Live music performances often depend on the accompanying features of venue, lighting, and visuals, which means they require the input of multiple creative disciplines to ensure that attendees undergo a meaningful experience. Given this and its continually ground-breaking evolution over an extended period, the enterprise of live electronic sound has gained notoriety as the most stimulating performative endeavour when it comes to music. Yet in the minds of those attending these types of occasions, whether at an art event or a club night, the combination of this media often dissolves together into a holistic experience; we become so absorbed that appreciating these characteristics separately often becomes unconscious. Within the upcoming Berlin Atonal festival, performers will test the interplay of the multiple feats that make live music such a corporeal experience; both sonic and visual products are brought to the fore as art forms in their own right. Now in its third year at Kraftwerk in Kreuzberg after an extended break, the festival will go even further in testing the performative intersection between art and music.
One of the key traits that completes the experience of electronic music is the extended duration that it demands of its listeners, and visitors can expect to see this taken to full advantage. As the festival will take place over four days, Atonal will provide ample space to experiment. Certain works are bound to test the endurance of their listeners, much in the same way as a great deal of performance art; such is the case for the founders of the Copenhagen-based record label Posh Isolation, who have gained a strong following for their live shows. Stimulated by the elements of performance art and body acoustics that they incorporate into their sound, their work testifies to the idea that noise alone can be music, it cannot be restricted to entertainment. Whilst the presence of several performances will see Atonal aligning itself with many music festivals where emphasis is often weighted towards getting visitors dancing, much of the featured work is more about pushing the boundaries of sound.
Despite being largely oriented towards sound, Atonal will present a range of practices, such that the labelling of guest contributors cannot be categorised. With its immense guest line-up, Atonal will provide fertile ground for collaborations between esteemed composers and producers to be presented, some for the first time. One of the featured acts will be ALTAR, a new collaboration between composers Role Porter and Paul Jebanasam. Based on a performance of ritual system music, the cross-disciplinary interface will ensure visitor interaction. The premise of Atonal is largely based around collective production, and in many of the acts creative skills will be exchanged. Thursday night will showcase the collaboration between electronic musician Powell and Turner-prize winning artist Wolfgang Tillmans: the duo can be seen premiering the outcome of their work by performing a live audio-visual setup.
Alongside its extensive sound programme, the festival will also present installation and screening programmes. Irish artist John Gerrard will bring ‘X Iaevis (Spacelab)’ (2017), a live-streamed, hyper-realistic graphical simulation of an experiment that occurred during the second mission of the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992. The scene will show an African-clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) suspended in zero gravity, being groped by a sterile set of scientific hands. Visitors must also be sure to explore Kraftwerk’s basement space; Berlin Atonal has commissioned three kinetic machines that will transform it into a cybernetic system that evolves itself through combined stimuli of light and sound.
In previous years, the architectural backdrop containing the guest pieces has provided a powerful surrounding skin and will continue to do so this year. Housed within the Kraftwerk building in Kreuzberg, visitors can expect to be substantially immersed in a stimulating environment; many of the acts have been designed specifically to correlate with the expansive space. The closing night of the festival will see the contribution of Bristol-based duo Emptyset, who seek to examine the material properties of sound and its correspondence with architecture. Adapted specifically for Berlin Atonal, their performance will respond to the industrial grandeur of the building.
With featured acts originating from across the globe, visitors can expect to experience a range of different performances. The fusion of cultural roots specific to many of the artists coupled with skilful re-workings of broader trends in electronic music will be audible throughout. Born in southwest China, Pan Daijing sets out to tie together philosophical and ritualistic traditions from the area with the energy and hyper-emotion generated on many of Berlin’s techno dance floors. The Berlin-based experimentalist will debut her new work ‘Fist Piece,’ a composed live act focusing on voice and the relationship between bodies. Technology enthusiasts will certainly be catered to, yet works such as Dajing’s will pry the often tumultuous relationship between man and machine. This will also be the case in the Thursday night performance by Turkish-born Nene Hatun. Inspired by the writings of Rumi and the correspondence between life-giving and destructive powers, Hatun premieres a new work entitled ‘Fountain of Fire.’
The Atonal acts this year will testify to the forward-thinking motion that technology unleashes within the sonic arts. The range of phenomena on offer at Atonal, hardware and software, will be skilfully manipulated, but the presence of a human orchestrator behind the equipment will be exalted at the forefront. Overall, the range of phenomena promises to create an intense yet exhilarating phenomenological experience for all attendees.