Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kjell Bjørgeengen & Keith Rowe / Fire & Ignorance / Activity Center, Netwerk 13/03/09

We arrive at Netwerk art center, order quickly an Orval beer at the bar and go upstairs for the first set. The duo Michael Renkel and Burkhard Beins perform together as Activity Center. Each of the players have some electronic equipment before them as well as all sorts of small percussion elements, selfmade string instruments and other more or less 'readymade' garbage. The duo choose for abstract, minimalistic sound layers/waves that change slowly, while adding bowed & plucked string sounds, some hand percussion accents, but all in a arhythmical context. The live produced sounds are often instantly given an electronic treatment. The sound collages sound nice, sometimes i get interested but in a whole I never really get involved in the music they produce.
After that we refresh our drinks and head over to the other exposition room where close to the four walls several televisions produce fast flickering black/white screens with changing frequencies. Apparently that's the contribution of Kjell Bjørgeengen who is sitting with his control gear at a table in the middle of the room. Listeners sit, hang, stand or lay around him. Meanwhile at the other side of the table, legendary EAI-guitarplayer Keith Rowe is working on his prepared guitar. He produces high pitched sinus-like tones, sawing guitar sounds, twitches guitareffects and creates other rumble-like sounds. Strangely I can't enter into his soundspectrum. I only feel a sort of fatigue and boreness. As I expected more of his set I wonder if it's me who isn't open to it, who fails to grasp it. I try different approaches: stand still and concentrate, stop looking at the artists (not much to see anyway) wander around the room, try to get distracted by the TV-images so that the music can take me off-guard so to speak - but the TV's keep producing the same sort of black/white blocks, which are - fair is fair - not exactly spectacular to put it mildly. I get the feeling that the duo just isn't doing something new, spectacular or impressive. But with this sort of music/sound/visual art one never knows and aybe others are more positive about this set. After a while we just give up and head to the bar for another drink.
We put all our hopes on the two dudes of MoHa!. Last year I saw them performing a great massive set of ear-shattering drum/guitar/electronics mayhem at the Magasin4-club in Brussels. It sounded like a blend of Lightning Bolt power with Supersilent weirdness. Now they have teamed up with two visual artists and perform as Fire and Ignorance. And do the four of them deliver? Hell yes! We enter the room and the musicians are allready waiting for us. On both side of the musicians the artists stand behind their light control pannels. The light equipment (stroboscopes, black light, strong spots) are aimed not on the musicians but on the spectators. We are clearly the slaves, they are the masters & in full control. As everybody sits down, doors are closed and lights go out. We wait in anticipation. The silence is abruptly broken by the sound of (amplified?) breaking light tubes. That is the signal for of a series of very loud, intimidating & furious assault on as well ears as eyes. While the musicians go for the ear damage, the light artists attack (100% in phase with the music) our visual senses. The music is loud, atonal and simply put: brutal. Often there's a small pause between the drum/guitar/light/electronic thunder - they clearly choose for the unpredictable start/stop-tactics and play with contrasts between silence and noise; black and white - but the public doesn't aplaude or yell, maybe they don't dare. In fact, the few times I look beside or behind me (when lights are on) I see some people almost pressed against their chairs. One women leaves the room, poor lady. Sometimes the whole concept is so grotesque, so intimidating and perfect that I smile in almost disbelief. What impresses me also is the fact that not only the music is played with great skill but that also the sound - even at this volume - is just perfect. After a merciless (and understandable) short set, people finally relax and applaude. We leave the place delighted and as we walk to the car I feel in my jacket the bag with the protective ear plugs the organisation handed out before the concert ('we've heard the rehearsal this afternoon and it's very extreme'). Oh well, ear plugs are for pussies.

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