Report by Irina Spicaka
As said on the festival web-site, Transmediale is a Berlin-based festival and year-round project that draws out new connections between art, culture and technology. It has an exhibition programme, that presents thematically curated works in combination with a selection of entries from an annual call of works. There are also conference and workshop programmes that, depart from the festival theme, are using it to explore the critical dimension of networking, hacktivism, media theory and the politics of technological development. Furthermore, there is a video programme, that includes contemporary artistic video works and experimental film screenings with historical references.
The most interesting part for myself was the live audiovisual performance, workshop and exhibition programme that was a part of the CTM (formerly Club Transmediale), that annually supplements the Transmediale festival with adventurous music, club and art events. I wanted to be closer to the actual electronic audiovisual performace culture and activities within it, including talks, discussions, performances and parties, as right now I'm doing a research about this field in the Nordic-Baltic context.
Almost one week long event is over and a brief overview of mine can be found below.
The title of this year's Transmediale was “Back When Pluto Was a Planet” or BWPWAP. This is a quote from the Transmediale festival website explaining the title a bit: “Mobile phones were dumb. Letters traveled by pneumatic air. Tweeting was for birds. Users were chatting on the Minitel. ICQ beat IRC. Xerox challenged the Thermofax. YouTube was just another Web 2 start-up. Fax was the new Telex. You were calling up Bulletin Board Systems. Only university students were using facebooks. History had ended. We had nine planets.”
In short, this years festival theme was about change that has happened to the world since August 24th 2006 when Pluto (the planet in our solar system) was “de-planetized”.
The festival programme followed four threads: Users, Networks, Paper and Desire. The Users thread was about the change of the role of the user since 2006. Networks thread was was about social networks that have become a very important part of our everyday lives. Paper thread explored the change of the paper as a cultural form and an artistic medium. Finally, the Desire thread was about critical reflections on sexuality and pornography and how they can inform digital culture and politics of the present, by creating juxtapositions, decompositions, fragments and unexpected combinations as forms of queer expression.
As I was more interested in the CTM Festival, I did not see much of the Transmediale part. There were few interesting installations in the main lobby of the Haus Der Kulturen der Welt house though. One of them was the ReFunct Media#5 installation that was made of “obsolete” electronic devices from the past – a collaborative project curated by Benjamin Gaulon, Karl Klomp, Tom Verbruggen, Gijs Gieskes with Philip Stearns and Peter Edwards. Another interesting object was the pneumatic mail that connected the main lobby with other places of the house where something was happening – in my opinion that was a good representation of the overall BWPWAP concept. The pneumatically sent messages interrupted and added a fun element to the discussions in diffenrent parts of the HKW.
The CTM Festival part was more about the change in the music industry. It is possible to read the full concept on the website, but in short, it was about artists and musicians becoming independent and directly connected to their listeners and fans, the technology and ideology that allowed them to do that and the good as well as the bad sides of it. Here are some of the bad things: the dire economic situation of many artists; the constraints imposed by major technology and communication providers own agendas; the breathless pressure of real-time media; and the justifiable fear of going under in the current mass of fast-track productions, if ever one fails to constantly feed new output into the sheer endless channels through which music must make its mark today.
In the course of one week I have attended lectures that in my opinion were very useful mainly because of the invited artists and other professionals. I will give a brief insight into what was happening there.
The MusicMakers Hacklab Workshop – MusicMakers Hacklab Indeterminism Machines has been curated by Peter Kirn from the createdigitalmusic.com collective, with the collaboration of design platform SemiDomesticated and sound artist Derek Holzer.
It is possible to get some understanding of the concept of the event from the following quote that is taken from the website: “Machines in music making are a means of externalizing musical will and composition. They connect thought and sound in ways that become more physical, more visible, more improvisatory, and live. They escape the deterministic, fixed world of the score – and the traditional recording. They are inventions that ensure that musical outcomes are governed by humans and by chance. To experiment with making music in this age, you first want to experiment with making the machines that make the music.”
There was a brief demonstration by Christian Kleine that was about how to take control of almost every aspect of Max Live during a performance. Christian Kleine is an Ableton developer and sound artist as well as Max for Live guru. How to open up custom performance and compositional opportunities? Kleine provided insights into the meanings and possibilities of Max Live's application programming interface (API) tools.
After seeing that, my conclusion was that everyone who is tended to grow as a good and modern musician has to be well experienced in one particular sound design application that allows to perform in real-time and does need to have an understanding about how to create a specific sound with one or more generative sound tools.
Another event worth to mention is a very inspiring lecture by visual architect Ali Demirel. He was presenting tools and concepts from visual performance for Richie Hawtin. Demirel showed his custom-developed software 2V-P, which he created in cooperation with artist and programmer Pascal LeSport. Through a discussion about the tool and Demirel's techniques, he illuminated his live performance ideology which he has developed over years through collaboration with Richie Hawtin – what are his methods for relating visuals to music?
Demirel is using concepts from mathematics and physics in his work. Combined with simple forms (for example white circles or squares) the final result becomes marvelous.
This was a really great experience – the form of talking was transparent and featured a lot of visual content from projects that have been developed since 2001. Stages of development were shown very clearly to the attendants of the presentation.
Additionally I was at the Holly Herndon in conversation with Jennifer Lucy Allan talk. Jennifer Lucy Allan is one of two online editors of The Wire magazine (UK) and Herndon is a computer music composer and sound artist based in San Francisco, with roots in classical choral music.
Holly Herndon grew up in Tennessee where she learned guitar and piano and was very involved in choral music performance. Herndon cites a school trip to Berlin at 16 as her first, life-changing encounter with electronic music; the event led her to becoming involved in computer music. She moved to Berlin at 18 and spent several years immersed in the club scene, working at Cookies, playing in a band named Electrocute, and taking contra bass lessons. She returned to the US to do a Masters in Electronic Music & Recording Media at Mills College, and is currently studying composition as a PhD student at Stanford.
The most most interesting theme that has emerged from the conversation was gender equality in education, more specifically in music schools. The theme touched topics like: technical education, engineering, new media and programming. How appropriate for women and girls are the technical programs within the education systems of nowadays? Herndon has attended a male program during her studies for learning more advanced things as in female program. It is really difficult to realize that this kind of division between genders still exists at some places of the world.
Another interesting discussion was held by Manfred Schneider and Mark Fisher as well as moderated by Andreas L. Hofbauer. It was about transparency in the context of “Digital-Democracy”: “How does a desire for absolute transparency relate to the dictates of constant communication and social or political participation?”
Mark Fischer, who is a writer, blogger (k-punk), lecturer, author of “Capitalist Realism” spoke about the global market and how capitalism has changed the perception of values in the music market. You can find out more about “Capitalist Realism” on Wikipedia.
There were a lot of interesting club events within the CTM Festival programme, as for example the Forever New Frontiers event at club Beghain. I did not stay there for all the event, but I saw a new live project called “TM404” by Andreas Tilliander from Sweden – an artist with a strong interest in analog music machines. With releases on Kontra-Musik, Raster-Noton and Type labels Tilliander’s output ranges from minimalistic techno to noise infused drone-dub. He digs into the range of effects and challenges of classic hardware. His set was fluent, nuanced and moved the audience.
MusicMakers Showcase at Berghain Kantine – The best part of this evening was the jam session. Sam Barker, of Berghain and Leisure System fame, and Easton West are joined by Lando Kal, Laurel Halo, Tim Exile, Benjamin Weiss, and other guests. Armed with drum machines, effects, and all manner of synths and noise-making devices, they produce an improvised dancefloor in live, back-to-back sessions.
Links to the music of the artists:
Sam Barker: Smoke Machine Podcast 055 Barker & Baumecker", Murder Of Crows EP"
Lando Kal: Resident Advisor website"
Laurel Halo: HDB068 Sunlight On The Faded (2012)"
Benjamin Weiss: Znoht", Nerk: Randy Karl (Snippet)"
Tim Exile: Tim Exile Live & Improvised @ Krake Festival, Berlin, 11 August 2012"
To sum up all of this, I must say that there were much more interesting things going on and it was not possible to get all of it. I was visiting Transmediale and CTM Festival for the first time and now I know that one has to prepare a bit more for the amount of information these festivals provide.
Thanks to Krisjanis Rijnieks for helping with this text.