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Festival Report/ Transmediale 2010

img  Tobias

One could argue that a city like Berlin doesn't really need a festival like the transmediale: Even on any regular day, dozens of cinemas, concert halls, clubs, theatres and literary spaces are offering a program that would put the cultural offerings of almost every other metropolis on this planet to shame. And yet, the idea that, for a full ten days, creatives from all over the world meet and stops in their tracks just for one second to reflect on the implications of progress and medial advances fully justifies the event's existence. With its panels, round tables, workshops, exhibitions, installations, movies and a slew of concerts strewn across a variety of sites exploring each and every aspect of human knowledge and understanding, the transmediale is in a way the „expo of the mind“ - a place to share and discuss the arts, philosophy and our very means of communication.

The transmediale's appeal has further profited from the tendency of popular arts and academic topics to converge and overlap. Because technology is no longer a term reserved for geeks and scientist alone (if it ever was, that is), but today touches upon our most fundamental human faculties, the transmediale's themes have become part of everyday life and turned into questions of seminal social importance. Its musings about the future should not be understood as a call for random utopias and visions, but as encouraging a conversation about what we consider important - and what needs to be shelved.

And besides, with its double bill of two festivals in one - tje „transmediale“ and „club transmediale“ - the event was actually simply a lot of fun as well. While the former, at the Haus der Kulturen, a sort of cultural congress hall, had a more of an analytical approach, the latter applied these questions to trending topics with unerring precision. Intriguingly, the same faces kept showing up at events from both festivals – a clear testimony to the permeability of the scenes.

Day one:
Sliding and skating over the entirely frozen path beside the Bundestag (house of parliament), I arrive at the Haus der Kulturen in the afternoon to pick up my press pass. It is still early and the halls of the building are filled with small groups of visitors standing in front of huge flat-screens to watch some of the audiovisual installations or slowly sauntering around its floors in the halflight. I make my way to the „Salon“ for a marathon of discussions and interviews called „Phuturama“. Carefully conducted by Sandro Gaycken, these presentations are at times deep and intellectual or outright freaky and humorous: While Christian Heller races through a short history of cinematic Science Fiction design (in which he explains the current trend of returning to steam punk as a result of a failure to satisfyingly visualise a digital future) and Oliver Handlos expounds on painstakingly precise construction plans for the German Perry Rhodan-series (a sort of dime novel for the astral generation), Holger Logemann stresses the importance of depicting an "imaginable“ rather than a fantastical future in the field of marketing. Alan N. Shapiro, meanwhile, has some truly inspiring ideas for the car of the future: To save valuable space in overcrowded and far too narrow inner cities, cars need to turn into shapeshifters – and could act as a new generation of gaming consoles to boot.

After five hours of talks, the cafeteria is offering some musical enjoyment, as Matthias Fritsch is taking the idea of a visual score to a new level. Performers Shingo Inao and Marco Brosolo are guided by an aerial video, taking them over skyscraping mountaintops and endless canyons, before entering a world of clouds and infinite horizons. Both of them have brought self- or custom-made instruments with them and their interaction is marked by a radical search for new timbres and modes of interaction: While Inao's „Qgo“ looks like a mouse, which he raises to his head and lowers almost to his feet for threateningly sonorous bass rumbles, Brosolo is operating the AST, capable of producing a singing, piercing and poingant tone not unlike a Theremine. Because of their focus on both very high and very low registers, the performance really does capture the sensation of floating on top of a threedimensional space marked by peaks and troughs – a clear sign that Fritsch's concept is working.

After a short break at the Haus der Kulturen's restaurant, I head over to the Babylon cinema for a screening of Richie Hawtin's „Making Contakt DVD“. Unfortunately, the small but delectable record store right next to it is closed, but it is just as much fun just sitting in the impressive main hall and watching it flood with the most diverse people. It is clearly a crowd of fans and friends and after the curtain has fallen, a short clip advertising the upcoming plastikman tour is enough to send cheers of approval and hollers through the auditorium. This is just a taster of what's to come, for „Making Contakt“ truly captures the essence of the 2008-Contakt-tour in all of its excitement and disappointments. There is hilarious laughter when the crew report how the St Andrew's club in Detroit literally started to disintegrate during the set, because the heavy bass-vibrations were causing little pieces of plaster to trickle down from the ceiling to the stage.

Above all, „Making Contakt“ presents the incredible complexity behind the project: Five to six musicians were performing live on stage at the same time, integrating live elements, turntables and digital files. Giant LEDs were showing breathtaking images by Ali Demirel. There was constant email contact with the light- and visual-engineers. Touching an illuminated cube at the centre of the club with your M-Nus membercard uploaded bonus content to your account. And fans from all around the world could send text messages and emails to the concert, some of which were shown on the screens inside the venue. The result was a multimedial presentation somewhere between improvisation, interpretation and imagination and a constantly evolving show. While some thought these underlying ideas irrelevant or distracting, the general sensation was that „Contakt“ was at least at the beginning of something which felt like the future – and therefore fitted the theme of the transmediale perfectly.

Day two:
The afternoon is reserved for an interview with Dimitri Hegemann, eminence grise of the Berlin Electronica-scene and the founder of legendary club Tresor. After the city forced Hegemann out of the original location at the former Wertheim department store, he staged a remarkable comeback two years later and re-established his brainchild as one of the leading venues in Germany's capital. We arrange to meet at five, but because I can't find the place, I arrive late and Hegemann has already left. We talk on the phone and he decides to drive back, pick me up and have the conversation in his car. It is the beginning of an almost two-hour long interview, in which we talk as much about the importance of space and architecture as the club and the associated label. Hegemann has a lot of interesting plans and is set to open a branch in Beijing, his own art festival and to focus on a new, young generation of clubbers and DJs. His ideas for the label, which seemed all but doomed for failure at one point, are downright revolutionary: Tresor will, for example, compile various Beatport tracks, make them available for free to their community and pay the artist by allowing him to perform at the club. Later, at his Kreauzberg-apartment, all high-ceilings and naked walls, Hegemann will show me the upcoming 4-track EP by the Future Beat Alliance from London, which points to a more trancey, Goa-like sound.

After I have left, I randomly stumble into a diner, only to discover Baraka (Lausitzer Platz 6, in case you're interested), one of the most amazing oriental restaurants in town.

In the evening, it's „club transmediale“-time at the WMF. The famous location's unspectacular, but nonetheless inviting new interior has been changed into an indoor festival-area: There are two floors for concerts, a lounge with a live-DJ, a small cafeteria and a tiny record store (from the guys at dense) selling a finely selected assortment of recent Electronica-releases. The line-up for tonight is truly mouthwatering and an hour after the doors have opened, things are already underway.

Dan Friel rocks the club with a crossbreed between a home organ and an acid drum machine. Each track essentially consists of a gargantuan bass-pattern, crushing percussion and incredibly catchy and naive melodies, but the sheer enthusiasm of Friel, who is rocking for- and backwards in a comfortable chair placed right in front  the stage like a headbanger in a trance, is preventing things from ever getting stale.

Discreetly named Canadian quartet Holy Fuck are, however, arguably the highlight of the evening. Their blend between Post Rock, Electronica and Post-Industrial shenanigans, already highly intoxicating on record, is proving utterly irresistible at the WMF. While Brian Borcherdt is shouting entirely incomprehensible blabber into a toy microphone, he is simultaneously battling out toy-synthesizer death-matches with fellow keyboarder Graham Walsh. At the same time, the rhythm section is laying down wave after wave of bewildering patterns, which magically manage to coalesce into overwhelmingly groovy metrums. While there is a certain formula to their approach, Holy Fuck are always offering at least one unique new idea per track, going all melodious in one instant or all slow and dubby in the next. It is the insistence and consistency of their performance, which wins the initially sceptical crowd over completely and turns the entire floor into a rocking, jumping and dancing party-crowd.

Day three:
As if the regular program weren't enough, there is, amazingly, an entire film-festival running all the way through the transmediale. With my schedule so packed, I can unfortunately only check out a single program at the Haus der Kulturen's sizable and comfortable movie theatre – just a tad too comfortable, in fact, as I have troubles fighting my need for sleep after my belated return from the WMF the night before. But what I'm witnessing is powerful enough to keep me awake: Entitled „Long Distance Transfers“, the following two hours are dedicated to the digalogue between the East and the West and will present three movies by Asian and European directors. All of them offer stimulating new perspectives and ideas. Nyein Chan Su's „Near Mandalay“ depicts the commercialisation of religious rites in Bali as a form of doubtful coalition between the worlds. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, meanwhile, has filmed groups of Asian peasants discussing classic Western paintings on rice fields or in the rain forrest. Each scene consists of a single camera position and the conversations of the peasants, as they make strikingly clever or humorous observations. Are these eyes seeing what we see, one is inclined to ask and: What are they seeing what we can no longer see?

„The Exception and the Rule“
by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler differs from these rather sober approaches with its strikingly elaborate visual form. Intricate quotes from cinematic history are juxtaposed with documentary-style passages, experimental images segue into pictures of breathtaking beauty and the film ends with a flood of seemingly unrelated shots underpinned by a montage of spoken word loops. English-language sections are taking turns with Urdu sequences and the overall sensation is equally one of bewilderment and amazement. There is a considerable conceptual depth to this just over half an hour short film and Mirza and Butler raise a lot of thoughtful questions about whether a true dialogue between Asia and Europe can ever take place. And yet, the wordless wisdom behind their movie seems to suggest there is a space for conversation after all, even if one sometimes needs to cut through language and cliche to cut arrive at it.

The only real disappointment of the transmediale arrives when I try to see Charlemagne Palestine perform live on the Organ of the French Cathedral. Apparently, this is a „plus-concert“ for which none of the official passes are valid, but neither I nor anyone else was aware of that. The organisers are also entirely overburdened with the influx of people and within minutes of opening the doors, two separate queues have formed, with some people trying to get out, while everyone's pushing from behind to get in. I leave this sad spectacle behind and quickly take a tram to the HBC, where Thomas Meinecke and Tobias Rapp are supposed to hold nothing more than a thematic talk about music. Surprisingly, their conversation, complemented by listening extracts from their favourite Vinyl records, turns out to be a fascinating debate about songs, tracks, tunes and tools, and a colourful ride through a century of electronic music with plenty of ideas for listening. For me, it is the perfect end to three tightly packed days of ideas and sounds – and proof that one doesn't always need to look into the future to be inspired.

By Tobias Fischer

The banner image shows Ryoji Ikeda's "data.tron [3 SXGA+ Version] (2007 – 09)" - Photo: Ryuichi Maruo.

Homepage: Transmediale
Homepage: Club Transmediale

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