Saturday, 21 January 2012

Arika 12 - Episode 1 of A New Festival of Experimental Film and Music

In December 2001, a brand new experimental music festival appeared in Glasgow. It was called Instal, and took place over one day at The Arches, bringing together various shades of the international avant-garde, from Japanese noise artist Koji Asano and junkshop record sampler Philip Jeck, to works by Scots composers David Fennessy and William Sweeney played by The Paragon Ensemble. Such events weren't unprecedented, with the equally eclectic Le Weekend festival in Stirling similarly ongoing. A regular left-field music infrastructure or scene in Scotland, however, was absent.

 A decade on, it's hard not to trip over a network of events great and small which claim to be in some way to be experimental or avant-garde. Over the years Instal itself grew to become a two-day, then three-day affair. Barry Esson, who originally instigated Instal with Tiernan Kelly, now of Film City, formed Arika Industries with his co-conspirator Bryony McIntyre as Arika. As well as Instal, Arika have also been responsible for the film-based Kill Your Timid Notion series at Dundee Contemporary Arts, a festival at the Sage in Gateshead, and the site-specific Resonant Spaces and Shadowed Spaces tours.

 As the landscape has changed, so has Arika, with their most recent events eschewing star names in favour of a more philosophical and political line of enquiry that questions both the form and function of what an experimental music festival can be. The latest result of this is a series of three 'episodes' of something simply called Arika 12. The first of these, titled A Film Is A Statement, will present four days of screenings, discussions and lectures at the CCA, culminating in a showing of Brecht-inspired song-spiels by Russian provocateurs, Chto Delat?

 “When we started out, the impetus was to probably provide a platform for certain types of artforms that there didn't seem to be a lot of in Scotland,” Esson explains. “Over time that's developed, so that as well as wanting to see this kind of work, you want audiences to engage with it beyond the standard expectations of what a festival is supposed to look like. We've constantly tried to explore that in different ways, and we've changed the formats to the extent that at the last Instal, we effectively broke it. I feel very emboldened by a lot of the other stuff that's going on in Scotland, and that not only encourages you, but obliges you to take things further.”

 With this in mind, Episode 2 of Arika 12, A Special Form of Darkness, will look at ideas of nihilism in music, while Episode 3, Copying Without Copying, will present unedited transcripts from sources including Guantanamo Bay and the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Also on Arika's agenda is an invitation from the Whitney Biennial, the major international showcase of North American contemporary art in New York. As the Biennial's first non-American curators in its near forty year history, Arika will be adopting a similarly serious approach.

 “It would have been easy just to repeat something we'd already done with Instal,” McIntyre points out, “but we need to ask questions about what it actually means for us to be doing something at the Whitney, and look at the same ideas of engagement and participation. What Arika 12 is about is engaging with complex aesthetics and ideas, and applying them to real life, because they have social or ethical use.”

 To illustrate this point, Esson points to a recent YouTube video of veteran minimalist composer Philip Glass with the Occupy Wall Street protesters outside the Lincoln Centre, where his opera, Satyagraha, has just been playing. In the thick of the crowd, Glass reads the final lines of Satyagraha, taken from the Bhagavad Gita; 'When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.' After each line, the 'human microphone' of the crowd repeat Glass' words like a mantra.

 “It's the best thing he's done in years,” asserts Esson. “It's minimal, it's experimental, it's political, and there are hundreds of people participating in a performance of what is actually a composition. It has a purpose, and it shows the power of what experimental music can do.”

 Arika 12, Episode 1: A Film is a Statement, CCA, Glasgow, January 19-22; Episode 2: A Special Form of Darkness, Tramway, Glasgow, February 24-26; Episode 3: Copying Without Copying, Tramway, Glasgow, March 23-25. www.arika.org.uk www.cca-glasgow.com www.tramway.org

 The Herald, January 19th 2012

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