This closing concert brings together a spectrum of experimental and progressive sonic and cross-genre live acts to explore its themes of intense transmission between bodies of all kinds, in the tranquil ruins of an inner city monastery. Following the more contemplative and eccentric earlier events, ‘Paradise Found 3’ dials up on its pop inclinations, with Los Angeles-based rising pop star Dorian Electra presenting their futuristic sound and queer satire, along with the wit and humour of London lyricist and DJ Shygirl. Multidisciplinary artist and Quantum Natives artist i.Ruuu, as well DJ and curator of “post-gender avatar” Agatha Valkyrie Ice‘s mixtape series Brooklyn Bridge also take part.
“What I most remember about the exercises is that everybody took the simulated disaster very seriously but at the same time enjoyed it,” writes artist Nile Koetting about the school evacuation drills he remembers as a child growing up in Japan. He’s discussing his performance and installation ‘Remain Calm’ via email ahead of its latest iteration, taking place at Creamcake’s second of three Paradise Found music and performance events at Berlin’s Klosterruine on July 27. “There was no simulation of collective panic or excitement; it was a case of immersion in the same situation, while maintaining a sense of distance from others,” the Berlin and Tokyo-based artist adds about these emergency exercises that were a major source of inspiration for the work. “We were also able to act out the scenario of ‘remaining calm.’”
Koetting’s practice combines installation, performance, light and sound in a manner that considers the connections between artist and audience, drawing from the tropes of theatre with an interest in technology, human solidarity and crisis. As he notes: “I have always been interested in space[s] that can be redone or changed in the context of the connectivity arising in the work.” Take, for instance, his collaboration with Tokyo-based electronic musician Nozomu Matsumoto last year at London’s Somerset House, ‘Climatotherapy’. In this project, electric blue carpet, lighting, ambient sound and an Alexa smart home device set the stage for guided listening sessions by Matsumoto that evoked contemporary wellness culture as much as technological over-saturation. This theatrical approach—that Koetting describes with the term ‘scenography’—points towards the strange sense of passivity and confused collectivity in the present day, where human agency is rethought in the face of technological extensions and environmental unpredictability. It’s an approach that’s reinforced by a Bruno Latour quote sent to me by Koetting from 2018’s Down to Earth, which poignantly raises such questions through the language of theatre:
“Today, the decor, the wings, the background, the whole building have come on stage and are competing with the actors for the principal role. This changes all the scripts, suggests other endings. Humans are no longer the only actors, even though they still see themselves entrusted with a role that is much too important for them.”
With this in mind, Koetting took the time to talk about the aestheticisation of disaster, elevator music and the role of the artist in the age of algorithms.
**‘Remain Calm’ is inspired by nationwide fire and evacuation drills in Japan. Is there a particular cultural history regarding disaster and risk that’s specific to Japan in the project? How does this translate globally?
Nile Koetting: The disaster-prevention exercises I experienced in schools in Japan are a major basis of ‘Remain Calm’. The Great Hanshin Earthquake, which did great damage to the city of Kobe, occurred when I was five years old. To raise awareness of the need to prevent disasters is an extremely vital part of school education.
In the evacuation drills at my school, we were informed of the day on which there was going to be an exercise but not the time when it would start. So that day we were in class as usual when suddenly an announcement came over the PA system that a major earthquake had just occurred. For several minutes the speaker emitted recorded rumblings and the sound of buildings collapsing. During this time, we students stayed huddled under our desks. Then came another announcement that a fire had broken out in the science room. A fog machine made it look like smoke was coming out of the doorway there. We held hands with our classmates and evacuated to the playground outside, making sure not to go down the corridor by the science room. It was very easy to understand and like a little play.
This odd group performance was not put on for a certain audience. At the starting point of its creation we were students and felt a vague solidarity in the environment surrounding us. How can we find a solidarity of the sort needed to confront intangible crises such as climate change in the post-globalism age? This question is of keen interest to me in my production of works. ‘Remain Calm’ grew out of my experiences in Japan but I think at its core is something very fundamental, something deriving from physical commonality.
**Do you think much about the aesthetics or aestheticisation of disasters and risk? For instance, I feel like airline ‘in flight safety demonstrations’ are almost a genre of video in themselves.
NK: That’s a very interesting question. I have put a cabin safety instruction in some of my works.
Actually, Air France has recently been using a safety instruction video that is choreographed like an upbeat ballet performance, and I hear Virgin America is producing one that will look like a musical. As I mentioned earlier about my experience of the disaster-prevention exercises, serious actions do not have to be boring. They can be charming because of the serious nature and just about anything can have a playful element, I believe. Under capitalism, all sorts of things are converted into value. In this situation ‘safety demonstration aesthetics’ somehow strikes me as a term in touch with life.
** Is there a relationship between your work and any of the discourses around ambient music?
NK: I have never felt any relationship with ambient music as a genre but I am highly interested in music existing within a relationship with place, and its psychological and physical action. I am thinking of [Brian] Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’ and [Erik] Satie’s furniture-like compositions.
In my university days, I researched the history of elevator music. I read that it began with music that was played in the elevators going up to the observation deck on the Empire State Building in the 1930s. Those elevators moved at high speeds, which was very rare at the time, and they played waltzes to allay any fear that might be felt by the passengers. In a sense, it is an act of choreographing people. In my art as well, I handle sound as that kind of linguistic material. I think ambient music provides an example that is readily comprehensible.
** Do you have any particular thoughts on smart home technology? I know you’ve used Amazon’s Alexa before in your work. What are your thoughts on our behaviour and domestic experiences getting guided by algorithmic suggestions?
NK: I think of smart home technology as something like friendly aliens. Even more than the newest technology of other types that has still not taken shape, smart home technology is being animated and finding its way into our lives. Like microbiomes, it is melting into our lives as a kind of alien companion.
Animism is not something confined to the Orient or indigenous cultures; I sense a connection bearing a strong resemblance to it in new technology, and especially the commercialised variety.
On the subject of algorithms, I would like to mention my work ‘Sustainable Hours’. I created it with products that were suggested to me by the algorithm on Amazon, with the idea of using ready-made objects in the Amazon Age.
So we are in transition from the paradigm of artist as agent to that of artist guided by algorithms. As I see it, acceptance of this will allow a mirror-like reflection of the circumstances around our present and the environment we inhabit.**
Time has long been recognised as life’s most precious commodity. While money or power can be lost and regained, time is irreplaceable. It’s a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce in this Age of Acceleration and it’s up to organisations like Berlin’s Creamcake to combat a capitalist culture of human disposability in the so-called “experience economy”. Hence, the ‘Paradise Found’ triple event, which reaches into the interdisciplinary art and music platform’s network and brings back artists they’ve worked with before, alongside greener up-and-coming talent of a similar ilk or ethos.
Happening in the monastic ruins of Klosterruine on June 7, July 27 and August 17, the music and performance series picks up on the Berlin event space’s summer program, focussing on its medieval yard as a place of change and transformation. Katrīna Neiburga & Andris Eglītis’ “Playground – for accepting your mortality” hybrid outdoor installation will host visitors and performers alike, while expanding on the overall theme of survival and utopia in a nod to Old Testament notions of the Garden of Eden and eternal life.
A clear play on English poet John Milton’s epic 17th-century poem Paradise Lost, ‘Paradise Found’ responds to the Franziskaner-Klosterkirche’s Catholic setting with a secular sequel to Adam and Eve’s origin story and ultimate exile. It examines the subversive potential of queer feminist gestures and agnostic rituals in a historical location by creating a vital orchard of diversity and hybridity. In welcoming back musicians, composers, producers and performers into the Creamcake fold, it cultivates these artists’ ongoing practices by offering support and recognition.
Kara-Lis Coverdale returns after 3hd Festival 2016 with her electronic and acoustic compositions exploring a patient concentration on “sonic afterlife, memory, and material curiosity”. COOL FOR YOU (aka Vika Kirchenbauer) recently dropped her COMMUNAL MESSalbum debut via the Creamcake label and is another 3hd alum, as is Lamin Fofana. The latter Berlin-based producer and artist creates instrumental electronic music that contrasts the reality of our world with what’s beyond and explores “questions of movement, migration, alienation and belonging”. All three of these artists appear for the first ‘Paradise Found’ event on June 7, alongside a collective sonic mediation and “hyperobject photosynthesis” by Creamcake event newcomer Judith Sönnicken.
The series as a whole presents as a sort of triptych of moods and themes, where the almost devotional tone of Coverdale and Kirchenbauer’s Sacred music influences meet the transcendent realities of Fofana’s crumbling, other-worldy ambient and Sönnicken’s spiritual contemplation, on the first night. Bendik Giske’s creaking saxophone loops, Cucina Povera’s layered vocal cycles and Nile Koetting’s immersive ‘scenography’ that obscures the distinction between performative space and its audience creates a certain tension of definition. Michelle Woods interdisciplinary ‘tastesounds’ further intensifies this friction for the second ‘Paradise Found’ edition on July 27.
The closing event, on August 17, goes full hedonism in the debaucherous pop of rising star Dorian Electra, along with the sarcasm and dark humour of London lyricist and DJ Shygirl. Meanwhile, 3hd 2017 participant i.Ruuu hacks, scrambles and destroys its popular cultural references with an overdriven assault of what could be described as the sonic equivalent of ‘too much of a good thing’. One thing that there could never be too much of, though, is the care, attention and time that the ‘Paradise Found’ program offers its artists and their audience. It takes the etymology of the English word ‘curation’ (as coming from the Latin word for “to cure” or “take care of”) seriously, offering space for spontaneous community to flourish.**
Week-long festival インフラ INFRA is taking place at various locations across Tokyo, running August 19 to 26.
Organized by Berlin-based music platform 3hd Festival and Japanese-run online gallery EBM(T), the roster of events brings together artists, performers and musicians who work at the intersection of art and technology, proposing “a break from institutional and market-based boundaries,” with a focus on those who are under-represented. Looking at the infrastructures that ‘rule the modern world,’ the festival is an ecosystem of thought dedicated to a “global, interdisciplinary and independent state of mind.”
The gaze comes in many guises. There’s the colonial and patriarchal one, of course, but there’s also the broader institutional one, of which there are many types of institutions. There’s community, for a start, a kind of participatory, almost ritualistic practice predicated on conformity. Then there’s mass surveillance, hierarchy and the popular notion of ‘normativity’ – museums, schools, art galleries; hospitals, prisons, psychiatry. For Vika Kirchenbauer there’s a violence inherent in all of these social constructions, and a complex network of connections and relationships that create a confluence of elements that are ultimately oppressive.
Hence, the Berlin-based artist’s COOL FOR YOU music production project. It’s part of a wider creative practice that includes video and performance, yielding insight and examination into power and self-understanding within all this gaze. For the first video premiered on aqnb to accompany her second EP, MOOD MANAGEMENT – released via Berlin’s Creamcake label on February 2 – the frame of a thermal vision camera is poised on two colourless people in action. It’s hard to tell what they’re doing, but it seems sexual, at least intimate, and there’s an ambiguous substance being consumed from various parts of the body throughout. One can only assume.
“The materiality is unclear, just because it’s reduced to heat and we don’t have any information on colour or a more detailed understanding of the texture,” says Kirchenbauer, via Skype from Berlin, webcam-to-webcam, “so whatever associations, or suspicions we have will be had much more, although that might not be the case if you look at it outside of thermal vision.” The video for the ‘MOOD MANAGEMENT’ title-track is one of an ongoing series by Kirchenbauer, which includes ‘GIVEN YOUR CONVENIENT ABSENCE’ and ‘SHE WHOSE BLOOD IS CLOTTING IN MY UNDERWEAR’ – grey-scale heat signatures of people moving beneath, or looking back at this military technology used in warfare. The music that drives them is equal parts brutal and compelling, contorted samples of human harmonies (Sacred Harp choir music to be precise) languishing in a milieu of heavy breathing and nervous rhythms. It’s hard to tell where these vocal samples come from but their dissonant tones imply someplace unfamiliar.“The new video talks more about the material quality of things and interaction, as well as the outside gaze and reading of that; our automatic associations and responses to things. And how – through our suspicions, or readings, or associations – that can be triggered and add this strange firing that doesn’t really succeed in the sense of either disgust, or interest, or joy. It just stays at a high level of intensity.”
**I’m curious about this suspicion of institutions, did you study?
Vika Kirchenbauer: No, I tried briefly but it didn’t really work. Also, I don’t come from a background where it was ever really considered a possibility to study, so I think I have been intimidated by institutions of education for a long time. I ended up actively studying in a ‘prestigious’ school for two years but then I figured it was not for me… But there are so many different institutions that are not only art institutions. There are systems of psychiatry, or medical, legal institutions that I have also had to deal with in relation to gender stuff that have also shaped me as a person; the hierarchy of having to explain oneself and what kind of hierarchy that builds and how a person can be dependent on validation of institutions, and of being convincing enough in order to get what one needs.
There are so many different institutions in our society and I think they all normalize, and discipline, and leave marks on people, in very different ways. I think it’s particularly important to stress that, with a particular focus on class, (or other marginalising social markers that also, again, often relate to class): how we relate to those different institutions, and to which institutions.
** I first heard of your work through that performance you did at NGBK called COOL FOR YOU: SEPARATISM, can you tell me a bit more about the concept behind this?
VK: That performance had a lot to do with symbolic institutional inclusion and power struggles/violence within feminism and something that at the time I named “casualties of conviction.” But that separatism thing also connects to Sacred Harp music in a way that is interesting, because it’s set up in a way that does not assume an audience; everybody who sings is participating. You cannot be there and be in any other position than that of the singer. Of course, you might end up not singing but you will be amongst the singers, and, in a way, it’s a metaphor for how communities work.
I think there is the idea of inclusion there, in the sense that it’s not about how well people sing — because it’s meant to be God playing the different vocal chords of the people like a harp — so it will always be right, as God apparently favours passion over skill. That, I find remarkable, that musically-speaking there’s a lot of room for dissonance, although on a more general level that’s often not so much the case in such groups or communities. There is also obviously a strong sense of exclusion because it’s only for those actively participating under a certain set of rules, which also speaks to a larger sense of how belonging works in groups and subcultures, or communities. There is a certain set of expectations, or almost ritualistic behaviour that is demanded of those who want to belong in order to be considered part of the group. That, to me, is a fascinating sense of separatism and conditions of inclusion. Who gets to sing, however poorly, and who’s excluded from the choir?
** I did some reading on Sacred Harp, and I found its position within colonialism to be a complex one…
VK: The point is that many Sacred Harp songs stem from the early 18th century in England, before the sounds were brought into the US where Sacred Harp then originated. The first book of Sacred Harp songs collects music, or material to be sung in that set up. It developed between 1760 and 1820, or something like that, so it is very, very old and obviously didn’t just originate in North America out of the blue but comes from England through settlers. The reason why it sounds different to us now, and has this kind of an ‘exotic’ feel, I think, is that the harmonies are a bit different. They de-emphasize the thirds of a scale and favour harmonies that go with the fourths or fifths. My argument is that harmonies and music have been used immensely as a form of colonizing. So it’s not only been Bible texts, or physical violence but – especially in Christian missions but also in State colonialism, which has a history of over 500 years – music has played an important part.
I think it’s strange that people in the West nowadays can look at ‘world music’ and understand it as something that is ‘authentic,’ and ‘untouched,’ and ‘real,’ and ‘different,’ and not bear in mind that, of course, over centuries music has also been used as a colonizer, harmonies have been used to colonize and they have obviously left influences. All these kinds of music have existed in relation to each other. If we can listen to something now that comes from parts of the world that feel ‘remote’ to us, of course that link and that kind of economy is only possible because there is a history of colonialism. We cannot think that colonialism has not impacted the music, or the people that have been colonized. That’s why I find it interesting to go back to very old, white, Protestant Christian music and look at those harmonies and see how they might, or might not have also influenced the course of music in very different places in the world (or perhaps been influenced by them, of course).
** Now that I think about it, your EP and your music is really, very cohesive. Everything applies, in that it all relates, musically and conceptually, in a really interesting way. Especially, also with your visual work, these associations, like talking about institutions, while the word ‘institution’ can apply to so many different things.
VK: It’s important to me that there is a sense of atmosphere or aesthetics that is kind of ambiguous, that there is some sense of violence and hysteria but also almost a kind of ecstasy or enthusiasm that’s uncanny, in a way. Depending on how you listen to it, it can also be sad but still almost like a drug or something. I want to craft things in a way so that, affectively, one can connect with them in different moments or moods, in quite different ways and discover different contradicting elements in terms of affect and emotion.
** So you take this Sacred Harp music, which already is loaded with contradictions. Where even beyond the exclusion of someone that isn’t participating, there are also people, I’m assuming, that aren’t even given the option of participating in the first place…
VK: Based on their faith or for other reasons institutionalised churches or community churches exclude people, obviously…
** There’s this other element to it, where you’re basically recreating this choir live by pointing this infrared camera at your audience. They don’t have a choice and also it’s achieved via technology. It’s this idea of surveillance — self-surveillance and surveillance of others, even, within small communities, which runs through your work.
VK: Yeah, most of it deals with or discusses looking as a violent act, which doesn’t make my work less violent, I just accentuate or discuss ways of looking back, or acts of looking back. I emphasize that violence, as well, and I think in performance setups, where people are used to not just look at something but also un-look at themselves, that’s interesting to actually shift that dynamic and discuss what is actually being looked at, who is an agent in the situation? Does it need to be different, or how can we actually deal with that situation?
With the infrared vision, it makes the audience look at each other through that enhanced gaze. I think shifting that focal point away from the stage and having people look at each other through technology, that’s interesting to me. And of course, I work with very particular technology of thermal vision or infrared cameras. It is mostly used in military or border control, so this kind of camera that I use is what is being used at the EU land borders to detect heat signatures at night, of people who want to enter a country. I deliberately use that technology and bring it into contexts where most of the people do not have to deal with any of that kind of gaze — or where the stakes of inclusion or exclusion are very low, in comparison.
**Talking about the gaze, and the violence of the gaze, is this something that you personally have experienced and where that interest comes from?
VK: Yeah, I think so. In a lot of ways, whether I perform on stage or not does not make much of a difference in the way that I am being looked at, and also since my understanding of myself, of course works a lot through the reflection through others. I think I have learned to look at myself through the eyes of others but, also, you obviously cannot know for certain how someone perceives you, how they look at you. So it also instills some sense of suspicion in you, in a way, you always presume to know how somebody looks at you, and why. I think psychologically that does something special to someone who has learnt to look at themselves through the eyes of others. I think a reaction towards the inability to blend-in as ‘normal’ is always there. There’s always this moment of being aware of one’s difference and that is constantly confirmed by the way people look. It’s kind of a moment where you’re constantly on stage, and that kind of ‘off-stage moment’ is not really happening.
**Do you think that ‘off-stage moment’ is possible if you found the right community?
VK: No, not at all. I think that sense of judgment is a fundamental problem. When people realise that the Other is not themselves, then everyone gets angry. I think that, in any kind of context, it should lead people to, not accept difference but to actually accept not understanding someone else, or not fully grasping or getting someone. We’re all different and that’s where a lot of problems come from.
I think for people to get that things are complicated — and that different people and different aspects of social markers they bear come with certain privileges and privations that also play out differently, at different stages of time in their lives — it’s very hard to deal with, it seems. There’s also a lot of trauma, envy and hurt in people and I think it’s honestly hard for most to actually deal with the fact that the Other is Other and not ourselves. It’s frustrating the we can probably not understand the Other, but it might then, perhaps, be preferable not to make that the basic condition in order to legitimize and validate someone, to understand their suffering.
Only once they can argue and make their suffering understandable to us, we then legitimise their suffering and generously try to include them. I don’t think this is how it should work but this has been the history of feminist struggle, for instance, or its internal organizing logic, in which it confirms the hierarchy much more if those with more privilege or power have to be convinced of other people’s privation or suffering, in order to generously say ‘yes, I now get it… please step inside.’
I think that kind of understanding and that kind of disclosure that is expected from the one who is different, exactly that entitlement, is actually where the hierarchy gets stabilized, in a sense. That’s also in acknowledging that, apart from the gaze and the violence of looking, there’s also that violence of understanding.**