When people go to concerts, the venue itself is obviously not the draw. Of course we all have venues we like over others, for example I'd rather go to the 9:30 Club than the Rock and Roll Hotel, but if a band I like is playing I will see them wherever they are. Unless you're going to the likes of Royal Albert Hall or the Kennedy Center or Radio City Music Hall - venues known of themselves as unique or special, with history or comfort or service or design (or all of the above) going for them - the venue is not too important. You go where the music is and as long as the sound is good, that's all that matters. In fact as music consumers, often we'll put up with inconveniences, inadequate facilities and even sound deficiencies just to see a band we like. (Hey, a-ha is playing a reunion gig in a crumbling basement bar in Siberia that looks like a portal to Hades and is said to be infested with rodents and is only accessible via chartered air-drop? Sign me up! ;-))
The first thing you have to know about the Apparatjik concerts at the Neue Nationalgalerie is that the venue and the event were in perfect harmony. The gallery was without a doubt the best environment for this installation, and it absolutely made a difference in the experience. The cubist design was a very effective and almost organic extension of concept, while the surrounding glass both mirrored and magnified the light and visuals. Not only did the installation reach outwards, but the city had a silent and beautiful presence inside, and boundaries were only ideas that you could easily dismiss.
Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Yvonne Ruhl
Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Caitlin A
Squares everywhere :-) Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Daniela A
I know nothing about sound engineering, but I have to admit that when I first entered the gallery, I was worried that the perfect space would mean a compromise in sound. Thankfully that was not the case. Perhaps there were a lot of adjustments made to account for the ceiling height, glass walls, cavernous basement and large interior columns, but if so it was all flawless to my ears. There is nothing more important to a music lover than to have such clear and true sound at a performance.
My what big speakers you have. Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Fiam A
Another thing about venues and traveling for concerts is that while the concert is the highlight of the trip, you only visit the venue the one time for the show and the rest of the trip is spent elsewhere. So there is no feeling of focus around the venue, no attachment or association with it beyond the show - during which you watch what's happening on the stage and don't notice the surroundings much at all. However having spent part of each day at the gallery before the concerts took place, by the time we arrived on Saturday night for the first concert, it was comfortable and familiar. We had already seen the cube from all sides and knew which side we wanted to stand on; we already had an idea how the band members would approach the cube and where they would leave from; we were already prepared for the light reflection on the gallery windows; and the anticipation leading up to the show was better for it. [view my gallery photos from Thursday]
The first performance was on Saturday night, and the gallery was very crowded. Some people were seated on the floor in front of the cube, others were standing further back, and a few kept to the periphery. Despite the number of people, the audience was fairly fluid and you could move to get a different vantage point without any problem. In fact moving was the only way to get the whole view of things, because the visuals looked different depending on your perspective.
The audience on Saturday night during the pre-show video clips. Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Daniela A
Before the performances, some of the 'apparatjik tv' video clips were shown on the cube. The Q&A with Max Tegmark seemed to be an audience favorite, especially the part where it turns into music. That clip is so well edited, it had us all giggling every time.
Max Tegmark on the nature of things. Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Claire-Louise A
When the video clips ended, the band appeared. Wearing sparkly, reflective 'combat disco' shirts, trousers, boots, helmets and masks, the band members approached each other in pairs from the two facing stairways, then turned and walked towards the cube in a single file. There were cameras and flashes everywhere, the audience was intent on every movement. The guys each went to a side of the cube and shined large flashlights in different directions: at the audience, at the floor, up in the air etc. Magne happened to be standing on our side of the cube, right in front of my friends. (Friend: "Hey, we got the good one!" LOL)
Magne standing on our side of the cube before Saturday night's performance. Photo from Magne F Flickr Group Pool Credit: Qouda [view full photo shoot by Qouda]
After this they walked around to meet at one corner of the cube. Several minions - also dressed in sparkly clothes - came over to open the side of the cube and help them go inside, and two of them went in as well (Tor Einar A and Thomas A). [video from Saturday | video from Sunday, with the orchestra]
Apparatjik enter the cube. Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Tia Terefe
We had chosen to stand on one of the flat sides of the cube instead of on a corner, which I liked because if you turned your head slightly left or right, you could see a perfect reflection of the two adjacent cube walls on the glass gallery windows. This way we could see three sides instead of just one or two. [see this effect / Supersonic Sound] However now that I've seen the YouTube clips from different perspectives, the corner actually would have been a pretty good place to be - and the opposite side from where we were seemed to have a lot more visible shadows and flashlight movement. From our vantage point, there were times when you couldn't see any shadows from the band members, and since we'd seen most of the visuals before, the only thing to do was to focus on the music (a good thing, of course). [compare my clip of the first song and this other clip of the first song]
One of the things I was worried about with these gigs was the lack of interaction with the band. The cube is an obvious physical and visual barrier, but I enjoy the music so much that I knew somehow that it would be a great experience even so. And I was right. The guys have used the word 'freedom' in connection with Apparatjik a bunch of times, and from their movements and (eh...) accessories behind the cube walls, you could tell they were not reserved. Did the barrier make that possible, or would they perform this way without it? And while some people may have thought that performing in a closed space shuts the band off from the audience and makes it a mutually isolated experience, I had the opposite reaction: I felt like they were projecting outwards via the lights and visuals, which made me feel like an essential part of the performance. Something has to be out there to receive what they're sending, so to speak. As Guy said in a recent interview, they want to generate a reaction, and this way people are reacting to what they are doing and not to who they are as individuals.
Doing their thing. Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Monika A
The band performed without reference to the reaction, and the audience was able to react in any way we wanted without worrying about influencing or 'reaching' the performers. So in a way, the barrier creates a situation in which everyone is more free, not just the band.
On Saturday night, my friends and I mostly stood still and absorbed everything. I took in more of the visuals than sound that night, although the sound was really amazing. Maybe it was due to the crowd, or the many cameras, or the newness of it, but none of us felt like dancing on the first night. The audience was a bit smaller on Sunday, and despite the added dignity that the presence of the orchestra gave to the Sunday night performance, the five of us couldn't resist dancing almost the whole way through the show. For my part, having seen the visuals the night before, I was in music mode and the songs are undeniably great dance music - especially the new single, 'Combat Disco Music', which kicks ass live. [view video / 'hu ha' dance ;-)]
I don't think there is any 'right' way to respond to or experience the concerts. Being still and taking it in was just as amazing as it was to dance with abandon. Although I am baised towards the dancing with abandon thing, I really needed that ;-) There was something playful about the music and the atmosphere, and it was easy to just have fun with it.
The set included three new songs, 'Combat Disco Music' and two others we don't have the titles for yet. If you want to hear the two new songs, the easiest way is to watch this one clip that includes both. All three new songs are great!
Everyone I spoke with after the shows said they had a great time, even though the word 'strange' came up quite a lot! But one of my friends said it well:
"Somehow, on the cube, in that setting, it all came together for me [...] when the music started, it hit me. This is exciting, vibrant music! It's not so esoteric at all. Of course, Apparatjik as a project is very ambitious. It's one part art (which is open to interpretation), it's one part science (which can be limited by an individual's understanding), but, at it's core, it is KICK ASS dance music!"
The Deutsches Kammerorchester performed with Apparatjik both before and after the Sunday night concert. I wish I knew enough about music to describe it and my reaction to it, but all I can say is that parts of it were entrancing. I had hoped that more about the creative process or the inspiration for various parts of the composition would have been obvious from the result - they did show short clips of video of people reacting to the cube during the interactive part of the installation - but all things equal it sounded like a charming and well written piece of music you could have heard in another context. In other words, I couldn't discern any connection with the installation or movement around the cube at all. But I am hardly an expert on such things. And that is not to say it wasn't beautiful, because it was :-)
Lots of stuff online about the orchestra, here's a selection:
orchestra rehearsal playlist on Youtube | Tia Terefe's photos of the orchestra rehearsals | Apparatjik/orchestra arrival and first part of the composition
Apparatjik conducting the orchestra. Photo from Apparatjik Flickr Credit: Tia Terefe
As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed both concerts. It was great to see the band along with so many friends old and new, and finally get the full picture after so many months of only seeing and hearing parts of it. Some people said they went to Berlin because they were not sure that Apparatjik was going to be an ongoing thing, but once they saw the band they were convinced of the solidity of the project and the guys' commitment to it.
I keep thinking it must have taken a lot of work to put everything together, the technicalities, logistics, rehearsals, wardrobe (hehe), media coverage, merchandise, staffing, etc. The thing to remember about Apparatjik is that they are not operating with a big record label behind them, they are doing a lot of this stuff on their own steam and putting their own time and resources into it. Every part of it seemed to be carefully planned and there were no details where I thought 'Oh, someone obviously didn't think this through...' All the pieces came together seemlessly and that way gallery visitors and people who attended the performances could focus on the important things and not be distracted by details that slipped through the cracks. I am really proud of what they accomplished at NNG and I hope they got out of it what they wanted to.
I would definitely travel again to see Apparatjik, but now that I've had that experience the next thing I am hoping for is another true solo album and some live shows from Magne. There hasn't even been a whisper of that possibility in the media though, and he seems to be enjoying the collaboration of Apparatjik so much that maybe he doesn't feel the need to write solo stuff at this point.