Berlin Atonal Festival. New codes in sight and sound

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Berlin Atonal 2017 quicked off yesterday for the fifth iteration since its reboot in 2013. Five days ahead, the festival will be running from Wednesday 16th to Sunday 20th August on its permanent industrial location, Kraftwerk Berlin, a former power station on the banks of the Spree.

This is a festival of both profound statements and plain fun, experimental music and avant-garde audio-visuals intersect with mainstream electronic dance music with a program that includes over a hundred musicians, sound and visual artists, performers, and DJs. The public is retreated during the five days of duration of the festival into the giant concrete bunker of the decommissioned DDR power plant to experiment pulsating sound, light and visual installations, and media art in conjunction with a solid music schedule.

This year Atonal commissioned installations program —in continuous exhibition during the festival duration— presents five audio visual installations placed on the ground and underground floor (Keller) and a series of five films screened in loop during all day at the site-specific panoramic projection screen, in a dedicated projection area, Projektionsfläche, located on the middle floor.

The stage Null on the ground floor and the Main stage on the first floor —the so called cathedral-like in sound and appearance— are dedicated to the performances.

Main Stage. Photo: Paco Neumann

The Main Stage is brilliantly engineered, the sound endlessly reverb back on itself around its vast height.

Audio Visual Installations

The most visibly evident piece —and probably will become the most photographed— is Divided Power by Montreal based, British born artist David Spriggs. His primary field of artistic practise sits between painting, sculpture and installation art. Formations of shape and colour are suspended in time and then extended three-dimensionally in space through the use of strata of transparent two-dimensional planes, creating a pseudo-Cartesian space.

David Spriggs, Divided Power. Photo: Paco Neumann

David Spriggs, Divided Power. Photo: Paco Neumann

Irish artist John Gerrard brings X Iaevis (Spacelab)  a live streamed hyper-realistic graphical simulation of an experiment that occurred during the second mission of the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992. The scene, rendered in extreme detail, sees an African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) suspended in zero gravity being pursued by a sterile set of scientific hands.

John Gerrard, X Iaevis (Spacelab). Photo: Maria Muñoz

Phyllotaxis, located in the Keller —basement— by Dutch duo Macular, Daan Johan and Joris Strijbos, explore the audiovisual possibilities of self-constructed feedback systems by means of kinetic light machines and modular synthesizers. For the first time in an installative setting, Berlin Atonal has commissioned three kinetic machines to inhabit Kraftwerk’s basement and turn it into a cybernetic system self-controlled through light and sound.

Berlin collective FELD presents GRAVITYa monumental scale installation exploring one of the most fundamental principles of attraction between matter, bringing together the conflicting forces of reluctant uplight and downward pull, acceleration and interaction, in a jarring choreography of independent agents struggling against gravity and transforming their surroundings into an otherworldly space of transient shadow play, sound and motion.

FELD, GRAVITY. Photo: María Muñoz

Ground floor, general view. Photo: María Muñoz

Panoramic Projections

On its site-specific panoramic projection screen, Atonal presents a different projection every day. On Wednesday, Austrian Lukas Marxt showed in this panoramic format Two Skies (2013) a film shot from a drilling platform in the Gulf of Bothnia (Sweden) at two different times of day: dawn and dusk. A surreal landscape extends across the whole width of the space. The sound, the penetrating blue, and the flashing white waves transport the viewer to a place that cannot exist in this way: two ocean surfaces from ground and sky, strictly separated by a dynamic horizon.

Lukas Marxt,Two Skies. Photo: Paco Neumann

Lukas Marxt,Two Skies. Photo: Paco Neumann

Thursday is the turn of acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhao Liang, who will present On Stage (2017). Commissioned by the festival, the work is a meditative real life, situated on the very borders of time and space. “From a bird’s-eye view I am overlooking a mysterious village —it seems to be on the border of time and space, isolated and aloof from the rest of the world. Every one of the villagers is playing the role of themselves, performing in the elegy of life”.

On Friday, Origin: At Lenght (2017) by Mischa Daams will occupy the panoramic screen. Daam’s artistic practice consists of experiential environments, performances, and films in which simple choreographies convey complex patterns of behaviour. He uses different media such as kinetic motion, moving images, light, and sound and the approach of his work could be considered as “open systems” that explore relationships of control and co-dependence between technology, perception, the body, and space.

Mischa Daams, Origin: At Lenght. Photo: María Munoz

The UK duo Semiconductor, Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt, will show on Saturday the panoramic projection piece Earthworks (2016), a computer-generated landscape based on analog modeling techniques based on acquired seismic data taken from La Planta quarry in Spain. The data directly sculpts the image, re-animates the landscape, and reflects the symbiotic relationship between landscape formation and seismic vibrations.

Semiconductor, Earthworks. Photo: María Munoz

The last day of the festival, Sunday, the new artist collective Materiel Matano will display the Atonal commissioned work MV (2017) where they travel on a large tanker in the North Sea, filming the zero-point at which human commerce and intentionality cross over with brute, uncaring, unintentional, first nature.

General ambient. Photo: Paco Neumann

Selected films by Peter Hutton at Projektionfläche

Berlin Atonal takes the opportunity to present a selected retrospective of Peter Hutton —who died in 2016— 16mm films. Originally born in Detroit, was an experimental filmmaker known for his delicate and patient portraits of cities and landscapes.

Peter Hutton films. Photo: Paco Neumann


The old control room, Schaltzentrale, hosts improvisation sessions by various artists in a space that still has the old power consoles and has been filled with huge modular synthesizers. The room is small—yesterday there were constant queues in front of the door— and it will be open daily, except Sunday, uninterruptedly from 18.30-9h until 2-3h am.

Schaltzentrale. Modular Synths. Photo: Paco Neumann.

Schaltzentrale. Modular Synths. Photo: Paco Neumann.

Screening programs at Stage Null

Two separate screening programs on Friday and Saturday will show tightly curated short films from directors, animators and experimentalists old —Larry CubaJulian AntoniszRobert Breer— and new —Deborah StratmanOlivia BockRebecca Mendez.

Atonal is a festival of mesmerizing sensual sensations, especially for the sight and hearing. Besides being a grand spectacle, it is an opportunity for musicians and media artists, an occasion to build a network and enjoy the works produced under the new commissioned alliances and collaborations that the festival offers.

Words: Maria Muñoz
Cover Photo:© Paco Neumann
Photos in the article: © Paco Neumann and Maria Muñoz. Credits in every photo.

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