Flughafenstrasse

Live: Mike Majikowski + Seiji Morimoto + Piotr Tkacz + Frank Gratkowski @ 38 Flughafenstrasse in Berlin, 13/12/2013

Upon walking past, 38 Flughafenstrasse appears to be a tiny gallery space with room for performance equipment or an audience, and both at a stretch. As I step inside, I realise it’s a mini-network of four interconnected rooms, which Quiet Cue utilise to break up the immobilising intensity of the gallery atmosphere; I could comfortably hop out to chat and sip a drink without feeling pressured into adopting a polite hush and a dainty ballet dancer movement, thanks to the “airlock chamber” that swallows up the noise of the social area and leaves the performance zone acoustically unblemished.

It’s a tense set of performances, so the possibility of escaping for air between sets is invaluable. Frank Gratkowski is first out: solo saxophone platted into electronics and manipulation. Saxophone breaths billow out in bubbles and then in streams, rising fountain-like from electronics that skew and fragment around the surround sound perimeter, responding to the volume increase with sudden surges in volatility; galvanised by the hot air, roused into collisions of glitch. Sometime it sounds as though Gratkowski is sucking a baseball up a funnel – reed breaths re-shaped into satisfying, vacuum cleaner whomps – and at others he unlocks strange, spiralling computer reactions with a simple tap on the instrument body. Throughout, his music is distinctive to the touch; often sticky and mucus like (particularly in the second half, which made me think of playdough slapping and thudding against a wood shed roof), but wonderfully glacial too.

Seiji Morimoto and Piotr Tkacz suck up the room’s remaining oxygen, the former with a primitive electronic circuit powering a couple of tiny motors, the latter grinding object detritus against an old plastic turntable that strains through clockwise cycles. It’s like a wheelbarrow rusted up until motion is rendered agonising and virtually impossible; a music of tension and vital signs, tightrope walking on the precipice of death, kept barely alive through the smallest circuit wheeze or the whine of card on plastic. At one point the turntable sounds like an old metal gate being swung open, while the electronics quietly fizz like bees caught beneath a sheet of tin foil, quivering and humming in an agitated escape attempt. I am frozen in witness of the post-death spasms of a redundant technology, emitting the last splutters of battery life as agonised, whimpering shadows of former purpose: flies against glass pains, trumpets wobbling and doubling over on a dark street.

Continuing the theme of stifled flight, Mike Majikowski’s double bass manages to sound like a bird fluttering against the walls and windows of a room in panic. He scuffs the strings on rapid fire, with gorgeous harmonics billowing out of the friction which, when listened to in isolation of the frantic attack, carries a certain suspended, choral quality – an excavation of inner harmonic spirits, with feedback pulled out gently like an infinite handkerchief extracted gradually from a top pocket. Moments of quiet intersect each flurry in brief phases of rearrangement; a chance for the remaining decay to waft away from the body and diffuse into the air around, before the attack emerges again reshaped, surging through the body. The second half introduces strands of bowed tone that fade like comet trails, with each note a crucial aspect in Majikowski’s painstaking maintenance of shape and symmetry.