Tales from Valparaiso (and beyond) No. 7

I arrived back from Santiago last week to find the following e-mail from the language school where I was expecting to start teaching:

In that moment you can’t work with us because the teacher native follow with us for the moment.
any change we keep in touch with you. Saludos...”

With a certain sense of liberation I opted, instead, to attend as much as I could of the “Tsonami Festival de Arte Sonoro”, the posters for which I had noticed appearing around the town the week before. This festival of Sound Art featured installations, streaming, workshops, happenings, discussions etc. The highlights, for me, were probably two visiting groups; firstly Mural, an improvising trio of two Norwegians and an Australian and Cilantro, a duo consisting of an Austrian and a Mexican. A Chilean ensemble called Ala 1RECS also mounted an inspiring event in a hilltop cemetery – a performance of Michael Pisaro's Ascending Series 3.

On the opening day of the festival, last Tuesday, I turned up for a workshop with Sebastian Jatz for a project called Seguimiento continuo de infinitos puntos. I was first to arrive (I just can't get the hang of turning up late which is the norm here – even when I try to be late I end up on time) and therefore had plenty of opportunity to get to know Sebastian, who had studied in London at the Royal Academy. This project culminated in an event on Friday in which a line of musicians, myself included, spaced about five metres apart, played one note (A = 440) continuously for forty minutes for the benefit of passers-by. On the Tuesday, once everyone had arrived, Sebastian talked it through. He asked us to introduce ourselves and explain why we were there – I answered that I was a classical violinist and that I simply didn't have anything else to do. After the session Sebastian, Lukax Santana and I went off for coffee across the other side of the Sotomayor – we had been holding the workshop in the huge cultural centre there in the square. Lukax Santana is a percussionist who lived thirty years in London. Both he and Sebastian are involved in running this festival, which has been going for five or six years now.

That evening Mural played at the DUOC Edificio Cousiño – a superb new art centre built within the facade of a splendid old building on the waterfront. Mural consists of Kim Myhr and Ingar Zach from Norway and Jim Denley from Australia. Kim and Ingar, of course, know Thomas Stronen. Kim plays acoustic guitar and two zithers, one tuned (if I remember rightly) in whole tones, the other in microtones. He uses a bow a lot, as well as various other gadgets – for example a tiny loudspeaker from an i-pod which he places on a zither to vibrate and maintain a tremolo. Ingar is the percussionist and uses, as his main work surface, a bass drum mounted flat. On this surface he moves various objects around to create various sounds – including a small electric fan, which acts as if it were a spinning coin which never settles. He also had an array of suspended gongs and much much else (what a terrible reviewer I'd be!) Jim plays bass flute and alto saxophone, on which he is able to produce an astonishing variety of effects. It was amplified but quiet – an improvisation lasting an hour and twenty minutes or so, and completely captivating. The hall was almost full. Being the opening night, the festival offered a free glass of wine afterwards. Then Ann and I wandered back to El Pimenton for a tortilla and a half jug of house red to find that they were showing a film there called Surplus – an anti-corporate-greed documentary, and the cafe was thronged. What an amazing town!

On Wednesday I started a three-day workshop with a Mexican sound artist called Manuel Rocha. This was held, as were many of the events, in a brand new centre for arts and events called the Parque Cultural Valparaiso in the old town prison up on a hill not far from where Ann and I are living. The internal walkways are still in place, though no longer giving onto cells but onto eight large workspaces with concrete floors. At the other side of the large prison square is another huge new building of concrete and glass – part of the same centre. The centre is not officially opened yet, but there was already an international photography festival happening in there, as well as our Tsonami Festival. Manuel talked about sound art – showed images, played examples. I understood maybe two thirds of what he said because of my bad Spanish, but, by writing down all the names and looking them up on-line afterwards I was able to establish a Wiki-level understanding of the subject. For Manuel the line of succession of his art starts out from John Cage, then flows through Fluxus to a host of people doing interesting things with installations, sculptures, recordings etc.

Thursday found me in the cemetery (after my workshop nearby) listening to Ala 1 RECS (which Sebastian is one of the founder members of) playing Michael Pisaro's “Ascending Series 3” under a couple of large yew trees. There is a minimal score, based on a rising series of six notes. There are six interludes more or less notated. In between the interludes are periods of up to an hour each in which the participants (and it can be for any number of instrumentalists) listen to the environment and, if they like, gently imitate it. Alternatively they can, if they like, play just two of the notes in the series for a little while – or, indeed, just listen. Yes, it's a bit of a meditation, but it's also a serious listening exercise. Usually we, as musicians, are at pains to ignore noises from the environment (seagulls, mobile phones etc) – here the musicians were to open themselves to it and respond accordingly. I genuinely had to leave after an hour and bit, but found it an inspiring experience – apart from anything else it was a beautiful spot to spend time in – there was a lot of sparrow chirping for people to imitate!

The converted prison building

That evening was the second of the concerts of solo performances at the “Cárcel” (the prison), the most outstanding of which were Manuel's (which somehow reminded me of the spacialisation and drama of the Stockhausen concert at the Queen's Hall a few years back), and Lukax's. Lukax opened the concert by dedicating it to all who, like himself, had been thrown into that prison in 1973. I think it's quite a powerful and, possibly, difficult experience for some people to revisit that site – especially for performances some of which are high-level sonic assaults.

On Friday we did our little installation up on the Mirador Comogli – which is, conveniently, a few hundred yards from our flat. I managed to play A for 40 minutes continuously – compensating for the passing buses by getting louder and softer each time. In the event only four of us made it – two laptops, one guitar and me. It was fun to watch peoples' reactions – a few people stopped, including one woman who stopped, sat down and meditated, quietly disappearing off again at the end.

On the Friday evening was a concert of two duos – the first the Chilean duo, Duo Drigosan (saxophone/bass flute and microphone applied to various objects including the throat); the second the very wonderful Cilantro, which is a duo consisting of Billy Roisz, from Austria, and Angelica Castelló, from Mexico. Angelica plays bass recorder (the wooden keys of which, when amplified, make a great percussion instrument), flute, ukulele and I forget what else, while Billy created noise from slapping a bass guitar and manipulating any amount of electronic gadgetery, including a projector which projected images of the tones they were creating – you could see each sound represented by happenings or textures in the projection. Afterwards she said “everything crashed, including my laptop”. “What about the projections – they seemed OK” someone ventured. “Oh, that's analogue, that was alright.”

They finished their act with Angelica chopping up coriander (“cilantro”) with the chopping board amplified – it was a great ending to an inspiring, and deeply amusing, set. Walking back up over the cerros I passed the ending of an event at a venue (I forget its name) in which a festival of clowning and puppetry has been happening over the last few weeks – they were parading up and down the road outside, fancy dress and clowns, playing in a simple street band, many children bouncing on shoulders amongst the jostle. Past that there was a more or less full moon over the harbour below as I walked back along the Via Allemana to our house.

'Cilantro' with bass recorder and chopped coriander in the background

On Saturday Ann and I went walking in the Lago Peñuela National Park in the afternoon – encountering, to our surprise (we had been looking for a quiet country walk, and found one eventually) a massive mountain bike event with more than 3,000 participants and a stage with dancers and the loudest speaker racks I think I've ever heard.

That evening we attended the final concert of the Tsonami Festival – which featured American Nicholas Collins, who had also been taking a workshop called “hardware hacking”. Again, it was an interesting evening, well attended and fun – but I think this blog is already way too long, so I'll bring it to a stop...


Tsonami Festival: http://www.tsonami.cl
Sebastian Jatz: http://www.arsomnis.com
Mural: http://www.myspace.com/mural3
Billy Roisz: http://billyroisz.klingt.org
Angelica Castelló: http://castello.klingt.org
Fluxus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluxus
Manuel Rocha: http://www.artesonoro.net/ManuelRochaIturbide.html

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