(Amare, The Hague, Netherlands, 7-10 April 2022. Festival Round-Up by AJ Dehany)
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Rewire is an intersection of the determinedly intellectual and the robustly physical that rewards ambition. In its 11th edition it has expanded into a bipolar mandala spread across the city with a familiar centre around Grote Markt where band gigs at Koorhuis sit across the road from hard club music at Paard, these just a spit away from the Grote Kerk.
The main hub of the festival is the new Amare complex, which occupies about the same footprint under one building as these varied venues. Only open a matter of months the multiple concert halls and occupancies put the Hague on the map as a serious concert venue for the Netherlands comparable to the UK’s Southbank Centre, Barbican or Sage Gateshead.
An optional 2 EURO levy guaranteed entrance to five of the higher profile concerts at Amare. It’s not ideal but this experiment seemed to work out, and it seemed like every the organisers had accurately pre-judged the popularity of each event over the weekend. The giant Amare concert hall was comfortably shy of full and the Paard (meaning horse) club halls vibrantly at bursting point. An ominous note was struck at the very first performance I attempted to attend at the basement of the Nieuwe Kerk, when a punter grumbled “Welcome to Rewire…” It wasn’t cool to turn away one sole person at the end of a queue but the Dutch can be officious like that sometimes. At least it wasn’t like (let us name them!) Bristol’s Simple Things festival which seems to positively reward low ambition and you can rely on not being able to get into any gig you want to get into! At Rewire you can still achieve an ambitious haul of events; even the inevitable clashes between gigs aren’t too life-threatening. An unexplained half hour delay for Anna Von Hausswolff caused havoc for me but was the only major blip on the weekend. The programming seemed to run out of steam on Sunday but Friday and Saturday were rich with everything you could want for the mind and body. In fact, more to see and do than a small group working in relays could cover.
The presiding genius for the 2022 edition was US artist Meredith Monk. “How do you make work that is an antidote to the problem rather than just stating the problem? How do I make useful art?” she asked, in a talk on Sunday lunchtime, part of a programme of her work that formed the backbone of the festival’s themes. Outlining the core principles of her practice— space, sound, body— the appeal and influence of her pathfinding work was clear, but focused on the voice: “The voice— I knew that would be the river of my work and other things would branch out from there.” The Filmhuis screened her 1980s films Book of Days and Ellis Island, imaginatively tracing her Jewish roots and background, and QUARRY, one of her remarkable revisionist operas. Her work still sounds strong despite a great deal of contemporary music since the 1980s being indebted to it in various degrees.
Meredith Monk’s presence was deeply motivational, and her two concerts brought world-class appeal to the festival. It was just a privilege to be in the presence of something of a living legend. Her five-woman Vocal Ensemble concert Cellular Songs, and Memory Game with the Ensemble and US postclassical troupers Bang On A Can, gave us a fairly complete sense of the thrust of Monk’s work. At its best her eerie style involves wordless hocketing vocal sounds insistently drilling into a chord. Defiant art music working through short blocks of material intersecting in complex ways representing a questioning worldview in vision whose multisensory unity in sound, movement and vision, it recalls Kabuki theatre and Noh drama. It is dealing with all the modes of perception and ancient performance forms as an act of worship and relation to nature.
A similar sense of balance and ecological imperative informed the festival’s prelude concert The Garden of Ryoan-gi. A retrospective of the piano works of another giant, the late Louis Andriessen, one of the most well-known Dutch composers, who actually taught in the Hague. In 2016 the BBC produced a series of concerts in London ‘Total Immersion’ explored his work but since his death last year this piano concert was the closest thing we’ve had to a retrospective. Piano students of the Royal Conservatoire impeccably performed these characteristic works: short spacious spiky modernistic works marbled with a warm Romanticism and jazz colorations that showcased the composer’s style. The power of more familiar orchestral works was represented in a bombastic arrangement for two pianos of his signature 1976 work De Staat. Andriessen didn’t quite approve Gerard Bouwhais’s arrangement but said if anyone could play it it should be him, and with Ellen Carver they made a goodly racket of it with some level of aggression and indicating that Andriessen isn’t just about the notes on paper or in the mind, his music revels in sheer sound.
Rewire as an intersection between the intellect and the body has always had a modest but strong presence from improvised and jazz-related music. Jameszoo’s Blind Group is the brainchild of Mitchel van Dinther and includes Petter Eldh on bass and a Disklavier on acoustic piano, where the live piano is played back from a midi file containing a performance recorded with sensors. With so much going on it’s less of an acoustic imperative to the quality of acoustic sound, but it’s a cool thing to watch. This fifth member drives the group along as they have to keep up to this demented ghost of a manic player piano. The group raucously explores punky funky prog with some mega classical riffs; it’s lots of fun and comparable to another Eldh vehicle the increasingly uncategorisable band Koma Saxo with the broken beats and electronics but with a more 60s-70s feel from the Hammond organ soloing over these meterotic space jams.
jaimie branch’s fly or die group is a more honed affair since that 2017 debut and its 2019 sequel, driven by riffs on the double bass and cello, interspersed with minimalistic echoey trumpet and centring on the charisma and presence of jaimie branch, directing musical energy and political anger with an MC’s flair and directness.
British composer, artist, poet, saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist Alabaster dePlume’s latest album GOLD is a remarkable synthesis of sound and poetry with the feel of classic Archie Shepp but a conspicuous contemporary British vernacular. This did not quite prepare you for his performance at Koorenhuis at Rewire— corsucating, energised, bitter, aggressive, assertive, combatively tender. The band included Danalogue bringing some of his signature squelchy heavy synth sounds out of The Comet Is Coming, and Dan Nicholls really shining with complex piano textures giving some sparkle to a heavy sound.
Bex Burch was in the band too, and next night the percussionist introduced her new band Flock including Sarathy Korwar, Al MacSween, Tam Osborn and Danalogue again. ‘Messy minimalism’ is a great descriptor, with short motifs cycling round and phasing in and out, with the woody gyil sound sitting among a restrained but thick electroacoustic sound in three part set. The first got into quite a nice natty dark groove in 12/8. The second had more of a spiritual and spatial feel. In the third, Burch and the drummer swapped, and I didn’t feel it really took off. A decent debut, overall it could use a bit more direction but it’s a nice collection of talents.
My highlight of the weekend was JJJJJerome Ellis, performing solo on Sunday afternoon. His album The Clearing drills down into African American history and pre-history using his own physical vocal stutter as the entry point into a mixture of academic theory, poetry, and music. Heroic and almost unbearably vulnerable, he refigures “disfluent speech” using allusive scholarship (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Derek Walcott and Toni Morrison), emotive content (the slave ships Amistad, Postillion, and the English-Dutch White Lion) and vulnerable delivery (the hesitations, the stutter). Interrogating the counterintuitive paradox in that disfluency has its own power, he asks “What if fluency is like the straightening of the Mississippi?” Gentle electronic loops accompany the speech and saxophone, which is at times rich and fluid even though he says, teasingly, that he does also stutter when playing saxophone. A compelling mixture of the intellectual and emotional, it was a typically upsetting performance that brings something genuinely new to the music.
Rewire is a reliable reflector of current thinking about sound, music and performance. A generous programme of discussions and artist commissions emphasised the specific themes of ritual, affect and noise. Every corner of the Amare centre seemed to have some wacky machine for generating sound and inviting interaction, be it dancing in VR or lying in a kooky massage chair or a giant flowerbox on the front of a bike. South Korean artist Mint Park’s electronic light show in a black box at the National Theatre was ravishing, beautiful and astonishing, with light slicing through the space above the audience’s heads giving the light itself spatial qualities culminating in a multisensory vision of an endless wormhole.
In the basement of The Grey Space arts centre, collective Sounds Like Touch curated an entertaining Tactology Lab dedicated to “Expression through tactile electronics”: analogue pedals hacked to operate digitally via computer, and novel instruments including La Diatenne, a bendy plate of metal, the Pulseyard, a pendulum swinging over sensors, and the Bellyharm, a massive fabric horn into which you stick your head to make it louder. Their wacky inventions responded to and raised questions about the physicality of sound, which isn’t just an intellectual pursuit but was on my mind during some of the late night adventures in the Paard club venue, where things got LOUD. I relished the brutal industrial impact of electronic musician The Bug. With such powerful bass I hoped I wouldn’t lose my fillings, it was like an evil reverse soundbath. The rinsing electronic impact of Rewire’s night-time programming complements the intellectualism of the daytime activities, and contributes to an overall sense that Rewire is a really vital engagement with the contemporary.
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Categories: Live reviews