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Preview: CTM Festival 2012, Berlin
Rory Gibb , January 20th, 2012 07:54

Berlin's CTM Festival for Adventurous Music & Related Visual Arts takes place from 30th January to 5th February. Rory Gibb spoke to co-founder Jan Rohlf about its theme and history, and previews the festival line-up

Between 30th January and 5th February 2012, the thirteenth edition of Berlin's CTM (Club Transmediale) festival will be taking over a range of venues in the city. Paired with the Transmediale festival for media art, the two will run concurrently, with a number of crossover events as well as their own individual line-ups. Both already have significant reputations for fantastic, thought-provoking programmes that avoid treading along established genre lines in favour of a broader, more thematic approach.

With that in mind, the Quietus will be trekking across to Berlin for a week's worth of late nights, stern electronic music and internet-fuelled visual art. The theme for CTM this year is Spectral, a handy jump-off point for a number of very Quietus-friendly performances scattered across venues like the HAU Theatre, Passionskirche and the city's famed Berghain club (usually more associated with all night techno/house marathons and the ever on-point Ostgut Ton label). To see the full CTM line-up and running order, click here.

Like last year's edition of Krakow Unsound festival, many of the artists CTM has booked this year work within the space where murky analogue imagery meets the caffeine buzz of internet-era information overload. With that in mind, Spectral is a very timely theme, at a time where the hazy pop of labels like Hippos In Tanks and Not Not Fun attracts a great deal of critical attention (and an equal amount of suspicion) and older genres of electronic music are strip-mined for influence via YouTube.

The line-up in Berghain on 2nd February captures much of what's going on at the more listener-friendly end of this interface: the main room features Tri Angle Records' Balam Acab, oOoOO and Holy Other alongside Puzzle and former Vex'd man Kuedo. The real heat is in the Berghain Kantine, though, where a number of Not Not Fun-associated acts take to the stage. Ital's upcoming Hive Mind album is one of the most complete explorations so far of the crossover region where web-age lo-fi pop meets the dancefloor. He plays live alongside Stellar OM Source, whose recent acid-flecked proto-techno is similarly beautiful in both form and function (more on those two acts here).

Similarly, both James Ferraro and Oneohtrix Point Never perform and take part in a shared discussion panel (Post Traumatic Euphoria, HAU, 2nd February) in the latter part of the week. Their respective Far Side Virtual and Replica albums were among the more interesting of last year, and both ask bold (if sometimes challenging and not entirely aesthetically pleasing) questions of internet's role in shaping modern art.

Elsewhere, there's no shortage of Quietus-approved bracing dance music and noise-wracked electronics. Mark Fell, Kangding Ray, Byetone and Sendai (a new and viscerally powerful project of Peter Van Hosen and Yves de Mey) play at the Berghain on Tuesday 31st January. In the same venue the following evening, William Bennett's Cut Hands project graces the stage alongside the excellent Haxan Cloak. And on Friday night (3rd December), the Berghain hosts a formidable line-up: Ben Frost, Mika Vainio, Morphosis, Roly Porter, G.H., Ancient Methods and more, with the Perlon label taking over Panoramabar upstairs.

Other highlights are too many to list, but particularly worthy of a mention are Tim Hecker performing his Ravedeath 1972 album live on a church organ; a performance from elusive drone artist Eleh; Pole, Hieroglyphic Being and Kassem Mosse flying the flag for abstract but deadly dancefloor music on Saturday 4th February; Grouper performing a show entitled Circular Veil; and a rare appearance from composer Catherine Christer Hennix.

In advance of CTM, the Quietus spoke to co-founder Jan Rohlf, about the importance of the theme and the festival's history.

So this year's theme is Spectral - what made you settle on that? It feels like a very appropriate theme for this year.

Jan Rohlf: It seems very timely. It’s something that's become very virulent in the past few years, and is now culminating in many regards - and in all kinds of fields, not only in sound. We were looking at all these different aesthetic properties in musicians embracing darker and more psychedelic, more hyperreal or detached experiences, emotions or perceptions, and then reconfiguring them with their own work. And we thought, what could be the connecting thread? Why do they all do that? Why is it so urgent at this moment?

So trying to make more of an umbrella instead of looking at these individual genres as they are proposed or discussed often in music journalism: hauntology, hypnogogic, this, that. Instead, looking at the overall discourse that's developed here, and its potential and reasons. And also really trying to leave the musical sphere behind and connect to a broader discourse. That's why, outside of the musical programme, we have an exhibition programme and a discourse programme, where we invite a range of people - artists, journalists, but also theoretical researchers, philosophers - to present their own take on aspects of this theme.

Then there are people that bridge both sides of the gap.

JR: Like Steve Goodman [Kode9], or Mark Fisher, people who write a lot about music but also in much broader terms reflecting on temporary occurrences in society. But then we have other people like Byung-Chul Han, a philosopher, who is definitely not into music culture very much, but what he writes and has recently published reflects very much on what we want to discuss here. His book is probably not translated into English - in German it's called Müdigkeitsgesellschaft, so in English it would be Society Of Tiredness, or something like that. He proposes that contemporary society is really not suffering from too much negativity in its face, but too much positivity. Saying that all these symptoms of fatigue and increase in mental illness and depression result from this constant imperative of identification and participation. Being part of something, being active, and so on.

Even though it has been a topic through many years now, it's still very unresolved and urgent - the theme is also very much about this difference between analogue and digital. What does it mean to have real material and to have code?

And there's the exhibition Ghosts Of The Shelf [created by curator Thibaut de Ruyter] which ties in with that.

JR: Absolutely. It's a way of looking at why we have this current re-emergence of all these VHS aesthetics. It's going to be a very interesting and funny installation in a sense, because the method we chose was giving away control. Thibaut sent out this call to a number of artists, asking them to donate a 'ghost' from their shelf - meaning a tape they cannot really access anymore themselves, and they don't really know what's on there - so what we're going to show will probably be really diverse. But this is just the material for this other reflection that lies on top: can you recreate an aesthetic of the past, is it possible? What are the changes, and why are we interested now in VHS? Are we interested in it because we like it the way it was? Or because when we play these tapes now, they have all these errors, scratches and hiss, which now have a completely different meaning than they had back in the days when it was a current technology?

There's also this really fundamental question, which is when you have this material - like tape - that can degrade, disintegrate and mutate, then it has a material life of its own. Something is happening with this tape even if it's just standing still on a shelf, and the next time you look at it, it's different from what it was before. This is opposed to you as an author, it does something itself, you don't have control over it. This is very different from a digital file, where it exists and it doesn't change. With digital code these mutations are really rare, because the systems we use today are absolutely designed to minimise this effect. Modern operating systems always have multiple copies of files, they have a backup system already installed - so if you don't by force try to make a disruption and get a mutation going, it won't happen.

Jonathan Kemp, Ryan Jordan and Martin Howse's Crystal World Open Laboratory [Sunday 5th February] is aiming exactly at that. They try to really physically and chemically crack open the digital machinery and get back to the fundamental materials that these machines are built from - gold, palladium - and use that stuff to make new circuitry that's really unrefined and gives space for chaotic material processes.

What’s the range of venues you’re using like? I imagine you’ve spent quite some time finding the right sort of spaces.

JR: We're working with a selection of the most interesting or forward thinking venues in town. So we have the Berghain, great soundsystem, great atmospheric space, this old industrial power station with a very strong presence. Over the years it's opened up to a much wider conception of sound that it had at the beginning, so that's something we really appreciate, and it goes along with our own ideas of what can be done in a club context. There's a much wider space for experimentation than just having the format of a party - which is also valid, of course.

We also work with the HAU theatre, who are very active in this sort of post-dramatic theatre that takes very unusual forms that cross over into performance and discourse. That also fits very well to our approach, where this crossover has always been crucial. We never really wanted to only be in a strictly music context, where we're reaching towards a specific audience that know what to expect and get it delivered. We were interested in these more open, more ambiguous in-between spaces, where we can reach out to a more diverse audience that usually doesn't usually attend this kind of music or discourse - and get them to communicate with each other.

Then we have the church, Passionskirche, with Tim Hecker playing an organ concert based on what he did with Ravedeath 1972, where he mics up the organ and plays it, so you have the original organ sound but also the processed sound. Then there's the Touch label, with one of their Touch 30 events, and they have this series which is all about the organ as an instrument.

What exactly is your relationship with Transmediale? There's a lot of overlap.

We have this unusual configuration, a very organic thing that happened when Transmediale in the mid-90s changed from being a video art festival to a media art festival. They claimed that from now on they would represent or present the full range of electronic art, but what they were missing of course was sound, and everything audiovisual actually. So at that time we were active here in Berlin, and we proposed to do some kind of programme that presents some of the things we were interested in. They didn't have any resources to fund it so they said 'If you want to do it within our umbrella you're free to do it'.

So we did it, and we called it Club Transmediale because it was happening in a club at that time. [Over the years] it developed into the festival that it is now, and also at the same time this co-operation between the two festivals was developed and realised. Nowadays we have several forms where we work together or overlap, and we try to find some common projects each year - this year we have the Joshua Light Show, which is three evenings with musicians including Oneohtrix Point Never.

We share of course the audience, and I think that has become very relevant for visitors over the years. They really like that combination, because where in the world can you get that? There's such an overkill of programme! But you get really an in depth sound/music discourse festival, and you get a media art discourse festival, at the same time.