Among the qualities of music festivals, the most important is their sense of encounter. Physically, sonically and socially – encounter is the lifeblood of any festival. When set in fields under the stars, music festivals can take on a utopian quality. They seem to will themselves into existence in a puff of magician’s smoke, existing for a day or two before vanishing.
City festivals are a different beast, rooted in the rivets of manhole covers and the haze of automobiles. Yet, even when situated in the seen and unseen aspects of what is very much known, they still manage to present challenges and opportunities for exploration of the built environment in different forms.
None do this more so than Sonambiente. Housed in the main terminal buildings of Flughafen Tegel, Sonambiente presents the pint- sized airport in an entirely new light. It’s opening up as an arts venue for the first time since it closed its doors in what looks to be a promising new direction for the space. The programme more than lives up to its singular surroundings. The old tannoys will make way for loudspeakers to spread works from Emeka Ogboh, Blixa Bargeld and Susan Philipsz around Terminals A and B. The icing on the cake is Laurie Anderson. The legendary “O Superman” artist finds a fitting home for her virtual-reality exhibition, which invites guests to fly to the moon, in one of Berlin’s iconic Cold War structures.
Then there’s the Bitches Brew Jazz Festival. It’s set between two venues, and the more obvious but often overlooked spot is Zig Zag Jazz Club. Its lesser-known but perhaps more-visited other venue is the Noisy Rooms music studio in Friedrichshain. It shouldn’t seem unusual to present live music in the same place it’s made, but it always does for one reason or another.
If there was ever a time for a fresh start, an opportunity to see Berlin in a different light, with a brighter future, it would be now.
We often separate the practice and the performance of the art, and breaking down that barrier is more than a symbolic gesture at Bitches Brew. Jazz is a genre with high-quality musicianship and requires constant practice to perfect. Yet, it’s experienced live as an improvisation.
Of course, this is a skill learned over time, but it also speaks to jazz’s uncommon relationship with practice and performance. Similarly, experiencing concerts in such settings gives a different understanding of the relationship between gigs and venues. One that gnaws away at our expectations and seeks to redefine
Even in this company, the most out-there festival in terms of setting is Pyramidale. With live performances on a BVG tram, a saxophone quartet in the cable cars at the Gärten der Welt and the information centre for the Marzahn-Hellersdorf district, Pyramidale is in many ways the ultimate expression of the possibilities for exploration that city festivals hold. There is no single sonic theme, other than the spirit of transition and transformation.
Pyramidale has the power to change the world around it as it sees fit. It is a talent shared by all art forms, but it is perhaps most obviously seen on the scale of a festival. If there was ever a time for a fresh start, an opportunity to see Berlin in a different light, with a brighter future, it would be now.
Sonambiente, through Sep 5, Flughafen Tegel / Bitches Brew Jazz Festival, Sep 9-12, Zig Zag Jazz Club and noisy rooms / Pyramidale, Sep 17- 19, multiple locations