On Thursday 28th and Friday 29th July, a Berlin-based audiovisual performance collective StratoFyzika performed the outcome of the artist residency at Lake Studios Berlin sponsored by TroikaTronix/Mark Coniglio. Since I follow StratoFyzika’s work from the very beginning, I’m glad to share some insight from Friday night and their latest piece called Φ.
It’s been 4 years since the founders of StratoFyzika – Alessandra Leone alias Aikia, Lenka Kočišová aka Akkamiau and Hen Lovely Bird met in Berlin for the first collaboration. Since then, they have created several audiovisual performance pieces that have been presented around the world, worked with experts from various fields including weareble sensors and sound design and attended few residencies, including the last one at Lake Studios. This time, the trio of founders collaborated with a Lisbon-based choreographer Daria Kaufman and creative coder Thomas Van Ta and instead of their typically abstract projection, they focused on light and its absence and the use of sensors. At the performance on Friday, the sensors were not included yet, however, the next step is to use data from sensors systems by x-io technologies „for calculations which will manipulate the sounds in space and the change of phasing the patterns of lightning,“ as Akkamiau explained it.
StratoFyzika’s performances are always based on concepts of (meta)physics, psychology, sociology as well as poetic and symbolic interpretations of inner experience. Whether it’s about form or content, they extract ideas from these concepts and embody them within three layers – stratums – which create the backbone of their pieces: audio, visuals and dance. Read also as: vibration, light, movement. For Φ, StratoFyzika reduced their performance to repetitive patterns in music, lightning and movement; they specifically focused on phasing of those patterns. Particularly, they mention this video by Steve Reich as an inspiration:
The result was very convincing with the lightning creating slight optical illusions, revealing the bodies and their shadows and being perfectly in sync with music and dance.
The whole performance started with slow stroboscopic change of light and darkness, which slowly became faster, shone from various angles and made the whole visual experience looking like going through a set of photographs. At the beginning, the dancers shared the line of the body and so embodied the visual representation of Φ in motion. Later, we could fully explore the choreography of Hen and Daria, which for both dancers seemed quite similar, schematic, even mechanical (also thanks to their punched-card-like costumes). Repetitive moves, sometimes symmetrical, sometimes passing by each other, were repeated again and again over time by one or both dancers. Sometimes, one would be just few moves away from the other, other times, they were perfectly synced. I believe such performance is difficult to train and perform with accuracy, especially since there wasn’t always a strong rhythmical pattern which would guide the dancers‘ tempo and moves and the lights could feel disorienting not only to the audience, but also to the performers themselves. But they did a very precise job!
For the audio part, Akkamiau, the composer, explains: “Since we were considering phenomena of looping and phasing, I chose to explore transcendental number theory, because every real transcendental number must also be irrational and cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction.” First, Akkamiau recorded an improvised material using the notion of primal numbers and randomly distributed digits of the fractional part of number Φ on her Korg keyboard, and edited the algorithm settings of her karma arpeggiator “to values according to decimal expansion of imaginary part of first nontrivial zero of Riemann zeta function, to follow Riemann hypothesis of the distribution of prime numbers,” as the composer herself puts it. These recordings were later deconstructed, sampled, disintegrated in digital crumbles and shaped into a complex sound environment, surrounding the two dancers, storytelling their actions and movements with audio narration in quadratic sound.
I made this interview with Kyoka in April for CDM. We talked about her ew album, raster:noton 20th birthday, music making and more.
Kyoka is a musician and a sound artist living between Japan and Berlin. She played several instruments as a child, including the Japanese syamisen, before treading a path from tape manipulation to electronic instruments and Ableton Live. After several releases on the Berlin-based onpa))))) label, she released two EPs and an LP ‘IS (Is Superpowered)’ on raster-noton and thus became the first woman to join the label.
Kyoka has always played with the way words can embody or articulate sound, and that’s reflected in her new album’s titling, dubbed ‘SH’ with tracks like ‘Susurrus’ and ‘Shush’. The whole EP is a shift from her previous rhythmic experiments and vocal sampling toward delicate sound design with granular echoes, scattered noises, and carefully constructed organic beats. Influence from her raster-noton peers might be one of the factors behind this more minimalistic, precise approach, so characteristic of the label’s production. What still remains is the rough, beautiful chaos and love for sounds in all their weird forms that characterizes her style.
This year, raster-noton celebrates its 20th anniversary with a tour of concerts, accompanied by the audiovisual exhibition “white circle,” a 47-speaker array that reproduces compositions by alva noto, Byetone, Frank Bretschneider, and Kangding Ray. Kyoka will join the label in its hometown Berlin at the end of April, as Berghain hosts the installation and live shows, including live appearances by labelmates Dasha Rush, Emptyset, Robert Lippok, Kangding Ray, Byetone, and alva noto.
She has also recorded a mix for Groove Magazine full of music by her raster-noton colleagues and friends, but also featuring Ricardo Villalobos and Aphex Twin, a field recording of Grischa Lichtenberger playing the piano, and a girl humming in her Berlin flat.
Speaking with CDM, Kyoka shares her experience at Stockholm’s EMS (Elektronmusikstudion), her understanding of sound, creating a spatial sound work, as well as her newest EP, composed from her live performances. I also found her charming as a person – as you can see in the videos we’ve included here.
Friday: The “SH” EP is inspired by your residency at Stockholm’s EMS. What did you gain from the experience? Did it change how you usually work?
Kyoka: Before I got in the EMS studios, I used to work with a computer and software. Since I used to move from one place to another a lot in my life, I haven’t been using much hardware. But in EMS, I had a chance to take a look at hardware, and it improved my understanding of sound.
For example, artists who start making music using hardware have a better understanding of how the whole system of synthesizers works. So for them, it’s all clear when they make music in software later on. But I’ve started with making computer music using software, so sometimes I’m not sure whether what I’m doing would actually work in real life. Because even when you make a wrong connection in software, it still does create a sound, whereas when you’d do the same thing with real synthesizers, they wouldn’t make a sound anymore, so I would have to figure out the reason why. I used to carry many misunderstandings in my head, but after spending time at EMS, many things about electricity or sine waves are much clearer now.
Did you use this knowledge for the EP? How did you produce tracks on ‘SH’ and which equipment did you use?
After I released my last album, I toured a lot and I started recording my performances, because I wanted to improve the performance each time. At the beginning, I would only use those recordings for my own feedback. But while listening to them, I started noticing some improvisational moments which I liked and I started collecting them and using them in my performances. So I didn’t use much equipment for creating the EP after all; I just recycled my concert pieces. But interestingly, the same piece would sound differently at each venue. So if I should name new instruments which I used for making the EP, it would be a venue, or a building…
How did you go about making those live performances?
I always borrow a mixer at each venue and record from the mixer output. I also use a contact microphone to create some nice bass using feedback, and the contact microphone is always affected by the architectural and acoustic character of each venue.
Your music production relies very much on unique sounds. Do you sometimes have a certain sound in mind that you try to recreate? Or do you just improvise with sounds?
Rather the latter; I like to play around with sounds from my concerts now. Also, when I find some nice improvised parts in my recordings, I try to repeat them and rehearse them when possible. But every time I improvise on stage, I feel very proud of that. (Laughs)
Well it’s definitely a skill! Speaking of performing, you played a multichannel work on the 4DSOUND spatial audio system not long ago. How were you preparing for this performance?
The first thing I did on the 4DSOUND system was playing my released music to hear what sounds good on the system. My idea was to use field recordings or natural sounds rather than something too punchy. Certain rhythms also worked very well. But in my opinion, not every sound was effective in that environment, nor was using a stereo file, so I used mono files. But I was very curious about what would happen if phase and antiphase of the sounds would meet, because when they meet in a musical software, they cancel each other; they just disappear. So I wanted to try it in a physical space. Firstly, the 4DSOUND crew wasn’t sure about it since the system itself actually isn’t symmetrical; but eventually, I tried it out and it worked. Then I tried to put a little bit of reverb on both the phase and antiphase of the sounds to see if I would only hear the reverb as a result of phase cancellation. I think it worked.
I only had about four days for the whole preparation, but I’d like to return back there and explore more sound possibilities with system. What was also nice during the preparation process that the 4DSOUND guys were always with me and when I told them my idea, they immediately made that work. And when I wouldn’t use some function, they’d immediately take it away!
And what about the performance itself, how was it?
Great, apart from the usage of phase and antiphase of sounds, I also used my voice. I usually don’t do it, but this time, I realized that a mono file sounds nice there, and voice is the most flexible ‘mono file’ I can use in real time.
But you usually don’t sing on stage, right?
Not really, but this went very well. I actually found out that using my voice in real time is a lot of fun! Before, I didn’t check properly how to really sing in real time in Ableton or some software. This time, I’m already more familiar with plug-ins which take care of the voice. So in the future, I’ll probably start enjoying that. (Laughs)
So my performance was about mono files, voice, loops, moving around, phase and antiphase of sounds. My approach there was to explore the potential of sound. For example, I used to do a lot of field recordings, and when I found a sound which I was really attracted to, I cut a short piece of the sound wave and made a kick or some part out of it. I always like to add some effects and see how much potential the sounds actually have, what can be done with them.
I’ve read that 4D developed a custom patch on the iPad for you with which you control shakes, rotations, doppler shifts, phase and anti-phase of sounds and movements. Did you use it during the performance as well?
Yes. I used it for the movement of the sound, because I had to let the phase and antiphase of sounds meet slowly in the different directions. So I used the iPad more for the movement of sound. Sometimes the phase and antiphase would never meet, they’d just chase each other.
Apart from performing in Berghain in April for the raster-noton birthday party, what else can we anticipate from you this year?
I will have some shows this year, also thanks to the raster-noton anniversary. In May and June, I decided to go back to Stockholm; I’ve rented an apartment already. I reserved the EMS studio for every day. I’d like to continue exploring the potential of sounds there. I also didn’t use the hardware and synthesizers that much there before, only Buchla and some synth mostly, so I’d like to try the hardware out there to improve my understanding of machines.
And there is another, quite big project happening this year. Last February, I’ve started a project called First Floor Festival. The idea is to bring interesting foreign artists to Japan, because in Japan, the only chance to see foreign artists is on big festivals, which don’t take place in the countryside. Also, for me, the countryside of Japan is more of a foreign country sometimes. So I wanted these two to meet: the new generation of artists and the foreign country inside of Japan. I co-curated the first edition with my Japanese friend Ueno Masaaki and brought Grischa Lichtenberger, another friend of mine, to play a tour in Japan. I have more names in mind, like Headless Horsemann or Helm, and me and Ueno are very excited, but it’s still at the beginning, so let’s see how this develops.
CTM ranks among the most comprehensive events in the world in terms of exploring and presenting digital culture of and beyond music, sound, club culture and new technologies. Since 1999, the festival annually occupies many venues in Berlin with concerts, music events, exhibitions and lectures in cooperation with Transmediale – international festival for art and digital culture. Each year, CTM comes up with a new concept reflecting the current trends within music and art and provides political, social and scientific context to them.
This year’s leitmotif, Un Tune, provided many perspectives on perceiving the physical sound waves with our bodies on a scale from whole body to tiny sensors of our ears and brain. The performances often provided physical and sometimes even confusing experience due to the experimentation with antagonistic impacts on musical perception, frequencies and sound effects. Therefore, few tendencies which could be spotted in various performances and stretched through the whole line-up could be noticed:
(sub)bass and a physical experience of music
Since the opening till the last night in Berghain, you could feel music not only with your heart but also with your gut. And a chest, a throat and the rest of your physical body. I’m (Zuzana Friday) almost sure that few times I even functioned as a speaker myself, with my stomach wiggling like a membrane and reflecting the low frequencies back to the stage. Since this was the strongest and also the most common attribute which many performances shared, it seemed like the pure audio experience where you have to make some extra effort to feel music physically (e.g. dance) is not enough or necessarily needed anymore. This extra dimension of performed music didn’t only accompany the listening; often what you physically felt was almost as important as what you actually heard. The reason for this obsession with intense low frequencies can be in artists‘ reflection of the status quo regarding the western society as well as their own lives. Simply put, we’re going down, and so does the frequency range. From the audience’s perspective, the reason may lay in the need for more stimuli to stay focused and appreciate the art of music in the ADHD times of general overstimulation and lack of concentration. Otherwise, the music will adjust to you, which leads to a second common aspect:
Other producers within this year’s CTM embodied in their music a contemporary absent-mindedness, the need to reward your brain with a little amount of pleasure-causing chemicals each time you switch from one activity to another, and the anxiety people nowadays fight while standing with one leg in the cyberspace and in multiply physical realities with another one. Artists like TCF get their inspiration in the digital world of encrypted security codes and musicalise the stream of binary data. Another producers‘ music, like SOPHIE’s, changes within seconds from one style to another, as well as our thoughts are being ceaselessly distracted by checking a hypothetical new notification or a message on your smartphone.
Lack of Joy
Apart of few performances in YAAM and Panorama Bar, the overwhelming majority of the acts were rather dark, gloomy, serious, introspective, massive. If vocals were used, then usually sampled in a twisted or high pitched way, or for screaming the hell out of the artist.
23. 1. CTM 2015 MusicMakers Hacklab Opening
Apart of music performances, concerts and lectures, the 3rd edition of MusicMakers Hacklab took place. This week-long interdisciplinary workshop brought together outstanding experts and enthusiasts from various realms of music, art and science, who had to create a final performance event on Sunday evening. HackLab also had an opening show within the whole CTM Festival opening in the old citadel of Bethanien. In this performance in terms of Hacklab, a sound artist and a performer Marco Donnarumma used his own body as an instrument and created compositions with moves and dance. I was amongst the majority of people who couldn’t see the performance in its whole due to a lack of space and too many heads in front of me, which turned out to be a problem several times during the festival. But as Justinas Mikulskis said, this problem occurs quite often. The example might be Berlin Atonal festival where even art/music critics couldn’t see 4D installations by Biosphere or Senking due to the size of the venue and the number of people. Nevertheless, I could at least observe Donnarumma’s shadow which fluttered on the walls and ceiling and created impossible humanoid shapes. Together with rather mecha-generated sounds using his organic body, it reminded me of Arca’s show from the end of the last year, when both Arca’s rough music and Jesse Kanda’s visuals tried to get to every corner of our ears and the screen.
24. 1. Alpha I and Beta I
The Alpha I and Beta I events on 24th January were sharing a venue – a club called Yaam, earlier a hub for African immigrants in Berlin, now an established club where contemporary and dance music nights alternate with reggae, dancehall or Brazilian parties. Having two stages filled with music at the same time, one could easily switch according to what do they prefer.
My first stop was Alexandra Droener alias Kepler, who threw at us a stern, angry beats between grime, future hip hop and post-dubstep. Thanks to their boldness, they could also be heard well in a chill out space between the two stages, where it blended with Franz Bargmann’s squeaky guitar drones into a nice, bassy meditative music. The following project on Beta stage was a world premier of OAKE‚s performance which included a special decorations consisting of hundreds of tapes and a group of dancers. Unfortunately, the stage was on the floor and so were the dancers, therefore most of the visitors could only visually enjoy a light show projected on the hanging tapes. The music itself was powerful and massive, having subbass and post-techno beats as a base and a wide palette of noises and ethereal female vocal on the top, which created a post-rock-structured mini opuses narrating a story. Grebenstein‚s live set was similar with its dark, yet meditative atmosphere and percussive, layered beats.
Returning back to Alpha, Danny L. Harle showered us with 90s trancy PC Music madness. After him, another PC Music’s producer, Sophie, took over. This shy and reserved-looking prince in black outfit paired his colour-blasting pop music with Terminator sounds and made the crowd go wild, even though it was a challenge: New music requires new dance moves. So while enjoying his eclectic music, I wished my body could fluidly transform like a pink jello or a tar according to the sound directions he conducted. Still, his marshmallow-like vocals and kawai aesthetics of material teenage girls mixed with bass and clinky beats that swooshed around like a fizzy lemonade and his biggest hit Hey QT raised a wave of XTC.
27. 1. XENO I
On Tuesday 27th, the CTM marathon continued with XENO I, an event presenting various audio incarnations of sounds of hell with a strong accent on its depth. The whole club was wreathed in clouds of artificial smoke, giving each visitor an opportunity to completely submerge into the sound and their own minds. The night started off with Elisabeth Schimana, an Austrian composer and performer, who brought an Max Brand Synthesizer to life, or probably invoked his spirits of an afterlife. The monstrous synth called Höllenmaschine (the machine from hell) from the 1950s had to be operated with help of Gregor Ladenhauf and Manon Lui Winter, and in her performance, Schimana explored possibilities of its dark insides and labyrinthine circuits.
After Schimana played Peder Mannerfelt, a Swedish artist who has been known as a techno producer under a moniker The Subliminal Kid, as a half of Roll the Dice as well as for his collaboration with his compatriot Fever Ray. Nevertheless, on his last year’s debut album, ‚the subbass nihilist‘ crumbled techno compositions into raw, pulsing loops with choppy drums and piercing synths. His performance (which included a blonde long haired wig covering his face, which made him look like Itt from The Adam’s Family) brought his new musical direction to the very core and sometimes even resembled of a no-input music.
The Bug‚s new bold project called Sirens, which was presented after Mannerfelt’s performance, seemed to be the highlight of the night. Not only because it was said to be different from any previous show of his, but also due to its demanding construction combining The Bug’s own sound system, Berghain’s Function One equipment and instruments that the futurist movement would be contended about: sirens, foghorns and bass drones. But even though the project promised ‚a complete body/mind wash‘, I experienced that kind of state of body and mind during JK Flesh‚s closing performance. Sirens were a massive, ambitious project which required as much attention as which you need to watch the path to a dark, unknown place if you want to find the way back. The abstract music striked our receptors with vigour and due to the fact that The Bug is a master of bass, the listening experience was indeed physical. But Justin Broadrick‚s musical past (grind core, metal, drone, industrial, electronica) escalated in the fantastic eternal stream of noise that was pouring towards us from the wall of speakers. JK Flesh’s rough minimal drone and apocalyptic ambient filled the whole space of Berghain with sound as if it was the smoke itself and provided both massive and meditative experience when I faced the speakers, turned off the brain, closed my eyes and embraced the eternity pervading me for a moment.
28. 1. Un Tune III
On Wednesday 28th, HAU 1 histed Markus Schmickler‚s performance in terms of Un Tune series. He’s originated in Cologne, the cradle of Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose music Smickler discovered in young age, and where he later studied music by himself. On Wednesday evening, his interest in difference tones and perception of various audio illusions was noticeable and resembled his Sator Rotas album. It started as a solid noise, which slowly transformed into sounds of circuits arguing with each other. Then, the music sounded like a liquid metal falling in drops, like a rain of heavy metals. Eventually, the metal got solid and rusty and as Schmickler turned about 85% of the volume down, I had to ensure myself that all that beautiful chaos didn’t temporarily damage my hearing. But thanks to the thoughtfulness of the organisers who were giving away earplugs at the entrance, we were all fine, even though it was a mentally exhausting experience due to Schmickler’s interest in audio phenomenons like Shepard tone or divergence.
29. 1. Un Tune IV
Thursday started off with a performance of TCF, a Norwegian audio and visual artist, who extends his creative interests to block-chain encryption, tea, robotics and digital data sonification. He also gave a lecture on Artificial Intelligence and music production earlier that week. His performance merged organic and digital in such a way that thinking in labels of organic and digital actually felt out of fashion. While the visitors were partly sitting, partly lying on the ground on soft pillows, TCF’s volatile music gushed trickled as if he would be tuning the radio trying to reach some broadcast space station. There was a lot of noise and aggressive synths that were following one another, but also a rhythmical work with silence. In one moment, the sounds were scattered as if you’d have many tabs on your browser opened and keep flicking through them, but eventually TCF got into more ambient mood and played around with sub bass.
The following audiovisual piece called PV868 by TeZ was caught in loops. The video part was using only a very limited range of shapes and colours and it was synchronized with the music. Maurizio Martinucci worked with binaural beats which were distributed through a quadraphonic surround system. With this, he created a sound fog, that later gained on intensity and was accompanied by deep bass and pulsing high frequencies.
After that, in Berghain and Panorama Bar, Xeno III and Theta I took place. The night started with (surprisingly) cheerful eclectic funky DJ set by Errorsmith who is DIY not when releasing music, but also creating own electronic musical gadgets. Evian Christ presented deep, atmospheric slow motion set. But what caught me the most from pacing here and back on the two dancefloors was a German premiere of Sherwood & Pinch. The legendary dub producer and Tectonic recording label owner joined forces and created deep, ecstatic and ethereal dubstep performance.
31. 1. Xeno IV and Theta II
Friday night started off with Opium Hum‚s set. Since he’s a co-curator of the whole festival as well as Leisure System parties, initiator of ≠ (not equal) series and organizer of Boiler Room, I was expecting him to splash the freshest and exceptional music over me. But his set was surprisingly monotone and quite drab since it just contained dregs of what we could experience within the festival – doom, bass, monotone rhythms… At the same time, another Boiler Room organizer and a member of Greco Roman enterprise, Full Nelson, was playing next door (in Panorama bar to be precise). He entertained the overcrowded dancefloor with dance-friendly and energetic house music. From 3 am, James Donadio alias Prostitutes challenged our dancing skills with industrial hewn 3D beats which were breaking in arrhythmia. Even though it was engaging at the beginning, after some time it lost the magic with going nowhere and sounding all the time the same. My personal highlight of the night was following artist, Egyptrixx, who provided us a beautiful sonic experience, where he managed to blend physical (sub)bass with sound scapes and synths which gradually developed in refined techno.
All in all, this year’s CTM audience could experience all kinds of dark and deep electronic music and innovative sonic technologies and concepts, from 3D to binaural beats. And occasionally also have a good dance. Nevertheless, let’s be curious about the next year, which will maybe follow the evolution of electronic music in terms of their possibilities in biology, physics and perception as well as formal expression of concepts and sonification of data. In any case, this year felt pretty good.
New Label Series for CDM is about pitching emerging record labels or platforms which seem promising and unique. Every piece features an interview with label founder(s) and sometimes also with releasing artist(s) and with my own observations as well as questions, I try to grasp the main interests and key qualities of each imprint. The fifth article from February is dedicated to a promotional platform and record label UnReal and their post gender and post-genre artist Born In Flamez (original article here). — Friday
Anyone can find some friends with common musical values and start a collective. But how do you make something that can prove itself as radically different – especially in the hyper-saturated musical landscape of a city like Berlin?
That’s what the platform UnReaL Life is able to do. It’s not overly narrow in philosophy: the group’s genre range is huge, making a statement more about how music is made than what it is. But it remains coherent, and finds gems out of a variety of emerging scenes.
The group started when three people came together. Brandon Rosenbluth traded the perpetual sunshine of LA for the steel-grey skies of the German capital. In Berlin, he has done promoting and booking as BL4CK M4G1CK before starting UnReaL (and continues to work with the likes of Holly Herndon via booking in LittleBig Agency) has been a drummer in the avant-doom band reliq and now is part of the shamanic noise techno duo Shaddah Tuum. Then there’s Brooklyn-born and Neukölln-based Daniel Dodecahendron, aka Jones, aka Gucci Goth, aka BlackBlackGold, who’s also into doom, music journalism (including Electronic Beats), and dark aesthetics. The third figure in black is Tomas Hemstad from Sweden, who writes about gender-related issues and promotes Gegen, one of the best queer parties in town.
Together, they bring artists to Berlin who are often “something else” in the existing musical scenes or those who create their own. That has included Mykki Blanco, Shapednoise, Ancient Methods, Ketev, and Deathface. Their events #gHashtag and Purge make their way from the dark holes of Neukölln and Kreuzberg to more-visible clubs like Urban Spree and back. Just seek the magick and you will find it…
Apart from promoting and booking, UnReaL also publishes articles and interviews, mixes and releases music. We asked Brandon to partially reveal the mysterious veil of UnReaL and he agreed. Moreover, Born In Flamez (released on UnReaL) also agreed to have a conversation about post-genre and post-gender – more on them including the interview is written below. The interview with Brandon is right here:
Friday: For several years you’ve been hosting parties and mix series, you’ve got a magazine, and since last year, you’ve also added a record label. How did it all start and evolve? How did you guys meet?
Brandon: I started promoting in Berlin in 2010 under the guise of Black Magick. In those Witch Haus heydays, I came to DJ alongside Daniel Jones (BlackBlackGold) and Tomas Hemstad (Tom Ass) quite often. Daniel brought me into the Drop Dead festival fold, where I hosted a showcase which included Tomas on the decks. While thrashing out to some heavy tunes together on the dance floor, we three decided to team up and founded PURGE which began in [the club] Chez Jacki, infected CTM, and reached its pinnacle in the main room of the bi-monthly Sameheads-co-hosted, 3-room rave-ups we put on in the days of Raum, including acts as diverse as HTRK, Ancient Methods, Devilman, and Sewn Leather.
#gHashtag was its grime-y little sister that inhabited Neukölln basements and still plagues Sameheads periodically. Daniel and Tomas are both writers, so it naturally evolved into a webzine to accompany our promotion activities, one that would not only profile underground music, but also art, fashion, and magick, and thus UnReaL was born. We signed on for a monthly radio show at Berlin Community Radio from its inception, early on inviting guests including Kiran Sande (Blackest Ever Black), William Bennett (Cut Hands), and Lorenzo Senni. We wanted to further our mission of promoting non-genre bound, non-gender-defined music and occulture and thus launched the label in 2014 with limited-edition etched-glass pyramid plus download code for Born In Flamez’s debut EP “Polymorphous.” That has since been remixed by the likes of Paula Temple, Anika, and Aisha Devi, amongst others. Since then, we did a DJ tour of the US and Tomas moved to San Francisco where he has carried the torch with his UnReaL nights there.
You seem to be mostly busy with organizing events – hosting #gHashtag parties, UnReal shows, co-hosting events with CTM or Noiseköln or even Kometenmelodien… What are the recent and future activities of UnReal?
BR: It is a lifelong passion of mine to organize shows, so that’s where my focus was for a long time now, but anyone in the game knows it’s a fickle business, especially with non-commercial music, and you’re lucky to break even at the end of the day. So, my personal focus has shifted to managing the label Portals Editions which I co-run with Marijn Degenaar (Circular Ruins), Yair Glotman (Ketev), and Nicolas Lefort (my partner in Shaddah Tuum) and showcases around our family of artists which is growing at a very healthy pace. UnReaL will throw in a dash of #gHash throughout the year, and will keep on with our radio show highlighting exciting news sounds bubbling up from all corners.
The music range of the artists you choose for your events, mixes and articles is vast – from patten or James Ferraro to Samuel Kerridge, Pictureplane or Egyptrixx. But despite that, UnReaL keeps a coherent image and musical and visual aesthetics. How do you achieve that?
BR: To us, it all makes total sense together – whether it’s a musical conversation about deconstructing pop, techno, industrial or any other genre, we like the artists who don’t sit neatly into any box, and have a strong, singular vision. I would like to think that our followers recognize our ability to highlight music of quality across all genres, and trust our taste enough to take the leap with us.
Since there’s three of you, how do you distribute the tasks of all your activities? Do you ever argue?
BR: It’s rather voluntary. Each does as much as he likes and can do at any given moment, with a focus on his area of expertise. We support each others endeavors and all take on different roles at different times. Sometimes we are more effective and productive than other times within this loose structure, but we never argue because we are all in it for the love.
Do you have other artists in mind to be released on your record label? Since two of you are also musicians, it kind of suggests itself that you’d release some of your own music. Or is that a no-no?
BR: The debut release on Portals Editions was my duo Shaddah Tuum’s 12″, and both Portals’ and UnReaL’s activities will certainly serve as a platform for our own music as well as our talented international friends of old and new who make music that we believe the world needs to hear!
Born In Flamez, Trans-Human Artist
The main artist releasing on UnReal up to this date is Born In Flamez. BIF is a post-gender and post-genre artist, which fits well into the whole UnReaL attitude of promoting the acts who shake things up around the edges – rather than going for a typical sound or image.
As experienced in BIF’s amazing podcasts (check out the latest one for UrbanEssence here — it’s one of my favorite ’empowering’ ones), the artist’s musical tastes reach the heavier and darker parts of the independent electronic music spectrum – bass, post-d’n’b and jungle, grime, experimental fluid techno, post-internet cuts’n’hums. Then there’s also BIF’s choice of collaborators who remixed the EP, including Paula Temple, Aïsha Devi, and She’s Drunk. BIF also opened for artists like Oneohtrix Point Never and Peaches. All of that hints at BIF’s musical taste and direction. But BIF’s own production exists in its own micro-universe, like in a womb, or an incubator.
The idea of a world where gender and genre is a concept of the past reminds me of other escapist movements such as afro-futurism. Nevertheless, Born In Flamez doesn’t fly off to another planet, but stays with us, as an inspiration, as an example of how we could be. One of BIF’s tracks is called The Other Sex, which could be a future conception of gender – the one exempt from stereotypes, redefining identity as a transhuman, partly flesh and party steel.
Born In Flamez’s voice is human and soothing, but doesn’t reach body temperature. On top of that, it also sometimes gets ‘screwed’ to lower and computed positions. Yet it is still delicate and beautiful and is an essential and significant part of the music. And then there are the beats – ethereal, surreal, hyperreal. Listen for yourself:
Friday: You were born in flamez. What was burning and destroyed which gave you your existence?
BIF: Identity in all its limiting binary systems, patriarchy & any kind of hierarchical order. Musical boundaries and the shadows of the past. But also: You should really watch the movie.
Last year, you released your first EP Polymorphous. I love the idea of releasing the EP as a glass pyramid with a download code – a polymorphous object which suits to the EP name and concept and gives a material existence to a binary, virtual information which mp3 is. Where does the idea come from? Why did you choose glass and a pyramid shape?
Glass is ephemeral and transparent, which very much fits the project, also its existence transcends the CD and outlives vinyl. The label and I really wanted the music to have a representation in time and space besides being a code on some server in the nertherworld of null and one. The pyramid is the 3-dimensional version of the triangle which is particularly important to the project, especially when it’s pretty in pink. So it was a natural fit.
I read that after seeing Paula Temple’s audiovisual performance, you wanted her to remix your track so much that she eventually agreed. How did you choose other artists for Polymorphous Remixed? What is it that you respect about musicians and artists, which aspects of their work are the magnets that attract you the most?
I was so fortunate to have my tracks remixed by people who I deeply respect for what they do, something substantial in/ with their music. I have a very broad taste in music, as it ranges from classical to noise to pop to UK hardcore, etc. But I also have a very niche taste in music, because it has to get to me n some way. And for this, it has to sound fresh or bring something new to me. Whether that is a musical approach of working with a beat/ grid, free structure or harmonies that seem daring, or whether it’s a special mixture of bringing different influences together, or a way to turn silence into sound, is not important, but it has to surprise me.
Speaking of other artists, you were a supporting act for Oneohtrix Point Never and you also recently played on an aftershow of Peaches, who you called a king. Since both OPN’s and Peaches’ music differs quite a lot from yours, how was the crowd’s response to your music on both shows? Did you play live?
I did play live at both occasions and both shows were really different and really great. I prepared slightly different sets, because I felt that I could experiment with OPN’s crowd more than at an afterparty where people actually go because they wanna have fun and dance.
I think both acts do share some influences with Born In Flamez. If you listen to Peaches’ last album, there’s a lot of cloud rap and footwork references in there, which also inform my sound. Maybe not as directly, but they definitely do. And OPN and I both share a love for experiments and deep deep sub bass… I also supported HEALTH at Berghain recently, who definitely have a completely different sound to me, but both the crowd and the band really loved what I did. I think the beauty of supporting acts like these is that the crowds for them are very open minded when it comes to music, as long as it’s interesting.
In your description on the UnReaL website, you are described as a “post-physicality reborn as heat and sound” and the readers are invited to join, if language is insufficient to project their vision. These bits got stuck in my head the most, because the idea of immaterial, ethereal existence which is able to communicate mind to mind without words is something I personally dream about. How does the world and (post)human beings look like in your future?
Mind to mind communication would be fantastic, also travelling at the speed of light or maybe without a physical body. Actual physical augumentation of turning into every shape and color any time would be post-identity dream come true.
In the visuals accompanying your music, humans transform into cyborgs or they are replaced by H. R. Giger-like mecha organisms. Do you see technologies becoming “friends” with nature as Björk does, or do you feel like the machines will dominate the organic?
You see Giger in my visuals? Interesting reference. I surely loved Alien…
The way that you pose the question, it sounds like technology would decide whether to befriend the organic or domineer it. I wonder if it’s for technology to make this decision ;). Also, I don’t necessarily place technology as an “other”. All technology is a human product. So in a way, all technology is human and all humans are already post-human – as they augmented their bodies with technology since day one.
And whilst I am certainly questioning the development of certain types of technology – weapons, drones, complete surveillance etc., I also welcome and embrace technology: solar panels, pacemakers, titanium limbs, glasses, sex toys, 3D printers, Internet, libraries etc. I think humans tend to be wary of everything new. I recently read a Plato pamphlet again the technology of the written book VS the benefit of the spoken word, so apparently humans have always struggled with and for the new at the same time.
As a post-gender and post-genre artist, how do you perceive the concept of identity? What creates identity in your view?
Identity used to be some kind of a grid system that helped to label and register something/ someone. A very rigid system hard to break away from. But post-digital identities completely revolutionized the concept. You can be anything you like, you can even have different identities at the same point of time. We shape our digital images to match what we want them to be in order to fit the mood that we feel like in a certain moment.
Our dating app profiles look a lot different to the ones on Linked.In (or other job portals) and can change to the complete opposite each moment. Neuroscientific approaches have have found that the self is an illusion created by certain parts of the brain, so we can keep memories in place and don’t get too confused when we wake up each morning. I guess without a certain sense of self, it’s hard to be, but on the other hand a more communal sense of self would surely help our planet.
For more, BIF has a free download on XLR8R, heralding a collaboration with Berlin’s Modeselektor:
Ich habe auch in Deutsch schreiben zu angefangen. Dieses Interview habe ich anlässig des CTM Festivals und Henke’s Deep Web Performance für  Magazin geführt. — Friday
Deep Web, eine kinetische audiovisuelle Installation von Robert Henke und Christopher Bauder, ist eines der Höhepunkte des Begleitprogramms des CTM Festivals. Die riesige Installation füllt den Raum des Kraftwerks mit einer 3D Laserstruktur aus. Eine Multi-Channel Komposition dient als Soundgewand des Lichtkunstwerkes. Wir sprachen mit dem Urheber der Deep Web Installation, Robert Henke.
Robert, kannst du Deep Web kurz vorstellen – was ist die Idee/das Konzept dahinter?
Eine Matrix aus 175 Kugeln, die sich jeweils an einer computergesteuerten Seilwinde befinden und sehr schnell und präzise in verschiedene Höhen fahren können, werden von bis zu zwölf Lasern angestrahlt. Nebel im Raum macht die Strahlen sichtbar. Was visuell erfahrbar wird, sind durch Linien verbundene, bewegliche Punkte im Raum. Das Ganze ist sehr dynamisch, verschränkt, farblich intensiv und dreidimensional. Wir erzeugen ein sich permanent neu konfigurierendes Netz aus Objekten im Raum, verbunden durch Licht.
Inwiefern kommt die Musik bei der Installation ins Spiel?
Die klangliche Komponente ist sehr cinematisch angelegt, es geht darum dem immateriellen Licht eine deutliche physische Komponente durch tiefe Bässe hinzuzufügen und auch um generelle Strukturierung und Akzentuierung im Sinne einer Komposition. Zudem öffnet der Klang einen weiteren emotionalen Zugriff auf das Werk. Insgesamt geht es uns um eine sinnliche Erfahrung. Der Rest ist Interpretation und darf auch gerne offen sein. Der Titel legt das Thema Internet nahe, und die Assoziation von Knotenpunkten und Verbindungen im Netz sind sehr offenkundig, aber wer Neuronen darin sehen will oder jede andere Art von Verknüpfungen darf das gerne tun.
Wie ist es technisch umgesetzt?
Technisch ist Deep Web extrem ambitioniert, vor allem was die Synchronisation der Bewegung der Kugeln mit den Lasern angeht, hierfür wurde von WhiteVoid in Verbindung mit LaserAnimation Sollinger einiges speziell entwickelt. Die Verknüpfung der visuellen Ebene mit dem mehrkanaligen Sound ist dagegen schon fast banal. Es beruht auf einem System, das ich für eine ältere Performance mit Christopher bereits entwickelt hatte.
Du sprichst es an, deine Steckenpferde ist die Entwicklung von Softwares und Hardware, genauer von Instrumenten. Bist du für Deep Web neue Wege gegegangen?
Bei Deep Web ist mein Anteil an der technischen Seite erfreulicherweise gering. Ich fokusiere mich ganz auf den strukturellen Ablauf, also die Komposition. Für die Erstellung der Klänge greife ich natürlich auch auf eigene Instrumente zurück. Letztendlich ist auch Ableton Live zu einem wesentlichen Teil ein ‚eigenes Instrument‘. Aber es geht mir hier ganz klar vor allem um ein Arbeiten mit den Werkzeugen, nicht um die Entwicklung derselben.
Mit Christopher Bauder hats du bereist die Installation – “Atom” umgesetzt. Was hat euch wieder zusammengeführt?
Wir besuchen das gleiche Café. (lacht) Im Ernst, Christopher schätzt an der Arbeit mit mir, daß ich technisch strukturell denken kann. Ich liefere nicht ‚die Musik‘ ab, sondern erarbeite mit ihm ein System, das Klang, Bewegung und Licht zusammen führt. Wir Beide befüllen es dann mit Inhalten. Da sind wir ein gutes Team. Ich wiederum mag seine ambitionierte Haltung zu großen Projekten. Ich weiss, er wird es hinbekommen, egal wie aufwendig es ist. Das macht großen Spass.
Du hast schon ein Paar mal vorher mit Lasertechnik gearbeitet. Wie auch Musik ist es ein “Material” das man nicht anfassen kann. Was inspiriert dich an der Arbeit mit solch nicht greifbaren Elementen?
Das Medium Laser ist sehr beschränkt. Man muss sehr reduziert denken, Laserstrahlen können nur mechanisch bewegt werden. Das Arbeiten ist langsam. Zudem kommen Laserstrahlen immer genau aus einer Richtung. Und weil das alles so sehr beschränkt ist, werden kleine Details sehr wichtig. Mit Video oder elektronischen Klängen ist mittlerweile einfach alles in jeder Größe und Komplexität machbar. Laser ist da sehr erfrischend in der Reduktion.
Auf der CTM Website wird Deeb Web als “ein Ballet aus schillerndem kinetischen Licht und Surround-Sound” beschrieben. Ist das Licht wirklich schillernd? Wenn ja, wie kann so etwas erreicht werden?
Laserlicht ist schon sehr speziell. Extrem dünne helle Strahlen, die auch in sehr reinen Farben verfügbar sind, das kann man mit keinem anderen Medium erzeugen. Der schillernde Eindruck entsteht unter anderem durch das Auftreffen des Lichts auf Staubteilchen. Das hat eine ganz besondere Magie.