When we arrive in Gais in the heart of Appenzeller Land on Saturday 2nd September, it’s bucketing down with rain and the green pastures that flourished on the dried-up marshes seem to want to return to their original state. The train takes us to Schachen station, a request stop in the middle of the valley. A few yards away, a small path sinks into the green pasture to the right of a small lake which we later learn is just an ephemeral manifestation of the excess rain. At the end of the road there’s a shooting club. The wall of rain makes the landscape look uniform and we walk mechanically to the shooting range hut. This is where the Klang-Moor-Schopfe Festival has set up headquarters, renaming the venue ‘Piccolo Arsenale’, a nod to the ‘Grande’ Arsenale of the Venice Biennale.
Visual and auditory performances
‘Klang’ means sound in German – ‘Moor’ the swamp - and ‘Schopfe’ the hut, small barn or storage shed typical of the region. The meeting of these three words, Klang-Moor-Schopfe, has given rise to this unusual festival, the brainchild of programmer and out of the ordinary project designer, Patrick Kessler.
Patrick Kessler suggested to ten musicians, sound handymen, ethnomusicologists and sound artists to invest these huts with their imagination, their inventiveness and to improvise in, with and around this postcard setting. When the sun makes an appearance, the atmosphere changes completely and one almost expects to see Heidi come skipping around the corner. Some of the artists invited are Swiss (Norbert Möslang), some are from the region (Roman Signer), others are Serbian (Svetlana Maras), Russian (Olga Kokcharova) or Austrian (Rupert Huber).
The sound of the canon
As their point of departure and reflection, several of the sound systems present have chosen the firing stand located a few hundred metres from their hut and, consequently, the theme of violence and weapons which contrasts strongly with the calm setting. Firstly, there’s Roman Signer whose barn points at a cannon that goes off every time someone approaches. The Norient group of ethnomusicologists from Berne have recycled part of their "Seismographic Sounds exhibition" devoted to war and have embellished it with podcasts, including an interview with Benno Pfister, president of the shooting range who makes the distinction between ‘shooting’ as a sport and ‘shooting’ to kill.
When nature turns into an instrument
In another hut entitled "Living Instruments", we come face to face with ‘dynamic’ lawn that contains liquid micro-organisms. Through a heating process, the micro-organisms emit noises. Other sounds are produced when you touch this mutant carpet. It’s an original way to link up contemporary music, natural science and technology. This is the work of Vanessa Lorenzo Toquero, a Spanish artist who explores the links between open science, collective art and digital media. Vanessa Lorenzo Toquero lives in Lausanne. She’s part of the Hackuarium association (whose objective is the democratization of sciences, a type of DIY biology) and We Spoke, a collective of contemporary musicians who are interested in the links between natural and technical science.
Live music in Gais
All these exciting artists cross paths and hang out at the shooting range along with the spectators: a culturally clued-up audience as well as some locals who come out of curiosity. Debates and workshops take place during the daytime. Among these is the excellent workshop-performance organised by Norient and hosted by Andrin Uetz, currently researching Hong Kong sound landscapes, who has suggested a comparative listening of these with the sounds of the marshes.
Concerts take place in the evening between two shooting tables. During the two weekends that cover the festival, apart from the performances of the invited guests, it’s worth highlighting the performance of the all-format drummer, Julian Sartorius, and that of the great maestro of improvised music, pianist Jacques Demierre. For this event, the small shooting range hall is packed and people in the front rows are lying on their stomach "in firing position". In front of them are fields and far away targets, each spectator scans the landscape looking for the hidden piano…
Is Jacques Demierre also going to play around with nature? A farmer starts his tractor a few metres out of the spectators’ sight. It enters from the right as if on a film screen. In the passenger’s seat, Jacques Demierre's easily recognizable mop of hair bounces along, following the rhythm of the jolts. Hitched onto the tractor is a white right piano which is then dumped in front of us. Two members of the public get up and go to stand on either side of him, while Jaques Demierre, in rubber boots, settles in the centre. The three of them put the piano back on its feet, the two sidekicks holding it firmly while Jacques Demierre draws sounds, sometimes softly, sometimes hard, caressing and striking it. A cat strolls by, then a dog, each stopping to observe. Essentially there’s not much happening here and yet, little by little, the tension settles, punctuated with laughter when the decoration interferes with the music. The tractor reappears an hour later, loads up the piano and musician, and leaves nature to find itself again, enriched by the resonance of the performance.
Patrick Kessler loves challenges, confrontations and music that’s demanding and thoughtful. With his new kind of festival, he has shown that a curator can act as a conductor, leading a symphony of installations and sound performances that will undoubtedly mark the annals of musical events created in Switzerland in the 2000s.