire his partners. Wearing a silver sequin dress, Andrea Ermke suggested background soundtracks with a sampler and mini-discs full of field recordings that subtly gave a sonic frame, a sense of narration. Marcello Silvio Busato did a fantastic job, his skillful and imaginative drumming bringing new ideas, adding new sensations. It's hard to describe what kind of music they built and how they built it, but I'm pretty sure they achieved together what composers like Debussy were often aiming at: true musical exoticism, and without the usual ethnic elements. A real-time, contemplative description of an unmapped and mysterious country.
Following Sink on stage, Perlonex (pictured) was a darker and more disruptive experience whose content might have narrated the frightening journey necessary to reach the quieter country Sink described before. Ignaz Schick had before him a table fully covered with objects and a turntable (no vinyls); on his left some hidden electronic equipment. Excited like a kid with new toys, he jumped around from his seat whenever he could interact with his partners, create amplified noise by putting objects and hand cymbals directly on the turntable's metal plate, or inject electronic bursts here and there. While Burkhard Beins was busy experimenting on his drum kit with stunning results, using objects, hand percussions, a bow and a zither, guitarist Joerg Maria Zeger seemed to be the binding element. On his seat and reaching at least eight foot-pedals, he patiently built a warm electric cocoon that transformed itself into magma during the climaxes. All in all, a well deserved slap in the face.

10/09/2010 – The first part of the concert, a program of jazz standards and Italian canzoni interpreted by German singer Margareth Kammerer, was more conventional than anything else you could hear within the frame of the festival. Three years ago Kammerer curated and took part in a performance of John Zorn's Cobra, along with Ignaz Schick, the curator of the Echtzeitmusiktage 2010. Visibly appreciated in Berlin, she should have even felt a family atmosphere, judging by a 3 year-old boy wriggle or run in front of her. Singing with a clear (but not clean-cut) voice with eerie treble tones, she delivered moments of humourous and delicate melancholy, first alone with a guitar, then accompanied by various musicians, from singer Big Daddy Mugglestone for a version of Mina's song ‘Parole parole’ to Steve Heather, one of... Heaven And's drummers. As delightful as it was, hearing the second gig obviously felt like pogo dancing in comparison.
There was something surprising in Heaven And's performance. You could tell it was not improvised all along but the band delivered some compelling music all the same. Both drummers, Tony Buck (another member of The Necks) on the left, Steve Heather on the right, sit face to face and often gazing at each other smiling, were responsible for the fascinating, effortless and powerful groove. Bassist Zeitblom obviously helped make the beat irresistible. But guitarist Martin Siewert led the whole performance, informing with a guitar move or a hand gesture of the next abrupt break. Indeed the music was either direct and propulsive (everybody playing more or less on the beat) or more ruminative and free. Siewert used electronics to make his contribution richer and he also played a small lap steel guitar for a very bluesy, dreamy ballad. Despite catchy melodies and rythmic drumming, the band's aesthetics sounded rather unorthodox, like a curious cocktail of psyche rock, noise and forward-thinking jazz.

To be continued ...

By Antoine Richard

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

Image by Ingo Scheffler

Homepage: Echtzeitmusiktage Berlin
Homepage: Sophiensaele Berlin
Homepage: Stephan Mathieu
Homepage: Chris Abrahams
Homepage: Andrea Ermke
Homepage: Arthur Rother
Homepage: Marcello Silvio Busato
Homepage: Perlonex
Homepage: Margareth Kammerer
Homepage: Heaven And