News about the 4th edition of the Festival that will take place in Berlin all through the year 2008. The information about the former editions that were held on 22-26 november 2006, 13-22 february 2007 and 1-29 august, 2007 are still to be found somewhere in the jungle of this blop.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ancient Life, a report, an essay, a story

Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men. For many centuries life went by in silence, or at most in muted tones. These words were written by Luigi Russolo in his letter that we know as the manifesto: The Art of Noises. It is not known if Luigi had pulled a feather from a goose to provide himself with a pencil, or if he had used a typewriter that, after all, was an Italian invention.

Russolo got his vision of noise providing machines while attending a concert of a musical piece composed and conducted by a friend of him. In the letter to his friend the composer he sums up different sound sources that can be understood as noise. If Luigi had made recordings of these sources he would have been one of the first out in the field.

One can have doubts on the suggestion that ancient life was all silence. Assuming that men had ears and have used them from the very beginning, there must have been sounds as well. These sounds didn't come with a well defined intellectual notion. These sounds were probably detected to define one's own position for safety, navigational or communicative reasons, more or less like we do today. Human being is homo-centric, otherwise we would never have grouped together to create religions, civilisations, cities or myspace.

More recent thoughts on noise come from Harold Schellinx in one of his SoundBlog entry's:Writing a "Meaning of noise" <...snip...> would undoubtedly lead one to re-consider much of our history. Does not noise stand to signal as a yin stands to a yang? It is part of any kind of communication, and it is communication through which we shape ourselves and our world. But then, should one ask, are we shaped through the signals, or rather shaped by the noise ?

One must know that Harold is part of a quartet. Three musicians (Harold included) use cassette players and dictaphones. Fifteen cassette players and dictaphones might run simultaneously at some point during a performance, each playing either found sounds or field recordings. Each of these recordings can be listed as a signal. But fifteen signals signalling at the same time produce noise, or do they?

If we compare Luigi's noise to Harold's signal we notice that they both sound the same. The answer is in a yin and a yang. The symbol doesn't represent a static situation. What once was a yin is now a yang and will become a yin again and so a on. If Schellinx assumes that writing on the meaning of noise would re-consider much of our history, I somehow sense that the noise he talks about is much the same as Russolo's silence of old days.

As a mathematician Harold takes the question to a decisive step. What will happen if signal interferes with itself, he writes. I write now: If, in that question, we replace 'signal' with 'God' one could expect a mathematician proving that there is more then one God, and more then one noise. For sure experiencing noise can only lead to listening better and hear more and thus push history in a different direction, unless you understand noise as sounds played at a very loud volume.

Michele Spanghero is more or less from the same region as Russolo, a not too populated area close to the Austrian and Slovenian border, a protectorate shortly after WWII, and geographically slightly out of focus, more noise then signal so to say. In discourse you get more noise then signal once there is an excessive use of slogans and rhetorics. Both Russolo and Michele live(d) in a country dominated by this kind of noise. Both Russolo and Michele were at one moment in their lives intrigued by the sounds of machines.

A double bass player with double bass player's ears, he walked into an exhibition of projectors. Well, that was what he encountered. The idea of the exhibition was to show the projections, mostly abstract and full of colours. All these projectors were handmade by the artists, therefore different in shape, and in sound. Michele got intrigued by the rhythms the projectors produced, and recorded each one of them. Then he wrote to me, and asked if he could bring these sounds to the festival. I agreed, because of the direct line to futurism.

I also agreed because I understood his recordings as a sonic essay, not only because of the direct line to futurism, but also because of the constructive aspect. Constructive as in semantics of a memory, or rather the semantics of an imposed memory. Old school sovjet scholars were very fond of these enterprises: they tried to construct a collective memory of a country's past. Sentiments in politics can't withhold the contemporary artist, or curator of a field recordings festival to add a postmodern notion to the idea of construction. That's why I liked the chaplinesque idea (modern times!) to offer the listener a journey right into the machine room of his imagination, and have sounds of projectors represent the psychological process of visualizing sounds. Michele's concert lasted hours, neatly divided between the projection room (noise) and the screen (signal).

When I first saw Melanie Velarde she was struggling with the elements. She was supposed to be performing, but laptop, one loudspeaker, the amplifier, the quality of the sound in general, the interface and everything else that could obstruct, obstructed. The concert she had in mind, remained there. One could wonder that some sound was coming out of the other speaker at all. But it did. It was playing, like an unmanned assembly line filled with plates keeps running, even if at the end of the line there is nothing to pick those plates up. No plate crashing sounds, but on the running side of the performance Peter Prautzsch, the organizer of the evening, who kept running in and out of the room. Melanie's spot became the crisis center. Luckily she didn't interrupt the performance, because all the outside rumours, like the footsteps from the people passing in the corridor, the rhubarb in the kitchen, became, as by magic, a part of the ongoing soundscaping. I was delighted. Melanie was surprised, but hey, it was my ears against her intentions.

In O Tannenbaum she brought two cassette walkman. Melanie was seated on the floor, on a carpet, because the basement floor of the venue is really cold and concrete. The walkman were lying in front of her. She picked up one of them, pushed play, placed it at the side of her. The walkman played a walk. Then she picked up the other walkman, pushed play, and placed it next to the other walkman. The walkman played a garden. Then her fingers touched the black keys of a little casio. Every now and then she looked up, smiled and looked down again.

The walk and the garden were at the other side, like everything is at the other side when you press your nose against a window. On rainy days you will hear rain. On windy days you will hear wind. On sunny days you will hear the neighbours. At night you will hear an owl. But it will always be at the other side. And on this side are thoughts, memories, longings and a slow song coming from a casio.

Sean Barret came to the festival as Sean Ferguson Barret; I really don’t know where he got the Ferguson from; I had always thought he had some Bavarian moms amongst his ancestors ; never mind the household. I have seen him perform like kobayashvili, or whatever georgian name he had chosen as an alias; I have seen a movie in which he throws around his effect pedals; I know he is very much into noise as in NOISE, and that his pants are kind of tight and Mattin loves his work; we even have spend some fine moments headbanging in front of a guitar amp when everyone else was buying souveniers from the that evening to become ex-stralau 68, but that he had recordings from westcoast would never have occurred to me, untill the day he approached me and asked if he could play at the festival. Suddenly it all made sense : Sean as cross-over between a somehow upgraded hobo and a beatnik, yes why not : he could take it on the road with sounds that smelled like an ocean’s breeze.

But then he arrived at the venue, a bit depressed, because his computer had eaten all the recordings. My first thought was like his comment when he discovered my page on myspace : »what ? Sean works with a computer ? « Eventually he had planned so. His set would be of left over recordings and his favourite drone.

He played last. Remaining on the hobo/beatnik trail of imagination, in the glow of the red light at the end of the basement, a glow so darkening that one could see through the layers of time into a stage coach, or a small room above an abandoned bar somewhere in San Francisco of the Kerouac years, that drone came. Sean lit a cigarette and sat aside on a chair, and smoked that cigarette to its end. After all it was his favourite drone. He went back to his instruments at daybreak, and at that time one could clearly hear the ocean rolling its waves upon the shore.


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