Sunday, June 21, 2009

KNM's House Musik

Last night, we spent the evening at the Siemens factory at Kammerensemble für Neue Musik's annual House Musik event. The event was spread out over a few buildings. One building had a lo-fi dodecahedral sound system consisting of piezos and metal shelves. There was a conveyor elevator like the kind you see in old movies that carried different musicians with various homemade electronic instruments in a circle. Different sounds could be heard as each lift passed. In the courtyard were different installations. There was a speaker on a swing that would make sound when pushed. An air-conditioning unit was converted into a sound piece with an old rusty zither modified with a guitar pickup, ping pong balls, and feathers. The fan would create random sounds and drones that were fed to an amp inside the unit. Then we went over to a high-security factory floor where they manufacture large scale dynamos for wind turbines. In this industrial setting we heard four compositions in various sections of the factory. They were as follows:

Workers Union, by Louis Andriessen:
  • This piece set the industrial groundwork for the other pieces and introduced the factory setting. Quick paced, melodic, and slightly aggressive, it was performed with flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, french horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, percussion, violin, cello, and contrabass.
d-balancing - Composition/Installation for 6 Channel Subsonic System, by Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag:
  • With microphones directing the sound of a spinning dynamo (elsewhere in the factory for safety and for better audio control, seen via a camera and large lcd screen), the frequencies and sounds generated were projected through a 6 channel system. As the industrial setting rumbled with bassy tones, contrabass, tuba, bass clarinet, and piccolo gradually and spaciously added to the rich and consuming layer of sound.
Scrape, by Juliana Hodkinson:
  • This was composed for cello, amplified metal plate, and audio playback. KNM Cellist, Ringela Riemke, positioned on a pile of wooden pallets, played a thrashing, yet oddly ambient piece. Her cello and feet were positioned on a rusty metal plate. The cello's vibrations carried through to this plate creating distorted effects. As she rubbed her foot over the metal surface, harsh scraping sounds were generated. All of this was accompanied by a digital ambient track. Juliana is actually friends with my friend Nina who is an electro-acoustic improv musician currently teaching at UCLA. (Check out her band soNu.) Nina is the one who tipped me off to this music event. I got to meet Juliana and talk with her after the show.
Unreasonable Strains, by Christopher Fox:
  • This last piece involved musicians playing their instruments from various places around the space instead of a centralized location in front of an audience. We were surrounded by a bass clarinet, alto saxophone, french horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, and electric guitar played with a laser pick. Various distant layers came from various directions creating a near a pensive or lost and searching feeling, perhaps through a fog, all with an electric drone from the guitar. A friend of mine, who also came with me to the performance, had actually worked with this composer a few years back and she got a chance to speak with him a bit about composing in Berlin.
The overall experience was wonderful! The setting of a high-security industrial factory and the musical compositions complemented each other extremely well! It was a very impressive event. Afterwards, Mandie went home, inspired, to work on some of her art projects, and I went out with some friends for some Vietnamese food and then to a bar after a short stint in a very crowded club. I have lots of new electronic components that I picked up yesterday and hope to have some interesting projects coming out soon!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

See Phil run. Run Phil, run!

So, on my recent hiatus from school, I have decided that I needed to do something productive. I have begun running in the mornings. There is a nice track circling a soccer field down the street that opens at seven in the morning. Being a track, it will be very easy to keep up with any progress that I make.

The Jewish Museum in Berlin recently had a special exhibit titled, "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race", which dealt with eugenics and medical experimentation. It was very interesting. Eugenics was very popular at the turn of the century and research was conducted in many places, including Japan, England, United States, and various other countries around the globe. There was generally not an emphasis on a superior race in the field of eugenics, but it is obvious how these types of studies could lead to such beliefs. Typically there was more of a desire to remove disease and genetic abnormalities from a society. German research into eugenics had been going on for over thirty years before it was adopted as a policy by the Nazi regime. Of course, the Nazis considered the Nordic race superior, and people involved in German eugenics tended to follow along with this idea as it became more and more accepted. The exhibit started out with an introduction to the concepts and history of eugenics. Lots of studies were conducted to find out which illnesses and mental/physical handicaps were genetically inherited. Identical twins were often the subject of research, because the fact that they are genetically identical led to the hypothesis that if one twin was handicapped in some form, then the other should be as well. From there, the exhibit led into the the era when the Nazis began to adopt aspects of this research. The idea was that the impure and unable were hindering society, and that they would wipe out the foundations of a strong nation. The Nazis even blamed them for Germany's defeat during the first world war. People were in a position where these ideas seemed to make sense. Hitler knew that his ideas wouldn't be as accepted during peace time, so it wasn't until the second war that he enacted so many annihilation policies. The infamous Aktion T4, where buses took children and other patients of mental and handicapped hospitals to "special treatment" centers, was just one such program resulting from these policies. In these centers patients were gassed, injected, experimented on, and the bodies were either dismembered so parts could be shipped to researchers, or simply burnt. False letters of failed treatment and consolation were sent to the families. Strong opposition from the Catholic church ultimately brought the T4 program to an end. The exhibit showed photos and documented several patient cases. At the end of the exhibit, there was a justice section that showed what happened to many of the prominent leaders of the wartime eugenics programs, as well as doctors, anthropologists, psychologists, professors, and military figures that were involved with these atrocities during the second world war.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Title: "3 in 1", or "I Quit School Today"

Brückners in Berlin!

Two weeks back, the Brückners spent a weekend here in Berlin. They treated us to several outings including the Schloss Charlottenburg, Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz, the Lieberman Villa, and a ship tour of the canals through Berlin. Our ship tour unfortunately got cut a bit short as everyone dashed below deck as it began to rain. Despite the rain, it was still fun to ride around Berlin in a boat and see various buildings and places from the water.

The day spent in Wannsee was wonderful. The area is very beautiful and there are splendid lakeside views. We had coffee and cake in the gardens of the Villa where Max Lieberman spent hours drawing and painting. Inside is an exhibit of many of his paintings, and even some sketches thrown into the mix. I was particularly taken aback by a profound juxtaposition. Right down the street from the home of such a prominent Jewish artist, is the very place where members of the Nazi regime met to determine the final solution to the Jewish question, in other words, how they would go about exterminating the European Jews. The Wannsee Villa today is a memorial and educational site which also houses one of the most extensive libraries pertaining to Nazism, Jewish genocide, and antisemitism.

Schloss Charlottenburg, an old Prussian palace, is a grand example of baroque and rococo style. It has many French paintings throughout including one very famous painting of Napolean. We took an audio tour of the new wing. It was very informative and I learned quite a bit. After touring the Schloss, we walked about in the gardens and took a look at the Belvedere and the lake. From a footbridge in the gardens, we had a great view of the palace. Despite being very badly damaged and looted during WWII, the palace has been restored and stands today as a window into the lives of the Prussian royalty.

We had the Brückners in our home as the first dinner guests in our Berlin apartment. It was very exciting for us! We cooked up a delicious dinner. The menu consisted of a chocolate salad, fettuccine alfredo with fresh steamed green beans, and baked zucchini topped with herbs and cheese, and a home-made apple pie topped with bourbon vanilla ice cream. And wine of course!

Doing the Gooey!

The end result of several weekend long workshops and lots of hard work by a group of artist/performers led by Catriona Shaw (aka Miss le Bomb) and Malve Lippmann was the experimental performance of a giant human-electric gooey. We, for one night turned Festsaal Kreuzberg into a large computer monitor on which we made pop up ads, screen savers, flash games, search engines, and carried out all sorts of functions such as emails, text messaging, friend invites, chatting in chatrooms, scrolling, freezing, and etc, all of which ultimately overloaded our system and resulted in a great blue screen of death, and a great applause from the audience! The idea of the project was to explore how we interact with graphical user interfaces (GUIs or in our case a fleshy gooey) and based on the ideas and observations we came up with, determine how to represent this with humans. The project was so much fun to work on, and the performance was a blast! I have met many artist, performers, and musicians over the time of my involvement with the project, and hope to be involved in more projects in the future.

I will post some pics of the gooey event as soon as they get to me. It was filmed by a crew for Finnish TV, a documentary group, and someone from our group set up a camera so there should be some video popping up somewhere. I'll let everyone know as soon as i find out!


Last night Mandie and I went to see the magnificant Cocorosie who spent the evening presenting bits and pieces of everything beautiful. Bianca started came on before the show mixing together a very, despite containing elctro and hiphop beats and samples, organic set. Then everyone took the stage: piano harp, makshift percussion, a table full of noisemakers and toys, bass, synth, keys, (distributed amongst 5 members) and two beautiful and complementing voices, and proceded to weave together a fabrik hopeful and joyful reminders of the important things in life. It was Sierra's birthday. Everyone sang happy birthday and then an electronic birthday mix followed till they came out for an encore.