Starting tonight, and continuing over nine more dates in October, the freshly-inaugurated Morphine Raum will host events exploring invention and practice of one-of-a-kind musical instruments. You can watch – and you should, with a dizzying array of utter legends who are normally never in the same room.
The program begins tonight Friday October 8 in Berlin with very limited seating but – no Berlin FOMO here; stream from anywhere from 8pm CET / 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific on Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/morphine_records
Morphine Raum is a new studio and event space from Morphine Records and, at its helm, Morphosis – aka Rabih Beaini, hailing from Tripoli, Lebanon and now firmly established in Berlin. The space isn’t just another place for concerts. It’s a studio, a community hangout, and has an active workshop attached, too. On one side, a pristine environment for recording on some luxurious equipment. On the other, fully separated, you’ll get more sawdust and solder vapors as invited artists come and work on physical wood and electronic projects. The outcomes might be both a studio recording and a new physical invention. (Some of that side of things is already active; more is sure to come.)
In that context, the main goal of the Instruments program is to mix things up. The lineup reads as a who’s who of experimental performance and instrument creation in varying combinations, but with such a range that folks who haven’t met or work together will find themselves in the studio in the evening, talking, playing, improvising, and experimenting before our eyes. Each night has a featured instrument builder/inventor (or an adoptive custodian of some wonderful instrument). Then a selection of performing artists join in for each program, meeting the makers with fresh ideas about practice on these instruments, from musical roots and backgrounds that may come some distance from one another.
The maker-musician frames are already nicely blurred. See the full lineup below; it includes some folks I’ve written about, too. (Robert Henke, Zoe McPherson whose multidisciplinary and collaborative AV work I covered, and Khyam Allami who talked to us about his approach to freeing software from restrictive, western-centered tuning join many others.)
Here are some additional highlights, just to name a few:
Pierre Bastien is a legendary inventor-musician whose ethos embodies precisely this kind of interchange of technologies and practice and music. He’s worked with everyone from Issey Miyake to Aphex Twin, and – maybe just to take this one mechanism-performance, as it already fuses a number of traditions into a single contraption, without pasting over the details that makes each of them tick.
“I like to combine a cello or a viola with a godje from Niger and a Javanese rabab: enthuses French musician and instrument builder Pierre Bastien. “It’s like in a city, where all the different cultures blend with one another: you get a richer palette of sounds.” Bastien enacts this interplay with his Mecanium, a Heath Robinson-like contraption which plays all kinds of instruments at one and the same time: its bows, drumsticks and plectrums can beat an African drum or Indonesian gamelan, play a thumb piano, kora and harmonium, and bow a violin, while activating an entire string quartet. The mechanism that drives it is based on simple principles: intricate constructions built from Meccano parts and powered by motors taken trom old record players activate the bows and sticks by means of gears and pulleys. Yet Bastien’s bizarre contraption is more than just a hotchpotch of seemingly incompatible instruments: despite its apparent lack of sophistication, a Mecanium performance is a complex, emotionallv charged affair. This fragile, home-made orchestra executes elaborate and strangely moving symphonies, while the miniature pulleys and levers cast giant shadows on the wall behind them, and Bastien himself sits amid his mechanised instruments accompanying them on trombone, violin or musical saw.” – Rahma Khazam in The Wire magazine, “Popular mechanics”
“I’ve built a programmable electronic ‘cello with SuperCollider somehow involved” is likely to trigger some deja vú for anyone whose ever been to a session of NIME (The International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression) or reviewed paper proposals. (Raises hand.)
But wait – Knurl is something truly special. Laced up with 16 strings, the spidery object looks as much a sculpture as typical alternative instrument, a bone-like architectural structure holding the bow-tracking sensors and an array of solar panels at its base reminiscent of a tiny satellite. Brazilian-born Rafaele Maria Andrade has bona fides in composition and cello both, a conductor’s assistant at university, and pushes the invention into radical territory both in form and concept.
It’s powered by the awesome Bela embedded platform, which has a full feature on its background:
Marloes van Son works across electromechanical objects and instruments and graphical scores – she plays, too, with pre-scored materials and voice, and describes some of what she creates as “systems” as well as installation or music. Check out her project site here with various examples:
Mazen Kerbaj, also sometimes spotted around these parts, is an initiator of the Lebanese experimental scene, the one behind both the festival Irtijal and the Maslakh label. But in a nice connection between the experimental stories of Amsterdam and Beirut, he’s coming with Michel Waisvisz’s legendary Cracklebox – the organic electronic instrument that helped launch generations of new radical thinking about instruments. Accordingly, here is Mazen at STEIM – and it’s not hard to imagine Morphine Raum filling some of the gap left by the closing of STEIM, albeit now in Berlin instead of Holland (well, we all take that train or bus back and forth!). Mazen has his own built version alongide Michel’s here:
PS, I’d love to see Mazen’s comic books, even if I can’t read them.
Limpe Fuchs is an artistic legend, half of the duo Anima (with her husband), accomplished instrument builder, a 20th-century Stradivarius and Paganini all in one – if way more radical. Find her here:
Full lineup and description:
Makers meet musicians to explore the potentials of D.I.Y.
Anyone familiar with the instrument building scene knows the hardship of development and implementation, the labor required to bring instrumental ideas to life. We evolve in our practices and our tools evolve along with us. Instruments is a series that looks past the gestation of the instrument itself to its multidimensional praxis live, in a dynamic, unscripted meeting of diverse forces in musical creation.
Morphine Records is hosting ten days of programming in October 2021, with each event centered on one of ten unique custom-made musical instruments. The builder or owner of each instrument will meet with a selection of musicians to discuss, explore, and test different approaches to using these instruments. It’s a chance to discover new techniques and new languages that might (or might not) go beyond the original intention behind building these sonic machines.
Morphine Raum, the new studio and workshop space of Morphine Records, will become the temporary home for these sound devices throughout the month of October. With each sonic creation unique to a particular set of skills, our special, intimate physical environment gives us a chance to get closer to the methods and needs that drive musicians to develop approaches through these instruments that are theirs and theirs alone.
The format of the event will be open, with no expectations for a full performance or musical outcome, but rather a fruitful gathering of musicians from across varied backgrounds, free to explore new shared possibilities in the D.I.Y. scene.
Gefördert von der Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa und dem Musikfonds e. V. mit Projektmitteln der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Rahmen des Sonderprogramms Neustart Kultur.
Seats are limited; please purchase your ticket at http://morphinerecords.com/instruments
Free streaming of the whole event:
– Limited to vaccinated or recovered persons [2G]
– Proof of vaccination or recovery only with Corona-Warn-App or CovPass-App resp. EU Digital COVID Certificate
– Bring photo ID [no scan, no photocopy]
Mohammad Reza Mortazavi
Marloes Van Son
Zoe Mc Pherson
DJ Die Soon
Daniele De Santis
RSVP on Facebook (because everyone knows it’s my favorite platform – hey, if anyone wants to suggest event alternatives, all ears, by the way; meanwhile I use the stuff that’s available!)
I’ll invite some of you that way, anyway.
See you on Twitch! (And a few of you, in Berlin…)