Kaspars Groševs, Artist
Mattin & Matthieu Saladin. Brutalized Aesthetics
06.02.2011, HAU1, Berlin
Hebbel Am Ufer
Rolling Stones performing at Altamont Speedway Free Festival
End of performance
On the second last day of the “adventurous music”* festival Club Transmediale in Berlin, I couldn’t shake the feeling that most of what I had seen and heard up to then had been safe and predictable selections by the organisers to fit into the more accessible segment of the current kaleidoscopic range of experimental music. But a friend convinced me to go to one more event at the Hebbel Am Ufer (HAU1) theatre, the name of it giving some inkling of what was on offer – Brutalized Aesthetics.

Going to an experimental music concert (designated as noise, improvisation, avant-garde and so on), you have already made up your mind to an extent about what to expect. This scenario can have many variations; however, the big picture is pretty clear. And when you enter a rather grand theatre hall and all you see is a screen showing YouTube clips and nothing indicates that the “performance” has begun, you begin to feel a bit wobbly. Maybe the problem simply was that I had arrived late.

Whatever, the origins of the video materials gradually become clear. They are documentary excerpts of various riots that have broken out at rock concerts. Masses of heaving humanity thrash around facing off law enforcers in protective gear, there are objects flying about through the air and uncontrollable chaos rules. We see footage from disturbances in Montreal in 1992, when fans demolished the Olympic stadium after an unsuccessful Metallica and Guns N’ Roses concert. There is also the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival, where the atmosphere became so heated that a gang of Hell’s Angels were hired as security, and during the Rolling Stones performance one of the Angels fatally stabbed a half-crazed, guntoting concert goer.

These impressive testimonies to the untameable power of a crowd are accompanied by loud bellowing, intermingled with instrumental squeaking and thudding snatches of music, and occasionally the images disappear or are replaced by text fragments from, for instance, Plato’s Laws, interviews with John Cage as well as other sources that make mention of a collective reaction to artists’ music. For example, during the premiere of Cage’s famous silent composition 4’33” in 1952, the audience started making noises themselves, chatting and loudly leaving the hall. In an interview, Mattin, one of the authors of Brutalized Aesthetics, discusses Guy Debord’s situationist film Hurlements en faveur de Sade, also made in 1952, in which there was no picture, just a black or white screen occasionally accompanied by voices. Its premiere naturally produced similar protests from viewers, and the cinema manager decided to halt the screening. As Mattin notes, 60 years later public showings of this film still provoke a variety of responses from the audience, causing people to communicate with one another about whether the work should be watched in silence or in a participatory manner, observing each other, and all this becomes part of the experience.

For quite a while, taking in the performance from the comfortable HAU1 seats one accepts the new rules of the game and begins deciphering the textual combinations of sounds and images. But then at one point a member of the audience decides to voice his opinion with a loud yell. In Spanish, unfortunately. As time passes, I notice a man in front of me squirming and grumbling about 11 euros down the drain, until there is a sudden pause of silence as a photograph appears of the HAU1 stalls from the back with an empty row of seats. Suddenly someone starts rattling the balcony door energetically from the other side. People look upwards, but the doors don’t open. A moment later the messy collage continues as the sound becomes ever noisier, meanwhile the man sitting in front fidgets ever more menacingly. Bad mood – stuff happens.

A few minutes later, the sound disappears again and the bright lights of the theatre hall come on, revealing a video camera placed on the stage. At this point, the grumpy man gets up forcefully, strides onto the stage and stuffs a paper napkin over the camera’s lens. Glaring at the other patrons, he rapidly exits the hall. The performance continues with excerpts of text flashing more and more frequently, until a longer fragment from the aforementioned Rolling Stones concert appears in which Mick Jagger urges everyone to calm down, though I must admit that, by this point, things are really interesting – how will it all end? The apparent finale comes when a metal “curtain” is lowered, and although you can still hear the roar of the crowd and the video images are being shown as if nothing had changed, it becomes virtually impossible to see the text and pictures. For a moment we sit in the brightened theatre with the curtain down, unsure if there will be a continuation, until the metal structure rises again and everyone sees that the napkin on the camera lens has gone. The entire screen shows a mirror reflection of the audience.

Silence. People sit, politely and quietly waiting for the continuation, and then someone waves a hand to make sure that the video is still functioning, until finally people become impatient and ask each other if the concert is over. A girl speculates that the aim of the work was probably to spark a similar reaction in ourselves and start a riot. I look towards the back and notice those who to me appear to be the instigators of all this, staring straight ahead with indifference. After ten minutes of listening to the conversations around me, I gather that there’s nothing more to see and quietly leave the hall.

Up until now the authors of this work have not fitted into the accessible (i.e., easily consumed) category of experi¬mental music, and I doubt that they are upset about it. Mattin, who is of Basque origin, seems like a typical rebel, always ready to answer a ‘yes’ with a ‘no’. He is one of the collaborators behind the book ‘Noise & Capitalism’, a collection of essays about noise and improvisational music in today’s capitalist society, which examines tradition, the emergence of “rules of the game” and whether “liberation” is possible.

It is true, Mattin’s rebelliousness underpins some very interesting creative work. His recordings can be completely silent, or concoctions of conceptually acousmatic sounds, or pervaded by shrill, almost unbearable noises. As the artist points out, the usage of musical instruments or even their imitation in his works is becoming increasingly problematic, so instead he uses ideas as the instruments to create the work. Also differences in recording (vinyl, disc or digital file) and performance techniques are becoming important components of Mattin’s work, in a similar vein to the Brutalized Aesthetics performance described, which allows the author of this article, at least, to hope that all possible combinations have not been exhausted yet.

* CTM describes itself as a “Festival for adventurous music & related visual arts”
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