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In Extremis

A Profile Of Hamburg's Audio/Visual Artists incite/
Robert Barry , October 2nd, 2009 07:29

Using a recent performance at the BFI as a starting point, Robert Barry guides us through the world of German electronic and video artists incite/

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"A little earlier, before we started playing, someone asked us if we would play some, uh, dance (?) music," says Andre Aspelmeier into a microphone from the little stage in the BFI Southbank's ticket hall. "Well, maybe this next one will be a little more like that." And with that, the hissing of crickets erupts into a shock of mentasm synths as vast machinic rhythms pound and crunch their way out of the speakers, and greyscale patterns like craters explode and fragment on the screen behind. A few people are dancing, but not many.

Those that are seem to soon find their usual moves redundant, somehow out of step. They go bigger, making wide, sweeping gestures, leaps and bounds across the floor, but it's as though they were overcompensating. The clue is in the name. The word 'incite' pulls off a similar lexical trick to Jacques Lacan's term for the uncanny: 'extimité' or 'extimacy' — that which is intimate, comforting and personal, experienced as something external, threatening and alien. The music of incite/, conversely, is exciting, but in an intensive, interior fashion. As white noise patterns that recall the grain of Henri Pousseur's Scambi collide with the Warp-ed electronica of Chris Clark, I feel my neurons dancing, my brain cells jumping.

One other implication of the word, of course, is to provoke a riot. One of incite/'s tracks is about a massive street party in Hamburg that turned into a riot upon the arrival of a few uninvited guests — the police. On the screen, the columns of marching riot police mutate into faceless blobs, insect-like shapes scurrying across the frame, then a cage-like structure, finally engulfing the whole image. William Burroughs once claimed you could start a riot simply by playing tape recordings of a riot on a normal, busy street. "We'd prefer to be able to incite people to love each other," claim Aspelmeier and his partner, Kera Nagel, "incite/ is about inciting people to think for themselves, find their own way off the behaviour pattern presets of the mainstream.

"It's not like 'kick your TV through the window onto the street'; it's more like: make sure you understand what's going on and try to stay away as much as you can from what's not made for you. We don't have a TV and do not refer to mainstream culture in our art — it's simply not happening here. But if you feel you need to kick your TV set — go ahead!"

Kera and Andre met at a concert of experimental music at the legendary Hoerbar, in the St Pauli district of Hamburg, and fell in love. They started to work as a duo soon after: "incite/ was intended to be something really personal and individual between the two of us — we were (maybe subconciously) looking for an expression of what makes the two of us up in a way." Each track is created and developed by the pair together using Ableton Live, inspired by themes from their everyday lives ("our flat, the street we live in . . .") with the visuals generated and manipulated subsequently with 3D animation tools and Quartz Composer, strictly black and white to match the grit and the texture of the music.

Coming from two very different musical backgrounds — experimental techno and improvised noise music, respectively — the ingredients of what would become the signature incite/ sound — slow tempi, "bone dry" distortion, no time-based effects such as reverb or delay — fell into place quickly and are already in evidence on their very first self-released CD-R, 2003's minimal listening. Tours and festival appearances in Europe and America soon followed, resulting in a string of awards from the Media Art Biennale in Wroclaw, Poland, the International Video Festival in Bochum, Germany, and the VAD Festival in Girona, Spain. "incite/ is our answer to the perpetual manipulation of mass-media and mainstream culture," they claim. "It's a strict 'yes' to finding one's own way through all that's around us." With a new commission from the Paris-based MediaArt Foundation, and forthcoming festival appearances in Dresden, Nantes, Bremen, and Lille, incite/ continue to find their own distinctive way, traversing club spaces and art galleries, and garnering in response a strict 'yes' from audio-visual and electronic music fans throughout Europe.

The new incite/ album, Mindpiercing, is out now on the Hands Productions label.