Krazy Kat and the guitar: An interview with Ignatz

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In 1910, the illustrator George Herriman created the Krazy Kat comic strip. Ignatz, a vicious mouse, was Krazy Kat’s arch enemy, and his favourite pastime was to throw bricks at Krazy Kat’s head. Belgian artist Bram Devens uses Ignatz as his alter-ego, and comes armed with his own pile of bricks; sparse, emotive songs born of the human condition, wrapped in effects, corroded by tape, driven forth by improvisation and spontaneity.  Ignatz’s songs stem from a familiar stripped folk framework, with Devens’ delivery recalling the louche primitivism of V.U. or Henry Flynt – but these songs sound inverted, cast adrift, their cool touch belying a stymied heat beneath the surface. Where Devens’ fretwork is adorned, it is executed with a refined coarseness. His latest album, The Drain, was released this year on Feeding Tube/Kraak. We caught up with him via Skype.

Where do you live?

I live in a small town called Landen. It has a population of about 15,000 people. It’s a city of commuters, people travelling to and from Brussels. It’s very quiet here, people sit home and watch TV. On The Drain record cover, I used the water tower from our town. Before I moved here, the only thing I knew about it was the water tower, which you could see from the train passing by. People who grew up here tell me they hated it and moved out as fast as they could. But it’s not so bad.

Is this environment inspiring for your music?

I moved here from Brussels fours years ago where I’d lived for 14 years. I think it changed my music. It has become more calm and relaxed. There’s less direct influence from the Brussels music scene.

So it has become more inward-looking?

Yes. It’s more about my own music taste.

Do you feel that over the years, your music has become more stripped down and direct?

I think so. It’s always hard to have a musical identity in a way that is personal. It fluctuates, but it’s definitely a lot less hidden behind sounds. My approach has become more minimal. That also comes from a practical way of working. Ever since I moved I have to walk to the station and I don’t want to carry a lot of pedals. In the past, I used a lot of samples and loops but those things break, so I decided to do without it instead of buying new ones all the time.

So basically voice and guitar has become most prominent?

Yes. Guitar has always been very central to my music, but I wrapped it in a lot of effects and electronics.

Your music alludes to American musical inspiration.

There’s a direct influence. Of course, American music is everywhere. I started to listen to old American music when I was 15 or 16 when I was learning to play guitar. I realised that if I tuned my guitar in a certain way, I could play like the old guys. I grew up with two brothers and we all had different musical tastes. My older brother was into English and European music, so I was going to listen to American music.

Have you always sung in English?

Sort of. It’s not proper English though. I’ve always felt uncomfortable writing lyrics in English. I sing in a way a six-year-old would hear it in English without knowing any English – phonetically.

So the actual content of the lyrics is not important to you?

I have some basic ideas, images and concepts about a song, but I move around it, it’s not fixed.

Can you describe how a concept of song of yours is born?

Usually it starts with me playing guitar in my living room. It’s a lot of fiddling around and then there might be something I could work on. Sometimes it’s recorded straight to tape and never played again. The lyrics come at the same time.

Are the lyrics improvised – like a stream of consciousness?

Yes. There’re certain sounds I always fall back on. I don’t like writing down lyrics and singing them.

The atmosphere is melancholic. Somehow it reminds me of Nick Drake.

That’s definitely an influence. I like autumn, it’s quiet. I just stare out of the window and look at things.

It’s interesting that these days there are still these opposite strands in music – people working with state-of-the-art technology, on the other hand there’s the acoustic singer-songwriting tradition which will never go away.

I try to connect with a culture that’s not my own. These days you can pretty much choose. I have a difficult relationship with tradition. I really like it, but not having grown up surrounded by it also gives me the freedom of not having the context. I use technology a lot, but I hide it so that it’s not upfront.

Your latest album was The Drain released on Feeding Tube/Kraak.

This record has a different approach to the ones before. I had all the songs ready before recording, while before I would record and then go back to the material and compile it. For this one, I actually went to the studio and recorded it in a day. I’d been playing these songs for about one or two years. I tried to record it at home but I wasn’t happy with the sound. I really like this way of working.

When you play them live, do you change them?

They are structured, but there’s freedom so they are never the same. A song I’ve been playing for two or three years sounds completely different to when I made it. There’s a lot of improvisation involved.

What relationship do you have with your older music?

I don’t really listen to it that much. It’s more like these images I have about them.

You are actually a visual artist – specialised in comics.

I studied comic design but I haven’t really done much comics in the last ten years.

I guess there are parallels between writing songs and doing comics – the narrative and story-telling.

I remember the moment I stopped doing comics. I’d been doing this really long story. I’d made five or six drawings, and thought this one story is enough, I don’t need a whole page of text, so I realised maybe I shouldn’t finish it.

And then you moved to music full time?

Yes. It’s also more enjoyable and immediate. You don’t have to sit in your room by yourself for two years when you play music.

Could you imagine that a similar thing could happen with music?

That can happen, but so far, I still find it enjoyable.

Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. What do you think about it?

Lot of writers were really angry because he’s not a writer. I think it was a statement from the Nobel Prize committee, and also a way to get more attention.

When you don’t tour, do you make music or practise?

I do, and I have to take care of my kids. I’m also recording with a band in November, and there’s the occasional concert.

Do you children play music?

One is too young and the other plays a Korg on a Nintendo. It’s really loud, I have to tell him to turn it down.

Pictures: SHAPE @ musikprotokoll 2016

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On September 29 as well October 6 – 9, SHAPE member festival musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst had its 2016 edition. Several SHAPE artists, such as L’Ocelle Mare, Gil Delindro, Andi Stecher, Susanna Gartmayer’s duo with Brigitta Bödenauer and Jakob Schneidewind’s project Demi Broxa, performed at the event. KABLAM, as well as 2015 alumni Aïsha Devi and DJ Nigga Fox, performed at the additional club night series club panamur.

Andi Stecher, Gil Delindro, Brigitta Bödenauer and Susanna Gartmayer also participated in a Q&A session, and the catalogue of SHAPE platform was enriched with quite a special educational event – the legendary avant-garde composer Alvien Lucier conducted a workshop.

Susanna Gartmayer and Brigitta Bödenauer (as seen in the title picture) presented their black burst sound generator, which they developed especially for their musikprotokoll performance.

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L’Ocelle Mare performing at the opening concert of the festival in September.

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Gil Delindro was presenting one of his Voidness-of-Touch performances.

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For the first time, Andi Stecher presented austreiben / antreiben, a project where he explores the musical potential of alpine Perchten processions, in the trio-version – together with Antti Virtaranta and Katharina Ernst.

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Jakob Schneidewind presented Demi Broxa, his duo with Agnes Hvizdalek.

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Alvin Lucier conducting his SHAPE workshop.

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The SHAPE Q & A Session was broadcast live as part of Ö1 Zeit-Ton extended, the broadcast series for new and experimental music in the cultural radio of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation with the participation of Brigitta Bödenauer and Susanna Gartmayer, Gil Delindro, Andi Stecher, Antti Virtaranta and Katharina Ernst.

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The show was hosted by Susanna Niedermayr (also co-curator of musikprotkoll) and Rainer Elstner.

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 All pictures by Martin Gross.

SHAPE platform announces artist list of 2017

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The Creative Europe-supported SHAPE platform for innovative music and audiovisual art is announcing its 2017 list of artists. The artist selection for the platform’s third year traditionally places a diverse selection of audiovisual projects and sound artists alongside musical acts that range from post-grime and techno to free improvisation and experiments with field recordings. The platform is run by a union of 16 European festivals, including Insomnia, Maintenant, Unsound and CTM.

The roster

The third year’s roster of SHAPE continues to demonstrate a kind of eclecticism that is clearly an outcome of all the 16 diverse festivals selecting artists and projects together – how else could one arrive at UK’s instrumental grime producer Mr. Mitch brushing shoulders with Dutch artist Mike Rijnierse, who specializes in site-specific installations, or Lancastrian free improvising virtuoso pianist Stephen Grew sharing the stage with Toxe, the Swedish highschooler, who, with her productions for Staycore and Rabit’s Halcyon Veil, unexpectedly catapulted to the forefront of European experimental dance music… A deliberate desire to detect streams of fresh ideas and unexpected influences beyond genre categories has influenced the choices of SHAPE’s curators.

Sound art, free improv or experimental dance music are by far not the only genres, represented within this 48 artist list – there’s the jazz-laden, warm modern minimalism of Polish clarinetist Wacław Zimpel, the lo-fi, ambient rap of Prague-based artist Lišaj, the “audio theater” of Lithuanian producer J.G. Biberkopf that brings together elements of abstract grime and musique concrete, the austere sonic architecture of Thomas Ankersmit, the post-rock, indie and electronica inspired works of British composer Anna Meredith or the ballads of Norwegian folk and jazz singer Mari Kvien Brunvoll, mostly built out of her voice, recorded in loops and accompanied by kalimba, kazoo and zither.

Less explored musical scenes are represented: the duo of beatmaker Oriole and video/performance artist Linda Konone evokes the collision of Riga’s advanced dance music and contemporary art scenes, while the punk, techno and noise laden musical underground of Budapest is represented by Céh and  Új Bála, two projects by Gábor Kovács or the avant-garde metal group Entrópia Architektúra, all highly contrasted by the same city’s eerie singer-songwriter project Unknown Child. The participation of v4w.enko, an audiovisual project from Ukraine, sees SHAPE exploring this country’s music scene for the first time.

As in previous years, links to prestigious labels can be observed: producer Sky H1 released her debut EP last year via Codes, sound artist and composer Anna Zaradny published her critically acclaimed record “Go Go Theurgy” on Poland’s mostly atonal Musica Genera records and the currently Paris-based boss of L.I.E.S. Ron Morelli participates in SHAPE with his live show, based on the largely beatless “A Gathering Together” – his most recent full-length recording, published by Hospital Productions.

In comparison to previous years, the 2017 artist list of SHAPE puts a larger emphasis also on seeking out interesting DJs – ranging from Denmark’s all-female DJ trio Apeiron Crew, Romania’s Chlorys and Netherlands-based Russian DJ Inga Mauer to Dynamons, the co-founder of Greek label Echovolt Records, or Danny L Harle, representing the kitsch-ridden internet label PC Music.

The audiovisual part of the roster includes, among others, Aurelia 1+Hz, a project that focuses on sonification of the movement data of a jellyfish, the French collective CHDH, who create audio and visual algorithmic synthesizers, Julien Desprez with his electric guitar/light performance “Acapulco Redux”, Franck Vigroux with his various audiovisual collaborations, and many others.

First activities of the third year

For SHAPE, the second year formally ends on November 30. During year 2, the platform organized 150 performances (an average of 3 performances per artist) with a female performance ratio of 40% and male performance ratio of 60%. The mobility of 86 artists was facilitated.

Already in December, the platform will kick off its third year with its second large showcase beyond Europe – this time, as part of Rio de Janeiro’s festival Novas Frequências (December 3-8). The showcase will consist of 13 SHAPE acts including 2016 alumni Stine Janvin Motland and Gil Delindro, as well as several names from the new roster, such sis_mic, Mr. Mitch, Toxe, Mike Rijnierse, Andreas Trobollowitsch and others.

Full list of SHAPE artists for 2017

Alex Augier (FR)
Amnesia Scanner (FI/DE)
Andreas Trobollowitsch (AT)
Anna Meredith (UK) 
Anna Zaradny (PL)
Apeiron Crew (DK)
Battle-Ax (AUS, AT) 
Black Zone Myth Chant (FR) 
Boska (NO)
Céh/Új Bála (HU)
CHDH (FR)
Chlorys (RO)
Christian Kroupa (SI)
Danny L Harle (UK)
Elektrovolt (NL)
Entrópia Architektúra (HU)
Fraction (FR)
Franck Vigroux (FR)
Gabey Tjon a Tham (NL)
Hiele (BE)
Ilias Pitsios aka Dynamons (GR)
Inga Mauer (RUS/NL)
Jacques (FR)
JG Biberkopf (LT)
Julien Desprez (FR)

Lišaj (CZ)
Machine Woman (RU/DE)
Maoupa Mazzochetti (BE)

Mari Kvien Brunvoll (NO)
Matthias Härtig (DS-X.org) (DE)
Mike Rijnierse (NL)
Mr. Mitch (UK)
N.M.O. (ES/NO/DE)
Ninja Sword (FR)
Olivia (PL)
Oriole & Linda Konone (LV)
Robertina Šebjanič & Slavko Glamočanin: Aurelia 1+Hz (SI)
Ron Morelli (US/FR)
Sis_Mic (FR)
SKY H1 (BE)
Stefan Fraunberger (AT)
Stephen Grew (UK)
Thomas Ankersmit (NL/DE)
TOXE (SE)
Unknown Child (HU)
v4w.enko (UA)
Varg (SE)
Wacław Zimpel (PL)

The platform

A 3-year initiative co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, the SHAPE project reunites 16 European non-profit organizations active within the ICAS – International Cities of Advanced Sound network to create a platform that aims to support, promote, and exchange innovative and aspiring emergent musicians and interdisciplinary artists with an interest in sound.

SHAPE stands for “Sound, Heterogeneous Art and Performance in Europe”.

SHAPE annually chooses 48 musicians and artists to participate in a mix of live performances, residencies, workshops and talks across member festivals and special events.

The selection process

Each year, the curatorial teams of all 16 SHAPE festivals and initiatives come together and choose 48 artists. The artist roster has been created disregarding divisions of genre, age or popularity. Rather, creative novelty and successful experimentation have served as core values, with additional emphasis on the inclusion of upcoming and underexposed artists as well as representing local scenes of involved festivals and art centers.

Julien Bayle’s live studio recording for NTS Live

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Listen to a live in-studio improvisation by French audiovisual artist and musician Julien Bayle, broadcast by the London-based radio station NTS Live.

Julien Bayle is an independent artist based in France and working at the juncture of sound & visuals. He merges visual art, music composition and a physical approach of sound art and data visualization by creating advanced programmed installations and audio/visual live performances. He tries to address the question of disrupted continuum, interference and representation of concepts by using the physics of sound. His work is based on both experimentation and programming, employing concepts of complexity and chaos as guidelines.

This broadcast is, in fact, also an exclusive preview – a shorter version of this recording will be published by the Toronto-based label Yatra Arts.

Click here for previous collaborations between SHAPE and NTS.

Resonance FM show on Stephen Grew

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Listen to a special, one hour broadcast on Lancaster-based free improvising pianist Stephen Grew, one of the early-announced SHAPE artists of 2017, who, on December 6, will play a solo concert as part of SHAPE’s large showcase at the Novas Frequências festival in Rio de Janeiro.

Stephen Grew has been playing totally improvised piano and electronic keyboard music for over 30 years. His music works with the life forces of the instrument, their sounds and a multiplicity of rhythmic patterns, dynamic extremes and whatever an improviser conjures in the creative moment. He has played in many European countries, toured relentlessly in his native country the UK and collaborated with many musicians, including the great British improvisers of our time. He also has countless recordings released on a variety of labels.

This broadcast sees Grew speaking of his background, technique and influences, and its musical part is entirely comprised of previously unpublished solo piano recordings. He describes it in the following words: “The music is completely improvised and improvised with two vital ingredients: firstly, my experience of many years exploring the instrument and, secondly, having faith in the unfolding of many patterns, shapes, phrases and mystery.”

The Novas Frequências festival starts on December 3, and continues until December 8. A total of 13 SHAPE acts, including Stephen Grew, Toxe and Mr. Mitch, will participate. Click here to find out more.

Photo by Peter Fay.

KABLAM @ Festspielhaus Hellerau

DJ and producer KABLAM (aka Kajsa Blom) was born by the Swedish west coast and moved to Berlin in 2012. She started her career as a DJ, as one of the residents of Berlin’s Janus party alongside co-residents Lotic and M.E.S.H. Janus is now a label and has held parties at Berghain and booked producers and DJs Arca, DJ Hvad, Total Freedom, Nigga Fox and more. She performed at Festspielhaus Hellerau in Dresden on 19 November 2016.

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Two hour set by Hyperaktivist on Resonance Extra

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Listen to a two-hour set by Venezuelan-born DJ Hyperaktivist, recorded live at Stockholm’s Off Radar Festival this August. It was broadcast as part of a collaboration between the SHAPE platform and internet radio station Resonance Extra.

It was in 2009 when Hyperaktivist started to work on setting the groundwork for her DJ career. Ana Laura Rincón blended hyperactivity with activism, developing electronic music culture in her native Venezuela – a country with few record stores and few electronic music industry affiliations.

Upon discovering the small underground electronic music scene in her hometown of Maracaibo, Rincón began organizing events, DJing along with friends and invited musicians. Later, she co-founded the SOLO club, which became a prominent and central space for electronic musicians and DJs from throughout country. She also formed the Next Phaze collective, comprising DJs, street artists, VJs, visual artists and graphic designers. The endeavour gave rise to a new concept of electronic music events for Rincón, in which visual environments were created using techniques like video mapping and 3D imaging.

Following completion of a degree in Mass Media, Rincón relocated to Berlin in early 2012, where she is currently producing her own music and just finished a degree in sound engineering. Her sets are powerful, deep, and stylistically fluid, without subscribing to just one particular sound or genre.

Playlist: SHAPE @ Novas Frequências

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Our SHAPE showcase at Novas Frequências in Rio de Janeiro kicks off on 3 December with no less than 13 SHAPE acts from the current as well as the upcoming 2017 roster, including Toxe, J. G. Biberkopf, Mr Mitch, Black Zone Myth Chant and several others. We’ve put together a Soundcloud playlist with tracks by those artists who will represent SHAPE in Brazil and who you will be hearing more about in connection with our platform next year.

The SHAPE platform showcase at Novas Frequências - the main festival of advanced and exploratory music in South America – takes place between 3 and 8 December 2016. Novas Frequências takes place in Rio de Janeiro, and as such this showcase qualifies as our second largest presentation beyond Europe (following SHAPE’s MUTEK showcase in June 2016).

Listen to Lanuk on Resonance Extra

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Hungarian musician Árpád Gulyás aka Lanuk started making music when he was 13, cutting his teeth in several noise and experimental punk bands. His Lanuk outfit began as a bedroom project in the middle of the noughties and led to appearances at numerous festivals, clubs, art galleries. Aside from Lanuk, Gulyás also moonlights as a bass player in a band called derTANZ. The following recording, broadcast on Resonance Extra, was recorded live – his preferred modus operandi. “Often there’s no consciously built-up structure, I modify the theme during improvisation, change the parameters and try to react to the situation. I’m trying to feel the music,” he told us in an interview.