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Made in Berlin - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 11:36 am
Made in Berlin

Today's entry complements and balances yesterday's, which looked at the downside to Berlin. Today I want to look (a little more personally) at the city's upside, and to ask, in passing, a question about geographic determinism: whether we're mere chameleons who take our colours from our surroundings. Underpinning this inner conversation is the question of whether I could do all the things I do in Berlin in Osaka instead. Whether, in other words, Momus is portable and platform-independent.



In the few days I've been back in Berlin, a couple of Berlin-specific work projects have come in. The Wire magazine asked me to review the upcoming Club Transmediale -- "Berlin’s unique Festival for Adventurous Music and Related Visual Arts" featuring "performances by exciting contemporary artists from undefined convergence zones between out-pop, experimental music, noise, art and media technologies". Then the Volksbuehne theatre asked me to stage an evening of performance art at a new event called Baron Saturday at the Roter Salon. My evening will be called Exploding Beowulf and will happen on March 27th.



Now, it would be easy to say that I, and I alone, came up with the adventurous idea of staging an exploded-diagram version of my song Beowulf (I Am Deformed) in which we separate the choreography from the story, interview the monster Grendel, project slides of the wounds and deformities listed in the song, play out alternative endings to the Beowulf story, and so on. It would be more accurate to say that I came up with the idea in response to curator Maximilian Haas' encouragement to put on an event somewhere between music and performance art. And, more generally, it would be safe to say that the city of Berlin (with its radical institutions, its semi-official taste for experiment) coaxed the idea of Exploding Beowulf out of me. "You can go a little further," Berlin seemed to whisper in my ear, "be a little weirder. We like that. We'll pay for that. In fact, if you don't do something like that, we won't pay you and you won't be able to eat at Yam Yam any more."

I recently ended an interview by quoting Kafka's line about "this tremendous world I have inside my head". That's the Romantic view of the artist: that wherever he roams he has this world inside him, fully-formed, just waiting to be birthed. Actually, I'm not so sure. I know myself to feel, and to operate, very differently in different cities. Here, have a read of this interesting essay by Paul Graham, Cities and Ambition. I was tipped in its direction by a piece on The Null Device sparked by the Click Opera entry about Osaka.



Paul Graham wonders whatever happened to the Milanese Leonardo. "Practically every fifteenth century Italian painter you've heard of was from Florence, even though Milan was just as big," he writes. "People in Florence weren't genetically different, so you have to assume there was someone born in Milan with as much natural ability as Leonardo. What happened to him? If even someone with the same natural ability as Leonardo couldn't beat the force of environment, do you suppose you can?"

This sounds like a sort of geographic determinism, but I think there's something in it. The Milanese Leonardo would have left Milan and settled in Florence, attracted by the work being done there, the congregation of like-minds, the buzz and hype resounding around Italy. I did very much the same, moving to London, then other cities, lured by the fact that art and culture offered more possibilities there than they did in my native Scotland. Momus as you know it is a product not just of "the tremendous world I have inside my head", but also the media industries, curators, gallerists, record label bosses, publishers, journalists and other cultural facilitators who made it possible for that world to spill out. They even, to some extent, determined the shape, form and texture of that spill. My life's work is the result of a continuous negotiation between me, these facilitating people, and the cities they were based in.



I'm not saying that I, Momus the artist, don't exist. I'm not saying that I couldn't exist in, say, Osaka (a city where, at the moment, I have no facilitating cultural contacts). What I'm saying is that my work has changed according to context -- according to who let me make it, what their agenda was, and what city we were in at the time. In Cities and Ambition Paul Graham is good on the theme of city-as-agenda: for him, an ambitious city can't really have more than one dominant theme. He boils LA down to fame, New York to money, Cambridge to intellect, DC to connectedness, London to hipness, Silicon Valley to power.

So what's Berlin's ambition-theme? For me, it would have to be the word "experiment". The city asks me for something rather advanced, serious, unconventional, experimental. Whereas London would want me to generate revenue stream or achieve some sort of tacky celebrity, Berlin demands something a little bit Utopian, a little bit experimental and futuristic (the theme of the Transmediale this year is "futurity now!"). It can't pay me much, but that's fine, because neither Berlin nor I require much money to operate. And we both think that making things new and exciting is what life is all about.



I like the me that Berlin helps produce, and I'm very aware that the mes other cities would produce would very possibly be less interesting ones; Momuses who don't write The Book of Scotlands (a product not just of my imagination, but of Berlin publisher Sternberg, Berlin editor Ingo Niermann, and so on), don't make records like Otto Spooky and Ocky Milk, don't explode Beowulf. Berlin has been my context and my creative midwife for most of the past decade, and I'm not at all sure I could easily replace her with a better one.

22CommentReply

cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 11:38 am (UTC)

Could you imagine what it would've been if you where about to move from Osaka to Berlin?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 11:43 am (UTC)

Well, it's not so hard, because I moved to Berlin from Tokyo (via a month or two in Paris)! And, in a micro-timescale, I just moved from Osaka (where I spent the first part of January) to Berlin. Banal observations, based on that: Berlin is up to 30c colder than Osaka (highs of about 10c, whereas Berlin next week is forecast to be minus 21c!), the food is better in Osaka, and Osaka is sexier (for me, personally), possibly even too sexy (all those bare legs are distracting). The art is more various and more sharp-edged in Berlin, I'd say, although I think currently Osaka is producing better music. That's just my personal view, and it's based on a very small number of artists.


ReplyThread Parent
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 11:49 am (UTC)

So, in Osaka you would do less art I assume? I mean, temperature is not that much of a bugger. At times I've thought about moving to Krasnoyarsk, though I dunno what the culture really is like there.


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seosandiego
seo san diego
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 12:25 pm (UTC)

amazing art imomus


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 12:29 pm (UTC)

The selection of images of Grendel thrown up by a Google Image Search is copyright of the respective artists.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)

I like the Paul Graham article. One of his conclusions is:

>Unless you're sure what you want to do and where the leading center for it is, your best bet is >probably to try living in several places when you're young. You can never tell what message a >city sends till you live there, or even whether it still sends one.

which makes me think that we should put a greater premium in social policy on mobility. But the message of the UK to young people is largely "You need to settle down, get that mortgage, take out that private pension before it's too late, get a job quick as next year's graduates are right behind you". You wouldn't know you're part of Europe a lot of the time here, and rarely encouraged to think in terms of the European job market.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)

Yes. The British economy revolves around the overvaluation of real estate, though, so it's hard to see any official recommending nomadism.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)

What do you make of Bowie's ipod listening this month?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jan/24/david-bowie-on-his-ipod


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 02:37 pm (UTC)

It's surprising to hear anything from my dad David Bowie, he's been hiding in (hopefully contented) domesticity for so long. The tracks that stand out most for me are the Scritti Politti and the Arthur Russell. I'd never heard any Arthur Russell, but it has a very interesting feel to it. Some of the religious themes in the tracks make me wonder if Bowie has got more Christian of late. I like the focus on China and Africa.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)

Yes Wood Beez is what Bowie was trying to sound like in 1984, but failing miserably.

I somehow doubt it's really a list of the tracks he's been listening to most though. Surely he would have been listening to Reich, Adams and Bryars way back in the seventies.


ReplyThread Parent
fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)

Oh jeez, Arthur Russell is SO good. You should listen to him more. And Wild Combination the recent documentary about him is a very well-made film.


ReplyThread Parent
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 05:33 am (UTC)

agreed. I have a complete man crush on his music... when I first heard his name/music (5 years ago via dublab) I felt that I wish I'd known about him earlier.

a real bridge between intellectual and ah, home spun music, electric and acustic, modern and classical...


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 01:18 am (UTC)

I'm surprised you haven't heard any of Russell's music, Momus. There's a nice Polypunk episode dedicated entirely to Arthur Russell. It's #43, and you contributed the cover art.

http://www.maudevintage.com/diginikki/?p=1881

I absolutely agree with fishwithissues' love for him. You should give the Polypunk 43 a spin.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 07:21 am (UTC)

Hmm, Digiki, Milky and Fish -- from the people recommending him, I'd say Russell is currently a strong "hipster signifier"! And that may be why Bowie included him. Bowie has always been carefully hip. Which I suppose is the opposite of effortlessly hip.

The iPod playlist strikes me as... careful rather than effortless in that sense. It's carefully eclectic, it carefully nods to Afro and Chinese pop, it carefully reminds us of Bowie's links to 70s minimalist composers, it carefully shows us he's aware of the ongoing 80s revival, it's careful to put in some artists who are too obscure for YouTube, and it carefully namechecks Arthur Russell too. I don't think this care is bad; I guess it's the same as calling Bowie "calculating", which people have vexed him down the years for being. I'd be careful and "calculating" too if The Observer asked me what's on my iPod. I don't even use one, but I'd give them a list designed to make a statement about me and the world right now.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)

The German newspaper is called "Die Zeit" since "Zeit" in German is in femininum and therefor requires the "die" article. It's the only German newspaper that managed to keep a steady quality standard, congrats on the interview!

And good to know about your Beowolf performance. I'll use it to introduce you to a few theatre-crazy friends of mine. See you there then, hopefully.

Glad to see you haven't given up on Berlin.

Robert


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)

Actually -- my mistake! -- it's DERZEIT, the Berlin fashion week daily, not the newspaper Zeit.


ReplyThread Parent
colinmarshall
colinmarshall
Colin Marshall
Sun, Jan. 24th, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC)

I always so enjoy your posts on cities. Are there any thinkers on the subject that you consistently look to your self? Who writing about cities do you enjoy — and who do you loathe?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 04:34 am (UTC)

I like Richard Sennett and loathe, oh, Jeremy Clarkson.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)

a) Beowulf has always been one of my favorite songs.

b) my Dad used to read the story to me and my sisters when we were very young (that and the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe are the ones I remember), probably from some children's classics book, and one of my earliest memories is the feeling I would get when he would describe Beowulf diving into the lake at night to find the secret cave, the lair of Grendel. I guess it could be described as a combination of fear and wonder, but that's not quite it. Maybe there is a word in russian for it, but that feeling, part body, part mind, is what I want "art" to do to me all these years later - to reveal the cavern beneath the lake.

c) I haven't searched for them all, but Bowie's musical recommendations left me flat. As they usually do. I always get excited to hunt up the sounds, but I am usually disappointed with the results. I'm not even gonna try godspeed you Emperor. I can kinda already tell I won't like it.

I bought that Jesus' Blood lp when it came out, after reading an Eno rave I think, but I agree that it is mostly annoying. Although it is one of those weird albums that you can listen to ten times on different occasions and 9 times it will leave you flat, but then it will catch you in a certain mood, or maybe when slightly intoxicated, and you are suddenly transported and understand what all the fuss was about.

Peng Liyuan should work for me, but it just makes me think of things I like better. Zhou Xuan for instance.






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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 05:27 am (UTC)

nice... Always love your contributions...

god speed... they were a force to be reckoned with about 10 years ago... no idea what they've been up to since...


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)


Momus!

The patron gods of Berlin (eros, pan, hypnos and dionysos) smile upon your peace offering and in their benevolence let the sun shine, briefly over you. (this, the 25th of January between 10.00 and 15.00)

Hermes









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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 12:24 pm (UTC)

Hail, beneficent brothers!

Could you do something about the temperature? It's minus 10 out there.


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