The arrival of the twenty-first century had all sorts of connotations about the future. Eleven months into 2001, a year that had finally caught up with science-fiction, the first ever Instal festival of ‘Brave New Music’ opened its doors with an era-spanning statement of intent, as one hundred metronomes ticked its audience into the unknown. As a re-enactment/tribute to Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s Fluxus inspired 1962 action, ‘Poeme Symphonique for 100 metronomes’, here was a nod to avant-garde and experimental music’s most arguably fertile historical period that also suggested time hadn’t stood still.
Almost a decade later, curated left-field music festivals are commonplace, while micro-gigs of experimental sounds are a staple of art galleries and ad hoc venues. Yet, following a decade of Japanese noise artists and New York minimalist veterans, Instal’s programme is unrecognisable. Organisers Barry Esson and Bryony McIntyre’s adventures with equally iconoclastic events such as the sound and vision-based ‘Kill Your Timid Notion’ and environmental-based one-offs ‘Resonant Spaces’ and ‘Shadowed Spaces’ may have seen them morph into the fully professional Arika organisation, but this year’s Instal, marketed with the ‘Braver Newer Music’ tag as it is, seems to question it’s very existence.
“Maybe when it was enough when we started,” Esson explains, “to just put things on that at the time weren’t happening in Scotland. Since then, we’ve deepened our engagement with experimental music, and I see it now as a fidelity to certain ideas and systems of thought through experimental music in terms of ideas and propositions.”
Put simply, Instal has got political. Not in a dogmatic, party-centred way, but in a more holistically inquiring way that gels with a reawakening of social engagement borne of 1960s idealism among many contemporary cutting-edge artists.
While there won’t be anything as mundane as a headlining act at this year’s Instal, there will be performances, interventions, provocations and investigations by and with the likes of computer-based noise musician Florian Hecker, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra guitarist Neil Davidson and French improviser Matthieu Saladin.
This year’s opening event will be provided by actor Tam Dean Burn, who under the auspices of sound-art based radio station Resonance FM’s Radio Orchestra, will embark on a forty-eight hour perambulation around Glasgow which will be broadcast as it happens, whatever happens as Burn spirals around the city. This recalls some of Burn’s theatrical experiments with director Ken Davidson, and which once involved taking a donkey up a hill.
Also key to where Instal is at right now is the presence of Basque provocateur Mattin, whose copyright-free book, ‘Noise and Capitalism’ challenges the audience/performance relationship as much as his own public work. Instal’s closing event will see Mattin collaborate with Glasgow Open School, a group based on self-determination similar to the Glasgow Free University that existed in the 1980s, in which the ‘performance’ will be ‘led’ by audience members who’ve attended a series of workshops.
“There is no-one that isn’t part of the system” Mattin acknowledges. “If you’re a performer you’re supposed to present something, but you have to go against expectations and see it more as a social gathering.”
“All experimental art-forms come out of a desire for opposition”, Esson says. “How you avoid being consumed is the hard part.”
The rest, it seems, is up to you.
Instal, Tramway, Glasgow, November 12th-14th.
The List, November 2010