|The New Blockaders|
|Vagina Dentata Organ|
Extreme Rituals - A Schimpfluch Carnival
Arnolfini, Bristol, 30th November - 2nd December 2012
Daniel Löwenbrück & Leif Elggren
The New Blockaders & GX Jupitter-Larsen
Bryan Lewis Saunders
Rudolf Eb.er & Junko Hiroshige
Vagina Dentata Organ
Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck
Dave Phillips (field recording set)
Joke Lanz & Ute Waldhausen
GX Jupitter-Larsen, Rudolf Eb.er, Mike Dando, Joke Lanz
Rudolf Eb.er is staring straight into my eyes. He’s sitting on stage in the lotus position, thumb and forefinger gently touching, the backs of his palms resting on his knees. From the way the stage is lit he looks like Ming the Merciless, minus the eyebrows of course, I am genuinely unsettled and think he can’t really be staring at me but every time I look away, at Mike Dando say whose not blinked from the moment the noise erupted, or GX his one good eye shut, or Joke Lanz who hasn’t moved a muscle either, each time I look back he’s staring at me. And then he begins to move, shaking as if he’s having some kind of a seizure, his lithe body spasming, fingers stair-rod straight as the seizure becomes ever more violent until the noise subsides and he becomes calm once more. Its a piece entitled ‘Wellenfeld - In Memory of Urs Schwaller' and its a good a way as ending three days of noise as any, even if its still only six o’clock on a Sunday evening.
To see how far we’ve come I gleefully sat through the two hour loop of Schimpfluch Gruppe Aktion’s showing in one of the Arnolfini’s galleries. In ‘Mama 1’, filmed in Zurich in 1991, a much younger looking blindfolded Rudolph Eb.er [sporting a full head of hair] drops his trousers to his ankles before wandering around a room bumping in to people Frankenstein style while someone blows a whistle. Fast forward 20 years and here he is on a Saturday night in Bristol levitating on a wall of crunching noise to the acrid stench of burning vinegar - a Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck performance that not only delights the eyes and challenges the hearing but punishes the sense of smell too.
There was certainly a few more people attending Extreme Rituals than there was in that room in Zurich over 20 years ago. If you got there early enough on Friday you could have sat in on the some panel discussions [a previously booked train ticket deprived me of that little joy], on Saturday afternoon there was extreme yodeling courtesy of Doreen Kutzke and for the lucky public there was conceptual performances from Alice Kemp one of which involved her walking around the venue half naked and M. Vänçi Stirnemann who amplified the sounds of liquids leaving a series of intravenous drips. But it was the main venue where the biggest experiences were to be had.
Seeing as how I knew nothing about them I investigated Phurpa via Youtube, images of three cloak clad individuals sat in a darkened semicircle creating drones in a Tuvan throat singing cum shamanic ritual kind of way and when they start its a glorious hum but those short Youtube clips hid the fact that Phurpa could drag this out for nigh on 45 minutes. And whilst those deep throated moans are initially captivating they soon begin to lose their initial charm, the rattle of some unseen drums broke the deadlock but it was soon back to the nose and throat moan and with it went any hope of me ever getting to like Phurpa. Ten minutes would have been fine but these guys had traveled all the way from Russia and they were going to make the most of it.
We were soon back in more familiar territory courtesy of Daniel Löwenbrück and Lief Elggren who stood face to face and began to sew each others shirts together with needle and black thread. Once they’d run out of cotton and thus firmly united chest to chest they pulled apart only to appear on the venue floor where a roll of white paper unfurled, Elggren recited words from some sheets of A4 whilst Löwenbrück pulled a violin over the paper that had two magic markers attached leaving two black lines along its length. Löwenbrück then went back to the start of the roll of paper and began writing out the words that Elggren was reciting. They then both reappeared on stage where some ear pummeling noise erupted. Elggren sat in a leather chair whilst Löwenbrück filled a circle of bottles with milk, Elggren began to have a fit and writhed in his chair like he was being stabbed with a cattle prod, the spasms became more exaggerated and intense until the noise cut and it was all over. I’m still trying to work out what it was all about. Sometimes its better not to try.
TNB were joined by GX Jupitter-Larsen who seemed to be sandpapering the balcony bannister. By TNB standards it was an exemplary set of noise scrape with middle protagonist taking a saw to a piece of scrap metal whilst stage left TNB’er rubbed a cabbage that had a contact mic stuck to it. The backdrop film of an out of tune TV helped further the chaos. Middle TNB’er got hit by a flying beer glass [plastic] which resulted in a bin lid getting chucked back in to the crowd. It missed me which makes a change.
After that came perhaps the most challenging set of the weekend. Forget noise as punishment, Brian Lewis Saunders ranted tales about his appendix bursting was far stronger in impact than just about any transgressive noise artists I’ve ever witnessed. Sat on stage he related his tale in a manner as if to suggest he’d just consumed a large amount of rather unstable drugs. And he really did rant, non stop and to some wailing noise and a backdrop of someones digestive tract being traversed and then of a piglet being castrated. It was around then that I began to feel extremely lightheaded and queasy, I had to leave the venue and take a quick walk around the docks to get some fresh air. Listening to Saunders tales of existential angst was one of the highlights of the weekend and coming so unexpectedly [Like Phurpa I’d never even heard of him before now] only increased my admiration for the Schimpfluch Gruppe.
To round the night off there was two cathartic blasts of noise, first from Dave Phillips who stood stage front rattling like a junkie as who knows how many decibels erupted from the Arnolfini’s PA system. It was visceral, vibrating and wholly enlivening. As it progressed balloons filled the air and when they landed people stood on them creating their own noise to add to those made by Phillips. To round the night off we got the first appearance of Rudolph albeit it from the back of the stage with his back to the audience playing the mixing desk creating more sheets of noise whilst Junko shrieked herself hoarse. Quite an end to an already exciting night and one that held much promise for the weekend ahead.
Rudolf Eb.er is staring straight into my eyes. Its from a poster this time. A poster that I think is part of some kind of promotional material in which Rudolph stares in to the camera with what appears to be a cows anus attached to his cheek. I’m watching the Schimpfluch Gruppe Aktion film loop and there's some of Rudolph's photos on the wall, meat and intensities play a large part. Whilst ‘Vomit Play for 3 Girls’ is playing two middle aged local ladies walk in to the room carrying shopping bags and on seeing whats taking place make a dash for the exit which turns out to be a broom cupboard which only increases their panic. Its the longest Aktion of the 21 on display and the most grueling but one that serves to highlight the fact that the Schimpfluch Gruppe aren’t afraid to push artistic boundaries. Out of there and in to the room that houses Rudolph’s artwork [like a cross between early Dali and Hans Bellmer] and various Schimpfluch related recorded material where me and Wounded Knee Taylor get to play ‘got, not got’.
Saturday’s opener is Trevor Wishart who sprays spit over the front row with a dextrous performance in which he twists his face in to numerous shapes in a bid to extract as many sounds as possible from it. I’ve been a fan of Trevor’s work since seeing him at Colour Out of Space a few years back. The sounds emanating from his face are quite remarkable, gurning and stretching his cheeks and at times hitting his chest with the ends of his fingers he produce a tremendous array of sounds.
It was around now that I missed the only act of the entire weekend. I missed Vicky Langan’s set because someone told me there was a half naked woman wandering the first two floors of the Arnolfini. Upon checking this news I did indeed find a half naked woman wandering the first two floors of the Arnolfini. It was Alice Kemp dressed like a cross between a Victorian funeral director and a dressage entrant. A top hat with black veil coupled to a riding jacket, jodhpurs and a large er ... thing where her knickers should have been provided much bafflement and no end of amusement for those [men] who were missing Vicky Langan.
I’d never seen Vagina Dentata Organ before but knew that we'd be in for some serious drumming - you could hear them practicing all over the Arnolfini. The performance [Aktion?] began with someone playing the prelude to Bach’s Cello Concerto number 1 whilst the cross of Christ was made using white toilet rolls. Then came the drumming which was urgent and rapid and the work of about ten people. When VDO provocateur Jordi Vallis appeared on stage wielding a baseball bat we knew it was time for the mirrors at the back of the stage to meet their end. As the noise and drumming continued to pummel he set about the mirrors and shattered every single one of them no doubt giving the health and safety reps at the Arnolfini a nervous ten minutes whilst he did so. As it all came to a crescendo people began to dismantle the loo roll cross chucking them with gay abandon at anyone and everything including me who got one straight between the eyes dislodging my spectacles the result being me frantically trying to locate them on my hands and knees in the dark before someone stood on them. Lots of symbolism going on in there; the cross of Christ made of material you wipe your arse on, mirrors that reflect the self being destroyed, drummers driving out demons and then a well earned interlude while the auditorium was swept clean of debris.
The rest of the evening consisted of a noise set from Joachim Montessuis who stripped to the waist, became quite angsty while totally failing to ignite my enthusiasm. Sudden Infant was Joke Lanz aided by double bass player Christian Weber who were both superb. Some were heard to talk of the bass playing distracting from Joke’s performance but for me it worked perfectly but maybe that's just me being a huge fan of anyone mad enough to lug around a double bass and Joke Lanz. Lanz talked once again [see Leeds review] of the small boy stuck on the fifth floor of a building watching the cranes whilst Weber tugged and plucked and scraped deep ominous notes from his instrument. Watching Joke in action is a joy, stick man tats, tuft of unruly hair, bare feet and a stage presence that never fails to hold the audience rapt.
Rudolph rounded off Saturday night with a Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck Aktion that was a noise shamans lament. R&G Aktions [shall we just call them that from now on?] seem to have become more intense and noise based of late, gone are the chickens and the vomiting and the bumping around in rooms in Zurich and in comes the big guns, a pair of hand made mittens that dangle with various gadgets that once triggered emit painful walls of noise, bells hang from them and more bells emerge from a stick he picks up and shakes violently above the audiences heads. He’s stage front and clearly enjoying himself. The way the stage is lit his body is immersed in a bath of one strong white light making him seem even more ethereal than he already is.
With hindsight the 2.30pm start was a good thing. Anyone who’s attended a three day noise fest will tell you that the flesh begins to weaken during the third day, alcohol and the over consumption of such usually being the culprit. The excitement of the weekend ahead and the prospect of meeting of old friends usually leads to over indulgence and then comes Saturday afternoon and the livener which for some turns in to a 12 hour binge ending in a pizza shop cum late license pub on King Street where you end up talking bollocks to the chap from France in the Mutant Ape t-shirt. Actually I wasn’t too bad by this stage and a walk around Bristols outstanding dock area after a hearty full English had me raring to go once Dave Phillips took off his boots and settled on to a table in the middle of the venue. Phillips played insect noise [his own field recordings I venture] through a mixing desk bringing in new elements and then cutting the sound so that only a faint chirrup could be heard. At its end he walked the darkened venue with a miners lamp on handing out flyers highlighting the importance of insects to the continuation of the human species.
Michael Bartel gave us some sound poetry and a little Walkman construct and then barked three word phrases that increased in intensity until its climax.
G*Park and Rashad Becker made noises via mixing desks which because of the Arnolfini’s superb acoustics and sound reproduction equipment sounded pretty good but lacked dynamics. Given that the Arnolfini had a huge back screen at everyones disposal it seemed a shame that those performers for whom movement wasn’t an option failed to utilize it. Joke Lanz & Ute Waldhausen needed no such prop. A bare breasted Waldhausen struck a bare chested Lanz across the cheek and thus began their performance, I mean Aktion. Each performer face to face, stroking an arm and then a cheek, a caress and then a violent slap until we had body music. Contact mics taped into each right palm highlighted the sounds made. Joke grabs Ute by the back of the neck and screams into her throat. Both performers remain impassive throughout, barely blinking, no emotion shown, red welts appears. At once violent and tender. A remarkable performance.
Back in the foyer Alice Kemp is giving us another one of her conceptual performances; sitting in a chair with a pair of shears at her feet and a silk scarf wrapped around her head a low volume shortwave noise appears from the speakers. She never moves. The noise increases in volume slightly. Show ends. Another head scratcher.
Christian Weber reappears for a solo double bass performance and once again I am in awe. In over two decades of attending gigs of this nature I have only ever seen one other person attempt a solo double bass performance of this nature. Its a delight then to hear Weber deconstruct the stringed orchestral instrument solo. He scrapes the instrument along the floor, picks it up and drops it, hits the body with his palm, bends the bridge, plucks the strings above the headstock and then gets out the bow and pulls the thing so tautly over the lower strings that a guttural noise appears that sounds like god retching.
Which leaves us with ‘Wellenfeld - In Memory of Urs Schwaller'. The man in question being [I think I’m right in saying] the person who introduced Joke Lanz to Rudolph Eb.er all those years ago and without whom none of us would be here tonight. The performers are all wearing headsets of some sort but I think this is just conceptual distraction. The piece is homage, four performers who have been making noise for longer than some of the audience have been alive.
As weekend festivals go this was one of the best: superbly organised, terrific venue, well attended and in a city that meant we didn’t have to suffer the indignities of the capital for a change. I came away feeling that I had witnessed something that will be talked about for a long time to come. I came away having been stared at by Rudolph and the feeling that we may all be back here in another twenty years time with an even larger group of people who have been influenced by one of the greatest art/noise collectives going - the mighty Schimpfluch Gruppe. Long may they reign.