Thursday, December 04, 2008

October round-up, part 1: Kontraste

Turns out I was lying in my introductory post, but I suppose starting late is better than leaving this place deserted for another three years. To fill up some space/kill some time that I don't actually have right now/get over myself and start writing, I will post some semi-random, potentially rushed thoughts on recent events I attended.

October was just as good a month for concerts as I hoped it would be, starting with the aforementioned Kontraste festival in lovely Stein bei Krems. The presentation of Gordon Monahan's Theremin Pendulum installation, swirling and howling around some dark cellar room in the town's Minorite Church like some crazy apparition in, say, the Thief video games series, turned out to be a suitably intriguing introduction to the festival's first day (Friday, October 3rd); and while the MAJAAP duo of Maja Ratkje and Jaap Blonk did a wonderful job at chasing each other's voices towards moments equally funny, unique and inspiring and David Moss upped the funniness of it all yet again with a perfectly uncategorisable set that felt just as much like a (good) comedy act as it seemed like the audience was allowed to peak into his living room (favourite non-musical moment: 'Every time Makigami [Koichi] joins me on stage, I have to think of how much I love World Music', or something along these lines), my favourite set turned out to be subshrubs' debut performance of mute, a 'collective composition' of theirs using equipment both acoustic and electric and, fitting the evening's 'Schöne Stimmen' theme.

I hadn't really read a lot about subshrubs before their set here and associated them with Vienna's blossoming Electro-Acoustic Improvisation scene which I didn't (and still don't) know enough about; and even though this was not an improvised piece (something I wasn't aware of during the actual performance, obviously having read the programme only rather lazily -- 'twill teach me), the set's early moments seemed to steer into the kind of subtle, minimal direction that I somehow expected it to. However, it was far from predictable, evolving into things quite different -- in fact, that evening feels too far away for me to enable me to describe the piece's structure, sound(s) and strategies used therein, but suffice to say, it took me by surprise and never let me go. A friend of mine was reminded of Nurse With Wound, a comparison that seemed to make quite a bit of sense, as the drones and details found here seemed just as evocative, intelligent and special as the best moments I've heard of Steven Stapleton's more abstract work; I myself ended up considering a comparison questionable in content, intent and general ontological value: on a spectrum of musics typically/potentially considered 'noise' by a considerable if undefined amount of people, subshrubs would reside at the subtlest possible end, diametrically opposed to Sutcliffe Jügend's confrontational and (seemingly?) brutish power electronics that I had witnessed a few months earlier in London. However, that particular dichotomic construct might tell more about my own inability to make sense of the latter group's live set which, in its musical competence but (seeming?) obviousness, I'm still not sure what to think of after all these months. But I digress! This simplistic comparison is quite unfair to both bands, and at the end of the day, my one main point here is that subshrubs provided one of my favourite and most inspiring concert experiences in recent memory.

My second Kontraste day was the festival's last (Saturday, October 11th). Cluster's set seemed to drift past me without leaving much of an impression, but Felix Kubin's quirky and intelligent electro-pop certainly made me want to check out a radio play (apparently (also) dealing with Odinic terrorists' exploits on a post-wreckage raft -- what's not to love?) he performed music from. Arnaud Paquotte's Nocturnes électriques, basically a temporally limited installation kept in the dark, was quite a sensual experience, his strange devices' scintillation adding a slightly discomforting scent to sound and (bits of) light. Faust seemed to be just as fond of sparks, plenty of which poured from the stage during their remarkably powerful show's more aktionist moments. The line-up appearing here was the Hans-Joachim Irmler one, with a slightly pirate-like Lars Paukstat acting as the show's focal point, and during the set's most powerful moments, the music charged at the audience like Bardo Pond doing 'Krautrock', although that kind of comparison probably distracts from the set's urgency.

Add to that the general ambience and the fun to be had when getting to know new friends etc., and there's yet another reason to think that the next Donaufestival can't arrive soon enough.

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