05.08.2014

AUDIOGUIDE

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DIE GESAMMELTEN WERKE VON JOHANNES KREIDLER, GmbH

 

18:41 The premiere of Audioguide is portended by claps of thunder in the sky over Darmstadt.

18:53 Johannes Kreidler's work is being trampled over before the show has even begun. Postcards of his Slide Show Music series are strewn on the floor of the foyer, as if worthless, disposable, forgettable.


19:00 Standing room only in the Centralstation. Audioguide begins.

 

***

An opera needs an overture. And Johannes Kreidler's Audioguide, psyched up as the first New Conceptualism opera-epic, obliged. But not with one of the type that tuned listeners in; Audioguide's ruthless half-hour overture was an initiation rite that masterfully tuned its listeners out.

 

Onscreen, Bernstein is conducting some great orchestra through some Shostakovich. But it's as good as white noise; every second second is blanked out, the film a kind of audio-visual strobe light bleeping on/off/on/off with an oppressively regular incessancy. A glorious symphony is fractured into an irritating noise, each bleep of this work of apparently unique genius more or less indistinguishable from the last. Once, a unison tutti melody tried to scream its way through the shards. But it got scrambled. We couldn't hear it over the silence.

 

Soon there is the addition of a football match. Now the two strobes—sacred and profane—alternate in a grid-like counterpoint, their static noise in exquisite harmony, the epileptic rhythm persisting orgasmically.

 

It was an aural purging, scourging – flagellation, even. It was an overture which numbed its audience against the possibility of hearing sound as music. For the next seven hours, sound will be material: a thing that can be cut, pasted, glitched, squished, stitched. Sound will appear in such a way that can't be listened to – its mashed-together byte-sized blips just have to be heard, endured, ad infinitum.

 

And not just sound will be relegated to banal materiality. In this Conceptualist epic, Great Operatic Themes of sex, death, and art will all be reduced to their materiality, their objecthood, their thing-ness.

 

***

 

19:35 The first silence that lasts longer than five seconds. In it, an audience member sneezes heroically.

 

19:38 First onscreen penis.

 

***

 

Our gameshow host bounds onstage with all the hyperactive campness and idiosyncratic English of a Eurovision contestant. He proceeds to spurt a soliloquy of music-theatre theory that comes across as an appallingly bad (and hence magnificently entertaining) Shakespearean actor delivering the Advice to the Players. This is not music-theatre, he tells us. This is theatre – about music. As the evening progresses, it will not get any easier to take him seriously.

 

The gameshow's first interviewee—the first speaking female—is afforded a rant about penis music and its eager penetration—FEMALE MUSIC IS NEW MUSIC!!!—footnoted by a self-referential disclaimer as she also rants about the tokenness of her role within this male-written, male-directed show. It's mail-order noisy feminangst. Yet Kreidler's conceptual hallmark is more often to critique a system by conspiring with it, not yelling at it. And so, if Audioguide ever attempts a feminist critique, perhaps it's in the consistent non-acknowledgement of the all-female ensemble of live musicians (Ensemble Neon). While charismatic male ringmasters run the show, these gameshow assistants skulk at the back of the stage—invisible, obedient, pretty—speaking only once, to comment on concepts of beauty, and "the marriage market". Then again, any feminist critique gets somewhat overwhelmed by the pornographic excesses.

 

***

 

19:58 First smashed violin.

 

20:00 First Heil Hitler.

 

20:22 First 9/11 footage.

 

***

 

Stockhausen's ghost is invoked and that fateful press conference is re-enacted. OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS A FILMMAKER!!! To prove the point, we are shown merciless loops of the plane crashing into the South Tower, over and over again, numbing the image's context and consequence. Like a video game, it insinuates a perverse satisfaction in watching something hit its target, as emphasised by the giant bull's-eye semibreves superimposed over the footage. For a fleeting moment I am astounded by the technical prowess of the hijacker for hitting his precise target so masterfully. In that same fleeting moment, Stockhausen could be right.

 

***

 

20:51 Violin orgy: like girls with Barbie dolls, the ensemble musicians pair up, sit cross-legged across from one another, and play-act out violin sex with the mass of cheap violins that keep materializing onstage, à la the sorcerer's apprentice.

 

***

 

Just when you least expect it, there are moments which—if you let them—can be desperately poetic. For 19 minutes, Kreidler's onscreen avatar falls over, plunging through a (virtual MIDI) piano, gets up, falls over, gets up... This Abramovic/Beckett interlude is weirdly gripping; you can see on Kreidler's face the not wanting to but somehow having to, and therefore possessing a stubborn determination to obey. All the while, pinned on the wall behind, an oppressively inspirational poster insists ONE STEP FURTHER. The hangman is another such moment of, appearing as it does soon after the sickening 9/11 ordeal.

 

***

 

21:54 First Hitler sighting.

 

22:39 Violin genocide: executed amidst boos, cheers, and a lone, feeble cry from the audience of "violas forever!". Audience members gleefully join in the slaughter. The sacrifices are at least given elegies, in the form of the 8-bit theme tunes which mark the deaths of video game heroes.

 

***

 

Out of the carnage begins the Donaueschinger Passionspiele. In a crassly self-indulgent spectacle, Kreidler's Donaueschingen Cross is re-created and the slew of subsequent facebook vitriol projected onscreen. Lights flash dramatically, requiems are intoned, crowns of thorny-violin-strings are adorned, microphones are held to heads like guns. There's gross obnoxiousness in such a self-styled crucifixion being conceived from the comfort of a Berlin studio while meanwhile, plenty of humans really do have guns held to their head, without even the luxury of the title of 'artist' to fuel a myth of martyrdom. The episode is meant in irony, of course – but the circle of those who are in on the joke is embarrassingly small, and it's questionable what is gained from exhuming long-dead discussion. Moreover, there's a sinister crucifixion of critique at play here as well. How does criticism among peers now proceed with the threat that any facebook comment could be immortalized in a Passion Play?

 

Tellingly, amidst all the material and ideological destruction that goes on in Audioguide, the Donaueschigen Cross is never smashed as it so infamously once was. Even after the detritus of violin corpses are arranged in a great funeral pyre, the Donaueschigen Cross sits relic-like atop it, unscathed.

 

***

 

23:20 The ensemble musicians have taken flight and set up camp in the foyer. Outside, a lively crowd of audience escapees are drinking on the steps. Those few remaining inside are subjected to some of Audioguide's most extreme tests of durational endurance.

 

0:00 The stroke of midnight falls just as the stroke of the onscreen cursor hits the E in the 'Jacques' of 'Jacques Derrida', as each letter is 'scanned' and sonified at a hypotizingly glacial pace.

 

***

 

Kreidler's tech-aesthetic is consistently and conspicuously lo-fi, and wilfully simplistic: pixelated images; poorly-formatted Times New Roman text. It evokes a kind of nostalgia for an 8-bit innocence, when tech was fun and straightforward and instantly hackable – before it was hijacked by the snowballing complexity which has allowed it to become a controlling, masterminding system.

 

***

 

0:41 First Kreidler sighting. His entrance music, by virtue of irreverent segue, is Norbert Schultze's jingo-jingle 'Bombs on England'.

 

***

 

At the beginning of the evening, the CEO of Fremdarbeit extrapolated his fantasy in which he is mogul of a globalized, multi-departmental new music manufacturing empire. Now, at witching-hour, he makes a public appearance to report to the shareholders on his latest (failed) expansion efforts in the Chinese market. It's yet another reminder to those vociferous critics of Fremdarbeit that in fact that work has very little to do with the manufacturing of cheap Chinese-made knock-offs of big brands, and much more to do with the manufacturing of cheap German-made knock-offs of Lachenmanns.

 

***

 

1:44 A voice calls out from the back of the hall, "what the fuck are you still doing here?"

 

1:59 It is finished. Seven hours were promised, and seven hours were delivered. No more, no less. New Conceptualism is nothing if not proudly quantifiable.

 

***

 

Audioguide's coup-d'état is in taking a gigantic, Wagnerian, multimedia, 7-hour container and filling it with anti-music. Earlier in the day, at a Darmstadt debate, New Conceptualism was charged with "superficiality". The epic operatic form of Audioguide seems conceived as a fortress into which New Conceptualism can lock itself in order to defend against this charge. The whole evening was a test of how long it could hold out the siege.

 

New Conceptualism: A Way Out or a Dead End? Self-referentiality starts to look like a dead end: in-jokes bouncing within a hall of mirrors through entropy to inertia. Self-indulgence undermines a form and aesthetic which, at its best, can forge powerfully terse images that go straight to the jugular of an argument. That is the way out.

 

Celeste Oram

By Celeste Oram
05.08.2014

or
DIE GESAMMELTEN WERKE VON JOHANNES KREIDLER, GmbH

 

18:41 The premiere of Audioguide is portended by claps of thunder in the sky over Darmstadt.

18:53 Johannes Kreidler's work is being trampled over before the show has even begun. Postcards of his Slide Show Music series are strewn on the floor of the foyer, as if worthless, disposable, forgettable.