Click here to [close]

Saturday, August 3, 2019


By Martin Schray and Nick Ostrum

August 2, 2019, Berlin

Day 3 of the festival featured a diverse set of acts. It started with a solo concert of the great Matana Roberts. At the moment she’s spending a whole year in Berlin as a scholarship holder of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), after having traveled to India, Africa, Indonesia and Japan in recent years. Berlin seems to be a real new step, she even looks very different because she cut off her long braids, which has changed her appearance enormously. However, her massive tone and her voice are still the same. Roberts considers herself not only a saxophonist and composer, but also a sound and concept artist, and she’s still obsessed with the way the past influences our present. Consequently, she sees her work in all of these areas both as field research and political intervention, the most famous result is her Coin Coin project, whose fourth part she will release in October.

Matana Roberts
For her A’Larmé! gig she chose a mixture of music and talking. The talks often referred to the situation of African-Americans in the USA (not once, however, did she mention the name of the president), about the need to communicate with each other and about the blues. She said that only now does she understand what the blues is (when her parents told her about the blues she had no idea what it meant) and wanted the audience to feel it, too. On her hand signal she asked the people to hum a note - as encouragement, self-assurance and as a sign that we are all responsible for the situation around us and that we can change that. Her music that night was very much rooted in the blues and gospel tradition and although she said that she had no idea what note she was playing the next second, there were certain patterns and lines she repeated and fell back to. Consequently, the music was often sad and melancholic, but every now and then she exploded out of the blue, which is where you could feel her anger as well. It was a very intimate show that reminded us of a church service, but it was never cheesy or overdone. It was definitely one of the best concerts of this year’s festival.

What followed was a parallel concert, something which is characteristic of A’Larmé! While Groupshow was playing in the Saal on the ground floor, Lana Trio & JD Zazie played up in the loft on the fifth floor. Groupshow (Jan Jelinek, Hanno Leichtmann and Andrew Pekler) say they use their music “to investigate the act of the modular interconnection of electronics, acoustics, percussion, guitar, samplers, improvisation and synapses, of different personalities and their constantly changing communication with one another“. It might be best described as intelligent ambient techno with real drum parts, sometimes reminiscent of Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works Part 2“. Especially the first set contained a lot of elements: space sounds, a Talking Heads guitar was buzzing in the background, weird angular beats, spooky loops, Latin beats etc. In the second set a certain Kraftwerk influence was audible. The harmonic structure was more repetitive and the beats were really hypnotic. It was just an excellent show.

Lana Trio and JD Zazie
The other half of the simultaneous sessions consisted of two sets by the Lana Trio and JD Zazie, from Berlin. Lana trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø has collaborated with Zazie previously. For the rest of the trio - Andreas Wildhagen (drums) and Kjetil Jerve (piano) – this is their first time with Zazie. Per the program, this was a world premier. What this audience member heard, however, was a series of tight, single-minded improvisations that wavered between electro-acoustic minimalism and, at brief moments, raucous free improv. The first set consisted of one long piece developed around soft and subtle sonic distortions (electronics and electronically manipulated trombone) and spare but meticulous percussion and piano. The second set began where the first peaked. This may be because we were on the 5th floor of Radial System 5 overlooking the Spree River, or because we received some much-needed rain earlier in the day. Still, this piece was a tempest in the making. Jerve played clusters of dancing electrons. Wildhagen, the cloud water condensing. Nørstebø and Zazie, the rumbling wind and thunder. This was followed by a second piece with similar calm but brooding aesthetics to the first set. The storm had past, it seemed. We had come full circle, awaiting the next bout of weather. Engaging from start to finish.

Giovanni Lani
Like Groupshow, Giovanni Lani hailed back to some acts of last year’s festival. Karina Mertin, who organizes the festival with Louis Rastig, is the electronic music fan of the two, which is why there are always electronic acts in the program. According to the festival’s liner notes, Lani manipulates in real time the sounds that are buried within the metal oxide layers of magnetic tape a million times over and can be teased out time and time again. Basically, it’s a certain kind of music concrète, microscopic fiddly noise. Sometimes it could have been the soundtrack for the other world in the Netflix series “Stranger Things“, very gloomy, spooky, dark and agonizing, especially when it sounded like gusts of wind whistling through empty industrial landscapes. It was a very consequent set, monotonous and intriguing. Some people were just lying on the floor hanging on to their associations. It’s a real quality of the festival to put such acts next to Matana Roberts or Tristan Honsinger’s Hopscotch.

Freedom Unity
 The day ended with Natalie Sandtorv’s “Freedom Unity“ feat.Nils Petter Molvær & Hedvig Mollestad plus special guest Philip Gropper. Two years ago Sandtorv was at the A’Larmé! festival with a trio including the Norwegian drummer Ole Molfjell and Greek pianist Zoe Efstathiou. Sandtorv’s singing then reminded me of Sidsel Andresen, only a bit more off-the-wall because she was using sound pieces, staccato syllables, guttural cawing, and references to Scandinavian folk songs. However, this project was something completely different. Since last year Sandtorv and her band Freedom Nation have created their version of stoner rock free jazz, that reminded us of a weird mixture of Peter Brötzmann, the Psychedelic Furs, Morphine, King Crimson and Björk. The music was written for a gig at the Molde festival some time ago and now the band was augmented by Hedvig Mollestad (guitar) and Nils Petter Molvær (trumpet, electronics). Of course the latter played the typical ethereal, icy and spherical trumpet sounds he’s famous for. But on the other hand the music gets a completely different quality and he opened another dimension for it. Perfectly planned as the final show of the day.