Sounds, visuals and lights: the multidisciplinary experience of Atonal 2016

Atonal festival

Taking place in the industrial cathedral of Kraftwerk, Berlin, the post-techno and hybrid audiovisual festival Atonal offers new perspectives of physical perceptions when it comes to gather live and installation experiences around sounds, visuals and lights confronted with a very specific architecture.

Born in 1982 as a music festival unveiling with powerfulness the newest radical sonic expression of West-Berlin experimental artistic scene, Atonal Festival was reborn in 2013 on a more pluridisciplinary approach. Sticking to the multimedia considerations of the most famous A/V festivals worldwide (from Mutek/Elektra to city neighbour of Transmediale), Atonal has kept its experimental/electronic music roots (his founder Dimitri Hegemann went on to open the legendary techno club Tresor in 1990 at the end of first version of Atonal and by the way Atonal currently takes place in the new Tresor club domain) and its industrial setting highly connected to the History of Berlin, embodied today by the impressive venue of Kraftwerk (a large and multi-levelled impressive abandoned power plant in central Berlin) that welcomes the five-days event: A manner of playing the underground card within multimedia/digital art festivals context and to express a raw vision of an ontological audiovisual creation, rid of too-much speeches and conceptual meanings.

Indeed Atonal is firstly a genuine experience, in which multimedia arts, including music, digital and filmic installations, and live A/V rely on the purity of their self-expression and on the way they find a unique resonance in the industrial cathedral of concrete and steel of Kraftwerk.

Atonal festival


Hybrid and physical installations

Incidentally, the first (and best) way to appropriate the festival is then to explore the place and to confront oneself to the inner and physical experience it offers. Emerging from the darkness that guards the entrance, the multi-TV-screen installations Common Areas by Montreal-based artist Sabrina Ratté stresses out the merging principles of Atonal.
Sabrina Ratté Atonal
Common Areas: Perspectives, 2016

Proceeding from her work that investigates the creation of virtual environments generated by analogical technologies, Common Areas connects to our minds, through the slow motion of the images, vibrating lights and electricity effects that act like an interplay between the illusion of depth and the flatness of electronic patterns, and creates a new rigid audiovisual architecture interfering with the massive one of the building.

In the basement, the New York artist Rose Kallal presents her Four Pillars piece that creates through immersive multiple 16 mm film loop installations a weird and very trance-like conjunction of techniques, including traditional animation, video synthesis/feedback and computer animation.

"Four Pillars" 16mm film installation, Lyles and King gallery NYC, 2016 

On the stairway leading to the gigantic first floor, home of the main stage and live A/V shows, the small projection room (Projektionsraum) invites to the same hybridization of audiovisual creativity. On a long screen running as a surface of projection along the wall, several artists - one different everyday - present installations sharing the same idea of hypnotism and minimalism but using different technical approaches. The STM~Intemporal by Peruvian artist Luis Sanz plays on an abstract choreography of digital lines, floating and decomposing to define organic landscapes, sometimes very close to analogical TV snow.

Luis Sanz Atonal

Luis Sanz, STM~Intemporal


On a opposite way, the And So On To Infinity by duo Recent Arts formed by Chilean visual artist Valentina Berthelon and German musician Tobias Freund highlights the simplicity of low-fidelity material and vintage collages, creating yet a connection with future and technology by using references to contemporary concepts of theoretical physics. But, the most impressive work comes down to Austrian visual artists Rainer Kohlberger whose Never Come Tomorrow installation creates a unique algorithmic/digital composition using though minimalist aesthetics influenced by flatness, drones and interference to elaborate a fascinating piece.

never comes tomorrow atonal
Never Come Tomorrow, Rainer Kohlberger, 2016

Evolving from black and white contrasted forms to more colourful and vivid shapes, the piece always intrigues, mostly when it plays with flickers and retinal persistence effects of colours, getting closer in these moments of works from Kurt Hentschläger or Ann Veronica Janssens (Yellowbluepink).

Massive audiovisuals…and lights

As a matter of fact, the expressionism of work of Rainer Kohlberger and its very relevant ability to adapt to different artistic audiovisual projects looks like a symbol of the very cinematic and multidisciplinary audiovisual approach of Atonal. His association with experimental electronic musician Jonas Kopp in the Telluric Lines project reveals like one of the most interesting live A/V performance presented on the Atonal 2016 main stage and its unbelievable audiovisual decorum, with the stage itself occupying like a throne the end of the huge 30m-high room whereas a large several-meters-high screen seems like diving on the public.

Jonas Kopp Rainer Kohlberger  Telluric Lines
 Drew McDowall + Florence To present Unnatural Channel

Using the same hybrid digital/organic flow of visuals, the performance starts from an iconic reference to the famous Mount Shasta volcano in California to finish as a kind of expanding of the human consciousness through music (the rattling electronic frequencies) and slow images transformation (sometimes looking like real human fingerprints or emulsions).

In the same kind of idea, the association between musician Drew McDowall (former Coil and Throbbing Gristle member) and digital/visual artist Florence To for their Unnatural Channel live performance asserts as one of the must-see-and-listen experiences within the large panel that offers Atonal 2016, alongside with the vertiginous flow of architectural photomontages - using a curious technique of depth of field - accompanying the live A/V of Felix K and Ena, and the very gestural performance of Pyrolator, displayed as an omen and reinterpretation of works of reference German composer Conrad Schnitzler (deceased in 2011).

drew mcdowall atonal
 Drew McDowall + Florence To present Unnatural Channel

But beyond the basic visual and sound association, Atonal mostly puts into perspective a wholly multidisciplinary experience, in which the perspective of the architectural lines of the building and the process of lights according to it appears also as a very strong media component.

In the live A/V category, the footwork/techno performance by duo Second Woman is then totally highlighted by the hectic and synaesthesic/rhythmic work made by Berlin audiovisual studio Pfadfinderei that turns the music into a throbbing pulse of lights projected on the big screen. More intricately connected in the body of the venue, the monumental site-specific light installation Acceleration Space created by Marcel Weber, Andrej Boleslavsky and Roly Porter makes an impression as well. Providing a non-physical motion experience through light and sound movements perceptions, going from slow to hyper-fast and from one-directional to multidimensional layers , the piece that takes place as a short performance on the ground level is actually reading the dimension of the venue, exploring with a growing frenetic dynamics the shadows and volumes that surrounds us from everywhere.

Live Laser Atonal
Live Laser, Robin Fox

Among the same lines, the well-known and impressive laser gig by Australian master Robin Fox has been long awaited as it looks it has to be a performance perfectly seized for the Kratfwerk place. Sadly, his show RGB, Live Laser suffers a bit from the enormity of the place, indisputably difficult to be fully filled by the laser beams. But the piece keeps impressive though by its ability to create a synaesthetic and immersive experience through synchronisation of sound editing and laser movements: a hectic audiovisual ballet that saturates the brain of the attendance and still opens wide all the perspectives and possibilities of dynamics perceptions carried out by such an event as Atonal.

Laurent Catala

Photos by Camille Blake and Helge Mundt  | more photos on the FB page