Monday, May 07, 2007

All the world's a stage and here's a drill

Back in February artist Jo Mitchell recreated Einsturzende Neubauten's famous gig , Concerto for Voice and Machinery, at the ICA in 1984 where they had a cement mixer, electric drills and jackhammers. The recreated gig was supported by an industrial tool hire company, as it would be.

EN's Alexander Hacke recalls
Because we were using petrol-driven chainsaws, very soon the whole room was filled with smoke, the stench of petrol everywhere. It sounded like a cross between a building site and war. Because I was very young, the others wouldn't let me near the heavy machinery so I stood, wearing protective gloves and a visor, throwing milk bottles into the cement mixer, which smashed and flew into the crowd.

But we would have kept it pretty straightforward if we weren't inspired by the reaction of the audience. There's a famous Walter Benjamin essay about the destructive character, and he says: "The destructive character knows only one watchword: make room. And only one activity: clearing away." And that's how it was. We were thinking, "Actually, it's not us doing anything. The audience are tearing the place apart!" People were fighting over the drills and sledgehammers. Cables and machinery were pulled into the audience.

The thing about these situations is that no matter how wild it gets, people do instinctively take care of each other. I'm sure there were moments when we thought it was getting out of hand but it was all so quick, it went "Snap", like a switch being flicked and everyone going berserk.
How many musicians quote Walter Benjamin? How many musicians fire shards of milk bottle at the audience? It's a thin line between really stupid and really smart.

Myth and reality often clash. According to Mick Sinclair's review of the original gig, in Sounds, and in Mick Sinclair's letter to the Grauniad it was not a Neubauten gig but a performance that featured some of the band members. So there, all you mythologisers who mythologise with your pens, your chance is over, it won't come again.

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