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festival report [2012-12-11]

The Extreme Rituals: A Schimpfluch Carnival  was a retrospective and a celebration of Schimpfluch, a platform created by Rudolf Eb.er in 1987 for extreme and outsider artists and the generation of highly disturbing and irritating audio/visual works. The festival took place between Friday the 30th of  November & Sunday 2nd of December at the Arnolfini, Bristol . Our intrepid writer Martin P took it upon  himself to be submerged in the sights & sounds of this most unsettling audio/ visual   experience.

Friday, 30th of November
 
My train arrived in Bristol later than expected, and I rushed my way to the Arnolfini: a large, multi-level building with many galleries and rooms; stuck, somewhat bizarrely, in what looked like the “party” area of town. In the morning, before any of the scheduled evening performances, there were various discussions and talks; these were well attended, but varied in  effectiveness. Ian McCormick’s interesting talk on “monsters” and “carnival”, set a brilliant context for the weekend; it leant towards being academic and dry, but this sombreness complimented his colourful material. This was followed by a witty performance piece by Ute Waldhausen: essentially, using scissors to transform her skirt and top into a burkha-like arrangement that revealed the “sexualised” parts of the body. After this there was a talk from Gavin Butt on the Leeds post-punk scene, which came to interesting conclusions but got to them rather laboriously. Next up, a series of presentations: Holly Ingleton on the “Her Noise” project, Leif Elggren on his “The Sudarium of St Veronica” recording and Ron Athey on his life and works. The first was a little theory-laden, the second fascinating and the third warm and captivating. Bringing the first half of the panel talks to a close, was an interview with Vicky Langan; it was most notable to me, for her explanation of one of her preparation techniques: grab a load of stuff and just turn up. Her later performance showed up the inherent risk of failure in this approach, as she dumped a dustbin on the floor and emptied a bag of junk over it. After poking about and fiddling with a squeaky screw for a while, she finished the performance. A testament to the virtues and dangers of experimental tactics.

After a brief break for lunch, the talks resumed with what looked like the centrepiece of the afternoon - “The Story of the Schimpfluch-Gruppe as told to Chris Sienko by Rudolf Eb.er, Joke Lanz and M. Vanci Stirnemann”. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a frustrating, if funny, exercise. Put simply, neither three really wanted to shed any light on their intentions or history; leaving Sienko to quickly work through his pages of questions with little joy. Whilst this was disappointing, it did frankly magnify the power of their work; placing the emphasis on us interpreting them through their performances, rather than explaining them to us. Junko Hiroshige then stepped up and screamed at us for about fifteen minutes. I say “screamed”, but really she was more making very harsh vocal cries; her distorted shrieks and chattering filling the room without a microphone. The last talk of the afternoon saw Sienko discussing “Confrontational and Transgressive Strategies…” with Lanz, GX Jupiter-Larsen, Mike Dando and Dave Phillips. This was a more free-flowing affair than Sienko’s previous effort, mainly due to Phillips’ interesting views on his work and Dando’s very clear statements regarding his intents. The afternoon closed with Langan’s aforementioned performance.

Returning after a long walk around the quay and shiny shops, I watched the first stage performance of the weekend: Phurpa. Three seated men, dressed in robes, who proceeded to burn some incense (?) and then perform a throat-singing drone for a long time. I overheard someone say it was “bone-shaking”, and it really was: a thick wall of bass, only interrupted by sparse sections of beautiful sounding percussion. It was very powerful, but also very long; especially given the concentrated nature of the sound. Indeed, one aspect to be shared by several of the weekend’s events was the notion of duration as intensity. After that very “static” performance, Daniel Lowenbruck and Leif Elggren went into other worlds entirely. They started with Lowenbruck transcribing a speech from Elggren, on a large roll of paper on the floor in the audience; before both walked onto the stage for the second part of their piece. This involved Elggren sitting in an armchair and convulsing like a very weak, elderly man; whilst Lowenbruck slowly orbited him, following a circle of milk bottles. He transferred milk from each bottle to the next, pouring until spillage had reduced the amount of liquid to nothing; all to a soundtrack of harsh noise. I was distinctly non-plussed whilst watching the performance, but it is something that has since run about in my brain a fair deal. After this show of theatrics, we had… The New Blockaders and GX Jupiter-Larsen. To be fair, without their performance element, we’ve have just been treated to a wall of fairly bad noise; so the sight of one member in particular - who wandered about, casually watching the other Blockaders and their projection screen - was a welcome and nicely judged comic presence. The throwing of a dustbin lid into the audience, by the central Blockader, felt a little “underwhelming” - as did the size of his hammer! All of this was watched over by Jupiter-Larsen, who stood in the wings above the stage, slowly grinding a piece of metal against a rail.

After a brief interval, we were treated to Bryan Lewis Saunders, who did a spoken word piece; equal parts comic and stomach-squirming discomfort. None of which was helped by his visual backing of medical films and sonic backing of a high pitched whine. Following this slow-burning assault, we had a more animated, dynamic  attack from Dave Phillips. I’d noted a lot of balloons above the audience pit earlier, and I entered the venue to find pitch darkness, balloons everywhere, and a piercing drone made from squealing balloons. When he finally made his way from the audience to the stage, Phillips slowly built up layers of vocal noises and sounds: shuddering and spitting as he paced back and forth. This became more agitated and feral, until the light behind him suddenly died; plunging us into darkness. Whereupon, an amazing quadrophonic recording kicked in, with women running amongst the audience screaming, it was a genuinely intense experience - like a re-creation of being shelled or bombed. Apart from Dave Phillips’ other set, it was the best thing I saw all weekend. The last performance of the first day saw Rudolf Eb.er and Junko Hiroshige take to the stage. The latter stood at the very front of the stage, unmoving in sunglasses, and reprised her shriek and chatter from the afternoon - unbelievable vocal endurance. Stood at the back of the stage, Eb.er built up a drone around Junko’s vocals; embedding the sounds of fire crackling, cries and junk noises, until she was barely audible. Clad in a long, black wig, he then wandered through the audience; clinging to his “rattle on a long stick” above his head. It was a good end to a good day.

 
Saturday, 1st of December
 
I walked from my hotel (cheap and cheerful, thank you) to get to the Arnolfini early. I missed the “Extreme Yodelling” workshop and performance, but managed to watch Doreen Kutze (who organised both) in one of the Schimpfluch-Gruppe films that were being shown. In it, she yodels away whilst Eb.er and Lowenbruck pour muesli over her - it was one of the more explicitly “fun” films to be seen. The obvious contrast is with “vomit party”, which saw Eb.er marshalling four Japanese women in vomiting; for a very, very long time. Other rooms housed exhibitions of photographs and album artwork, each with warnings of “disturbing” material on the doors to alert casual passers-by. The evening’s schedule started on a high with Trevor Wishart, who performed two pieces. The first was an enthralling vocal improvisation, with Wishart channelling a thousand voices. It was tense, it was funny, it was tender. A virtuosic performance. He followed this with a playback piece, in quadrophonic sound through the fantastic Arnolfini PA system. This oddly cellular presentation consisted of voices and vocal sounds, layered and processed; some times more effectively than others. It was a nice academic counterpoint to the more physical improvisation. After this, Vicky Langan returned for a performance which did little for me. I missed the very start, but it involved her being pawed by a naked man and ended with them wrestling and brawling across the stage. It was all set to an unadventurous drone and just didn’t connect with me - but a few friends were gushing about it, so… The same friends were similarly enthusiastic about the next performance - a piece of pure theatre from Vagina Dentata Organ. I was initially also unexcited by this, but in the days since - as per the Elggren/Lowenbruck set - it has circled through my mind repeatedly. In short, we saw a brief classical piece played on a cello, accompanied by two members laying out toilet rolls in patterns on the floor in front of the stage; this was then followed by the arrival behind us of a multitude of drummers, banging out a vague martial theme and led by a gesturing character in a hat. This barrage then snaked its way down to the stage, and formed a line in front of it; whilst the “leader” paraded behind them, like a worshipped dictator. He then proceeded to smash several mirrors at the back of the stage, using a baseball bat and hammer; before gathering his entourage onto the stage for a thundering farewell. During all of this, the toilet rolls started flying onto the stage and into the audience - and someone was spitting fish parts or something: whatever it was, it stunk. I’ll spare you my thoughts and interpretations, but its something that will stick in my memory for a long time.

After a break, we were led back to events by the embarrassing PA announcement, “Will you please make your way to the auditorium for the next performance of Extreme Rituals” - or words to that effect. It was a little bit formal and silly (funny, though). Joachim Montessuis’s set was pretty awful I thought; essentially a blast of predictable laptop noise and shouting, with Montessuis utilising a Wii controller (I think..). Fists were pumped in the audience by the appearance of overt “NOISE”, but it left me very cold - I find it hard to go along with someone making huge aggressive, feral gestures (Montessuis performed topless); who then stops periodically to peer at his laptop and make tiny, precise adjustments to his set-up. I think I was in the minority though. Sudden Infant’s performance was something I’d looked forward to, and he just about delivered for me. Playing with Christian Weber (double bass), Joke Lanz performed a playful song-based set which stopped and started and circled around itself. The childlike, storytelling nature of the piece reflected his well-documented interest in fatherhood: what it means to be a father and a son. At times, the danger of triteness hung in the air (“I am a head/You are a wall/I am a Wall/You are a head/etc”); but Lanz’s charisma as a performer ensured his piece was captivating to the end. The last performance of the second day again involved Rudolf Eb.er, this time in his Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock guise. I won’t lie - I’m not entirely sure what exactly was going on, but it was an incredibly intense experience. He sat on a stool, right at the edge of the stage, and used his odd gloves (adorned with buttons and cables) to build and maintain a drone. I can remember sounds of water and swirling tones, which grew denser and denser; but mainly I just remember Eb.er breathing and tensing, and tensing, and tensing… He performed topless, his lithe torso documenting his ritual. I can very clearly visualise his stark neck muscles, and his eyes rolling back into his head. It was viscerally intense. If that wasn’t enough, throughout the performance something was burnt (or fried!) on stage; producing a pungent vinegar-y smell. As I said, a very intense experience.

 

 
Sunday, 2nd of December

 
I got to the Arnolfini in time to catch some of M. Vanci Stirnemann’s installation: “Intravenous”. This used medical drips and amplified plates and bowls to create a series of shifting rhythms. It was a very concentrated, clever performance; with a hypnotic power that belied its spartan simplicity. I entered the very dark setting for Dave Phillips’ second performance just as he began; and yet again, he was breathtaking. Sat cross-legged on a table, in the centre of the room and audience, he used a mixer to play field-recordings through the quadrophonic set-up. He layered these to produce dense beds of sound: chirruping insects, crying birds and massive bass breaks of thunder. It had none of the gestural qualities of his first set, but was nevertheless quietly intense - especially the ending, where he let a sedate insect recording play out as he walked through the audience; handing each of us a leaflet asking us to compare the virtues of humans and insects. Following this epic creation, we were treated to one man, three tape recorders and some microphones. Michael Barthel cut a rather lonely figure on stage, but he held the audience quiet and rapt as he carefully unravelled his sound-poetry. Where so many performers, who believe they work in this territory, gurn and spew in a grotesque display of garishness, Barthel was economic and precise: clipped, even. His restraint adding a weight and academic sensibility to his vocal declarations. During the middle of his performance, he switched on the aforementioned tape recorders; and their low-fidelity, ghostly voices instantly drew a line to Kurt Schwitters in my brain. He left the stage to great applause, and rightly so. The next set, from G*Park, returned us back to huge, enveloping sound. His beautifully physical set was also wonderfully obscured - there was no sense of any “standard” narrative, and many of the sounds remained mysterious. I could pick out the squeals of pigs, and the striking of metal; but many other sounds were indeed just “sounds”. Like Phillips’ field-recordings set, G*Park pushed the PA system to its limits; with really strong bass thudding through the air and my rib cage. It was enthralling and powerful; and as he left the stage, I found I couldn’t neatly pigeon-hole what I had just heard - a rare and brilliant thing indeed. As if a pattern was emerging, the next piece - from Joke Lanz and Ute Waldhausen - again returned to the human. Stood staring at each other, both performers played out a relationship of sorts; with Lanz gently singing to Waldhausen, prompting her to slap him, which provoked similar responses from Lanz. So the two slapped and scraped the other’s bare torso, with contact mic-d hands; the sound being distorted and echoed by Lanz’s pedals. Our attentions were then directed to the foyer, where Alice Kemp performed a very static piece. From my vantage point, all I could see was her head; hooded in blue material - though I could hear the discordant drone that was filling the space. It was one of the few things during the weekend that just passed me by. Though, later, a friend told me that there had been a pair of secateurs or knives on the floor in front of Kemp; and knowing of this would definitely have changed my experience. Indeed, its fair to say that there was a virtue to being close to “the action” for most of the performances. We returned to the stage, to watch Christian Weber’s solo improvisation on the double bass. It was perhaps too long, though he explored his instrument well enough and escaped some apparent cul-de-sacs along the way. It felt maybe a little out of place; but at the same time, a concentrated passage of sound-making alone was quite welcome - sound, in itself, wasn’t always a “priority” with some of the sets. The penultimate event of the weekend had an air of mystery surrounding it - I knew Rashad Becker from his mastering, but what did he do live? The answer was mutant acid electronic strands and shreds, coursing through the speakers. These often had a very vocal quality, and Becker deployed them with a lovely touch and control. He needs to stop cutting records, and start recording them! The grand finale saw GX Jupiter-Larsen, Joke Lanz, Mike Dando and Rudolf Eb.er take to the stage. They sat in chairs, facing the audience, each wearing a headphone-like device on their heads. I don’t know a lot about these things, but I know that they can be used to monitor brainwaves and produce a signal; essentially measuring levels of agitation. So, they sat there and stared ahead; Eb.er cross-legged on his chair, in shorts. Much like the earlier Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock piece, it wasn’t entirely clear what was happening; but from the looks of Jupiter-Larsen, Lanz and Dando, its possible that they were trying to remain as calm and clear-minded as possible. Eb.er, on the other hand, became increasingly animated; blinking and shuddering, the harsh “digital” noise jumping and glitching with each tic. When the noise finally died away, the players stood and  acknowledged our applause; and it was really very touching to see Eb.er holding his hands aloft in warm, joyous thanks. He had been a quiet, almost aloof figure for most of the weekend’s proceedings; watching each performance curiously, rather like a proud father (to my mind, at least). So the sight of him, arms-stretched on the stage, really did evoke a genuine elation and happiness. My abiding memory of those last moments, however, wasn’t Rudolf Eb.er. It was Mike Dando. He wandered off the stage looking somewhat shell-shocked and drained, as if he’d just channelled every last ounce of energy and concentration he had. The intensity that his expression documented and implied, was symbolic of the exertions and explorations of the Schimpfluch-Gruppe.

Pictures used through-out the report were taken by
Gregory Henrion (c), and are used with his kind permission.

Martin P
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