Highlights From The CTM Festival In Berlin

US Ken Peel gives us his top 5 from the state of the arts event      13/02/24

February 4 marked the end of the 25th edition of CTM, the 10 day annual festival for adventurous music and art in Berlin.  The festival takes place at multiple venues across the city and comprises discussions, workshops, concerts and club nights.  CTM attracts artists and visitors from around the globe and is notable for presenting unusual, challenging works in a consistently diverse, inclusive and friendly atmosphere.  Here are five highlights from the concert series.

Betonhalle, Silent Green

Osmium Silent Green Arts Centre CTM Fesitval

The Betonhalle room at the Silent Green Arts Centre is a vast, concrete subterranean space accessed down a long ramp, part of a complex of buildings that was once a crematorium and now an arts centre and offices for K2 records, transmediale and other artists studios.  Osmium are Oscar winning composer and cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir, alongside Sam Slater, James Ginzberg and vocalist Rully Shabara.  Whereas Guðnadóttir's soundtrack to Chernobyl is a slow, mournful, brooding affair, Osmium is a raucous onslaught of angry electronics, robot mechanics and passionate, furious vocals and it is very loud and very low conveyed by an astonishingly good sound system. 

At the front of the stage were 4 huge subs with the finale employing some astonishing phase trickery to achieve an almost shocking physical bass experience.  In addition to the in-house L-Acoustics PA rig, Osmium added 8 (!) d&b SL-GSUB subs creating a shocking physical bass experience.  Like going to a concert and getting a surprise Thai massage.

Julian Sartorius and Rabih Beaini

Techno mecca Berghain relaxes its door policy for CTM becoming a concert venue as well a club night venue, over three floors, for the festival (though not their security policy: phones have their cameras stickered and everyone is body-searched).  Stand out gig was drummer and percussionist Julian Sartorisus morphing beats and fluidly swapping drums, percussion, beaters and sticks alongside producer and Morphine Records boss Rabih Beaini pounding sample pads on CDJ decks.  It's a rare thing to hear an acoustic kit through 4 massive Funktion One dance stacks and, full kudos to the engineering team, it sounded astonishing.


First and Last Men
Volksbühne Theatre

First and Last Men Volksbühne Theatre at CTM Festival Berlin

More sedate but equally enthralling was the world premiere of First and Last Men, a hybrid film, dance event, with electronics and lighting.  Narrated by Tilda Swinton, presented in 16mm black and white and with a soundtrack by the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and Yair Elazar Glotman, Jóhannsson's film of abstract concrete structures is rear-projected on a full size screen at the back of the stage while 3 dancers from Neon Dance perform.  Based on a book first published in 1930, First and Last Men tells the story of the last humans, millennia into the future.  It was impressive to see so many mediums combine and melt into accessible, coherent and spellbinding storytelling.

Neon Dance

The Guardian's obituary on Jóhann Jóhannsson https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/feb/11/johann-johannsson-the-late-icelandic-composer-who-made-loss-sublime

Yair Elazar Glotman

SØS Gunver Ryberg & Sybil Montet 

SØS Gunver Ryberg & Sybil Montet  at Radialsystem CTM Festival Berlin

CTM's use of different venues is part of its attraction (indeed this has grown into a parallel series of events, Vorspiel, showcasing independent and DIY arts venues around the city).  At Radialsystem, a former water pumping station, composer and sound artist SØS Gunver Ryberg presented a collaboration with CGI director Sybil Montet of highly detailed, high resolution digital art and a set that ranged from ethereal cloudscapes through to dense, heavy high-tempo genre-busting electronics. SØS Gunver Ryberg & Sybil Montet were silhouetted at the side of the stage with, other than laptops, indeterminable equipment, giving the visuals and audio the foreground.   Typical of much of the festival artists is a general lack of ego and self-aggrandisement.

SØS Gunver Ryberg

Sybil Montet

Kali Malone
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kali Malone Kaiser - Wilhelm Memorial Church CTM Festival Berlin

This was my fourth visit to CTM and, for the first time, I saw people holding signs asking for spare tickets outside an event.  The event was an organ recital by Kali Malone in the octagonal Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, performed on the 1962 organ and with support from Stephen O'Malley of SUNN O))) on several 4-handed pieces.  Malone filled the cathedral with slowly evolving, sometimes very slowly evolving, complex extended chords, and little else.  What might sound simplistic on paper was hypnotic in reality and had the longest fade out I've ever heard; a one chord decrescendo that lasted minutes; as the sounds outside from Breitscheidplatz drifted back in I wish I'd bought the CD from the merch stall beforehand.

Kali Malone


Other personal highlights included a 360 degree immersive audio/video installation, Oceanic Refractions, six years in the making, highlighting the impact of climate change on Pacific islands.  The discussions series included a presentation and panel discussion on the work – giving real insight into the artists intentions and technical challenges.  Also enlightening was a series of workshops at the beautifully equipped Morphine Raum studio.  Highly recommended.

Morphine Raum

CTM Festival

Ken Peel is a musical artist, playing at our Live Event on March 1st - Kenpeel.com


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