â€œIâ€™m not sure that I trust themâ€ â€“ These were the words spoken by one of the audience to his companion after he had been handed a bowl of soup by Christian Kesten as part of his performance with Lucio Capece. This was perhaps understandable, as a few minutes earlier on the way into the hall each of us had been handed a facemask, and Capece and Kesten went about their business wearing hoodies, so fitting the popular image of someone that shouldnâ€™t be trusted.
The idea that the performers could not be trusted would please the musicians here, as they would please Barry Esson, Instal10â€™s primary curator. The notion that we â€œtrustâ€ musicians to do the same things each time we see them, to allow us as an audience to remain passive, to sit and pay attention while the â€œartistsâ€ go about their work and we wait until we get the cue to applaud, never feeling in danger, never feeling like we have a part to play, is the scenario that this festival has set out to directly overturn. In his opening talk to the festival Esson spoke of a desire to remove self-expression from the festival, and to replace it with situations that brought the audience into events, involving them rather than performing for them.
Throughout most of the â€œsetsâ€ (why does that term feel wrong here?) last night this was consistently achieved, at least to some degree. From Kesten and Capece pulling the audience into their otherwise surreal performance by feeding them, and then asking them to read quotes handed to them by Kesten while they sat silently at the back of the stage- through to Diego Chamyâ€™s â€œinterruptionâ€ of Jean-Luc Guionnet and Seijiro Murayamaâ€™s sublime improvisation with an audience question and answer session about the value of improvised music- to Mattinâ€™s reworking of Lucierâ€™s I am sitting in a room as an anarchic free for all, the audience were challenged, confronted, made to feel that their role in proceedings involved more than just sitting and watching. Or at least, most of them did.
This is going to sound incredibly egotistic, for which I apologise, but I actually didnâ€™t feel genuinely challenged at any point last night. Neither was I ever particularly surprised by anything. I should be very clear here- I enjoyed, and felt invigorated by most of what I witnessed yesterday evening, and am thoroughly looking forward to tonightâ€™s second set of performances, but I came away wondering if the whole thing perhaps wasnâ€™t aimed at me. This first evening felt a bit like Esson had pulled together some of the most genuinely radical musicians from around the world right now and asked them to re-present what makes them â€œradicalâ€ in one collective event. The problem, for me personally, was that I had seen so much of this before. Perhaps because over the years I have often brought my attentions on bear on these musicians, my viewpoint on what was going on might have been different to the majority of the audience. So when Kesten and Capece asked the audience to read quotes from Debord while they sat motionless so the final track from Wedding Ceremony obviously sprang to mind. When Mattin recorded the audience and played it back into the room, so it was clear to me what was happening before the sound engineer pressed play. Chamyâ€™s questions to the audience, followed by his surreal song and dance routine felt very familiar, and I was able to second guess his questions before he asked them. When Tim Goldie stood behind a jungle of cymbals and drums dressed up in his Whitehouse uniform I knew that once he had finished screaming into a snare drum so he would grab handfuls of drums sticks and hurl them at the cymbals, and on into the audience. When a drumstick hit me in the chest it felt familiar because he had done the same thing to me four or five years ago at the Red Rose Club, but to the rest of the room this no doubt felt unfamiliar.
I enjoyed last night a lot, but throughout I found myself (much to my own disgust) spending more time watching the audience, wondering how they would respond to events rather than feeling challenged myself. I felt myself taking up more of a voyeuristic role than a participative one. This audience wasnâ€™t the same as the one at Instal last year. A good number of the attendees had come to be challenged, were as interested in the philosophical questions the festival might raise as much as how any music might sound. So when Mattin finally got some of the audience to join him in the performance space last night, when certain individuals started moving his microphones around, and danced wildly as the music (the room recorded, played back, re-recorded, played back at increasing volumes until the earphones handed out at the door became necessary) blasted out of the speakers the people that got up from their seats were the ones I expected to, mostly members of the Glasgow Open School group that had attended Mattinâ€™s workshop the night before. Watching carefully, I saw a good number of people that looked genuinely taken aback by events, genuinely challenged by it all, but not one of these people left their seats, unless it was to leave the room and make their way home. The barriers came down, but not entirelyâ€¦
It felt like I was watching from afar, not from a superior position (though I am very aware that what I am writing here may well read that way) but in an observational role, intrigued by what would happen when you placed these events together into one festival. After Capece and Kesten had engaged the audience early on, and Chamy had followed suit, would the audience not be on guard for Mattinâ€™s closing performance? Surely the impact his set would have was dampened by the earlier events? Certainly this was the desired effect, a gradual involvement of the audience rather than any attempt to shock them. Last night Mattin actually felt an embracing figure rather than a confrontational one.
Some parts of the evening were very inspiring to me. Matthieu Saladinâ€™s three short performances consisted of talks, in which he discussed the content of three CDrs that he handed out, one in each talk to the audience. No music as we normally expect it was played in the room. We go home and extend (complete?) the performance with our own individual CD players. Then there was Murayama and Guionnetâ€™s sublime piece of music, played before, during and after Chamyâ€™s interruption. While Chamy asked the room about the worth of improv, called it boring, and actually personally insulted the musicians, they carried on regardless, showing incredible focus and concentration to play so utterly beautifully in front of all of this. If, as Chamy asked, we needed examples of the value of improvisation as a tool to create music that engages and deals with our difficult times so the two musicians behind him provided this.
I will write more, in detail about what happened in each of last nightâ€™s performances at a later date, but for now I wanted to get these thoughts down, partly in the hope that they might form something of the discourse around the festival as it progresses. Again, to be clear, I enjoyed last night a great deal, and as the first night of a truly experimental festival, rather than just a festival of experimental music, this was a genuinely daring, different thing to do. I just wasnâ€™t surprised by anything last night. I am sure this says more about me than anything else, and I thoroughly hope to feel differently tonight. We shall see.