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Multisensory Dreamscapes at Berlin Atonal

Photo ⓒ BERLINSKO

It would be difficult to imagine a more perfect venue for the reinvigorated Berlin Atonal than Kraftwerk Berlin located in a cavernous former power station in Mitte. The organizers made use of seemingly every nook and cranny in the building, placing art installations, speakers and screens. Smoke machines ran rampant throughout the venue, fog blending with kicked-up dust to produce a thick haze through which searching beams of light coalesced into solid forms. It was a dark, beautiful dreamworld—the perfect atmosphere in which to present music that strays toward the “unfriendly” side of the spectrum.

A narrow staircase led down to the flashing and buzzing of “Susurrus Lights, Aggregate IV” by Laytbeuis. Microphones collected noise from the area and fed into the installation, any sounds in the vicinity generating a spontaneous response from the clustered fluorescent lights. In moments of silence, the space was pitch black until a cough or footstep induced another burst of white light from the piece. Several of these flashes in a row gave one long enough to spot the door leading through to the low-ceilinged basement and near impenetrable darkness.

The singular light positioned near the door was routinely blocked by people attempting to exit the room, which led to a lot of cautious outstretched arms and slow movements as the crowd shuffled over to the tiny enclaves which housed Pierre Bastien’s “Mecanology in 4 Rooms”. The strange machines clicked and whirred in symphony, the combined effect becoming a creepy toyshop soundtrack that reverberated between the concrete walls. The sound joined with that of the other installations to create a shifting sonic atmosphere that was as much a haze for the ears as the smoke, dust and darkness was for the eyes.

A twisting staircase led up to the impressive turbine hall with its massive concrete pillars and clusters of metal piping. It was like being on the set of a science fiction epic, a feeling heightened by glowing red light coming up from the pits that ran along the right-hand side of the room. The left was conveniently home to a bar while on the far wall of the main space a gigantic screen hung above a comparatively small stage. When I first got upstairs, cello and laptop duo WSR were in full flight: layers of looped cello swimming around a series of guitar pedals while metallic beats echoed about the enormous room.

Bitstream were less about atmosphere and more about energy, and while their set was not as experimental as many of the other acts, their clean, buoyant techno got a large percentage of the audience up and dancing. To complete the scene, white beams of light pierced the red haze of the room, making a nightclub out of the vast industrial outpost. The A/V set from COH and Frank was the event I was most looking forward to: Ivan’s crisp, tight electronics went down a treat and Tina Frank’s mind-bending visual accompaniment made me glad for my chair. Blocks of bright colour spun outwards in waves, corresponding to and enhancing the music. The set was so fantastic and the sound so well-balanced that it probably raised my expectations a little too high for Lustmord’s brooding A/V show. While I enjoy his albums, the live version did not engage me as I hoped it would, and the thick, congested midrange of the mix drowned out any details in his ominous, rumbling music.

Exploring the venue further: a small room off of the middle of the staircase held a wide, purpose-built screen to present three pieces by Rainer Kohlberger. A solid crowd of attendees gathered staring at the hypnotic showers of light. Washes of static moved slowly across the screen before shifting to quick pulses of colour that broke up a blinding pure white. The work seemed to invite viewers into a trance state, and even attempting to keep your eyes in focus while facing the screen became a difficult task.

Undoubtedly one of the most unique and satisfying festival experiences I’ve ever witnessed, Berlin Atonal makes it very easy to understand why people hold it in such reverence. Everything from the venue and art pieces to the lighting and music combines and culminates in multi-sensory stimulation, transporting you into an alternate reality for the duration of your stay.

By Greg Reason

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