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CTM 2023 Highlights: »Portals« & the worlds they give access to

Text by Olya Karlovich

CTM Festival 2023 – Portals, key visual. Design: Vojd

After two years of lockdown, CTM Festival is finally returning to its usual format, simultaneously unfolding a diverse range of IRL activities across Berlin from January 27 to February 5. Launched in 1999, it is still one of the main happenings in the electronic and experimental music field, audiovisual and sound art, as well as club culture. The current 24th festival edition is dedicated to the special theme »Portals«. Invited artists will explore the ‘fundamental function of sound and music as a gateway to other realities’ and world-building practices.

With a series of avant-garde concerts and live performances, bubbling club nights, panels, workshops, film screenings, and installations, there is so much to see. Among our highlights is multimedia artist Merche Blasco‘s live improvisation, FAUNA, in which she uses a set of custom instruments to process field recordings, body movement, and exploration of material textures. Or Maryanne Amacher’s work GLIA, performed by ensembles Contrechamps and Zwischentöne. Amacher (1938–2009) was a sound art pioneer interested in ways of hearing, aural architecture, perception, and spatialization of sound. She is also well known for her “ear tone” music (otoacoustic-based). ‘The performance at CTM forms part of the continuing collective interpretive re-presentation of Amacher’s practice,’ according to the festival announcement. 

With a new release, Poised at the Edge of Structure, Ana Fosca will take CTM-goers through experimental music’s most visceral and noisy territories. Using synths, field recordings, feedback loops and distortion, the artist writes a dark, sometimes even eerie, but incredibly captivating story where the existential is intertwined with a powerful expression. 

Meanwhile, Berlin-based vocalist, composer and improviser Audrey Chen creates portals by combining traditional and extended singing techniques with cello and analogue electronics in her practice. In tandem with Hugo Esquinca and Doron Sadja, she will present PIERCE, a piece that ‘breaks the physical boundaries of the voice with unstable signal processing mechanisms’.

The 2023 edition also focuses on electronic music from South Asia and collaborations between African and German artists. Paul Purgas, a multidisciplinary artist and musician, curates an exhibition and event program, We Found Our Own Reality, that celebrates the work of South Asian sonic innovators from the 1960s to the present day.

The exhibition explores India’s first electronic music studio by combining architecture, textiles and sound. The key element here is also Purgas’ new sound work based on unheard recordings by five previously unknown Indian electronic composers. In addition, the exhibition will include film screenings, a daylong discourse programme, and a series of live performances.

Along with Imran Perretta, Nabihah Iqbal, Paul Purgas, and Suren Seneviratne, an improvisational concert will be given by artist and photographer Poulomi Desai, who combines traditional and non-traditional instruments in her practice, such as a modified sitar with modified cassette decks, circuit bent toys and massage tools.

The ‘Afropollination’ showcase features sound explorer Bamanya Brian aka Afrorack, a pioneer of homemade modular synthesizer systems on the African continent. Afrorak got two slots in the CTM concert programme — first, he will perform with the iconic improviser,  composer, and percussionist Limpe Fuchs, whose decades of artistic research are devoted to the outer boundaries of sound and its impact on the listener, and then with sound engineer and artist Jessica Ekomane.

With the support of sister festival transmediale, vocalist and composer Jennifer Walshe and musician Jon Leidecker (Wobbly) will show MILLIONS OF EXPERIENCES (HUGE IF TRUE), including an epilogue, MOREOVER, a two-night performance reflects their shared interest in the peculiarities of digital sound and ‘the outer reaches of online culture’.

And, of course, we won’t miss the special closing concert, celebrating the 2023 edition of both festivals, within which Amnesia Scanner will premiere their new work, Fun, horror and reflections on today’s collapsing ecosystems and information environments — sound like a perfect mixture for the final show. Teaming up with multimedia artist Freeka Tet, the Finnish duo will blur the line between the expression of live performance and detailed digital images. 

The CTM annual collaboration with MONOM Studios features works specially created with and for the 4DSOUND system, also examining the possibilities of blending acoustic and synthetic/electronic sound. For example, Polish composer Aleksandra Słyż will join forces with cellist Judith Hamann and saxophonist Gerard Lebik to sonically reimagine the 26-minute track Softness, Flashes, Floating Rage from her second album A Vibrant Touch

Or else, KW Institute for Contemporary Art presents Crack Nerve Boogie Swerve by the multidisciplinary artist Alexis Blake, who combines visual art, dance, and performance in her practice. In the presentation of the work at CTM2023, Blake will focus on ‘notions of transparency, resistance, resonance, and breaking in relation to norms, constraints and oppression’. The performance brings together producer and DJ mobilegirl, low-frequency sound researcher Stefanie Egedy, percussionist Sofia Borges, and six dancers from different dance styles.

The Radio Lab initiative winners propose projects combining radio art with live performance/ installation. For example, Anna Kravets from Kyiv will take a limited number of CTM visitors to the basement/shelter to experience how the human body can respond to a sense of danger. Recordings from these collective sessions will be used in her further radio essay on the differences in emotional perception of war -and peace- times. 

Among discursive events planned besides the performance programme is the presentation of the new The Listening Biennial Reader research by Brandon LaBelle. The work focuses on listening as a creative and critical force in the context of today’s polarized environment. Also, artists and researchers Yewande Adeniran (aka Ifeoluwa) and NZIRIA will share their explorations of various temporalities, discussing ‘how digital artistic means can be used to combine techno-futuristic ideas with folklore elements’.

Lastly, as part of MusicMakers Hacklab, Ioana Vreme Moser, a sound artist engaged with hardware electronics, speculative research, and tactile experimentation, will give a talk that ‘reimagines the morphology of our electronic machines’. The rest of the panels cover cultural production in wartime, the birth and development of the singeli sound/movement, Gen Z clubbing, specifics of the ‘digital underground’ and its folklore, and more. In addition, within A2A Transmission Workshops, six artists will exchange their professional experience and approaches with sound practitioners.

(Images courtesy of CTM festival)
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