A L’ARME 2018 Festival Reviewed


Maja S.K. Ratkje. Photo by Udo Siegfriedt

Berlin’s A L’ARME festival gave sonic adventures ranging from the alien playfulness of Maja S.K. Ratkje to the empowering world jazz of Laurie Anderson’s band.


This year was the first time I came across A L’ARME festival even though it has been in existence for a few years. Operating within the boundaries of avant-garde jazz, various forms of electroacoustic experimentation, and cutting-edge electronic music, it has always presented adventurous line-ups full of artists representing different eras, backgrounds and artistic methods. Situated in theatrical/industrial surroundings of Radialsystem V in Friedrichschain, it is a very focused affair with minimum distractions from the main thing - the sound.

Theatrical alien playgrounds

Maja S.K. Ratkje’s performance was a very strong start and one of the early highlights. It combined playfulness with sheer physicality of sound. The manipulation of her alien utterances began in a relatively refined manner, but soon erupted into a wall of sound consisting of various sonic bits and pieces like an amplified surrealist collage. This density was overwhelming in its sonic feature, but you could feel some relaxing Fluxus-like freedom in the mood and improvisatory vibe, which focused on the physicality of various objects and materials. When the time came, Maja calmed things down and subsumed her voice into almost a lullaby, like a short aftermath of a storm. Also the performance explored the sound of some particular objects and materials (like cellophane), and how powerful their amplified sound can be.

Ksiezyc operated on a different part of the spectrum, navigating their kosmische, avant-folk sounds and noirish surreal sax layers. This time they played the wonderful Rabbit Eclipse album in its entirety. It was like a surreal folk tale retold in sound and empowered through the ghostly light-play and the minimal glittering stage props, which floated in the dark like strange artifacts. The subtle handling of various items like plastic singing tubes and toy instruments infused the main musical narrative with lots of micro sub-stories.The beauty of Rabbit Eclipse flourished in the dark space of Radial, all its subtle nuances and twists heard anew. It was a welcome reimagining of the record’s charming fairytale awe, surreal, dark, haunting elegance and silent drama.

Contrasts and fusions

Andrea Belfi and Valerio Tricoli was a nice pairing, where the virtuosity of Belfi’s rhythmics stood on the verge of being jazzy and futuro-tribal, while Valerio painted his haunted field recordings of subtle physicality and unease. There was an interplay of atmospheric tension and the structured yet dynamic and energy-fueled rhythmics of Andrea.

Theo Burt’s performance seemed to be more of an installation and was the only moment of explicit commentary on pop culture and political/consumerist undertones at the festival. It consisted of stretched out pop videos, morphed into almost droney segments, turning them into unheimlich pastiches. In a way this technique reminded me of V/vm’s haunted and horrifying reworks of 80’s adult contemporary hits or Theo Burt’s other project - The Automatics Group, stretching EDM into lush and dreamy ambient sequences albeit to an entirely different effect. Burt is full-on HD in his aesthetics, with crisp quality installations, making the effect even stronger and more vivid.

The extremity of Jessop&co was a stark contrast to the glittery pop deconstructions of Theo Burt as the performance was based on gritty tape manipulation, organic soundscapes, which seem to be reprocessed in their own ways and weaved into a long, extreme tapestry blowing in a very straightforward way. It was quite difficult to understand the origins of these sounds, yet they sounded like an analog/acoustic brute force or like extremely amplified field recordings of an echoing volcano. Although the overall tone aimed at providing a solid portion of uneasy listening, there were also a few points where lighter tones surfaced through the tapestry.

The old masters

Laurie Anderson’s mammoth collaboration with Bill Laswell was a very expressive, organic and free-roaming improv session. It is the second time I see Laurie this year the first being her wonderful solo show in Hague’s Grote Kerk in Rewire festival. That time she was alone, performing her All The Things I Lost In The Flood program, and the performance was a very meditative, melancholic and personal one, albeit with lots of political undertones and dark reminders about the unstable world around us. This time Laurie seemed to immerse herself in an improv full-band mode (they were also helped by Dr. Israel, Dj Logic, Graham Haynes and Guy Licata) and the session was playful, powerful and politically aware. It was more of a peaceful protest expressed through free-roaming improv sounds verging on free jazz, hip hop, reggae, and everything in between. There was still the Yoko Ono scream and the invitation for the audience to scream together due to all the bad things happening in the world (she did the same in her Rewire performance). Methods of Defiance presents an empowering music, which explodes in a variety of colors and shapes.

Another large collab came from Austrian post rock experimentalists Radian, Billy Roisz and dieb13. Radian’s collab with the The Necks during Unsound 2014 was a stunning and intense affair. This year’s collab was more atmospheric and cinematic, roaming across denouements and climaxes, yet maintaining the tension. Visuals complemented the show, although in my opinion they were less powerful than the sonic whole and did not add much of an additional layer of meaning. Martin Brandlmayr’s drumming balanced between intensity and elegance, the soft dynamics acting as the framework for the overlaying drones. The fusion was complex, trippy and adventurous

A L’ARME wrapped up with the closing sets of Mieko Suzuki and Rabih Beaini. It resonated well with the overall atmosphere of the festival. A L’ARME is a very solid artistic statement in preserving diversity and conceptuality in festival curation. Even though stylistically artists varied from jazz to noise, but the coherence was never lost and the primarily focus is always on sound and its variety. The dark halls of Radialsystem V suited that really well - they really made you feel almost as in cinema screening during every performance, demanding full concentration and attention.

About Author

Paulius Ilevicius is a Secret Thirteen journalist, editor and occasional DJ focusing on more dreamy and melancholic soundscapes. Born in post-industrial town of Pavevezys, currently he lives and works in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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