Techno is no longer new, no longer radical, no longer industrial, no longer trendy, no longer shocking. But it just might be something else: lasting.

Famed Köln label Kompakt, as sure a bellweather for techno as anything, turns twenty this year. And in celebrating its birthday, humans and machines meet again.

Electronic dance music has long had a conversation with minimalist currents and ostinati in Classical music, with Indonesian gamelan ensembles, and yes, infamously, even with the oom-pah repetition of marching bands. In the video above, we see what happens when the label’s music makes those conversations explicit. And it’s just the beginning of what’s coming.

You know, conversation. Sometimes with a can of spraypaint, too. (Things don't stay clean and minimal for long.) Photo (<a href="">CC-BY</a>) <a href="">Alec Luhn</a>.

You know, conversation. Sometimes with a can of spraypaint, too. (Things don’t stay clean and minimal for long.) Photo (CC-BY) Alec Luhn.

In the hands of multi-instrumentalist and composer Gregor Schwellenbach, two decades of classics from Kompakt turn up in new ensemble transcriptions, from gamelan to band to chamber music. Adorably enough, Kompakt not only released the results on vinyl, but on an even more anachronistic and threatened musical medium: the written score. (Piano solo and full ensemble scores were included.) The release:
Gregor Schwellenbach Spielt 20 Jahre Kompakt



That was back in May. Now, Kompakt is headed to Berlin to cap off its 20th birthday party, teaming up with Ableton – and invading their cafeteria, repurposing it as a pop-up record shop. There, human/machine encounters will take all sorts of forms.

You’ll hear Schwellenbach’s work in concert – a unique treat. And you’ll get a full dose of Kompakt, with the likes of co-founder Wolfgang Voigt in conversation, Terranova and Saschienne playing a label night, and more. From former canteen to former power plant, you can also bet on a no-holds-barred night-slash-morning-slash-afternoon-whatever at Berghain with the full Kompakt roster (one that will kick off the previous afternoon at Ableton’s HQ).

But you’ll also get a sense of Kompakt as it sees itself in the scene, and visa versa, and how humans and machines relate. That includes hands-on sessions with artists on music software, and appearances by Ostgut Ton, Arbutus Records, Innervisions, and others – Deadbeat and Answer Code Request and company with Kompakt as the backdrop. I’ll be there, as well (also speaking on a panel for Berlin Music Week, outside this event), so stay tuned. Among other activities, I’ll be talking to Blue Hawaii, a wonderful Montreal act (see, not Berlin), and a great example of human/machine duo as well as human/human duo.

It’s also appropriate, given the classical/electronic symmetry, that Dennis DeSantis will be demoing ubiquitous Ableton Live (alongside Push). Dennis is himself a composer and adept new music percussionist turned technologist, so even if it’s still controversial whether Push is an instrument, I think you have to concede that the clinician here is an instrumentalist. And that connects to the notion of music as substance apart from individual timbres – the machine as instrumentation, not part composer.

The full event description:
Program PDF [Kompakt]

On Ableton’s blog

Program PDF

Here’s a tour of the label from Electronic Beats way back in 2005 (German only, but you get to look around the space). I think that’s too old for EB to have current video:

And Pitchfork in 2009 had an extensive interview and music selections, hosted by co-founder Michael Mayer:
Kompakt 10
[Uh, yes, some strange math going on – depends on when you start and stop counting.]

I’m interested to see what happens next, as the Kompakt crew encounters other labels, other scenes, and as Berlin’s music makers and aficionados gather together. Because ultimately, the attraction of a label, of a record store, of a party is the same – not machines, but other humans. And things really tend to happen when those humans get together.