Ether column, December 2008

For once I don’t have any concerts at all to recommend in Vienna this month; there just doesn’t seem to be much going on here as the year draws to a close. Come with me instead, then, to Bratislava, where those willing to make the short journey across the Slovakian border will be rewarded with a festival featuring some of the key names in European experimental music.

Regular readers of this column will not be surprised to learn that my top tip for the Next Festival is the German free improvising saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, here performing in his well established power trio with bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmueller. By the end of this year Brötzmann will have played over 100 gigs in Europe, Japan, North and South America, a remarkable achievement for a musician of any age, let alone one of 67 whose performances are as high-energy and draining as this man’s are. But that is Brötzmann’s way: to play until he can play no more, because there’s nothing else for him to do.

Other artists appearing at the festival this year include Phil Minton, Ilpo Vaisanen and Hildur Gudnadottir. Minton is a great English eccentric, a free improvising vocalist who has spent the last thirty years exploring the possibilities of the human voice as a sound source. In Bratislava he will be presenting his unique Feral Choir project, a workshop followed by a performance with non-professional singers. As Minton says, “anyone who can breathe is capable of producing sounds that give a positive aesthetic contribution to the human condition.” Vaisanen is one half of Finnish electronic duo Pan Sonic, a forbiddingly loud and fierce unit who blend industrial-strength drones with ear-bleeding techno rhythms. When I lived in London in the early 90s I once spent a memorable evening watching them drive around an empty car park in an armoured vehicle which had been kitted out with a massive speaker system and was spitting out wave after wave of abstract noise. It made a lot of sense at the time.

Gudnadottir is a classically trained cellist from Iceland. She played on Pan Sonic’s most recent album and also arranged the choir that graced In the Shadow of the Sun, the live soundtrack to a film by the late Derek Jarman which was performed by Throbbing Gristle at the 2007 Donaufestival in Krems. She, Vaisanen and Dirk Dresselhaus (a.k.a. Schneider TM) will be performing together at the festival as Angel, a collaborative project which has so far released two albums on Peter Rehberg’s Editions Mego label. And that’s your lot for 2008.

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