Dusting off this thing to post some thoughts on three performances that took place at KM28 in Berlin, April 27-29, 2023.
The three-day festival was conceived and organized by Lucio Capece as a tribute to Keith Rowe and Lucio graciously invited me to be a participant in a discussion with Keith and Peter Margasak on Keith's work, my biography of him, etc. More importantly, there were ten musical performances spread over the three days, many of very high quality, as listed below.
I wanted to write at greater length about three that stood out with particular force to myself, one from each evening.
On the first night, Lucio and Sean Meehan played together, Lucio on bass clarinet, electronics and speakers while Sean played two cowbells, one relatively small (perhaps a goat bell?), one larger. In 2022, Sacred Realism had released Magazine on which Sean first (I think) made public his latest instrument of choice. He mentioned finding one by happenstance in a thrift shop and feeling that it needed a home...The set began with Lucio playing a low, sustained tone on bass clarinet, pausing for a good while, playing it again. Sean sat motionless for perhaps seven or eight minutes, holding the cowbells in his lap, before slowly rising, imparting a kind of ceremonial atmosphere. Little by little, he allowed the bell's clapper to jostle against the body--he only used the clapper, no external stick or rod, a non-obvious choice that I think was crucial. One of the central, most beautiful things about his playing this evening was the utter naturalness of the sound. Afterwards, I told him that the listener can't but help think of goats and cows when hearing these tones and that he, instead of sounding like someone playing cowbell, sounded very much like a goat or a cow, a major achievement. Lucio, meanwhile, maintained low, long duration, tonal notes throughout, providing a bed that connoted, to me, a field, the soil for the bell-tones. He also, via pedals, did some electronic manipulation, including sending Sean's tones into one of his spherical (about 3" diameter) speakers which happened to be hanging directly in front of my seat, creating an echoey effect. Truth to tell, I could easily have done without any electronics here (the same for a couple of other enhanced sets in the festival) but he integrated them deftly. Sean used both the "soprano" and "tenor" bells, casually interchanging them, sometimes letting them strike each other gently. The whole set was one of both concentration and naturalness, extremely evocative of place and entirely humane. It might have been the most AMM-conducive set of the festival.
On the second night, Annette Krebs' set proved to be the most unusual, perhaps controversial. Keith had previously announced that he wouldn't be actively performing in any of the sets as his Parkinson's really didn't permit playing at anywhere near a level he thought adequate. However, Annette asked him if he would read a text to begin her performance, which she would then manipulate as a piece of the fabric making up her soundscape. Keith agreed and chose a text from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tsu:
He who knows - does not speak;
He who speaks - does not know.
He who is truthful - is not showy;
He who is showy - is not truthful.
He who is virtuous - does not dispute;
He who disputes - is not virtuous;
He who is learned - is not wise;
He who is wise - is not learned.
Therefore the Sage does not display his own merits.
He spoke the words, Annette altering them in various ways as well as adding effects of her own, largely electronic but including percussive bangs on a sheet of metal and some other metallic items. I've no idea whether what followed was at all planned by her or was the result of anxiousness on her part, equipment malfunction or simply allowing the event to unspool naturally, but she began conversing with Keith, asking him questions while simultaneously generating sounds, pausing to fix apparent problems, etc. Keith was graceful in his responses though I daresay a little confused as to what was occurring, soon posing his own questions to Annette. This was more or less the way the entire set went, lurching back and forth between hesitant dialog, sounds and pauses. It was awkward, sometimes embarrassing, even cringeworthy but...somehow wonderful, very much more like life and, if one knew both Annette and Keith, very much in keeping with their respective characters. It was unusually honest and exposed, to a degree that one perhaps finds uncomfortable, though that shouldn't be the case. Even more unusually, about a half hour in, Lucio walked into the performance area and suggested that Annette play a piece she'd been working on apart from the idea for this set and had gotten into during soundcheck. I don't think I'd ever witnessed this sort of "interruption" before, but presumably Lucio sensed her anxiety and sought to come to her aid. In any case, she easily acceded to the request, saying that she would just play a short excerpt from the work...and then played for about 25 more minutes (a strong, complex piece). Before she began, she asked Keith if he would offer criticism upon its conclusion, a proposal I knew Keith would be distressed to carry out and, in fact, when the time came, he let it slide. The day before, Mattin had given me a copy of his recently published, 'Social Dissonance', which I'd read a bit of last year and had begun again the previous evening. I thought the Krebs/Rowe set fit perfectly into one of his non-hierarchical, social notions of performance; he agreed. As well, I heard many very positive audience reactions that night and the following day. It was quite memorable and pushed at boundaries in a way rarely seen or heard.
[Annette responded on fb, correcting some of my misconceptions of the performance:
When Lucio first put together the schedule, there was an odd-looking event: one Jessie Marino (entirely unfamiliar to me) was to do violin improvisations based on some text from my book. Well, this sounded strange if not entirely unpromising. However, in addition to that description being entirely inadequate, it turned out to be one of my very favorite events. Admittedly, part of this may well be the humbling gratitude at having my words used as part of a performance, but still. It was the first set of the evening. Jessie was seated at a small table, violin held vertically in front of her, resting in her lap (I found out later that her principal instrument is the cello). On the table, in addition to one or more electronic devices, were a large knife, a banana, a food container or two, more I think (I didn't have a clear view). She began by reading and manipulating the opening words from the biography's prologue, "There is the room"...etc., the words echoing and overlapping. I wish I could recall the exact sequence, but, amidst other sounds, including some very beautiful, almost mournful, deep arco violin, Jessie brought in various textual fragments. She later told me she wanted to concentrate on the quotidian; one of the bits was Keith's childhood story of having to procure milk from the cat's dish for a potential beau of his aunt. She didn't merely read but accentuated aspects of the text in unexpected and often humorous ways. Everything sounded of a piece, there was a real sense of composition, of solidity. Back in 2017, I'd sent the final draft of the book off to the publisher. Very soon thereafter, I received an email from Keith that I found extremely moving. I mailed Wes (my editor) and asked if it could be appended as a postscript; he kindly agreed to do so. Jessie, in a move that touched me deeply, chose to use text from this mail, earlier on Keith's description of a concert with John Tilbury at Sokołowsko, and toward the end, more personal words. I was just floored. Thanks, Jessie.
It was a wonderful three days, a festival that will linger for a long, long time. Wish I could recount the other sets in some detail: fine work from Cat Lamb, Judith Hamann/James Rushford and Kaffe Matthews especially. Biggest of thanks to Lucio for his kindness and being such a mensch. Thanks to all the musicians and attendees.