On Monday June 6th, Berlin witnessed a rare 3-hour concert by the legendary avant-garde improvisation collective Marginal Consort – their first ever appearance in Germany.  Originating from the Fluxus era, Marginal Consort is a Japanese collective composed of sound and visual artists who were all students of Takehisa Kosugi at the Bigaku school of aesthetics in Tokyo in the ’70s.  For 19 years, they have been performing only once a year (a brilliant way to pace a project!), making it hard to catch them in action, but keeping it fresh for the individual members of the group.  Marginal Consort’s current line-up includes Kazuo Imai, Tomonao Koshikawa, Kei Shii and Masami Tada.

The founder of the collective, Kazuo Imai describes the process as “collective improvisation and simultaneous solo performances by each member” a concept influenced by the music and dance performances of Merce Cunningham and John Cage”.

Unpredictability, patterns forming in the dense and sometimes empty chaos

One could almost call it a happening in the fluxus sense:  unpredictability, patterns forming in the dense and sometimes empty chaos. The venue, St. Elisabeth Kirche, with a glass ceiling and rough interior, light fading from bright sunlight into the dawn, a great setting to pull anyone into the rawness of the sound.  The audience moving quietly about the space (the group invites the audience to move around as to experience the full richness of sound perspectives and close-ups), or lying on the floor, or sitting…

Very physical movement of the performers such as whipping paper-objects through the air in the motion of a tennis star…

Each performer in his own corner with an array of exotic devices, self-built instruments, antique looking instruments, found objects connected to transducers or microphones, acoustic sound-objects made of paper and plastic, electronic boxes and mysterious equipment. It was certainly the most perplexing array of sound devices I’ve seen in a long time, enhanced by sometimes very physical movement of the performers such as whipping paper-objects through the air in the motion of a tennis star serving a deadly hit or swinging a long tube through the air making the audience duck.

The forms and textures of the sounds forever morphing, in motion, changing, difficult, challenging, ephemeral, unpredictable…

Unusual to be able to witness this physicality as part of the origin of very abstract sounds.  The forms and textures of the sounds forever morphing, in motion, changing, difficult, challenging, ephemeral, unpredictable, beyond ugly or beautiful, a paradox, a serpent eating his own tail, something erasing its own memory, bare, exposed and divine at the same time.  It is definitely a case of “beauty is in the eye or the beholder” or meaning is in the ear of the beholder…

The audience need to realise how big a part they are of a show

The experience engraved itself in my memory. I did wish there were no chairs and that it was easier to move around with closed eyes.  The audience need to realise how big a part they are of a show.

The event was co-presented with PAN in collaboration with Thirty Three Thirty Three. Supported by Initiative Neue Musik.  PAN has also released a 4LP edition of a 3-hour set from Marginal Consort, recorded live at Arika’s INSTAL 08 festival at The Arches, Glasgow.

Review by Claire