Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Parting shots: Drama reading festival 2011

Just a few words about the Festival of European Contemporary Playwrights 2011 before the summer starts in earnest for Yours Truly. Being, like, cultural and stuff is hard work! We sat through approximately four hours of text readings per day, and drinks in the downstairs bar afterwards. That’s a full day’s work.

The festival featured eight playwrights from different parts of Europe. Finland was represented by Saara Turunen and her fresh play Broken Heart Story, due to open at Q-teatteri in Helsinki on September 21st. It was an interesting piece of absurd drama, a bearded woman writing political theatre and her relation to an unbalanced girl with a – literally – bleeding heart contrasted the dull anguish of steady relationships against the boundless horror of being alone. I find it difficult to do the text justice in just these few words, there was also a charming self-irony to the piece that is hard to explain.

Broken Heart Story. Photo: Q-teatteri.
Another personal favourite of the festival was the play Homecomings (Tilbakekomstene) by the Norwegian playwright Fredrik Brattberg. A middle-aged couple’s grief at the loss of their son is turned to joy as the son suddenly returns home! Yet, after a while their son disappears again, and is thought dead, but returns home once again, only to perish in an accident, only to come back to life. And so on, at an accelerating rate, which has surprising emotional consequences for the boy’s parents… A delightful little piece with humour as black as pitch, the best kind there is.

This was the third year of drama readings at Husets Teater, and the festival seems to improve for each year. There is talk of expanding the festival to another theatre in Copenhagen, and we are also looking into the possibility of providing the non-Danish guests at the festival with headphones for simultaneous interpretation.

Before heading off for summer holidays, I would also like to point out that the Finnish jazz band Juhani Aaltonen Quartet is playing at CPH Jazz this summer, 9:30 PM on July 2nd at Jazz House. 

Thursday, 2 June 2011

No place for a sober man

No rest for the wicked. The SPOT-festival in Århus is no place for a sober man. Too much fun to rest, too many bands to see, and for me the best way to enjoy an occasion like this is to let go of all illusion of control.

For us at the Finnish Cultural Institute the festival went splendidly. Our main event was throwing a networking brunch on Saturday morning (together with the Finnish Embassy in Denmark and Music Export Finland) for the music industry people at the festival. The British music journalist Kieron Tyler of the Guardian gave a very good presentation of Finnish music in the past and present decades, and we had also invited Viljami Puustinen of the Finnish music magazine Rumba, and Ilkka Mattila of Finland’s biggest daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat to give their views on the state of Finnish music.

That's French Films, with groupies. Photo: Sini Pesonen
The brunch was quite well-attended, we counted something around 120 people in the audience, and we got some very good feedback on the event. People enjoyed themselves and a lot of them stayed on after the event, until the restaurant people asked them to leave. We also got some nice feedback afterwards from people who had attended, so on all in all I believe we have a good reason to feel satisfied.

I especially enjoyed listening to Kieron Tyler on the stage. He has a way of combining British verbal elegance with a brutal frankness of opinion, and I find that kind of honesty is rare in a person being interviewed. I told him so afterward, when I thanked him for participating. ”Yes,” he answered, ”that’s  why so many people hate me.” I gave a polite chuckle, but he just kept his icy, unmoving gaze on me, like he was asking me why I found that amusing.

If you want to suck up to this guy, just send some money. By the way, here is an interview with him in the Danish music magazine Gaffa, and here’s what he wrote about the festival himself.

I saw a lot some good bands, and a couple of amazing ones: French Films played on Friday, the singer emulating the ennui and blasé-attitude of an Andy Warhol-hangaround right down to the wearing of sunshades at midnight. The music was a nice combination of old-school light rock and indie, the audience was digging it, and a bunch of blonde groupies went nuts in the front row. All in good fun.

Neufvoin, with the harsh, brutal bass. Photo: Sini Pesonen
I mentioned the Finnish band Neufvoin in my previous post, but unfortunately their gig wasn’t as well-attended as the band would have deserved. I don’t know what the problem was –  that the audience didn’t find their way to the venue down at Vox Hall, which is outside the general festival area, or that the savage thundering bass scared away the customers – in any case it was a shame to see a good band playing for a small audience.

Saturday evening we saw K-X-P in the big brick hall Ridehuset, they played a gig that strayed deep and far into the wilderness of experimental ambient distortion weirdness.

I saw an amazing concert by the Norwegian musican Bernhoft, who played an absolutely magnificent gig in the large hall, the crowd was on fire by the end of it. (Just watch the video, you’ll get the general idea.) Walking out, dazed and humbled, I remember thinking that any band would have a hard time following that act. 

K-X-P at Ridehuset. Photo: Sini Pesonen

But then I’d severely underestimated the strength of Siinai’s performance.

I was never a big fan of slow stoner rock, but there was something incredible about seeing Siinai perform, in my sleepless, intoxicated mind I was elevated to a state of ecstatic clarity. Like my colleague Jonas said after the gig, “they know their psychedelic shit, man.” Word up.

Siinai. A truly kick-ass performance. Photo: Sini Pesonen. 

So here I am, Thursday, four days later, and I have slowly managed to get my head together enough to gather the receipts from the weekend and compose this rather lengthy post. Jonas and Sini, my other colleague, tried their best to tempt me into joining them for a Zombie Pub Crawl in the streets of Copenhagen last night, but fortunately I had the good sense to give them the slip.

You see, there’s this other thing I have to attend next week, that requires me to replenish my stamina. The Festival of European Contemporary Playwrights at Husets Teater, four days of drama readings followed by heavy drinking in the theatre’s splendid little cellar pub. Looking forward to it. 

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Precious little sleep tonight, I’m afraid

Greetings from 4 AM.
Seeing new bands at the SPOT-festival is often a jarring experience. Even more so, when I got to the Finnish band Neufvoin’s gig at Vox Hall in Århus.
Hearing Neufvoin play is realising that sound is a physical thing. Whenever the bass drum sounded it seemed to lift me up off my feet and shake me, until my ribs rattled and my ears went numb. And high above it soared the voice of a boy with blonde whisps of hair, clad in a red flanell shirt, delicate and shattered, like glass being struck to pieces by the deep, irresistible, violent bass.
I am a skinny guy, so I thought  maybe it was just me, until I saw our drinks wobbling and trembling on top of the makeshift table that was placed in the middle of the hall. As the deep, penetrating drum sounded, the glasses shook and wobbled, and moved toward the edge, each beat releasing frech new bubbles to the surface until the beer was flat and bitter.
The sound crushed all resistance.
Now I am sitting in my hotel and trying to get used to the thought of rousing myself in three hours to make nice at the Ambassador’s brunch for industry folk tomorrow. Should be fun, as long as I can manage to stay on my shaky feet.
As I said, little sleep tonight. Mercy upon my weak, polluted flesh.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Several Satyrdays coming up

I spent a long weekend in Finland, and apart from the country going completely barking mad, getting roaring drunk, undressing and climbing tall structures, over Finland beating Sweden for Gold in the World Hockey Championship, we still managed to get one or two useful things done. 

We are currently busy trying to make all the pieces come together for a nice exhibition at a museum here in Copenhagen. The idea is to let contemporary pictorial art meet one of the big names in Finnish art history, and so far the response has been quite positive. Yet a lot of things remain to be arranged, and time is very rapidly running out. We are preparing for a trip to Rome on Saturday, to meet all the other directors of Finnish Cultural Institutes, and when I return from there I have the SPOT festival in Århus to look forward to. All lovely things, naturally, but it would be nicer to enjoy them one at a time, instead of everything at once.

James Pradier: Satyr and Bacchante
(Kind of like meatballs and ice cream, that.) (Also I accidentally misspelled Saturday ”Satyrday”, and it occurred to me there should definitively be a day named that. Maybe that is the day you have meatballs and ice cream with your champagne, cognac with your hors d'oeuvres, and beer with your caviar. You know, anarchy.)

The opening of the Helsinki School exhibition at Sorte Diamant went very well. We have the front page of Politiken’s culture pages in the Friday 13th edition to show for it, where Peter Michael Hornung wrote a very nice piece on Finnish photography. If you look very closely, we’re mentioned way down there in the lower right corner of the paper edition. 

Touching dreams, voodoo-weirdness

Another interesting week on the job. Then again, it’s been a pretty wild couple of months ever since I started my new job as Information Officer at the Finnish Cultural Institute in Denmark in January. Two nights ago I had the strangest dream where an old caribbean lady told me, ”When the winds are windier, the sails are sailier”, in a lovely thick accent that sounded exactly like something from one of those Pirates-movies. She walked down a flight of stairs and into a concrete tunnel where she transformed into some kind of weird voodoo-entity and woke me up with a shout.

Voodoo-weirdess apart, I guess that’s a good way to look at things. When the storm rages, that’s when you really get the farthest, and when it feels like things are moving a bit too fast you just have to make sure to hold on. Unless your vessel sinks, of course. That still remains to be seen, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

We have the opening for an exhibition of the third generation of the Helsinki School of photography tonight, at Nationale Fotmuseum in the Black Diamond, and I am very curious to see how the Finnish ambassdor’s speech turns out. Photographer Susanna Majuri and her manager Hanna Rantala had some coffee at our office before the exhibition and talk shop about finding a good gallerist here in Copenhagen with my boss Esa. I got to leaf through Majuri’s portfolio of photos, which was amazing stuff, and I really want to see what the pictures look like in 100x150 cm. Should be good.

Wilma Hurskainen: Invisible (2011)
The picture to the left here, also shown at the exhibition, reminds me of the optical games I used to play by myself when I was a kid. By obscurin parts of my vision and closing one eye at  a time, I could make things disappear and reappear in my sight, as if by magic. (I still keep up this strange game from time to time, but I pretty much gave it up because my girlfriend tends to notice me blinking and asks me what the hell I am doing, and I find it very difficult to answer.)

Six minutes left of the Finland-Norway hockey game, 0-0 so far even though Norway has a pretty slim track record over the years. Over and out.  

Ps. I posted this entry already on Thursday 12th, but it up and disappeared completely sometime during the weekend. Gremlins.