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Friday, August 2, 2019


By Martin Schray

August 1, 2019, Berlin

The A L'armé! Festival has always had acts that have a tendency to play very long, which can be a real challenge for the audience. I remember Steamboat Switzerland in 2013 or Caspar Brötzmann /Alexandre Babel / Massimo Pupillo in 2017, whom, frankly speaking, both missed the point to end their performances in due time. This year Practical Music (Oscar Hoogland, Jasper Stadhouders and Christian Lillinger) were the ones, opening with a two-hour long sound installation. However, in contrast to the other bands just mentioned, the sheer length of their set was part of the artistic concept and it really worked.

Practical Music
 For the festival organizers it was obvious that the project, which was originally conceived as a one-off at Amsterdam's October Meeting 2016 at the Bimhuis, must be continued. Equipped with a whole army of sound-making devices like turntables, slot machine, analogue synth, electric clavichord, megaphones, tape recorders, intonarumori, sirens (Hoogland), electric, acoustic and bass guitars, mandoline and kologo (Stadhouders) and drums, percussion and piano (Lillinger) they just opened the festival when the audience was allowed to enter the location. The transition from the private to the artistic was to take place immediately, which had the effect that the musicians, some of whom walked through the hall playing music, almost collided with the incoming spectators. When Hoogland and Stadhouders circled the stage with bells and string instruments, it had something of the beginning of a proclamation on a medieval fair. The performance character of the festival already became clear here (it was to be continued with the next act). The artistic character, however, was at the centre, as far as the music was concerned, it mainly was about generating sounds, there were hardly recognizable structures, the whole thing was rather collage-like, a permanent coming and going on stage, a conglomeration of noises: bird chirping, bicycle bells, sirens, flutes, moans, muezzin calls, etc. It was like a huge painting that came to life and everyone was part of it.

Tristan Honsinger’s Hopscotch
Practical Music started with a performance-like show, and Tristan Honsinger’s Hopscotch was a real one. What makes Honsinger's work unique and really special is his idea of combining music and theatre in an unprecedented way that he describes as “making music and theatre one“. This sounds quite simple, but for Honsinger it has been the core of his work throughout his whole career. Apparently he has been influenced by Samuel Beckett's and Eugène Ionescu’s theatre of the absurd and his work with Cecil Taylor, who integrated dance and poetry to his music. Honsinger, however, also seems to have a weak spot for dadaist poetry. Hopscotch, the name of his A L'armé! project, derives from the children's jumping game and brought together some of the best musicians of the Berlin Echtzeit network. e.g. Tobias Delius, Axel Dörner and Antonio Borghini (among others). The musicians were augmented by lots of special guests such as the Japanese Butoh heroine Hisako Horikawa, tap dancer Mano Hiroki and a chef. In general, it was like a collaboration of David Lynch, Robert Wilson and the ICP Orchestra, as to music it was reminiscent of Alfred Schnittke’s polystylistic approach, there was swing, free jazz, new classical music all-in-one. The audience liked it a lot.

Hanna Schörken/Rieko Okuda
What followed was a double concert with Rieko Okuda/Hanna Schörken on the one hand and Super Jazz Sandwich on the other. According to the liner notes of the festival Hanna Schörken (voice) and Rieko Okuda (piano) presented their very own freedom of speech between the impressionist aesthetics of new music and the expressive spirit of free jazz. The music of the duo was completely improvised, Schörken is obviously informed by Phil Minton and Iréne Aebi, while Okada seems to have listened to Cecil Taylor, Howard Riley and Marilyn Crispell a lot. Schörken gurgled, hissed, panted and snapped, which Okuda sometimes counteracted with tender passages as well as with wild runs.

Super Jazz Sandwich
Finally, Super Jazz Sandwich delivered a real contrast. Trumpeter Flavio Zanuttini, saxophonist Florian Walter and drummer Simon Camatta tried to combine freely improvised music with more traditional varieties of jazz, which resulted in a DIY punk jazz aesthetic reminding me of the Flying Luttenbachers or John Zorn’s early Ornette Coleman projects. For their new program, they tried to turn the psychological concept of the Enneagram, a nine-step model of personality description and development, into music. Their music reached from structured improvisation to game-pieces to complex compositions, which was both funny and intellectually challenging. It was a very postmodern approach that quoted a lot of styles and philosophies, once (in a game piece) they even quoted Sam Rivers’ conducting technique. Nothing new, but great fun.

Els Vandeweyer/DJ Illvibe/Hamid Drake feat. Real Geizt/Splidttercrist
The evening was closed by Els Vandeweyer/DJ Illvibe/Hamid Drake feat. Real Geizt/Splidttercrist.
The set referred to Anguish’s show the night before trying to integrate hiphop into a free jazz surrounding. For this, according to the liner notes, marimba, vibraphone, metal plates, drums, record players, and voice boxes had to be turned inside out. Belgian vibraphonist Els Vandeweyer, American drummer Hamid Drake, turntablist DJ Illvibe (for those who don’t know: he’s Alexander von Schlippenbach’s son) and rapper Real Geizt / Splidttercrist tried to explore unknown territories. Visually, this was interesting, since Real Geizt (German for real spirit) actually appeared like a ghost (see the picture). Musically Vandeweyer, DJ Illvibe and Drake worked together very nicely, with Vandeweyer even playing blues riffs on the marimba in the beginning, which created an fascinating groove. When Real Geizt conjured himself, there was a different spirit, since he seemed to me like a comic version of hiphop, rather contributing some kind of poetry than real hiphop. This was foiled by DJ Illvibe’s beats and Drake’s grooves.

All in all a very challenging and exciting day of music.