Berlin Atonal: The Long Now 2015

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  • Kraftwerk, the power station built for East Berlin in the 1960s, is a large, industrial, extraordinary structure. Local techno icon Dimitri Hegemann resurrected the abandoned station in 2006, moving his club Tresor from its original home on Leipziger Straße. Hegemann is also the founder of Berlin Atonal, a festival which has been part of the city's visual and sonic art scene since 1982. Last month, Atonal collaborated with established arts centre Berliner Festspeile to bring together Kraftwerk's latest installation: The Long Now. The event closed the ten-day MaerzMusik festival and, in keeping with the programme's theme—the phenomenon of time—was allocated a 30-hour runtime. As a result, I spent the majority of The Long Now in various horizontal positions. I lay sidelong on a cot to watch Morton Feldman's eerie string quartet. Later, I stretched out supine on a wood board, my back absorbing stormy reverb from Italian composer Pierluigi Billone. At one point I was even tucked into a ball, covered with a gold space blanket (provided), as Phill Niblock's audio/visual installation, Music And The Movement Of People Working, droned nightmarishly from midnight until 9 AM. Sunday drew more of a crowd, leaving the many cots occupied. I was not alone in extending myself across the floor. Transforming a music event into an immersive experience relies on creating an otherworld that consumes us. The Long Now made this happen in a very unique way. By inviting us to sleep—which was difficult, but inevitable—the music worked its way inside our dreams. At some point, we woke slowly, dosing. Worlds began to blur. In the early morning, Mix Mup and Kassem Mosse performed a live set called Chilling The Do. I vaguely remember its sparseness, the frequent pings and pops, the sound of water lapsing. Spoken words fogged the room with messages about the "redefinition of reality," and something about not wearing pants. I remember dreaming about a Korean wrestling match overlaid with drums. In reality, Mix Mup and Kassem Mosse kneeled at a long, low table flushed with machinery. They drank tea. A girl appeared to be playing solitaire behind them. House beats, field recordings and bird sounds slipped out of the speakers, then dissipated, like hot breath on glass. Only a handful of people still remained at this point, either sleeping, or playing dead. Most of the people at The Long Now were in a state of meditative sloth. One could stew, motionless, for hours on end, lost in sound and introspection. It was not until Actress's closing set, after Mika Vainio's excellent and demanding darkness, that people took to their feet. Vainio's serpentine mix of noise and club energy spoke to Actress's stark ideas. But looking back on where the 30 hours began and where they ended, and considering the range of artists and media, the differing ages in the crowd, the side rooms to get lost in (a 16-hour documentary, a 24-hour electro-symphony), and the blankets, bare feet and light snores, the starkest ideas of all clearly belonged to The Long Now's organizers. Beyond the venue and programming, their principal achievement was a profound one: the preservation of a musical practice in which you lie down, close your eyes and listen.