Berlin Gallery Weekend Kicks Off, Unofficially, with Raster Noton’s Berghain Installation

The artist and musician will play a set at the legendary club tonight.

Installation view of
Installation view of "White Circle" at ZKM 2016. Photo: © Béla Bender ZKM, Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe.
Raster Noton "White Circle" installation view at Halle am Berghain. Photo: artnet News.

Raster Noton “White Circle” installation view at Halle am Berghain. Photo: artnet News.

Raster Noton, the Chemnitz and Berlin-based electronic music label founded by artist Carsten Nicolai, Olaf Bender, and Frank Brettschneider is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a touring showcase that is making its way to Berlin tonight. Known for its unifying approach to dance music, scientific aesthetics, and art, the label’s collaborative White Circle light and sound installation kicked off the celebration (and Gallery Weekend) with an intimate preview last night at the Halle am Berghain, a vast concrete space within the Berghain complex often reserved for large scale art and music events. And for Nicolai, size mattered.

While the installation was specifically designed for and previously shown in the 47-speaker “sounddome” system at the ZKM in Karlsruhe this past March, the artist was eager to see its effect in a larger space. “The dimensions at the Halle fit to the installation, particularly in regards to being able to experience it from both the inside and outside.” The “inside” here is a circle, some 4 meters in diameter, with a perimeter defined by dozens of evenly spaced vertical white fluorescent lights.

Raster Noton "White Circle" installation view at Halle am Berghain. Photo: artnet News.

Raster Noton “White Circle” installation view at Halle am Berghain. Photo: artnet News.

Behind them, some sixteen speakers and four subwoofers played different pieces by the label founders plus label veteran Kangding Ray on multiple channels, triggering the lights and their intensity. The sounds ranged from the buzzing, scraping bursts of modular synth noise to syncopated arpeggios and the ultra-precise abstract techno the label is also known for. The effect, after a few minutes in the center of the circle, is that the visual and the auditory change places, with the lights defining the experienced rhythm and the sound defining the physical space. Music becomes the installation’s architecture, and the glow its pace of change. Occasionally, the combination of location and the installation’s more techno-oriented pieces seemed to imply an experimental dance floor, synesthetically re-imagined.

Carsten Nicolai, <i>Reflector distortion</i> (2016), Exhibition view at Eigen+Art, Berlin. Photo: courtesy of Eigen+Art, Berlin

Carsten Nicolai, reflector distortion (2016), Exhibition view at Eigen+Art, Berlin. Photo: courtesy of Eigen+Art, Berlin

There’s long been a connection between German electronic music and the art world, beginning with members of Kraftwerk and Can studying under the likes of Joseph Beuys and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, and continuing through today’s house and techno artists doubling and sometimes tripling as musicians, gallerists, and label owners. Some of the most famous examples include Cologne’s Kompakt label, headed by ambient techno meister Wolfgang Voigt, who, as we reported last October, recently collaborated on an installation with Albert Oehlen at the Jablonka Gallery‘s Böhm Chapel. Kompakt’s cover art has also featured portraits by painter Matthias Schaufler,whose brother Aksel Schaufler is better known as producer Superpitcher.

Further north in the port city of Hamburg, artist and owner of New York and Berlin based Mathew gallery, David Lieske (producer name Carsten Jost), founded Dial Records together with Peter M. Kersten aka Lawrence in 1999. Since then the label has consistently released some of the most celebrated melodic, Chicago-inspired post-minimal house releases this side of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile in Berlin, Berghain’s long-standing relationship with artists such as Piotr Nathan, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Norbert Bisky has seen the art-filled club host multiple exhibitions and release a book on the art it has inspired. The club’s Ostgut Ton imprint also has featured Tillmans-designed cover art for more than a decade. “I suppose the difference between us and these other labels is that we do was never just anchored in the club,” says Nicolai. Indeed, Raster Noton’s holistic approach to its musical releases, visuals, and installations stands apart. Technology and futurism make up the foundation of seemingly everything it’s ever produced, and in that sense, “techno” for the label was never merely a genre but a kind of aesthetic (and vaguely political) manifesto: the glitchy, occasionally pounding minimalist sounds of cybernetic systems controlling our daily lives. Much of the label’s penchant for white noise and piercing highs, translated to precise light installations, owe arguably as much to strobing dance floors as they do to the late Tony Conrad’s “Flicker” films and drones.

Carsten Nicolai, Reflector distortion (2016), Exhibition view at Eigen+Art, Berlin. Photo: courtesy of Eigen+Art, Berlin

Carsten Nicolai, reflector distortion (2016), Exhibition view at Eigen+Art, Berlin. Photo: courtesy of Eigen+Art, Berlin

It’s a sound and vision that has consistently spanned Raster Noton’s 20-year existence. While it’s not new,  it remains powerful. And if it ain’t broke, that’s a good enough reason to dance to it at extremely high volumes—which you can do tonight at Berghain, with live performances and DJ sets by Nicolai himself, aka Alva Noto, Byetone, Frank Brettschneider, Grischa Lichtenberger, Dasha Rush, Atom TM and more.

If you’re not deaf and blind after that, you can also check out Nicolai’s smaller light installation reflektor distortion at EIGEN + ART, which is officially part of Berlin Gallery Weekend.

Raster-Noton’s White Circle installationis on view at the Halle Am Berghain from April 28 – 30

“Carsten Nicolai, reflektor distortion” is on view at Galerie EIGEN + ART Berlin from April 21 – May 28


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