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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Velvet renaissance in the golden city - Alernativa Festival (Part 2 of 2)

Alternativa Festival hutné hudby,
Festival of dense music, MeetFactory, Prague
October 26 and November 1-3, 2019

Christian Weber, electric bass, Joke Lanz, electronics. Photo: Anna Baštýřová

By Philipp Schmickl


During the three days that preceded the festival, your author was enjoying the life and ambience in the Mesopotamia of Prague, met the persons responsible for the festival and the MeetFactory and, with his heart beating for joy, researched the political transformations that – scented with a flowery hope – are taking place in Prague: In 2018 Zdeněk Hřib from the pirate party took office in the town hall. Then the festival began.

What follows is not a simple description of the concerts but their contextualization with the space where they took place, in short: a concertualization. The space is constituted by the relation between the physical circumstances (shapes, colors, sizes, materials) and the people present as well as by the music that serves as an emulsifier between the three equivalent parts. Over the course of three days, the per se sober space underwent a series of (actually physically impossible) deformations that can only be described through the most subjective perceptions of your correspondent which traverse strobo-flashing clouds and fine, rose-transparent, serpentesquely moving curtains. Citations from the program in italics.

The first band, Scattered Purgatory, transcended the main hall with a musical-ritualistic folk-styled psychedelic drone metal performance. In front of the stage, between the musicians and the audience, a one-meter-taiwanese-chinese marionette – like a possessed staccato-shaman – painted the floor and its puppeteer, who was dressed in "traditional" clothes, in white. This generated an hypnotic force that seized the audience for the entire duration of the performance. At the end of this Taoist ritual of redeeming innocent souls, a small fire broke out on stage: a tissue was torched by a flare from hell. After that, in the theatre hall, Peter Orins was endeavoring to air and open the space upwardly. His slow and concentrated drum solo created space for thinking in the air pockets between the sounds within the widely phrased music. Afterwards came JD Zazie (electronics and turntables), who expanded the space of the main hall like a colorfully painted accordion (inside) and installed another iron girder along the half-circle of a horizon vibrating brightly and darkly. Pause. After the break, the space was slowed down completely by Polish band Księżyc. Two women – the singers of the group –, very much alike the Bateleur (I) of the Tarot de Marseille, were standing behind tables burdened with glass bowls, mirrors and alchemistic artifacts. The ensemble played a two-hour medieval soothsaying-concert that was at the same time familiar to your polyglot reporter forever committed to the truth, as well as completely incomprehensible. The night culminated in an ethereal obscuration of the theatre hall that was played by the young Czech band Lebanon: Barrels, napalm. Standard ambient noise surface sheet metal voice satanic ass bleach. Bombs. In cases of acute fatigue, apply disco. It was loud and fun but too prepared to really carry away the audience. So we stayed for another beer.

On the second day, around midday, the seven members of the band Butcher's Cleaver arrived for the second rehearsal like seven freshly showered golems: Joke Lanz, turntables; Pasi Mäkelä, guitar and voice; Peter Orins, drums; Philipp Quehenberger, synthesizer; Jasper Stadhouders, guitar and electric bass; Petr Vrba, trumpet and electronics; and Christian Weber, electric bass. The bright floor was being swept and, as the bitumen outside was still wet from the rain the night before, the golems left a black watery line on the shiny cement that lead from the entry through the café to the main hall, where they were to play the last concert on the third night. The cleaning lady was indulgently leaning on her mop, watching the mob with nonchalance. The afternoon was gloomy, almost no trains were passing by, the motorway was silently murmuring on the other side, covering all frequencies; the frequency of the ambulances also remained constant. In the evening, the first concert took place in the theatre hall: Philipp Quehenberger, Jasper Stadhouders and Tomáš Procházka (guitar). Sometimes it is not easy when musicians meet and improvise for first time on stage. They filled the space with the surface of dark waters. Quehenberger and Procházka wanted to dive and disappear in order to investigate the psychedelic depths but every time they went underwater, Stadhouders rang his alarm and woke them from dreaming and brought them back to the surface. Your author would have appreciated to descend with the two divers who never ceased to pull downward – I hung myself with all my concentration on the keys and strings in order to disappear completely in the space. The second concert in the theatre hall was performed by Christian Weber (double bass, this time) and Joke Lanz, who, au contraire to the first group, have had a long-lasting collaboration. They created a detached and easygoing performance with a lot of humor so that the space became a permeable site where the atmosphere of the room could trespass the skins and flow into the bodies of the audience members. The listeners coalesced with the wooden planks they were sitting on, with the black curtains they were leaning on, with the Czech beer and slivovica they were carrying in their gestalt. Before the Weber-Lanz-concert, Rashad Becker performed in the main hall, like Valerio Tricoli (who played the last concert of the evening): solo electronics in the widest sense. Both demonstrated their mastery and the beauty of electronic and electro-acoustic sound; through their music they proved the existence of the space, the room, that we all are really here. They penciled over the contours of the hall with white Chinese ink, the glass and the lamps seemed polished, walls and pillars newly painted in black, the light was clear and the darkness could be shifted with the palm of the hand. The penultimate concert was performed by the KRK large group: George Cremasci, double bass; Matthew Ostrowski, electronics; Renata Raková, clarinet; Michaela Turcerová, saxophone; and Burkhard Beins, percussion. They stretched the space fata-morganically clear towards the distant which induced an atmosphere of departure like listening to an Alban Berg string quartet from small speakers on a grey midday in an empty kitchen, drinking strong beer out of a wine glass.

On the third day, your strolling correspondent made a trip to the tourist town and visited streets, towers, hills and trees he knew from the past. Nostalgia did not arise, but in the face of the masses of tourists I was overwhelmed by a weltschmerz that was fatal. Dizzy dizzy(ly) I followed the shape of a person that seemed highly familiar, however, I could not reach her without accelerating my pace. I chased the shape traversing the Staroměstské náměstí and hastened into a narrow and almost deserted alley where I finally slowed down. I had lost the bizarre and and well-known gestalt. The street was empty. And in this emptiness, in this hole in the general hubbub, my memory found space: it was the Golem, the genuine Golem. And as I looked up, I saw him on the roof of a building on the other side of the street, he stopped for a second, waved imperceptibly and disappeared.

The third evening in the MeetFactory started with Paregorik, a young Czech noise-electronic musician who filled the space with transparent electronic pressure that moved the audience closer and closer together until they felt like (in parenthesis), a list of names, separated by commas in between two lines that are bending concavely. The trio Ruinu, consisting of Jan Klamm, guitar, Patrik Pelikán, saxophone, and Ondřej Parus, drums, kept up the pressure, but in inbetween the instruments valves opened up through which the pressure could escape with loud squeaks like air leaving a balloon. After this, it took a while for the space to shrink back to its urform. It was still a little shaky when Thomas Ankersmit started his extensive sonic study of electronic music [which] incorporates Serge Modular feedback and random sine wave generators, a contact mic and tape speed variation. He found dimensions in the space that reached far out through the black walls of the main hall, but were only perceptible within the room. Your author sat right in front of the musician and became a witness of a hitherto ignored phenomenon. The highs of the music produced a feedback inside the ears whereas at the same time the deep murmuring of two people in the back of the space was audible: it was like listening to one voice coming from the inside and one voice coming from the outside of the body. The whole set possessed a classic beauty , that one has to master in order not to be struck dead by kitsch. Then came the conclusion of the festival with the band Butcher's Cleaver:Kombinace rituálního redukcionismu s orgiastickou hravostí, ru šivých pschedelick ých groovů s provokující komunikací, ponerého pomalého tempa s frenetickými útoky nebo armosférických zvukowých ploch s nepředvídatelným hlukem . It was big fun. After three rehearsals the band had a really good sound, a few tricks and some discipline. The space was laughing and really: jistí si můžeme být pouze absencí ticha.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this concertualization, Philipp. I wish I had been there. Your writing is very alive, and I truly appreciate that.

Nick Ostrum said...

I guess I am a day late on this, but I really enjoyed reading this review. Very vivid and thoughtful.