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Emitter Micro Festival 2015


Emitter Micro Festival 2015

“Exp.Berlin gets an upgrade”

Recently Berlin’s experimental sound scene was treated to the biannual Emitter Micro Festival – three consecutive evenings of ‘sound and more’ (according to the program) spread across three different venues in Deutschland’s burgeoning Mecca for intellectual-audio-explorers and weirdo-noise-types. Australian audiovisual artist Scott Sinclair submerged for three days and resurfaced enlightened.

tekst: Scott Sinclair

Unusually for a festival this size in Berlin, the curators – Kris Limbach and Pierce Warnecke – are artists themselves; they receive no funding; nor do they enforce any mandatory themes or topics that might dilute the proven talents of their showcased artists. Rather, Emitter Micro is an extended weekend of illuminating art born from a labor of love with the purest of DIY sensibilities. In the end, the Emitter team are just presenting what they consider to be Good Music. (Budding curators and bedroom DJs take note: adherence to this policy will take you far!).

Buttons

Warm’n’fuzzy feelings aside, the festival program is actually firmly set in the fields of experimental music and sound art performance with a bias towards abstract electronic and audio-visual work. In a somewhat clever move, each night of the festival offers a mix of sets both from traveling artists and Berlin-based practitioners, thereby maintaining an element of surprise to each soiree and also harbouring a dialogue between local and outside approaches to sound practice. “Bravo” to that.

So! Buttons were pushed; sounds were made; speakers were blown; feelings were felt. This is how it all happened…

8-track

If Emitter Micro does have any clear aims, one of them is to hold concerts in locations that do not usually host experimental music. The result of this approach is a Double Win: seasoned noise-heads can get their sound-fix outside of the usual venues; and it’s also a chance to entertain/educate audiences who wouldn’t normally come to your average basement noise club. The concert of Phill Niblock in the festival’s 2013 edition in the Instrumentenmuseum Berlin was a very successful example of this kind of ‘experimental presentation of experimental music’. Now it’s time for the vast halls of Taborkirche Kreuzberg to play host to something quite different from it’s usual Evangelical Christian rituals.

Marta Zapparoli (aka Penelopex) has been known to construct sounds from variety of self-made electronic phenomena, however for this performance she has chosen to make a live diffusion of field recordings and found sounds recorded on tape and 8-track reel-to-reel. Zapparoli chooses to sit anonymously amongst the public, leaving her audience free to focus on the details of her sound collage and to appreciate the architecture of their holy surroundings. Her set is an improvised psychoacoustic journey where one seems to meet gathered collections of sounds, similar but not the same, which displaced from their origins gives a simultaneous familiar and alienating feeling. All of these sounds meet again amongst the degraded beauty of the tape format. A lovely beginning.

Synaesthetic

Put simply, Aspec(t) are an improvised music duo from Naples, Italy, but in actuality their work encompasses a level of progressiveness and complexity which places them outside most ‘avant-whatever’ genre-boxes. With an arsenal of antiquated and self-made electronics (Revox reel-to-emitter micro festival reel, tape machines, contact mics, no-input mixers, etc.), Aspec(t) carefully caresses, scratches, and smashes their installation of instruments to create a brutal yet wholly attentive cacophony of Truly New Real-time Body Music. It is a rare thing to experience a single piece of music where one feels the structures of musique concrète and abstract sound art are on equal terms with the pure energies of harsh noise, power electronics, free improv, and even modern dance electronica.

Additionally, there is a wonderfully synaesthetic visual element to Aspec(t)’s performance as they use various lights to trigger and manipulate sound events. This is no gimmick: one gets the impression that these sounds are a sincere part of Aspec(t)’s musical pallet, with or without illumination. Towards the intense final climax of their set Aspec(t) really starts to makes us feel the specially installed church sound system, as a few single devastating bass hits BOOM through their flowing tapestry of frequencies. Blasphemous and evil… in the best possible way.

Crystalline waves

In contrast to our somewhat gritty/animalistic entrée and main, Jacob Kirkegaard presents a digital sound piece consisting of pure frequencies emanating from a laptop somewhere off-stage. Part of Kirkegaard’s work involves ideas surrounding human sound perception – that is, that by playing a particular combination of osculating tones the receiver’s ears can be stimulated in way whereby they have the impression of sound being created inside their head.

As the crystalline waves of sound started to fill my own head I wondered if I was being manipulated by some unseen quadrophonic speaker system behind me. No such luck: as it happens, I was simply fooled by the artist’s rigour and excellent use of the church’s architecture. As the piece evolves past its demonstrative beginnings, the connotations of military science start to fade into a sense of joyful harmonic purity, as seemingly disparate frequencies eventually come together to make a beautiful drone piece. The perfect dessert

Subtitles

On the second day, in Prenzlauerberg’s Ausland, we begin with a film from Andy Graydon, with footage shot on Super8 film but screened digitally. The film itself is about a man, the narrator, searching for a special place in the forest, but being unable to find it he begins to philosophize about the nature of ‘finding’ and other things. Yes, it’s all very philosophical – which is not bad in itself, the text of the narrator’s reflections seem to be written in good humour, but it is delivered in English with English subtitles. At one stage the subtitles stop while the speaking continues and it appears that this might be an improbable cinematic device, however most of the time it comes across as a strange apology for the narrator’s thick Central-European accent. The film does contain some nice combinations of music with slow abstract black-and-white footage, however when one arrives at no destination one does yearn for a more satisfying journey.

Electric spaghetti

Kasia Justka makes real-time video art using an array of sound and video synthesizers. Noisy sounds with noisy images. It appears that there is an unstable relationship between sound and vision, as often the video seems to react to the sound, but this linkage is not strict in a sense. When the projector turns to black at the beginning of Justka’s set, one wonders if modern ‘smart’ technology will be able to cope with her overflowing suitcase of electric spaghetti.

Fortunately there are no such ongoing issues and we are treated to a full set of analog abstract audio-visual tinkering. Justka’s visual focus is on texture rather than colour – she seems to favour greys and washed-out blues/yellows, which dance around a school of geometric fish in an audible ocean. The performance doesn’t appear to have any recognisable structure until the final moments when Justka removes her self-imposed restraints and introduces some bright colours into the mix. This journey was a bumpy one, but we arrived at our destination all the same.

Post-club electronica

Armed with a laptop and a controller, Frank Bretschneider plays beautifully produced post-club electronica with accompanying video… and it’s fucking KILLER. Actually, to use the term ‘post-club’ does not do the performer justice, although one gets the feeling that Bretschneider is subverting the more club elements of his work to fit in with the sit-down setting. Fine with me. His music is almost entirely made from sine waves, white noise, and the odd drum sample, while his video displays a constant black background with white dots dancing in perfect synchronisation to the sound. The feeling is cold, futuristic, and completely fantastic.

Although the sound and video elements are obviously made with the precision of someone at the highest level of his craft, it’s the structure of the concert that really elevates this performance to genius-like levels. Snippets of rhythmic jamming get interrupted by moments of free-tempo drone and noise in a way that keeps the audience alert and always ready for more. Leaving behind the techniques of guerilla video art, it’s apparent that Bretschneider’s presentation of near-perfect audio-visual synaesthesia is dictated by clear aesthetic decisions and some damn-good computer programming. In this sense, his work is comparable to that of Ryoji Ikeda, but within a distinctive Kraftwerkian tradition. Frank Bretschneider is an influential figure for the future of music, particularly for German electronic music.

Onkyo

Niko LFO opens the final night with a multi-channel diffusion piece entitled ‘Hanzmemorial’, which is evidently inspired by “forgotten avant-garde musique concrète artist Hans Nibler”. Explanations aside, what really matters is that this set is a superb example of how to use minimal materials (in this case: no-input mixer feedback) to construct music with maximum effect. All of the naked artefacts of Niko LFO’s source instrument are present – clicks, pops, high-frequency squeals, low-end hums – but they have been so carefully analysed and selected that the reconstructed composition transports us to a place completely inverted from its improvised beginnings.

The result is a beautifully coherent and original piece – ‘onkyo’ improv meets musique concrète – or East meets West, if you will. As Niko LFO masterfully moves sounds around the quadrophonic system, he also reinvigorates perspectives on the no-input mixer as a rich and varied sound source. (Who needs synthesizers?!). And for these reasons I will now plug his recent release on the Emitter Micro label, which is a generative sound program presented on a limited edition concrete-set USB stick:

Drifting Beds

Jim Haynes plays a pleasing set of soothing drones (probably processed field recordings) with live electricity interventions. To explain in more detail: the drifting bed of Haynes’ field recordings offers a nice organic complexity, while he uses his hands to manipulate amplified lights and other hacked devices which crackle over the top. When the mix between the two is clear it offers a very effective sound world – a kind of bottling of ‘outside’ sounds with an expansion of minute ‘inside’ sounds.

However as the set progresses one gets the feeling that the performer has taken on a little too much to do – that he really needs another good fast-handed improvisor (or mechanical equivalent) to realize his musical concept for the full duration of the set. Nevertheless, the high quality and originality of sounds makes Haynes a winner.

Trick

Unfortunately the same can not be said for best before unu, who are the only real disappointment of the festival. Antonis Anissegos plays prepared grand piano while Andreas Karaoulanis triggers video animations, which are mainly bouncing child-like collage cut-outs. Anissegos basically plays piano in the 20th century serialist style of academic improvisation. When he plays fast he is not impressively virtuosic, and when he plays slow it is not so slow as to give space to the resonance of his preparations. Nor does he seem bothered by what is happening with his partner’s video, or that his extended playing is slowly and surely emptying the audience gallery.

It appears that there is a one-way relationship between the music and the video – the volume of the piano slightly jolts the canvas of the animations. After some of the more considered audio-visual work we’ve already seen at the festival, this comes off as an arbitrary trick. Perhaps this set was a throwback to the early days of multi-media performance, at a time when a collaboration such as this would have been technically edgy, but probably still aesthetically flat. One wonders if we really have anything to learn from such nostalgia.

Overall, curators Limbach and Warnecke should be applauded for bringing a rare level of professionalism to Berlin’s DIY sound scene. With Emitter Micro they showed that it’s possible to successfully stage engaging and stimulating art in the absence of superstars and money by evaluating artists on the strength of their work and being open-minded to presenting in different parts of their city. Many would-be-Berliner-artist/curators would do well to take note.

Taborkirche Kreuzberg (07.05.2015), Ausland (08.05.2015) and NK Project (09.05.2015)

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