Review Month of Contemporary Music – Dylan Richards

Nearly a year ago I made the move from my hometown in California to Berlin. Having grown frustrated with the locally available contemporary music offerings during my undergraduate education I took refuge in YouTube’s ever-growing library of contemporary music, spending hours each day discovering new works. It didn’t take long to notice that a disproportionate amount of the works to which I found myself most attracted were being created and performed in Berlin. Soon I was up-to-date with YouTube’s catalogue and in need of a post-graduation plan; the next-step seemed obvious, move to Berlin to continue my composition studies and immerse myself in the city’s contemporary music scene.

Since moving I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a wide assortment of the city’s concerts and contemporary music festivals. I’ve noticed that perhaps more than any of other festival, the Month of Contemporary Music excelled in showcasing the true plurality of musical perspectives working in Berlin today. Performances at Berlin’s first month of contemporary music spanned the complete spectrum of nearly all musical parameters; from instrumentation [solo-chamber music-orchestra, acoustic-electroacoustic], to media [music theater-works with video-sound art], and modes of creation [composed-improvised], etc… The festival brought together institutions from every corner of Berlin’s contemporary music scene for an ambitious program boasting over 100 events.

` A few personal highlights include the festival opening double -portrait concert in which Enno Poppe led Ensemble Mozaik in works of Michael Bell and Johan Svennson, the large ensemble works by Rebecca Saunders and Mark Andre, and Andrea Neumann’s Music With Roots In The Aether—Catherine Lamb (Re-enactment of Robert Ashley’s ‘Music With Roots In The Aether—Alvin Lucier’) at Labor Sonor. Despite their different aesthetic dispositions the aforementioned pieces all share a concern with how space shapes sound. Saunders’ Yes most clearly deals with space by placing and moving performers to and from various locations around the concert hall, while Beil’s Exit to Enter utilizes live video recording to play with expectations of how performers movements and positions in space correlate with the sounds we hear. In Uber Andre morphs material derived from spectral analyses of wind by amplifying sounds back into the bodies of the instruments on stage and the venue’s wall. In Neumann’s piece the KuLe venue became a stage for the eponymous conversation between Ashely and Lucier, who comment on a sound they hear it evolve. The work’s strength lies in allowing the audience to become invested in the conversation by replacing the sonic subject with sounds evolving in the performance space. Perhaps in a similar manner, the Month of Contemporary Music’s success lies in it taking the space of Berlin (rather than a specific aesthetic) as its starting point. By doing so the program provided an inclusive and detailed picture of the city’s contemporary music culture that showcased both its impressive breadth and depth.