[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or the third time its relaunch in 2013 the Berlin Atonal took place in Kraftwerk Berlin’s immense space of which the main and the installation area made up the major part. From the 19th to the 23rd of August the massive building was filled with hundreds of people who wanted to both hear and see the who is who of the experimental art scene and their newest works.
The old power plant turned festival venue is an impressive location, to say the least. It’s rich in space, steel, and concrete, which provided an hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. The main stage was sporting a projector screen of Brobdingnagian size, ensuring that the visual performances were as prominent as their aural counterparts.
As announced in our preview of the festival, the lineup of this year’s Berlin Atonal – originally founded by Dimitri Hegemann in 1982 – was a promising one and it consisted of many a world premiere. There was always something to see, even if the musician on stage wasn’t collaborating with any visual artist. It goes without saying, however, that even a sophisticated light show was no match for the specially tailored visuals that many performances had to offer. A list of highlights of the Berlin Atonal 2015 below.
SUMS: Kangding Ray + Barry Burns
The world premiere of SUMS, a collaboration between Kangding Ray and Barry Burns of Mogwai, was one of the performances I was most eager to hear. Not least because Kangding Ray’s Solens Arc ranks high in my list of the greatest albums of 2014 – and if you have yet to give it a listen, you definitely should do so. The deep rhythms and noisy sounds – sometimes rather militaristic and repetitive – of Kangding Ray combined with the varying instrumental additions of Barry Burns were an excellent mix, the conglomerate of both formed a very balanced soundscape.
Kangding Ray has already uploaded a two-minute-long video on his official YouTube channel. You can watch it right here to get an idea of this great collaboration:
Sonno and Immediate Horizon
Alessandro Cortini, perhaps best known for his works as long time member of Nine Inch Nails, presented his solo works with the first live performance of Sonno (2014) and, together with Lawrence English, their collaboration Immediate Horizon. It might have been the festival of innovation in sight and sound, but the duo decided against using any visuals. For a while the only purpose of the projector screen was to display a few words, asking the recipients to sit, or preferably, to lie down in order to enjoy the performance the fullest. Their sound was not only audible, but also tactile. A deep humming could be not just heard, but also felt – to the point of it blowing up dust from the concrete floor. Visualizations would’ve been a distraction.
The opposite stands true for Cortini’s Sonno. The beautiful visual work that accompanied it was a dreamy and eerie sight and thus it fit like a glove, for both dreamy and eerie could be used to describe the dark ambient album that is Sonno. It was provided by Sean Curtis Patrick. Here’s an example, though neither from Berlin Atonal nor a live recording, of just how well these two artists go together:
Ugandan Methods‘, composed of Ancient Methods and Regis, fast-paced beats and their industrial, yet primal music has benefitted greatly from the venue – which couldn’t possibly be more industrial – and its intimidating atmosphere. During their entire performance the screen showed repeating scenes from Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928). Abrasive sounds in the ear; violence, fire, and Jesus on the screen. The religious imagery helped to transform the venue even further into a ritual ground. At some point, as rhythmic movements slowly turned into one, the audience seemed like a moving monolith.
CoH + Frank
Experimental musician Ivan Pavlov, the man behind CoH, can look back on a long music career that is rich in terms of solo works and collaborations (notably with Jhonn Balance and Peter Christopherson of Coil, the latter with whom Ivan should later form Soisong together). He and visual artist Tina Frank collaborated on several occasions ever since they’ve met during a party in the city of Vienna in 2000. The result are harsh electronic beats and high pitched noises that meet flickering, colorful gradients within lines and waves, swiftly changing form, and flowing up and downwards on the screen. The – sometimes glitchy – rawness in sound and aesthetic is the artists’ common ground, it makes for a great combination and an amazing performance to see live.
Their first live gig was in Vienna in 2013 and gives a good impression of what happens when CoH and Frank meet on stage. It can be found on Tina Frank’s Vimeo:
Something to keep an eye on: There’ll be an interview with Ivan Pavlov and Tina Frank published on Post-Punk soon.
Outside the Dream Syndicate
Another top-class part of this year’s Berlin Atonal was Outside the Dream Syndicate, a 40-year-old collaboration of Tony Conrad and the Krautrock band Faust. Their performance was their first on-stage re-union in 20 years, however, not a bit rusty. Even if one was oblivious of previous fact: Their minimal pieces, dominated by Conrad’s violin and Diermaier‘s pounding drum, were remarkable. It was admittedly not much to see, but that’s perhaps because of the high expectations that one inevitably developed due to most of the previous shows’ eye candy.