Archipelago once again makes its yearly return, inviting audiences to explore the complexity of the contemporary world through listening. In this particular edition, it looks to delve into the discourse of modernity in experimental music, its unrecognised roots and the history, politics and ideologies that govern our tastes.
This fifth edition, staying true to its identity, offers three events. The interest in shining a light on the local scene takes shape with the presence of Atomizador and his approach to psychodelia from instrumentation characterising old Western music. Marta De Pascalis, a Berlin-based composer from Rome, explores the complex ramifications of contemporary electronic music through the filter of southern European tradition, while non-hegemonic rhythmic innovations — one of the series’ core areas of interest — find a space in the session of De Schuurman, a key figure in the evolution of bubbling, a music genre originating from Afro-Dutch postcolonial diaspora and highly influential, despite its limited exposure.
In its early editions, Archipelago focused on reminding us how supposedly innovative aspects of modern Anglo-European music submerged roots stretching beyond the confines of geography and culture. Moreover, in 2020 the music industry was hit with major challenges. The restriction to people’s free movement and imposed social distancing fired a warning shot of the fragility underpinning many music communities. In response, last year’s edition backed in-person involvement and the immersive experience of sound amid uncertainty and selective confinements and, following health measures, vehemently opposed streaming, a format attempting to establish itself as the main channel through which to ingest music. Individual listening can be a pleasurable experience, yes, but this series would rather embrace a more physical dimension and shared intimacy.
The threat of a new, and even harsher, economic recession in this cycle of global crises is beginning to manifest itself and should not be dismissed. Many people are still reeling from previous onslaughts, while others will be susceptible to what is around the corner. Despite state aid and the injection of recovery funds, public-sector culture, education and health still unquestionably lack the resources they deserve. For all that, Archipelago is (and aspires to continue being) a public service which works meticulously to offer an enjoyable way of discovering and becoming familiar with musical structures, and their history, political determinants and material conditions.
That said, not only public structures have been affected. The so-called music industry is showing signs of abrasion, even among its alternative and minority circles. Over the past five years, Archipelago has been lucky enough to come into contact with a rich network of selfless agents and promoters, festivals financed through public funds and private sponsorship, touring artists, self-managed labels, agencies with offices in Europe that enable the circulation of artists from countries for which our borders make entry difficult, independent radio websites, close-to-extinction specialised critique, venues and clubs with bold line-ups, cultural associations, nationally and European funded projects which support medium- and long-term projects. This hive, as populated as it is fragile, has been significantly impacted by the 2021 supply crisis which, far from being irreparable, incisively points to the systemic problems with the mass consumption of music and, therefore, to the idea that it can only be understood as a commodity. The crisis in the supply chains caused by bottlenecks in ports around the world and the closure of factories in south-east Asia has reduced the supply of approximately 8,000 tons of plastic and polyvinyl chloride used to manufacture albums from a record industry at a low ebb and which, thirty years ago, produced five times the amount of plastic with the rise of the cassette. In the meantime, digital supports are also still being affected by a crisis in the supply of chips for computers and mobile phones which play streamed music. Supports manufactured with sought-after minerals enabling the mass flow of music in data format, everywhere and at all times. This digital revolution — only in terms of music streaming — requires energy sources, such as gas and carbon, that produce between 250 and 300 million kilos of greenhouse gases per year.
There can be no doubt that we find ourselves before collapse. A contradictory situation in which music seems, at times, one of the few forms with which to move beyond the bedlam stemming from its own commercial circulation. Yet far from thinking about this situation as a monumental paralysis, the word collapse works here in the sense of downfall and ruin — the fact that the last album by Marta De Pascalis is called Sonus Ruinae places it in the spirit of our times.
Despite the dystopia that has become entrenched in the present, this text does not seek to send out an apocalyptic message. Instead, it wishes to pay attention to change. A collapse is never the end times, but rather something that can put our well-being, links and affections with other humans to the test; in short, the material conditions of our life and, therefore, our music. This slow-motion collapse pushes us forward, beyond the speculative self-absorption of the future and the “next big things”, commonplace in the world of art and culture. This event offers three concerts and is an invitation to listen together to offer encouragement and excitement to survive a day, and to face the next one. The day after tomorrow? We’ll deal with that when it comes around.
Atomizador is synonymous with a passion for free music, above and beyond labels. A tireless agitator in Madrid’s underground scene, a graphic artist with expressionist and obsessive traits, inspired by figures from outsider art like Nick Blinko and Austin Osman Spare, and a staunch advocate of DIY as a life philosophy. He has created various miniature collections of expansive music, among them Hallucinosis (2018) and, particularly … y qué es exactamente un sueño… (2020), the latter of which sees his sound palette opening out to instruments such as the baroque lute and Renaissance vihuela. Both albums mentioned, released by Afeite al perro and Discos Alehop!, are the latest instalments from a discography which works to reinterpret psychodelia in the least predictable way possible. A career which, in recent times, has sought to make the echoes of old European music co-exist in the same universe as the harmonies of the Beach Boys and Vainica Doble, non-Western polyphonic vocals, glossolalia, the energy of African-American freeform jazz, the least dogmatic hardcore punk and even Japanese noise.
8pm Marta De Pascalis
Marta De Pascalis works with synthesis in both analogue and digital supports, expressively incorporating magnetic tape loops to create repetitions and complex textures, in line with the American minimalist tradition of artists like Terry Riley. De Pascalis unfurls an updated version of this compositional avenue, while also reflecting on the legacy of pioneers from the Italian soundscape, such as Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and the more experimental side of Franco Battiato. Her third album, Sonus Ruinae (Morphine Records, 2020), is a record which looks at the future as something uncertain, and through these magnetic tape loops she overlays and cyclically develops layers which progressively fall away. This palimpsest transforms gradually to create a kind of “sound ruin”, as the artist puts it.
9pm De Schuurman
The family of Guillermo Schuurman, born in The Hague, has always been a family of music lovers and DJs, for instance his uncle DJ Chippie, considered, along with DJ Moortje, the figures responsible for putting bubbling on the map. Bubbling is a genre normally associated with communities of Afro-Dutch post-colonial diaspora in the regions of Curazao, Aruba and Surinam and, according to scholars such as Wayne Marshall, it came into being in the 1980s when Moortje accidentally played a dancehall record at 45 rpm, instead of 33, to the euphoria of the people dancing and later a whole music scene that would work on reformulating Jamaican sounds in a fresh and innovative way. In the middle years between the two decades of the 2000s, a teenage De Schuurman became one of the purveyors of bubbling, uncoiling it to other urban genres and electronic sounds more typical of house productions. More recently, the Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes, hailed for its global dissemination of local genres such as Tanzanian Singeli (present in the 2019 Archipelago), has dug up some of De Schuurman’s most emblematic tracks in the anthology Bubbling Inside (2021), one of the few phonographic documents of a genre and music scene which would have seldom transcended the borders of The Hague and Rotterdam, but the influence of which in the development of recent dance music is worthy of review.