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Culture

Pitch-black concert is counterpoint to bright holiday lights

It's the time of year where everywhere you turn you see blinking lights and tinsel, but a new music peformance in Berlin is turning its back on the gaiety of the festive season by plunging its audience into darkness.

Black square

What you can expect to see during the performance...nothing!

The project, entitled "Into the Dark," is a collaboration between organizer Sabrina Hoelzer and the young musicians who make up the experimental ensemble, Kaleidoskop, and is a performance of selected works by John Cage, Mozart and Salvatore Sciarrino in complete darkness.

Hoelzer said the inspiration for "Into the Dark" came 10 years ago while she was staging a piece by Adrana Hoelzsky. "The concept [behind Hoelzsky's work] was the question: Is it possible to write or to compose music theater without using the theater itself? I thought it would be nice to place people in absolute darkness because if you eliminate external images then maybe it’s easier for the audience to create their own pictures."

The piece is the antithesis of the hectic, digital age where a constant stream of flashy imagery dominates our day to day life. Sabrina Hoelzer hopes - by removing all external stimuli - to create a more personal, intense relationship between audience and music.

Sabrina Hoelzer

Sabrina Hoelzer takes a new approach to music and space

After a long search, Hoelzer finally came across a suitable location where an audience could be plunged into complete darkness: the former broadcasting house of Rundfunk der DDR in the Berlin district of Koepenick which had been home to East Germany's radio broadcaster from 1952 to 1990.

"When you're stressed and you listen to music, you will feel it very differently than when you're calm," said Hoelzer, talking about the different responses to the work so far. "It depends very much on how you feel and on what kind of personality you have.

"Artwork is not artwork itself; it also depends on how you are and what mood you are in."

Musicians rely on breathing

The performance is a very unique experience. Visitors have to remove their shoes before entering the studio, where they can choose one of 55 specially-constructed beds to lie on. A backstage team monitors the pitch black hall with infra-red cameras; anyone wishing to leave simply raises their hand and one of the specially-trained crew members escorts them from the room.

The musicians not only have to perform some 10 musical selections in complete darkness, but also a tightly choreographed routine that calls for them to move around the performance space. For this, a specially constructed grid on the floor acts as a guide and in order to communicate with each other, they devised a system of breathing.

Room prepared for performance of In the Dark

Before the lights go out, the audience members lie down on specially prepared beds

"It's an interesting experiment because of course when you have the lights on you do rely probably more than you think on visual cues," explained violinist Paul Valikosko, "You really have to re-think that. The system of breathing has been really tricky, but it's learning a new way to play together. It's different."

Concentrate and stay awake

Reaction to the piece has been more or less universally positive.

"I thought it was awesome," said one woman, "I thought it could never get as dark as it got. I heard the music in a totally different way."

"It sounds esoteric but the music somehow lets a light through the dark and you feel the sounds," said another young man in the audience. "It's really touching in a very beautiful way."

Berlin ensemble Kaleidoskop

Unseen musicians: the young Berlin ensemble Kaleidoskop

"Somebody was snoring at a certain point," laughed another male visitor, "I figured it was inevitable and it reminded you that that was an actual possibility. Fortunately it happened towards the end, which was also good, and he very politely kept it in rhythm."

The performance, which runs until January 8, is a respite from the traditional bustle and bright lights of Christmas - a contrast Sabrina Hoelzer is well aware of.

"You are able to concentrate and it's very close and intense," she said. "It's quite important to be able to do that with all these Christmas things around. It's a very quick time. Everybody has to buy presents!"

Author: Gavin Blackburn

Editor: Kate Bowen

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