Taku Unami and Mattin: Improvisation in the form of interrogation
Performance in Labor Sonor series at KuLe (Augustr.10 Berlin-Mitte)
On Monday the 5th of November 2007, Taku Unami (a Japanese improviser musician that plays laptop and guitar) and Mattin (a performer and musician from the Basque Country that is currently living in Berlin) performed in KuLe, a room that is well-known for regularly hosting experimental music and performances in a series called Labor Sonor.
On this night Taku Unami and Mattin are on the stage sitting at a small table one in front of the other. Each of them has a laptop. The lights go off. The screens of the laptops, which now become the only lights in the room, prevent having complete obscurity. A sound starts to come out from the loudspeakers. It’s a very simple and poor sound, as if someone was timidly hitting a table with a small object. Coming from musicians devoted to electronic music, it’s an almost ridiculous sound. It is performed in a somehow stupid way first by one of the musicians and then by the other one. You can say that the sound doesn’t fill the expectations of the audience, but anyway that’s what is going on.
After a while, Taku Unami stops playing the laptop and starts to scrape it with his fingers, making an almost inaudible and even poorer sound than the one he was doing with the computer. Then he unexpectedly closes his laptop, picks up his electric guitar and plays only one note, repeating it for a while. Then he picks up another note and does the same, and then he makes silence.
While this is happening, Mattin faces the audience and turns on a spotlight pointing to the spectators, as if the situation was a police interrogation. He starts to say: “you’re a very polite audience, you are so quiet” in order to continue shouting: “Are you always so quiet, or is it just when you pay?” “Why are you here?” “What for?” “Why are you so quiet?” The audience is confused. A certain tension fills the room. Mattin keeps on repeating the questions. Some people try to answer and some others try to argue with him, but he keeps on repeating this sort of questions and then making very long silences. When the audience makes noises he strongly asks for silence. And when there is anxiety he asks: “Are you now asking yourself what’s coming next?”
But nothing is coming next. Taku Unami kept on playing the same material with his electric guitar, sometimes with the guitar plugged to the amplifier at very low volume and sometimes with it directly unplugged. Always playing repeated notes for a short while and then leaving long silences. The long silences between what he was playing and what Mattin was shouting become longer and longer. Somehow everything is out of the blue. The audience gets more confused. Everyone looks at one another. Some people laugh. Some keep on trying to answer the questions that Mattin is shouting, but Mattin never goes into an argument with them. The people are strongly affecting each other with a nervous, uneasy and jumpy feeling. After a while a person leaves the room. Mattin asks him why he is leaving and the person answers with an outranged voice tone - that he doesn’t know. The situation continues like this. After some minutes some more people leave the room. There is restlessness and even worry. Kule’s audience had other expectations when Taku Unami, coming from Japan, was announced. A 45 minutes concert would have been better. After an hour Mattin turns off the spotlight.
At 23.30, in total obscurity, the audience is still waiting for something to happen. Nothing else will happen, but at the same time so many things are already happening. Time passes. More and more people leave the room. Now it is already midnight, now half past twelve, now one o’clock... Most of the people have left the room. Time itself becomes important. The situation becomes already an event. From inside the room it’s possible to hear how the people are arguing in the bar at the entry hall, trying to understand what’s going on. Some of them are complaining. Nothing is clear. Inside the room the lights are off but the performance never formally ended and there is still a perseverant audience. A person - maybe drunk, maybe angered - starts to throw peanuts at other people in the audience and also at the performers. Another person wants to leave the door of the room open, but someone else closes it again. This situation with the door repeats itself several times. People come in and out, concerned about what’s going on, but it seems that there is nothing to do to help the situation. A woman in the first row wants to leave but she does it, incomprehensibly, trying seriously not to make any noise when this has no sense at all because the whole situation is already a mess. One person from the audience starts to mumble in a bizarre way for a while and then he stands up, goes onto the stage, stands there for a while and all at once sneezes loudly over Mattin. A lot of other small things continue to happen. Like a variation of Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel, here everyone can enter and leave the room, but there is something that is held, there is something that is not able to be understood and passed. The main part of the speculations that are made outside - “this is just a provocation”, “this is a never ending game”... - are just not satisfactory.
At 2 o’clock there are only 4 people left in the room besides the performers. The people that were speaking in the entry hall already left the place and now there is calmness and silence. After a couple of hours of complete silence coming from the performers, Taku Unami plays one more time the repeated notes that he made before with his guitar (why now?). It is too late and the people in charge of the place don’t know exactly what to do. There is hesitation. You can hear them trying to decide what to do. They don’t want to interrupt the performance, but they already have to leave the place. It’s late and in the room there are only 4 people left. Finally they enter the room and turn on the lights. The performers are still there, on stage, in silence. One of the KuLe organizers decides to start sweeping the stage. It is the end (is it?). Now Mattin laughs, and the four-peopled-audience starts to clap. The applause continues without stopping for the next 10 or 15 minutes. A disoriented journalist runs into the room trying to catch a meaning.
What exactly happened? It is not clear. After speaking with some of the people that were present, it is possible to say that many of them were receiving something violent: “Why was he asking me all these questions? Was this a provocation?” Some of them just got bored. Some others felt uncomfortable and exposed. Some got disappointed. But no one could exactly say what it was all about or what the goal of the performers was.
Was it only a provocation? There was no provocation. A provocation is not something confusing but quite clear: people know what it is about, how to behave in those situations and what to think. A provocation works more as an act that wants to cause a reaction. In this case it’s not sure that the performers would have wished for any specific reaction. Mattin was somehow asking the audience to accept what was going on as it is. And both artists were exposing themselves when a provoker will never really expose himself. But if the whole thing was not a provocation - because it cannot be - what was it? Why was it like that? These questions show themselves insufficient. We need to find other questions. There is no ready-made why or even a specific goal. An action is defined more by its effects than by its intentions. On that night you had to build up a sense for yourself. But not just any sense. We can go back to Mattin’s questions (Why are you here? What for?), but you have to want them; otherwise better forget them and make new ones that are better for you.
Nothing is going to happen. Everything is happening all at once right now. Maybe this bothers you. You wanted to reach a point. Maybe you had expectations and now you are offended. You have paid the ticket, but what did you get in exchange? You came with your expectations and someone put them out because you didn’t get what you wanted. After the performance someone from the audience said that if the performance would have been free, he wouldn’t have gotten upset. Does this make any difference? How does money flux compel and limit the way we conceive and are affected by events?
Mattin and Taku Unami put under question - and maybe also fool - this exchange-based logic that we are used to: the logic of the right exchange. There are no right exchanges. Such a thing is not possible. Every exchange oscillates in time, liberating and catching forces that promote changes of speed in the fluxes that constitute our bodies. This oscillation prevents the exchanges from being right. Exchanges are unfair by nature and instable de jure when they are seen in a time perspective. We are not able to escape from them for now, but it’s in the way we face them that we can mark the path of a new understanding. Mattin and Taku forced the audience to experience this problem by making a slight displacement in the way a performance is supposed to be. And besides that, they showed how difficult it is still for us to attend an event without carrying expectations and how hard it is still to accept an event the way it is.
- Diego Chamy
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Diego Chamy is a multidisciplinary artist.
He studied philosophy in Buenos Aires, were he was born. Until 2004 his work was exclusively focused in music, but since 2005 he stopped playing music and all at once started to work in the fields of sound poetry, performance art, dance and video art. He occasionally writes texts for different publications.