Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Music is Fiction

ANBB (Alva Noto & Blixa Bargeld)
Resonate Festival
Dom Omladine, Belgrade
By Frank Capri

Juggling a laptop at a new media festival where chairs to sit on, not free wifi access, are the most valuable commodity is not my idea of Saturday morning entertainment, especially since the organisers have gone all progressive on our heads and banned smoking from the venue (very Euro-progressive). But then this is Belgrade, a city not renowned for “entertainment”, nor for technological innovation, a fact confirmed by the predominantly northern European contingent of artists, coders, musicians, techno geeks, waifs and strays that descended on the Serbian capital this weekend in surprisingly large numbers.

“Survival” might be a more apt metaphor for this two-day geekathon, whose creative high was undoubtedly the arrival on stage on Saturday of Blixa Bargeld, lead vocalist with early 80s industrial noise pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten, ex-Bad Seed, and more recently half of the German electro outfit ANBB with Raster Norton man Alva Noto that released the Mimikry album a few years back. Not that Blixa has merely “survived”. Life is bigger than cabaret, old chum. Then again, maybe Blixa, born in late 50s Berlin, exudes enough burlesque to pass for a seasoned “trooper”. Dressed in his trademark black suit, with inflatable, bug-eyed expression, this could be a figure from Murnau’s Faust, and as he approaches the microphone the audience (seated on the floor, which adds to the incongruous decadence of this “gig”) falls strangely silent. “Good evening,” says Bargeld politely.

If truth be told, Bargeld is a dive bar raconteur. We get the message on Electricity is Fiction, which Bargeld introduces with a sardonic spiel about Schrödinger's cat (“the cat that’s both dead and alive”) or on Ret Marut Handshake, which references German novelist and author of The Death Ship “B. Traven”, “the man with about 100 aliases” whose real identity was never established.

The festival blurb describing ANBB’s “crystalline noise formations... phrases, words, syllables of pure sound” is avant-garde quatsch which neglects Blixa’s razor-sharp wit. It’s like describing Mark E. Smith as a “stream of consciousness” writer. The “noise” ANBB specialise in is generated like any other musical composition, and “performed” by Carsten Nicolai aka Noto, as is standard with electro-dub fare, on laptops and mixing desks. You wouldn’t dare describe it as “random” (which, in passing, most of the self-proclaimed transdisciplinary “artists” at this festival would be advised to keep in mind. If I heard the word “random” mentioned once here in relation to computer algorithms, I heard it stupidly trotted out one hundred times). Instead, ANBB’s compositions are in the tradition of High German Romanticism, or music that never quite manages to discard the traces of the Baroque, from Vivaldi all the way to Debussy.

When I listen – which is certainly the wrong word, rather “experience” or “take in” – ANBB’s music, it’s not remotely atonal, nor is it “progressive” in adhering to some abstract formalism. Blow that jazz, this is rock n roll. Shit kicking (when it’s good) rock ’n roll. And if anyone needed reminding that all rock n roll returns to its roots in the blues, then this is spelt out explicitly in a brilliant double encore (more cabaret for you) which includes I Wish I was a Mole in the Ground.

“I wish I was a lizard on a rock,” screeches Bargeld in that death throes-delivery of his. This is fiction, but one we can believe in.

(image courtesy of Resonate. See their festival Flickr for more)
(try and buy the ANBB stuff here)

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