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Sounds from the Pregnant Oyster

img  Antoine Richard
article image

Exhibitions, workshops, screenings, afternoon talks and up to five or six concerts every evening/night taking place in six different venues during seven days: a group of unemployed music fans or carefree students couldn't make it all, and I'm not even talking about the other partner festival, Transmediale, occuring at the same time. "Gloriously overloaded" as they say, CTM is one big sprawling superfunded festival dedicated to non-mainstream and less supported music. This year focusing on the theme of The Golden Age the curators wants us to, quote unquote, reflect on the (over-)abundance of music in the modern world, and its consequences for individuals, aesthetics, politics, and economy.

Not able to take in this year's overload of music, here's what I managed to attend.

TM404 is Swedish producer Andreas Tilliander's new live project. Already well-oiled it possibly represents the missing link between the quite different aesthetics of Basic Channel and Bellows. Analog sounds sway to the beat like in the more melodic tracks of the Italian duo and a powerful bassline with the right amount of reverb and delay gives the music its catchy groove. The Berlin sound is clearly an inspiration but it's not minimal, you can feel that the man onstage has more than one outfit, which suit him. Using the term 'bassline' to describe Emptyset would be nonsense as bass is almost the only ingredient in the Bristol-based duo's music. I can see some people getting ready, taking earplugs out of their pockets. Pounding bass comes out of the Funktion One speakers—thick, chunky, granular. Joanie Lemercier's visuals are projected on a big screen above the performers' heads; the first half hour is beautiful to watch: a smooth waveform vertically unfolds in a shimmering sepia, it looks like one of these bird's eye shots of Darth Vader's flagship with a texture recalling H.R. Giger's biomechanics drawings. Then the waveform unfolds in a circular way like clock hands, creating shapes: a snail shell, mandalas, whatever fits your imagination. The rest is more common and give you some visual rest to focus on the ebbing and flowing tides of amplified bass, to appreciate Berghain's more than generous acoustics. Your ears are full of that sand-like kind of sonic dust, remains of pulverized blocks of sound. Surrounded and fed with low frequencies, your body works at a slow pace. This is so much nicer than Emptyset in your living room.

An evening with the label PAN is something you cannot miss. Athens-based Jarr Moss, a newly added artist on the label, begins his set as I come upstairs. His LP is a plunderphonics demonstration but the live performance is much denser, more like listening to the complete works of Penderecki played simultaneously, the violins and the acid brass and the screams of a horror movie packed altogether in a long loud rush. A deep bass rumble adds a vibrant drive and makes a staggering experience out of what could have been a big messy noise soup. You can probably hear that kind of music in some dark corner of hell. Impressive set. Twenty minutes later, three 4 meter-high coloured plastic puppets blown up from the dancefloor stretch their arms in the direction of the audience. For the first 10 minutes of Mark Fell's performance, all you can perceive is an irregular sequence of beats and short silences going together with massive and neverending stroboscopic lights. This is also what you have to endure for the next 20 minutes, the only difference is there's one or two other lines of beats, as irregular as the first one, lasergun pew pew-style. It sounds as if deconstructed memories from the MDMA-infused rave era were joined end to end, literally flashing by along with the bass beats pounding. The dance element is cut to the bone though, the audience is as stuck to the floor as the giant puppets. Despite the intensity and the autistic quality of the whole experience, somebody shouts "fuck you" in the end. I nod to myself. I'm not very fond of stroboscope either. A totally different experience follows. Keith Fullerton Whitman discharges bass sounds like huge rocks crashing down in a deep deep hole and echoing up, like the field recording of a catastrophe bouncing off the concrete walls of Berghain. It develops into some telluric quasi-dub, with the rhythmic unreliability of earthquakes or volcano eruptions. Then come the insectoid embellishments. The mightily bearded man can make any sound he wants with his army of modular synths and he sure knows how to create worlds out of it.

On Saturday evening, a Skype call with Jodorowsky sitting at home in Paris is scheduled. It turns out to be an epic technical fail that upsets everyone. Soon afterwards the British duo Demdike Stare comes onstage to play a home-made soundtrack to a 45 min long Jodorowsky and Moebius mash-up film. Metempsychosis, ritual powers and a maelstrom of staring eyes and tits make some fascinating moments and highlight the muddled relations between images emotions and imagination. Of course psychoshamanism was already Demdike Stare's kind of hobby before the event. In fact many images and shots have already been seen, be it in music videos or in live settings with visuals. Same story with the music. Not that you haven't already heard all the samples used here but there seems to be a group of sounds like a hot spring from which originate most DS tracks. The soundtrack is very ambient, not conflicting with the viewing, not standing out either if you already know their world. A beautiful and hypnotic ending comes on time. Watch a few DS official videos (Matilda's Dream for instance) and you'll get a glimpse of the evening I spent in the pregnant oyster that is the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

Ghedalia Tazartès is the last artist to be seen before the final CTM concert with Sunn o))) on Sunday. Taking place in the HAU2 theater, the performance keeps it very simple: he stands in front of a small table on which he picks up small instruments (harmonica, tambourine, necklace rattle...), he sings growls hums or whispers, and presses the "play" button of a player. Embodying all emotions, Tazartès makes you think he is a vessel—in a state of complete receptivity and relying on inspiration. He can make tunes as fervent as a flamenco song, he can also conjure darker ghostly visions. His peculiar voice sure is his favorite and natural instrument but once you got over its surprising power and ability to mutate, you can focus on the prerecorded background material and expect to find some fucked up combinations: chants mixed with monkey screams, electric guitar and weird noises, muezzin and drum n' bass. Making random chaotic stuff is common but what he does is unheard-of, always.

By Antoine Richard

Homepage: Club Transmediale
Homepage: Andreas Tilliander
Homepage: PAN Records
Homepage: Mark Fell
Homepage: Keith Fullerton Whitman
Homepage: Demdike Stare